Growing up I played and watched baseball. I loved the Braves. This definitely had more to do with them being on TBS every night than to any geographical or family relationship. I’m from Indianapolis. My dad’s a Cubs fan. I watched the Braves win division title after division title and one World Championship. Chipper Jones was my favorite player. Tom Glavine, Gregg Maddux, and John Smoltz were some of the greatest pitchers of their generation, and Bobby Cox was the hot-tempered, veteran manager who seemed to get thrown out more often than he finished all 9 innings. I really only loved baseball though when I was playing it.
Then Peyton Manning came to Indianapolis and the Colts became more important. Football had more consistent action and interaction between the players. It was also what all of my friends cared about, so the Colts were the cool thing to like and I wasn’t a jock so I had to find other ways to be cool. Peyton used his brain to figure out what the other team was planning and then used his arm to make their defense look like idiots. The Colts played beautiful, attacking football, were poor on defense, were consistently one of the best regular season teams, but for the most part rings eluded them. This regular end of season disappointment primed me perfectly to become an Arsenal fan.
I had watched soccer before and even played a little as a kid. I had a Brit friend since elementary school and knew of Arsenal. I remember the first match I watched, I mean really watched. It was the Champions League Semi-Final between Arsenal and Manchester United and I immediately recognized that it was everything that I was missing. I was engrossed by sport with no commercials, with no bloated rulebook, and with 60,000 fans who were so passionate that they could sing in one voice. They were knowledgeable enough that they booed every time Carrick/Berbatov (former Spurs), Rooney (who ended our record-breaking unbeaten run with this dive), or Ronaldo (another divey, egotistical prick) touched the ball. I recognized the beautiful flow of the Colts in Arsenal and Fabregas was Peyton.
We lost both the home and away legs but I was sold. Maybe I’m a masochist but I’d rather glorious failure playing with slick, one-touch passing than boring, park-the-bus football and win. *cough Mourinho *cough Sport is art its core entertainment for the fans but it’s also so much more than that. Winning in and of itself is nothing if you don’t enjoy the ride.
To be honest I was probably only watching that game because it was April and there was no football until August. But soccer turns out, was always there. Fall, Winter, & Spring there’s the Premier League, Spain, Germany, and the Champions league. During the Summer, MLS and usually the Gold Cup. But if we’re really lucky, there’s a World Cup.
World Cups haven’t been great for me as an American but seeing over seven thousand people losing their minds when Dempsey scored in the 81st minute against Ronaldo’s Portugal (I mean seriously, screw that guy) makes the inevitable knockout worth it.
I love soccer because of the game is amazing and simple. You only need dirt and a ball. Pelé famously started with a bundle of laundry. If you can walk, you can play. It doesn’t take years to learn all the rules (pretty much just don’t use your hands, unless you’re the keeper, but only in the box, no, not the tiny box, the 18 yard box, ok, ok, there are some rules and don’t get me started on offside). You don’t have to be tall or strong. In fact, the greatest current player in the world is 5’6”, 148 lbs. And you don’t always have to be the fastest. Per Mertesacker, a 104 capped member of the World Cup-winning German National team, famously turns slower than milk.
It’s not easy loving soccer. Some people will make fun of you. Some people just won’t get it. You might not be able to explain to your family and friends why your day is ruined by a soccer team in Europe losing. They’ll probably assume you’re an alcoholic when you start going to the pub at 8 a.m. to watch football with all your crazy, soccer-loving friends. You’ll suspiciously get “sick” on some weekday afternoons so that you can leave work to watch your team play midweek games. Sometimes you’ll get in fight with your significant other because, “I don’t care if it’s a World Cup knockout game against Ghana, you’re going to this wedding. And no earbuds!” “If I was married to Alex Morgan, she wouldn’t make me go!” etc. Sometimes you lose a Cup Final to a team that is so bad it got kicked out of the league that year. Doesn’t matter. I still love it.
One of the best reasons to love soccer is the community of friends that you can make. We’re pretty supportive to any and all new fans. We’ve explained the offside rule enough to know how to do it. No one really corrects people on terminology anymore although I personally prefer the European names (everything does sound better with an English accent). Even if you pick the wrong team (Come on, Chelsea? Really? But why?), you’ll discover what banter is and how fun it can be. FYI I plan on writing a banter article that should explain how to do it right.
I’m now starting this new thing. I want to write about my experience and share it with you guys. I read so many blogs, listen to podcasts, and in general never stop thinking about soccer so this is my way of giving back. The friends who I’m starting this blog with are more into MLS than I am while most of my experience is European. I love soccer and I hope I can convince some of you to love it too.