A Life Changing Game

When I was a child, I played soccer. My coach was a hard as nails Scotsman called Malcolm Maw. He spoke with a thick Scottish accent, and named the team the Rovers. I played center half back for two years, had a NY Cosmos pennant on my wall and loved wearing my orange and black kit traveling all over South Jersey to play. Then, I made a decision that I regret to this day. I stopped playing. I have no idea why, but I got caught up with what most American boys in the 1970’s got caught up in: skateboarding, baseball, basketball, BMX bike riding, and video games. I had a friend who tried to get me back into it and of course I refused, choosing to follow other sports, or just not want to deal with it at all. It wasn’t until my late 20’s when I was a bit more refined, so to speak, that I got back into the beautiful game, it’s colorful and storied history, and gave up on any other sports I was ever into. I’m just simply not interested in anything other than football. I completely agree with the great Bill Shankly when he said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” I’ve made so many friends all over the world through football, a kinship that can be attributed through who you support, who you don’t support, or the banter that arises from last night’s match. I’ve met strangers on planes, trains, the subway and on the street who, when seeing my scarf, track top or jersey have struck up a conversation, or even have gone as far to start an argument about a penalty kick they thought was undeserved from the last time their club played my club. In my whole life, I’ve never felt so connected to a sport and the people who support it.

“ Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that. ”-Bill Shankly

My love of the beautiful game has brought me to Scotland, where I saw my first live match when Celtic took on Dundee, to London, where I was suprised I couldn’t get a stadium tour in every stadium (large and small except Chelsea) I went to. I have been back and forth through the United States to watch and support the game I love. I’ve taken my knocks from friends who thought football was a waste of time, said it wasn’t a real sport or draw for fans, and much to their chagrin I pointed out it’s the most popular sport in the world. I spoke up to so called supporters who liked the “tops the guys wear” on clubs like Man United (IMHO the NY Yankees of the Premiership) and debated why they should do their homework on a team before they just chose the most popular one. I’ve played Premier League Fantasy League for so many years that when I talk about it, the people I had worked with looked at me like I was Rafi from the FX series League. I can specifically remember when Fox Soccer Channel was Fox Sports Net, you only got sporadic games to watch, and had to actually pay to get into a place like Nevada Smith’s in NYC to watch a match on Setanta. Locally, however, I had gone to a struggling “Irish Pub” that broadcast EPL matches. I did it primarily to find some kindred spirits to watch the match with, but to quench my thirst for football all together, even if I had to go alone. As I walked in with my scarf to watch the only match on, Arsenal v. Bolton (neither of my clubs), I saw two construction workers having a Bud Light at 11am while they screamed at the tv: “Turn this girl’s sport off!”. It didn’t matter that 6 foot something Sol Campbell ran up and down the pitch gracefully for 90+ minutes without even getting tired, a feat not many athletes in American football can claim. Quietly, I watched the end of the match, finished my shepard’s pie, and looked at the owner. This guy was a beaten man, realizing that he had to switch to the NFL because the EPL wasn’t going to cut it. He just raised his hands as if to say “what can I do?”. That place didn’t last, but my interest in football did, and I went where ever I had to to get my fix. I was just happy that I could be a part of what I felt was an underground cult of people who were into a movement against the norm. Plus, it was the most exciting sport I had ever watched: the long ball, hard challenges, great defense, and unbelievable passing and goals. My mind was made up, football from now on.

I was also introduced to the England National team in the beginning of my interest in football. My room mate was a Northern Irish lad who got me into the often exciting, mostly dreadful (but altogether addicting) England National team and (a team called everyone’s second favorite team, but my first) Liverpool. I was told I couldn’t switch clubs, that’s the way it goes. I stuck with that. I didn’t bother to get into the USMNT then, as I was introduced to England first. When I supported them (England) as an American (but still pulled for the US) during the last World Cup, I had to endure a ridiculous amount of stick at my local pub. “Country first”, as my mate Fulham Dave would say. While I know it struck people as odd, for me, it wasn’t odd. I was introduced to football through England, and those words that my friend told me about not switching teams stuck. I have since grown to also love USA football, Clint Dempsey, Landy Cakes, Tim Howard, the National team and the MLS, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why I was getting a bunch of flack from people who would never get up and be at the pub (I’d never seen about 95% of these people) for a 7:05 kick off in the snow on a Saturday morning, while two bottom of the table clubs fought to stay up, but would surely put on a USA cowboy hat and scream for a team they knew not one player on. At least I supported the sport! I was the bloke who was there every Saturday and Sunday for Premiership matches, no matter who was playing, and I was wondering why these Johnny Come Lately’s were stepping into my clubhouse stirring the pot? I did and still do stand my ground, and consider myself a huge supporter of the game (no matter who is on the pitch). I do support my local club (New York Redbull), have had season tickets for the last five years, and will continue to preserve the culture and history of not just a sport they call the beautiful game, but what I call a life changing game.

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