I like soccer. Well…I think I like soccer.
I at least like the idea of soccer.
I grew up playing soccer, but in the United States, that’s like saying I grew up with a friend named John or Jessica. Meaning: I grew up playing soccer…but so did the other 200 million other American’s born in the 80’s. My generation is, after all, responsible for the term “soccer mom”. Mini-vans, orange slices, and shin guards were as integral to my childhood as Legos, Dunkaroos and Top Gun.
So this begs the question: with so many people raised on the sport, why is it disrespected by all national sports media and regulated to premium cable channels like ESPN 18 or FSC? Why do I have to feel ashamed of being a fan of the world’s most popular game? As an adult, saying I like soccer is, in most circles, just asking to be heckled and mocked.
Whatever. I like soccer. I always have, but I’ve never been one to be up-front with it (or anything else, for that matter). Now, I can’t sit here and list all previous world cup winners, give you a game by game breakdown of last year’s UEFA Champions League, or recite the World Cup – 2010 team captains by heart, but I consider myself at least a casual fan. Lately though, I find myself becoming more and more wrapped up in it.
I find myself paying way more attention to the outcome of the latest Premier League match (or “fixture”, as they call them across the pond) than I am to “National College Football Signing Day” or anything NBA. I visit ESPNsoccernet almost as much as I check my Facebook page (which is, unfortunately, far too often). And I’m absurdly excited for the World Cup this summer.
How did this happen? I can’t explain it…but, it just sorta happened.
When I travel, my souvenir of choice is almost always a soccer jersey. It’s a tangible, yet trendy way to “show off” the places I have been…and collecting them is slowly becoming a mild obsession. I can’t resist the team colors and sponsors…from Pirelli and Samsung to Acorns and UNICEF. I have an A.S. Roma warm-up jacket from our trip to Italy (and serious non-buyer’s remorse from an Inter Milan jersey almost-purchase) and two Ghana National Team jerseys’…one I received as a gift, and the other from when I visited in 2008 on a mission trip.
All over the world, sports are used as a release. People use them as a way to “escape” from the sometimes harsher realities of the real world. Some realities are harsher than others. In Ghana, soccer (football) is everywhere. If there is a ball, there is a soccer game going on. The young play, the old play, the women play, and the men play. Audiences gather for even the smallest pick-up matches. In most cases, I had more money in my wallet than they had…period. Yet…they were truly happy. More than happy. Ecstatic. It seemed that they found more joy in this…game…than I usually get out of a house full of all my…stuff.
I can’t describe it any better than that, but it is an extremely powerful memory from my trip…you will just have to take my word for it.
So maybe that’s why. Maybe not. Either way, there’s no denying it any longer. Like it or not, I’m a soccer fan. Are you? What are your thoughts? Who’s your team and why? Let me know!
*End note: I feel that soccer isn’t as popular in the U.S. simply because of the choice our country’s best athletes have. All over the world (except maybe Canada), all the best athletes are steered towards playing soccer. Here, they would choose football, basketball, or baseball…before even considering playing soccer. Imagine if Lebron or AP played soccer? I bet our national team would fair a lot better every four years if our best athletes played soccer…