That is not a statement I would have made two years ago.
I can no longer deny it, however, as yesterday I found myself throwing my arms up in the air in the middle of Chick-fil-A as I watched the Arsenal vs. Chelsea match on my laptop. I thought about how crazy I must have looked. I can only imagine what people must have been thinking… “Hmmm, that guy must be watching something either exciting or important to get that worked up.” And then they see my screen… “Soccer? Really? That is so boring…” Which is exactly what I would have thought two years ago: Soccer = Boring.
Growing up in America, football has always been king, followed by college football, baseball, college basketball during March, basketball… I would even have watched bowling before I would have watched soccer. But that all began to change a couple of years ago. I look back now and try to dissect how the change occurred and I think it began simply with the realization that soccer was the most important sport in the world and so I knew there had to be something to it. Then I remember my friend Josh confessing at some point to liking soccer and he was watching the 2006 World Cup. But who cares about two countries endlessly kicking a ball back and forth and praying to get lucky once?
Then I went to Seattle in the summer of 2009. I was there interning at Q Cafe and I know there are a few posts on here about the trip. One Saturday I decided to take the ferry to Bainbridge Island and rode the bus into the city which dropped me off at Qwest Field at
about 8 a.m. Unlike every other morning that I passed by the stadium, the place was buzzing! There were parking attendants and tailgaters everywhere. The sidewalks were flooded with people wearing Sounders gear. I couldn’t believe how early these people were for a game that I later found out didn’t start till noon. Then as the ferry arrived hundreds of people got off decked out to go to the soccer match! I was astonished. Later I found out that they were playing Chelsea (sounded like a good team) and had something like 35,000 or 40,000 people there. A couple weeks later they played another match against Barcelona. Little did I know each of their opponents would go on to win their respective leagues that year. To this day I can say I truly regret not going to those matches! So I immediately became a Seattle Sounders fan and credit that community of fans and their enthusiasm for the game for truly bring me into the soccer realm.
Next came the 2010 World Cup! Even though I wasn’t quite the fan that I am now I was certainly looking forward to the tournament and began doing a lot more research. By the time the first game was played between South Africa and Mexico I had a pretty good idea of the rules, favorites, and the stars to keep an eye on. Luckily I was a teacher at the time and therefore was off for the summer so I could watch the matches. Overall, I think I saw about 70% of all the matches played and since then I have been absolutely hooked! I will forever have, along with every Englishman in the world, Robert Green’s botched save burned into my memory as well as the horrible calls that led to the draw with Slovenia. I gained a passion for the game and no longer saw it as boring. Instead, every moment was a fast-paced, never-a-commercial-break opportunity to witness an impossible pass that lead to an impossible goal that was every bit as beautiful as it was improbable. I was hooked and captivated by the intensity of players like Clint Dempsey and Diego Forlan, the precision of Xavi and Iniesta, and I even liked the way the game was hopelessly flawed by the lack of instant replay.
Once the World Cup was over I knew I needed to pick an EPL team to support, it just seemed like what a budding soccer fan was supposed to do. So I wanted to find a team that had the opportunity to win but was not the overall favorite. The team had to be exciting to watch and so I went with Arsenal. I mentioned that I was an Arsenal to an Englishman a few weeks later and he said “but they have no English players.” Why should I care? (But let me point out that we have your two most promising players for the 2014 World Cup in Wilshere and Theo Walcott!)
Finally, we moved to Chattanooga, TN who happens to have the best and most well supported NPSL team in the country, Chattanooga FC! I went to every match I could once we moved and we won every single one except the Championship match against Sacramento Gold. Where the average NPSL has the support of about 600 fans per game, CFC averaged somewhere over 3,000 this year.
So now I find myself watching more soccer matches than football games and throwing my hands in the air with joy and frustration in the middle of suburban restaurants. Chattanooga FC, Sounders FC, Arsenal, and U.S. Men are the teams I support. Perhaps that is one too many, but I figure none of them will ever play each other and so my loyalties will never have to be compromised!
If you still think I am crazy, here are a couple tips to help you become a fan of the Beautiful Game:
#1 – Understand the Game – Before I use to think it was just boring kicking back and forth. Now I understand set pieces, formations, and fouls. My biggest frustration when I first started watching the Sounders was not having a clue what offsides meant. You can never be in front of the defender? How is that fair? But now that I understand the rules I see patterns and skill in passing, defending, and scoring.
#2 Pick a Side – I believe soccer can still be incredibly boring if you have nothing invested in the match. However, when you care about who wins, suddenly a 1-0 match will put you on the edge of your seat to see if your team can score the equalizer in the final few moments!