The Beautiful Game. Soccer. Futbol. Call it what you may; it is my new obsession. Mostly, I wonder how a billion people are watching this sport and somehow I missed my invitation to the party. And this is a party I would love to have attended much earlier. My two favorite things in the world are sports and exploring other cultures; soccer sits squarely at the intersection of both.
Oh, I had my chances. My son played youth soccer from age three through fifth grade, but all I remember is shivering in a lawn chair bundled up in a blanket in the constant winds that only northwest Ohio can produce. On a positive note, I did learn the rules of soccer during those years. Probably the most amazing fact about the world’s most popular game is the total number of rules: the FIFA 17 Laws of the Game. It seems appropriate that the beautiful game would not be encumbered with minutiae, just 17 simple laws.
So what changed? During high school, my son spent many hours in front of the living room television playing FIFA video soccer. The video soccer matches are commentated by an English broadcast team. As the backdrop to our everyday lives, we were hearing announcer Martin Tyler spout quintessential English soccer remarks such as “clinical,” “lucrative,”” exhilarating run,” and “gorgeous shape of a pass.” We have never heard any of these quotes in an American football game. Somehow that poetic commentary drew me in and I was quickly hooked.
At the same juncture, my hometown had an upgrade in cable television and we were able to access Barclays Premiere League soccer matches. The best news about BPL games is they happen at 8:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings in Ohio. What a great sport for an early riser like me! Even better yet, I learned that we could watch the biggest matches at Logan’s Irish Pub in Findlay. What is not to love about watching the Manchester Derby sipping a Bloody Mary while surrounded by friends?
I have my favorite teams in American sports but didn’t know which team to support during my first full season of Barclays Premiere League. My son cheers for Manchester City Football Club (MCFC) so I followed his lead. He told me that Manchester City would be very good that season (2011-12) due to the unlimited spending power of its owner, Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour, whose family fortune is purported to exceed $1 trillion. So, I joined the other Citizens and rooted for a team that had not won a championship since 1968. I am a Cleveland Browns fan so that seemed like a fairly short drought.
My first season as a Barclays Premiere League fan was complicated because there was so much to learn. There are many new vocabulary words: relegation, loans, fixtures, transfer window. As my son predicted, Manchester City shot out to a quick lead early in the season, but after Christmas the Citizens started to lag and with only five weeks left in the season found themselves trailing their hated cross-town rivals, Manchester United, by eight points with five weeks left in the season.
Yet on a Sunday morning in mid-May, my family was awake early and gathered around the television to watch the last match of the season. Manchester United had already defeated Sunderland 1-0 and Manchester City was trailing the lowly Queens Park Rangers 2-1 at the end of regulation time. Only five stoppage minutes were left in the match. Unbelievably, Edin Dzeko scored for MCFC two minutes into stoppage time and Sergio Aguero scored again two minutes later to secure three points for Manchester City thus snatching the Barclays Premier League championship from the hated Red Devils on goal differential. The ensuing celebration in Manchester actually registered on a seismic level. Lifelong Manchester City fans openly wept.
At that moment, our family was high fiving and jumping on the couch in Findlay, Ohio. We had officially joined a global family over a billion strong: one family united around a simple beautiful game, a game that crosses all cultural and geographical boundaries, and best of all, a game with a poetic soundtrack. What’s not to love about announcers shouting “the irascible Uruguayan,” ‘the Ivorian,” and “Chicharito?”
What’s next? We have had a chance to watch some soccer in the states including Manchester United vs. Barcelona in Washington D.C. Last fall, we watched the USA national team play the Reggae Boyz representing Jamaica. We are anxious to see USA vs. Mexico World Cup Qualifier next September at Crew Stadium. My bucket list got a lot longer when I fell in love with soccer. I’m hoping there is at least one World Cup match in my future and definitely a trip across the pond to see Barclays Premiere League matches soon. Jeff and Marie Swaisgood, just let us know when you are ready to go!