I’ve never been much of a sports fan or, for that matter, a sports player. This can be proven by my extensive childhood career of dance, theater, music, and any combination of the three. However, at a young age, I was tossed in, as every child is, to every sport imaginable just to see how I would fair. Would I be the next Serena Williams? Was I more of a Misty May Treanor? A soccer game at the age of 4 would prove that I was no sports star. My parents sat in lawn chairs on the soccer field under the beating sun just to see me sit on the field picking daisies and talking about horses with my other 4-year-old pal. This type of behavior continued as I got older. Walking during basketball, singing in the dugout – I just wasn’t meant to play sports.
This behavior would catch up with me in the form of ultimate frisbee nickname: “D-Picker” or daisy picker in long-form. It was not until high school that I really found a sport I loved (not to play myself of course). My father’s love of the University of Oklahoma football program had increased my interest in football throughout my life. As a young child I would poke fun at fans of our rival team, Oklahoma State, by calling them “OSU: Old Stinky Underwear.” At the time, I didn’t really understand how the game worked. I would hide when my dad’s friends came over to watch football games, listening to their commentary from afar. It was always a momentous occasion that required lots of Bud Light, Tostitos, and bean dip – typical American sustenance. One of my fondest memories is crying to my mother about falling in the toilet because, during one of the football gatherings, one of the guys forgot to put the toilet seat down. Still, as I matured, I understood more of how the game worked. Obviously I did not have the most thorough knowledge. I still sometimes would cheer with the rest of the onlookers at a game only to ask ten seconds later,”So what happened?” I also lacked knowledge of players and teams and ranks and sports news. My knowledge was limited to what I saw on the OU football field. I knew a touchdown when I saw one. I knew a first-down. I knew a field goal. I knew a win. Something that I did not realize until studying abroad, was the global interest in soccer – or, as I like to call it, the “real” football.
My first experience with football was at an Irish pub in Rome.
It was my first time in the city and a few students and I had decided to have a drink and see if we could catch the Oklahoma football game. The pub had a promise posted on their front door that they would stream any game available as long as you asked. I, for one, was not about to miss out on an OU football game if I could prevent it. So, we marched into the pub around 7pm that evening to find ourselves almost unable to enter. The pub was packed wall to wall with men and women large and small holding a pint in one hand and gesturing at the television screens with the other. The shouts we heard came in English, so, I assumed the game was English. Intrigued, my friends and I ended our night, after a failed OU football streaming attempt, watching both rugby and the end of the football game, screaming with the fans and laughing at how out of place we felt. After that day, I gained a new interest in football. I looked up information on some of the best players in the world (and yes I took a lot of time studying the perfect features of Cristiano Ronaldo). I began playing small indoor football games with the Italian children I tutored and asking them about the local team on which they played. Their eyes lit up when I talked about football. Even in broken English, I could understand how much they loved it. This fervor for the sport was not limited just to them. I saw the craze in every European city I visited: high-priced jerseys in shop windows, pub nights dedicated to games, children playing in the streets. This obsession followed me back to the United States where I began watching late night football and rugby through Sky Sports. There, I slowly began to understand the hype surrounding the sport. Football connects all nations in one universal game. The minor leagues bring small communities together which I learned at the Barnet football game in the Hive stadium during my time in London. Bigger leagues bring together whole cities. FIFA allows people from all over the world to feel a sense of national pride through sport. Even better is the ability that everyone, no matter their socioeconomic status, has to play football. All that’s needed is a ball and teams.
The sport circles the globe.
Yet, coming back to the states permanently (as far as I know) has lead to the disappearance of football in my life. Recently at dinner, I was excited about the USA vs Costa Rica game where we lost miserably. The people I was with were confused. “This is America,” they said. And they were right. The sport just is not as revered in the states. American football takes precedent. That does not mean that there are not pockets of fans. Go on Reddit and you’ll find a thread about soccer within the first five minutes. But the hype does not reach European levels as I experienced. Does it make me sad that football isn’t big in America? Yeah. It brings people together in a way that American football can’t. But that does not mean that I cannot enjoy it by myself. I plan on sharing with anyone who will listen about the joy that is “real” football. Maybe they will be able to enjoy it just as much as I do.