Preface: Please note that, in order to keep my writing skills as sharp as possible for my regular writing, I like to try and write side stories or articles on topics that I don't normally cover. I figured this would be a great avenue to do just that. This will probably be a long read, but I hope everyone enjoys it.
Hello, everyone. My name's Sean, and I'm a football fan.
No, I'm not trying to sound like I'm on Step 1 of the 12-Step program.
In the United States, saying that sentence tends to get a response like this: "Oh, who do you follow? Patriots? Bears? Steelers?"
Granted, I am a fan of American Football. I was raised in Chicago and I follow the Bears religiously. When it's in the later months of the year, I can usually be found at my favorite bar with other Bears' fans, cheering them on or, more appropriately for my team, doing a shot of Jack Daniel's when Jay Cutler throws his third interception of the game.
However, when I answer with "Well, what league do you mean? The Premier League or MLS?" I usually get a dumbfounded face because I am one of those guys that calls it "football" and not "soccer." Granted, I usually say something like "Club Football" or "World Football" to avoid the confusion, but it's fun to troll people sometimes. I wasn't always this way, though.
In my younger years (Currently I am 32 years old), I hated the sport. I chalk it up to immaturity, but a lot of it has to do with lack of exposure to the game itself. It also is due to the fact that Chicago is a white-collar city that thrives on sports with violence. Hell, the Bears were known for decades as being a top team in the "Black and Blue Division" because, even if you won or lost, the next week you were so damned beat up that you couldn't play properly. Taking that example, it isn't hard to imagine why soccer wasn't more than just something for kids to do in AYSO leagues.
I moved to Wisconsin at the age of 13 and was exposed even less to the sport. There were no soccer fields, no youth leagues, nothing. The few who did play the sport generally had to do it on their own and it took several years to convince the town that it might be beneficial to start it up. The town was all about three things: High school sports, American Football, and especially hockey. Soccer was frowned upon as no one cared about the skill of the game. People wanted to see hitting, blocking, body checks, etc. I am just as guilty as everyone else in that town of referring to the sport in a derogatory fashion, sometimes using terms that I'm not especially proud of.
I went out of state for my University education, going to The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. It turns out that Columbus, while it is almost always about the Buckeyes for football here, is a pretty damn good soccer town. Crew Stadium was the first soccer-specific stadium built in the United States and enjoyed some decent attendance in a time when the league was pretty down and trying to stave off bankruptcy. Of course, I didn't care at the time. I was watching American Football as much as possible.
It all changed for me on February 28, 2001, at Crew Stadium.
A couple of days prior, a radio station here in Columbus was running a contest for tickets to see the USMNT take on Mexico in what would be the start of the fabled "Dos a Cero" home dominance in Columbus. I was a lucky winner of two tickets and was considering just giving them away, but when a friend of mine, who was and still is, to this day, a huge fan of the beautiful game, asked to go with me, he said that if I gave the game a chance, it would grow on me.
That Tuesday night, we bundled ourselves up because February in Ohio is not exactly something to enjoy, we braved the cold and snow (29 degrees at kickoff with a stiff breeze) to watch Josh Wolff and Ernie Stewart pound home goals to make it a 2-0 victory. I didn't have a damn clue whatsoever as to what the rules of the game were except for the basics: Put the ball in the net, don't tackle someone, and that was about it. Offsides seemed damned silly to me, but when I got to see the game live and how things progressed, I was intrigued. It was such a vastly different game and, at the time, the MLS really didn't do the sport justice. Watching two national teams, however, really showed me what the game was about. I screamed my lungs out and went to class the next day completely unable to speak. A professor called upon me in one of our recitation classes and I had to shake my head because I simply couldn't form words. He asked me why and I wrote down "I was at Crew Stadium last night." He was from England, and he just said to me "I understand. Did you enjoy it?" I nodded my head with a big smile on my face and the professor, who later told me he was a fan of Everton, said "Maybe football will get popular here someday."
I followed the national team throughout their qualification and celebrated with a group of supporters at a local bar when they clinched their birth. In what seemed like an eternity, I patiently waited for the 2002 World Cup. Crew Stadium was holding viewing parties in the wee hours of the morning and, to all of our surprise, was met with incredible popularity. My friends and I were living off campus but were just a few blocks walk from the stadium. There were a couple of nights leading up to a USA match where we would drink the night before, not sleep at all, and then pick up more on the way to the stadium. People played pick up matches outside the stadium. Everyone was decked out in red, white, and blue. I was wearing a Brian McBride #20 jersey that I had ordered on eBay.
We watched with absolute glee as the USA moved on to the knockout stage, which was highlighted by a very unexpected 3-2 victory over Portugal. In the Round of 16, we screamed loudly at Crew Stadium as we eliminated Mexico by a familiar score of 2-0. The match against Germany was a heartbreaker, but the tournament was still considered a huge success. The United States in the final eight of the tournament? Crazy talk. Except that it happened.
