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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

How I learned to stop worrying and love the game

There are Americans who love football and support English clubs with the same zeal as if they lived down the block from the ground. You don’t have to love the game since childhood either. Guest American blogger Rusty Haskell tells us about what brought him to football’s doorstep and become a supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Thanks Rusty!

Every Monday is the same. I come strolling into work, marginally ready to face another week as a mainframe computer jockey, and before long my co-workers stop by to ask me about the weekend. It doesn't matter how I've prepared for this absolutely inevitable question because I'm always thrown off as my weekend comes filtering back like a highlight reel. On Friday night, I tuned in to Fox Soccer Channel to catch Fox Football Friday, the channel's upcoming match preview and call-in show. On Saturday morning, I sat in front of my computer with earphones on, listening to the latest Wolves match over the club's premium Internet radio while watching real-time stats in a live updating browser window. I coordinate my weekend schedule around rebroadcasts of matches from around the world even though I have a perfectly serviceable TiVo that could record the already pre-recorded matches for me. On Sundays when there's a home match, I brave the Florida heat and humidity to go watch our university women's soccer team swelter in the sun.

Strangely enough, most folks are completely unprepared and slightly unnerved by such admissions. Gridiron football is king here in Gainesville, Florida, and when they hear that I'm a soccer fan, most of my co-workers give me that terrible look which says plainly, "I've just stepped in something foul-smelling and now it's on my nice shoe." I've had baseball fans matter of factly explain to me that they don't watch soccer because it's boring. I've endured more than one macho fan explaining to me that the NFL is "real" football and that soccer is game for uncoordinated children. Now? Well, I'm much more likely to just politely say, "Oh, I didn't do much. Just kind of hung out with some friends."

Admittedly, there was a time when, like most Americans, I didn't understand soccer. In school, I followed the NBA with a fervor that was almost religious, and I could list the winners of every NFL Superbowl by year. I remember getting a pack of collectible NASL soccer cards from a family member and just being absolutely baffled by them. To me, soccer was a fun game to play on the playground with the other marching band geeks but not the sort of sport you could really follow with any fervor. It really wasn't until the 2002 World Cup that the sport garnered any of my attention at all.

I got drawn into the world of football by one of those tabloid pieces about the row between Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane that ended in Keane getting dropped from the squad. Coming from a world where NBA egos are nearly as large as the oversized SUVs they drove, I found it absolutely unthinkable that a national team coach would have the gonads to drop the most talented player from their squad right before the biggest event in his sport. The US coverage of the event was rather lacking, so I started turning to the foreign press for my stories, and it suddenly hit me just how exciting football was. I would talk about the beautiful Ronaldo goal from the day before, and only the true soccer fans would greet the conversation topic with just the right amount of awe. Talking about the highlights and stories became a secret handshake.

After the World Cup, I struggled to find a team to support. I tried very hard to get behind MLS, but there wasn't a team in my region to really get behind. I started following English football honestly because the BBC made it so incredibly easy to get all the information I needed. It wasn't too long before I plunked down the money to get digital cable just so that I could get Fox Sports World (which became Fox Soccer Channel) and actually watch some of the games. British magazines like FourFourTwo filled in the gaps that the TV coverage left. In the end, I found myself pulling for Wolverhampton Wanderers and Arsenal more than the other clubs, and when I kept supporting Wolves even after the drop, it was more than clear who had won the battle for my soul and my cash.

I've discovered that there is no cure for football fever. Furthermore the fact that my wife now says casual statements like, "I'm looking for a nice Newcastle pennant to go above my desk, but no one is selling one that I like," is all the proof that I need that the disease is contagious. So when co-workers and friends make the same tired jokes about soccer that I've already heard a dozen times before, I'll just quietly smile, content in the knowledge that it's only a matter of time before they know who Freddy Adu is, who won the Champions League final in Istanbul, and why I'm too busy on Saturdays to go out to a movie.

13 Comments:

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Blogger BILLH said...

NOW JUST LEARN TO LOVE CRICKET AS WELL

9/27/2005 9:08 PM  
Anonymous George Ndah said...

Good on you mate, from the world's biggest Wolves supporter.

9/27/2005 9:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

cheers - the more the merrier

9/27/2005 9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good choice of team. Life was never meant to be plain sailing and following wolves always has its ups and downs. You'll need to develop a sense of humour, b ut for tonight, Crewe 0 - Wolves 4, you can just sit back and smile with the rest of us.

9/27/2005 10:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're in good company. Composer Edward Elgar, Led Zep's Robert Plant and Swedish ex-prime minister Ingvar Carlsson. All Wolves fans.

9/27/2005 10:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and me!

9/28/2005 5:35 AM  
Blogger Marty Wolf said...

Crewe, Stoke, 7 goals 2 games - USA Wolves - its almost like American footy....

9/28/2005 9:36 AM  
Anonymous andrew price said...

the more wolves fans around the world the better. supporting wolves is one the true good things in life, they really are one of the great names of football. i still cant believe how lucky i am to be born near wolverhampton and have family who have watched them for over 100 years or more. i cant imagine supporting any other team. up the wolves!

9/28/2005 8:11 PM  
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