Welcome to the refreshed Cartilage Free Captain! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts to write your own post. We’re collecting all of the stories here and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!
Every football fan has an origin story, just like every superhero. I never got superpowers, but I did manage to fall head first into a crazy world of international sports in a way that I never expected. My story starts ten years ago.
My family and I had just moved into our neighborhood about a year and a half before, soon enough that we didn’t really know our neighbors all that well. I was in the back yard working on the garden when I saw one of my neighbors walking down the alley wearing a blue and white soccer jersey that I didn’t recognize.
“Hey,” I called out, “what team is that?”
“Wigan,” he said. “Are you a soccer fan?”
“Yeah!” I said. And then, after a pause, “...What’s Wigan?”
My answer was sort of true. I had followed soccer casually since the 1994 World Cup in USA, but my fandom was restricted to the US Men’s National Team and occasionally checking the scores of Saprissa, a Costa Rican club team that I watched while on a study-service term in college in 1997.
“You should join us,” my neighbor said. “There’s a group of guys in the neighborhood who get together once a week to watch Premier League games about a block away. Wanna come?”
I said I did.
That Thursday, Dave (my neighbor) came to my door to pick me up. We walked about a block to the house of another neighbor I didn’t know, into his garage, and up the stairs to an attic loft. The owner, Ref, had converted that loft into a veritable man cave, complete with big-screen television, wifi, and ratty couches. The walls were decorated with flags of EPL and Bundesliga clubs. The rafters were strewn with white Christmas lights. It was packed with neighborhood men in their late 30s and early 40s, most of them wearing Premier League jerseys of some kind. At 31, I was the youngest guy there.
I met most of the football-loving guys in my neighborhood that night, and settled down to watch a highlight show from the previous week’s Premier League matches. Apart from the usual names — Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal — these matches mostly featured teams that I did not know, but I was surrounded by guys who had incongruously adopted one of these teams as their own. Ref was a United fan. Ben followed Fulham. Paul was West Ham. Jason was Arsenal.
Dave, the Wigan fan, said that he chose Wigan because he was drawn to the long-shot nature of the club. “The rule of this gathering is,” he said, “you have to pick a team. We all chose one. No sideline sitting. Gotta pick.”
After an evening of beer consumption, friendly banter, and football highlights, I went home intrigued. I fired up Wikipedia, and tapping into the investigative nature that at one point in my life led me to graduate school, I started researching Premier League clubs.
I knew I didn’t want to be a band-wagoner. That runs counter to the rest of my sports fandom, so it immediately ruled out the then-called “Big Four” of United, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Chelsea. Having recently learned what promotion and relegation was, I also didn’t want to latch onto a team that might go down in a year or two. I started a deep dive into a number of clubs at the table, looking at their teams, their history, the colors of their jerseys. The process took a while.
In the end it my decision came down to two clubs: Everton, and Tottenham Hotspur. Both were teams that seemed at the time and to my uninitiated mind similar in culture and stature, and It was a close decision. Both had a distinguished history, strong fan support, were pretty good but not crap, and hadn’t won anything for a long, long time.
After a couple of weeks of casual highlights and consideration, I eventually settled on Tottenham, this funky north London club with Jewish cultural history and a crazy name that I had no idea what it meant. I liked the colors. They also had a badge featuring a chicken standing on a soccer ball.
It was October of 2007. Martin Jol was fired two weeks later.
I never got accused of glory-hunting. I watched, a nascent and slightly bewildered Tottenham fan as rando Spanish manager Juande Ramos led a group of Spurs players I barely knew to lift a Carling Cup trophy I barely understood. The following fall I agonized my way through two-points-from-eight-games and very briefly considered switching my allegiance to Hull City, should Spurs somehow be relegated that season (thankfully for both Spurs and my nascent Premier League fandom, neither happened).
By the time the dust settled on the 2008-09 season, Ramos and Dimitar Berbatov were out, Harry Redknapp, Robbie Keane, and Roman Pavlyuchenko were in. Droopy Dog-jowled ‘Arry arm-around-the-shouldered Spurs to a respectable eighth place in the table. Darren Bent scored 17 goals, and by the end of that season, I was head over heels in love with this insane, unpredictable team that played 7500 miles from my home town.
Back in the late Aughties, soccer internet wasn’t the huge thing that it is today. Twitter was a thing, but wasn’t especially useful. Soccer blogs were mostly EPL Talk, Soccer By Ives, and a bunch of smaller blogs written by fans. The writing was informative, but the comments were cretinous. You couldn’t really watch live Premier League games in the States without an insanely expensive cable package, and most of the time Tottenham wasn’t shown. You could find the occasional illegal stream, and the links to these Spurs games were passed around on match day in hushed, almost reverent tones between people in the know.
Trying to watch the Premier League live in America was a solitary exercise, but I had my group of neighborhood men to share my excitement with. Sometimes all we had were the odd European game on Setanta Sports (another competition I didn’t really understand) and the Sky Premier League highlights show to watch on Thursday nights. It didn’t matter. It was football.
After a couple of years I managed to catch this blog’s founder Kevin McCauley on an EPL Podcast talking about Spurs, and in the process discovered Cartilage Free Captain. Finally, I had found a small but friendly community of (mostly) American Tottenham fans with commenters that (mostly) knew how to write in complete sentences and with proper grammar. I opened an account. The rest is history.
I’m a Tottenham Hotspur fan primarily by choice. Contrary to many of the supporters I met in England in April, I wasn’t born into fandom. I decided to follow this crazy club with the funny name, and embrace all of the ecstatic highs and soul-crushing lows that it offers.
But I’m also a fan of Tottenham Hotspur in large part because of this very community that I’m now privileged to run. My path to fandom culminated in my trip to London in April to see Spurs play Bournemouth in one of the last games at White Hart Lane, a trip made possible by the this very community. If there ever was a question as to whether or not I’d be a lifetime Spurs fan (there really wasn’t), there certainly isn’t now.
This place is unique to the internet as far as I can tell due to its high percentage of intelligent fans, but also because of its culture of spirited and inclusive discourse. We are a crazy mash-up of American fans, British fans, and people from a host of other countries that probably came here for a crazy transfer rumor but stayed because of the community.
SB Nation is asking you to share your stories of why you are a fan, but it’s important to be clear that, at least at Cartilage Free Captain, it doesn’t really matter. The fact that you are a fan is reason enough for you to be here, and in that spirit I welcome you.
So if you are a person who reads daily but has never made an account or decided to make a comment, do it. If you have wanted to write a FanPost but have been afraid of the reaction you’ll get, you are encouraged. Come out of the shadows. Let your voice be heard. Express why you’re a fan. This is a community that welcomes all.
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