The years that passed by I slowly found myself paying more attention to the Columbus Crew, eventually going to games on a fairly regular basis. I was at Crew Stadium when the Crew locked up a birth in the MLS Cup a few years ago. I was finding myself pulled deeper into the sport. The problem I found, of course, was that I wasn't getting top-flight exposure. The MLS is still enjoyable, but it's not to the level of European Football at all. My favorite player, a guy by the named of Clint Dempsey, was playing overseas at Fulham. Coverage of the Premier League was next to nothing at the time, but I eventually found a place here in Columbus that would show Premier League matches since the sport was experiencing fantastic growth. I decided to follow Dempsey and make a good effort to get up on weekends to watch his matches whenever I could, though this wouldn't happen until just a couple of years ago when Dempsey was exploding at Fulham. I was still learning how the system worked in England and really couldn't wrap my head around the whole idea that there were no playoffs at the end, that there were "cup ties" along the way, and that there were competitions in Europe that ran concurrently with the league schedule.
It really did seem crazy to me, but I soaked it all up.
I actually found myself defending the sport vehemently to those who I sounded like many years ago. Listening to guys who never watched the sport bitch about how people dive and how they were "soccer fairies" and afraid to play a real sport made my blood boil.
By the time I was really into the game, Dempsey was at the end of his time with Fulham. I knew that Dempsey wouldn't play in England forever, and I wanted a team to follow, especially with Fox Sports picking up their coverage of the Premier League after the 2010 World Cup and knowing that NBC was getting the coverage after that. I made the decision that, no matter what club Dempsey went to, that would be the club I would follow from here on out. It could have been a number of teams according to rumors, because #BATCOUNTRY is definitely a thing, and it was really looking like Liverpool would pick him up. I have friends that are fans of the Reds, so it would have been pretty easy to roll with. I was already looking at stores online to see what it would cost to get a Liverpool kit with Dempsey's name on the back of it. I had held off on getting a Fulham #23 because he wanted to move on. Liverpool has history, right? Hell, he might really make a difference! Okay, sweet! My friends will be more than happy to...
...Wait, what's that you say? Tottenham Hotspur? What the hell is a Hotspur? I'll admit, I had to look them up to see where the hell they were at in England. I still get a good laugh out of it today.
The first match I was able to watch due to a crappy work schedule was the 3-2 win away at Old Trafford. I was happy as hell that Dempsey scored, but I was learning real quick that Dempsey wasn't anywhere close to the best player on the team. The season rolled on, and I was quickly learning more about the rest of the team and made a concerted effort to learn about the history of the club. I will never consider myself a Spurs historian by any stretch of the imagination, but I was enjoying what I was seeing. The highs and lows were actually getting to me more than I expected. I watched the 1-1 Draw at home against Manchester United and woke up my roommate cheering for the goal at the end. My neighbors pound on my wall when I cheer during early matches when people should be sleeping in on the weekend.
I found myself fully locked into the team, the league, and the sport. I was at the latest chapter of Dos a Cero, as well as the qualifier last year against Jamaica. I'm now a season ticket holder for the Columbus Crew, standing with the Nordecke amongst the Crew Union and Hudson Street Hooligans. I choose to watch the BPL instead of pregame shows for NCAA and NFL. And, the real moment that I knew that I was going to be watching Tottenham Hotspur from here on out? When Dempsey moved on, and I didn't have a single problem with it. Yes, I will miss him and I will get to see him at least once a year in the MLS at Crew Stadium, but I was getting excited for the upcoming season with the signings of Soldado, Paulinho, Capoue, Lamela, Eriksen, and so on. I was now no longer locked into a single player in a 20-team league. I was locked into a team, one that I will now follow until the end of days. One day, I will go to White Hart Lane and see a match there. I'm not sure how I will react, whether I just walk in, smile, and take in the sight of it, or if I will have a full emotional breakdown like Adam Richman did on Spurs TV.
I've gone so far as to attempt to organize a supporters' club here in Columbus, which is in its very early stages. It's a rough start, but I will stick with it and advertise like mad until I can see a bar full of lily white cheering on Spurs against other clubs on Saturday and Sunday mornings. People who don't watch the sport say I'm crazy, but I invite them out to at least experience the game and give it a fair shot. Most of the time, I'm turned down, and I question whether its just the blind hatred they have for the sport, or whether they are afraid that they may actually enjoy watching it at a top level. Either way, even if I get to bring in just one extra person here and there, it makes me happy, especially if those people turn out to enjoy the sport and want to see more.
My name's Sean, and I'm not just a football fan. I'm a fan of Tottenham Hotspur.