An American Sports Fan In UEFA-Land
Posted by hiphopmama on October 2, 2008
As a native of the country that uses “football” to mean that sport in which two people per 53 man team ever touch the ball with their feet, I am understandably less well versed in the Beautiful Game that bears this same name in so many other countries. I grew up on the Big Three – basketball, baseball, and (American) football – and only came across soccer during the occasional World Cup match that caught my family’s interest. One by one, however, I have been alienated by the three American biggies, to a greater or lesser extent, leaving me with few regular viewing options to meet my weekly sports quota. (Unless, of course, you count the clusterfuck of reality show competitions currently flooding the airwaves, which I don’t.)
Baseball lost out early on because the salary inequalities between teams was disgusting, and because, well, it’s really fucking boring if you’re not actually at the game. Basketball was my first true love, but even it started to wear on me when Kobe made me cringe to root for my own team, the Lakers. The NFL was relatively new and fresh to me during my undergrad years, and that along with the strategy and parity (to use a buzzword) of the league helped hook me, at least for a few years. When my daughter was born, though, all viewing habits were wiped clean and I had to learn how to be a sports fan in a completely new era. One day of the week packed with games simply didn’t work for me anymore, because I simply couldn’t devote that kind of time and attention to anything that wasn’t pooping or drooling. It seemed all hope was lost if I didn’t want to enact the extreme measure of watching hockey or, worse, golf.
Then along came World Cup 2006. I was pregnant at the time, which meant I was a worthless blob on the couch 16 hours a day and in serious need of something good to watch. As you know, nothing’s really on in the summertime here – it’s my perennial dry spell, with the NFL and NBA in their offseasons and only baseball available to watch (which, as I’ve stated, is like watching paint dry). Needless to say, I caught the bug. I watched every match I could, and I even went out and bought the newest FIFA game on the market to help learn players and teams. I was half disappointed and half excited to find out that there were like six hundred leagues and thirty gazillion players in Europe alone, so I subscribed to the Comcast sports package and picked the three leagues with the most recognizable names – EPL, Primera Liga, and Serie A – to acquaint myself with the game. With the baby on the way, we also opted to get a DVR, figuring (rightly) that watching our favorite shows would be an exercise in finding five spare minutes throughout the week.
Then something weird happened. I lost my gag reflex at watching non-live games. I’ve tried multiple times in the past to record big games that I had to miss for ridiculous reasons like graduate school or the birth of a child, but I’ve never been able to stomach it. “This shit’s not live,” I’d repeatedly tell myself, and I’d turn it off and go read about it on the internet (or ask my dad about it, in the neolithic days before the worldwide web). Somehow with soccer none of that mattered. Maybe because it was in Europe and played at odd hours, I thought. But that doesn’t account for the fact that I could record and watch a Mexican league game played in my own time zone and watch it three days from now. Maybe because I’m not used to watching soccer live, although that only partially worked too.
Really, it’s because it was just NEW. It was absolutely captivating to discover this new breed of sport, like a reverse Columbus discovering the European pastime and claiming it for myself. I loved the fact that I had next to no idea about the mechanics of the game but could still enjoy watching. I loved that there were myriad personalities and styles of play to absorb. I loved how incredibly fluid the gameplay was, and how little interference from the officials there was, unlike in basketball or American football where the referees tell you exactly where and how to place the ball for each inbound or play. I especially loved that there was this whole other world of sports out there that was huge and yet that I had no clue about. And, let’s be honest, I loved that I was the enlightened American for realizing how awesome it all was and working to educate myself about it.
My daughter’s birth only added to the phenomenon. I would say that she was colicky, but that wouldn’t even begin to describe the level and extent of screaming we endured the first year. She stubbornly refused to sleep anywhere outside of our arms for naps, so I spent the majority of each day holding her while bouncing on a big yoga ball and trying to find ways to stay sane in the meantime. Soccer came to my rescue. I learned to set up the DVR way in advance to record every game I possibly could, and then I’d studiously watch each and every one throughout the week while she slept. I figured there was little else I could do with that time, so I was even freed from guilt about not accomplishing anything of significance.
This was how I developed a liking for certain teams. I still get shit about it, but I root for most of the ridiculously big name (and big salary) teams in Europe – Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid, AC Milan – regardless of their histories or potential rivalries with each other. It’s not that I’m a fair weather fan, looking to pull for a winner. It’s just that those were the teams I saw the most early on, and they were also the most fun to watch. I fell in love with Henry during the World Cup, so Arsenal was a natural choice, but I only grew to like Chelsea over that first season by becoming familiar with their players and seeing them play some great matches. (The fact that I already hated Cristiano Ronaldo also helped determine which team I WASN’T going to root for.) I wanted to root for Barcelona going in, because I liked Ronaldinho and the whole Catalan independence struggle resonated with me, but dammit I ended up pulling for Real Madrid. Never mind that I felt like it was tantamount to rooting for the Franco regime, but I just couldn’t help it. They were great to watch, I already knew most of their players, and they were easy to like since I didn’t know the details of their monied perch atop European football.
Simply put, I was like a new convert full of religious zeal, and I still haven’t quite come down. How different my sports allegiances are was fully illustrated to me on Monday when I had to grudgingly turn off a recorded La Liga match so that my husband could watch Monday Night Football, something which HUAC could probably still try me for. Now that October is here, there is another force to contend with, which is the MLB postseason. I make no bones about my hatred of the sport, but the playoffs are something else entirely, and they usually catch me by surprise and actually get me to watch. Yet tonight, even during the opening games which included TWO of my own L.A. teams, I ended up switching over to the Champions League to see Arsenal pound Porto and Real Madrid hold off Zenit St. Petersburg (both recorded, of course). Don’t get me wrong – I still love all my sports and am dying for the NBA season to start (come on, Halloween!), but I don’t see any of the Big Three infringing on my soccer fanaticism any time soon. Hopefully they won’t revoke my passport or anything.