I’m a new soccer fan. I’m 50 years old and I’m a new soccer fan. How have I missed the beautiful game all these years? I don’t know. Okay, yeah I do. Let me tell you the story.
I grew up in small town America. Many small towns is more accurate. Okay, 10 is probably even more accurate. Ten small towns of America and none of them were bastions of soccer fandom. I grew up in places where kids wore football helmets and Roger Staubach jerseys straight out of the womb.
I actually did play a little soccer when I was little. I lived in Gladewater, Texas — population 6,427 … Salute! — and when I was in fifth grade, the local sports group started the very first soccer team. This had to be 1976 or so. So, I signed up to play for the Twisters or Tornadoes or Cyclones or some such team name. We were clueless about soccer. We knew football and baseball and basketball but nothing about soccer. I actually thought you could touch the ball with your hands as long as your hands were closed, balled into little fists. It’s not true. But I digress.
Turns out we weren’t terrible. And let me tell you, little Rodney was pretty good at this game of soccer. Rodney was fast. Rodney was a goal scorer. Rodney was the MVP of the league. I’m talking about another kid named Rodney, not me. I played “fullback” which is what we called a defensive middle back in those days and was the equivalent of playing right field in baseball. I was not the worst soccer player ever but I never threatened to score a goal. Matter of fact soccer brought about one of THE most embarrassing moments of my young life. (I’ve had plenty more since then but this is one that wasn’t caused by alcohol).
In the last game, we were playing for a championship. We were up by one goal late in the game and the other team kicked a deep ball right at me. Instead of controlling the ball with my chest or for god’s sake with a balled up fist, I actually just caught the ball, like a punt returner about to take this thing to the house. I dropped it immediately, but the referee called it a hand ball anyway.
Jerk! Are you nuts!?!
Anyway, since my blunder was in the penalty box, the other team received a penalty kick, which even in 1970 East Texas was almost a guaranteed goal. It was. We tied. They won on penalty kicks at the end of regulation and I went home to shame and humiliation. It was so bad my teammates and coach put “For Sale” signs up in my yard and we lived in a rented duplex. My family actually had to move from Gladewater. It was three years later and it wasn’t because of that game, but we still moved.
Then over the next thirty years or so, I forgot about soccer. Both of my kids played a little bit in their youth and I enjoyed the games, but I never really got “into” soccer.
I always thought soccer was a dull sport, no action, too many ties. It was like kissing your sister. I didn’t appreciate anything about it.
It was 2010 and the World Cup was on TV. The U.S. Men’s National Team was in the tourney and actually looked like contenders to make a deep run. I worked from home so every day I had the TV tuned into whatever game was on.
You know what? I started liking soccer. I saw the nuance. The announcers and the fans and the teams brought the game alive for me. I still didn’t understand everything but suddenly the game looked like fun.
That one World Cup made me a rabid fan of the game.
Haha. Just kidding. It didn’t. I didn’t watch another game of soccer.
It was 2014 and the World Cup was back on TV. It was even better because it was in Brazil and the fans didn’t have any of those annoying vuvuzelas. (My god those things were annoying). Anyway, the games were even better than they were in 2010. I loved watching Ronaldo and Neymar and that one guy with the hair from the German team. It was awesome. Every game was exciting. The sport finally won me over.
Later that summer I bought tickets to a friendly match between Real Madrid and AS Roma at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. It was a blast. Even tough Ronaldo sat out of the game, it was fun to watch. I decided I needed to follow soccer a little closer. Since it was August and almost time for the English Premier League season to start, I picked a team to follow. I chose Chelsea for two reasons: 1) because they were pretty good, and 2) because my son and brother followed Chelsea. The games were early here in the states so I had to get up early on Saturday and watch the games. It was a fun season. And you know what? Chelsea won the Premiership that year. I’m not saying it was because I became a fan but I’m not saying it wasn’t because of that either.
I became a huge soccer fan. Then the next season came and I don’t think I watched a full game all year. I kinda gave up on soccer again.
The year was 2018 and I moved to a new neighborhood in Frisco. I met my new neighbors and lo and behold one of my new neighbors plays for FC Dallas. This is his first year and he seems to be really excited about what this team can accomplish. I admit that I had been a casual fan of FC Dallas since that first World cup by in 2010 (No, they weren’t in the World Cup but I was turned on to soccer and they were the local team). I went to a couple of games and kept up with the team casually through Twitter and whatnot. But now my neighbor plays for the team. I know him. I know one of the players. I might have to start following these guys a little bit more, I thought.
So now I’ve been to two home matches and I’ve watched all the away games on TV. I bought an FC Dallas shirt and then another. I’m saving up for a jersey. I scream at the TV when the referee makes a terrible call (Seven minutes of stoppage time? Are you nuts?) I scream when a player fouls our guy right in front of the referee. (Did you not see that? Is that not a foul? Are you nuts?).
I’m watching soccer all the time now and was legitimately sad when all the European leagues’ seasons ended. I’m looking forward to the World Cup in Russia and can’t wait to see who wins. I’m excited about socc … no check that … futbol.
And now FC Dallas is in first place in the Western Conference— well they were for almost 24 hours until Sporting KC beat Minnesota. But they are only two points out with a lot of soccer left to play. I think I agree with my neighbor: these guys have a chance. They might just be able to win it all this year. The MLS Cup could come home to Dallas.
And I’m not saying it would be because I became a huge fan this year, but I’m not saying it’s not because of that either.
Dallas Til I Die.