5, 4, 3 … I’m counting the days until the season begins. A lot of my friends wait impatiently for the football season to begin, or baseball, or basketball. Very few of my friends, at least in the United States, count down the days until the soccer season begins, or rather, until the European soccer (aka ‘football’ to the rest of the world) season starts up in August. This off-season has been less agonizing than most as we’ve had Euro 2012 and the Olympics to feed us some soccer over the summer. But there’s nothing like the beginning of the competitive league season for the true soccer fan.
This weekend I will join millions of others across the globe to watch the opening games of the English Premier League. Unlike the English fans viewing or attending games in the afternoon or evening, I will be watching in the morning, cheering for my club while eating breakfast. This time gap creates a whole different experience for those of us who live 6, 7, or more hours away. Nevertheless, I will set my alarm and have my club’s team jersey (shirt) and scarf ready to go as if they were good luck charms to help my club win their season opener. I’m sure that will make the difference. How could they possibly lose when a middle-aged woman halfway across the world is wearing their club jersey and cheering them on?
If you had asked me back when I was a kid or even a teen whether I liked soccer, I would probably have responded, “Soccer? What’s that?” Soccer didn’t exist when I was younger, certainly not in my world. That was a time before Title IX and most girls I knew didn’t participate much in sports, if at all. The boys played baseball, but that was it, at least until they were older and then they would branch out to football or basketball. Soccer? I don’t even remember playing it in gym class though I suppose we may have. It made that little an impact on me when I was growing up.
By the time I started college, the game of soccer began to penetrate my consciousness. My college roommate played on an intermural women’s soccer team, and in my Spanish classes we learned about the importance of fútbol in Spanish-speaking countries. And as anyone who does crossword puzzles knows, Péle is ‘a soccer player.’ I suppose the next generation doing crossword puzzles will know that Messi is ‘a soccer player’ because his name can be easily worked into a puzzle. There aren’t usually enough spaces for Ronaldo, let alone Ronaldinho.
My unlikely journey to soccer fandom began when I was an ex-pat living in Germany. I had moved there to be with my [then] German husband and spent my second summer there watching the 1982 World Cup in Spain. I had never before experienced how an entire country can shut down when their national team is playing. The Super Bowl approaches this phenomenon, but it doesn’t compare to when one’s team is playing in a World Cup match. The games were addicting and I was hooked. I began to watch the international tournaments, easy enough in Germany, a challenge in the U.S., especially without cable TV.
My enthusiasm went into passive mode until my son turned 8 and signed up for youth soccer. I dutifully filled out the forms, paid the fees, picked up his uniform, and took him to practice. On Saturday I drove Jacob and little sister Sarah to the first game, bringing fold-out chairs for Sarah and me to sit in and watch the game. Only one chair was ever used. The minute the game began, I found myself running up and down the sidelines with other excited parents, cheering on the team, clapping and congratulating them when they scored, patting backs and encouraging them when they lost. I had become a soccer mom and I loved it.
My enthusiasm had been rekindled, and while my son’s youth soccer phase lasted only a couple of years, my love of soccer continued to grow. I made sure to tune in to the international games and once I got cable, I started following club soccer, mostly English. That’s how I came to spend my weekends watching my favorite teams compete in their European leagues, checking various soccer websites daily, reading soccer books, buying over-priced imported soccer magazines, mailing periodic soccer updates to a group of interested colleagues, and seeking out fellow soccer-lovers. From curious ex-pat to soccer mom to soccer fan. Some friends think I’m obsessed. Nonsense, I say. I’m just a regular fan. Now let me go get my $100+ official Chelsea FC jersey and official direct-from-London Chelsea scarf so I can watch the game.