I’ve always loved sports, but I didn’t always like soccer. As a kid, I wasn’t actually anti-soccer, like some of the kids who thought soccer was for weak kids or any of the mean names kids called each other back then, but I definitely wasn’t for it.
I’d been exposed to the beautiful game only a little as a child, whether on TV or a friend had a soccer video game, but that was about it; I’d only played it a few times during elementary school before I started playing basketball and basically avoided soccer altogether. At school during recess, soccer was just a giant mob of children running around on very loosely arranged teams, and from that I figured that soccer was just a barbaric sport where you kicked wildly at each other’s ankles, something I wasn’t really a fan of.
That was when I was around 6 or 7, and from then on basically just forgot soccer existed; I stuck to playing baseball and basketball, and watching everything else. Fast forward a few years and my third cousin on my mom’s side is cashing out for the Chico State University Men’s Soccer team as their premier striker. In case you’re wondering, this is when I fell in love with soccer; I didn’t feel it quite yet, but I would soon.
My cousin only played a year at CSUC before transferring to Oregon State, if I remember correctly, but those few games I saw were enough to get a taste of the true football and get addicted. I would soon get my first edition of FIFA for PS2, (which is now one hell of a throwback) began to play it all the time, learned the teams, learned the players, and did my own research to figure out what team I should follow, as a true sports fan has a team they follow in every sport. The tough thing with soccer is that it’s a world sport, and there’s a shit ton of teams out there, like a lot. Almost every country in the developed world has a soccer league, or more than one, and the amount of teams in leagues ranges from only 10 teams (Swiss Super League) to 20 teams (Barclay’s Premier League); most leagues have 18 or 20.
For the most part, the countries that have more than one league use relegation systems where the bottom three teams from a league are dropped to the league below and the top three are sent to the next league; when I first discovered this fact, I thought it was absolutely genius (still do) and it further cemented soccer as an awesome sport in my mind. I was starting to learn more about the game, like some very basic tactics, as well as all of the rules; offsides seemed like the stupidest rule to me, but after a while I came to grips with how it does keep players from cherry-picking goals which would be really annoying as a goalie or defender.
After being a soccer fan for five years or so, I still hadn’t managed to pick a team that I’d root for above all others, one that I can put my heart and soul into; being an American, where soccer is “for pussies”, it was never a big deal in sports media, and you rarely saw anything about soccer on ESPN or SportsCenter, so I never really watched it. If I could rarely catch a game on tv, how could I find a squad? I can’t call myself a Chelsea fan if I didn’t see John Terry miss that fateful penalty against Manchester United in the Champions League and wince (I actually jumped for joy and laughed hysterically). Heck, that’s basically the only true big game I’ve ever seen on TV that wasn’t a World Cup match, so I can’t really call myself a fan of any team.
My idea of a fan is someone who’s been faithful to one team through every moment, and can replay each moment in their heads without any discernible effort; I could certainly say I liked Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, or Tottenham Hotspur, but I know that I’m not a true fan like everyone else who’s gone to see those teams play in person or has followed them for more than a few months. I’ve always looked outside of the U.S. for my team, and I’ll admit I am a little prejudiced against American soccer; why follow an American team when there are so many other teams around the world who have long and rich histories, unique traditions, chants, and songs, and with players I know and actually like? And there’s another reason why I couldn’t settle on a certain team— there are so many great players out there that I like, some certainly more than others, but I like to root for players who are scattered around on plenty of teams, most of which are in the same league, so how can I choose after that?
And once I’ve considered that, I have to think about the leagues, as it wouldn’t be very fun to choose a team at my own leisure that sucks and can’t advance to top flight or play in European competitions like the Champion’s League and the European Cup (basically a weaker version of the Champion’s League that apparently everyone hates to play in). So, sorry Cambridge United, I’m never going to cross the pond to watch you draw with Leyton Orient in a total snoozer.
Then there are the teams that I already hate for various reasons, one being “just ‘cause”. Manchester City, Barcelona, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich are some giant clubs that I hate the most, and will never consider rooting for any of them; I can never root for Bayern, a club that’s poached basically every above average player Borussia Dortmund has had in recent years, and Arsenal invaded North London when the club moved Totteham’s territory just over 100 years ago, so f*ck them.
I have teams that I’m a little partial for, like Tottenham or Dortmund, but I was really only lured to those teams by players on those teams, not for anything else (Tottenham for Harry Kane, Dortmund for Marco Reus), and that’s not the right reason to follow a club. I thought Dortmund was my squad for life about a year ago, as I really liked the players, you couldn’t not like Jurgen Klopp (the now former coach), the fans are the best in the world, and the colors and kits (aka uniforms) are dope as hell. What more could I want? Wouldn’t that be the club for me?
Last season Dortmund had a completely shitty start to the season, and soccer pundits and analysts everywhere panicked and wondered whether they’d be relegated; many seemed to seriously consider the possibility. I never worried for a second, and knew for sure that Coach Klopp would lead “die Schwarzgelben” (“the black and yellows”, after the team’s colors) back to near the top of the table, not just middle table obscurity. They finished 7th among 18 teams, far above the relegation that many feared, but a month before the 2014-2015 campaign ended, Klopp announced he was leaving Borussia Dortmund and was taking a year off from football. Jurgen Klopp was a huge reason why I liked Dortmund so much; his energy and style of coaching were vastly different from anything I’d seen in any sport. Guess I’ll leave them too, seeing as I care more about him than I do for Marco Reus, Dortmund’s star winger.
I’ve started to wonder if I should just give up on my search and enjoy football as it is, but I can’t do that; I need to be invested in it, just like I am with the other sports teams I follow. I can’t be a true true fan, but I can be more than a bandwagoner, certainly. So far in my years of loving soccer, I’ve never been able to commit to a club, but despite that, soccer is my favorite sport ever. I love basketball, but soccer makes me feel a way basketball never has, and I’ve never played a second of soccer in my entire life. I love basketball, but I have true passion for the beautiful game. I’d much rather see Norwich play Swansea City than see my beloved Oklahoma City Thunder play the Golden State Warriors, and I’m even putting all of the costs into consideration.
I love the OKC Thunder; that’s been my squad since the second they were made known to the world, but basketball doesn’t feed my soul like soccer does. You see, I can love a basketball team and hate all of the others, but even that passion isn’t enough to overcome the desire I have to root for any number of football clubs, even if for only half a season, or because I like the striker they just got on loan.
I’m more invested in the sport of soccer than I am for my own beloved Thunder. That makes me feel terrible as a basketball fan, but it’s okay. Basketball is really awesome, but it doesn’t inspire the passion inside me that soccer has; I’d give up basketball forever before I’d give up the beautiful game, and I’ve never even stepped on a pitch.
I can’t seem to find a club to root for, yet I clearly feel strongly about football, and even more so than basketball, a game I’ve claimed to love for almost my whole life. I guess that says a lot about soccer; you don’t have to be truly invested in the teams battling on the pitch to be emotionally and irrationally invested in the game.