I am not a recent convert to the beautiful game, but my conversion was one of slow ascent (yes I mean ascent not descent) into lunatic fanaticism.
It began with the World Cup 2002. Like most American school boys I played football. I had played soccer in grade school but as soon as soon as I hit the 5th grade, soccer was too wussy and football was the only man’s sport. I mocked my classmates who played soccer because they didn’t try to smash each other into the ground. Then I watched the World Cup from Korea and Japan. And the atmosphere at each game fascinated the rising 10th grader in me. The chanting and the energy and how it coincided with the action on the pitch was a completely different world to me. So I began to support my classmates at their soccer games, being loud and leading cheers. But it never much amounted to anything more than an appreciation of the game.
Fast forward to Euro 2004. I was on the continent during the tournament staying in Paris, Florence, and Barcelona. It was in the Catalan capital where the love affair truly began. We were there on June 20 when Iberian rivals Spain and Portugal faced off. I sat in a bar watching as the host nation dispatched Spain out of the tournament shockingly in the group stages. The city was electric that night, and I said to myself, if they get so excited for a loss there must be something there. The next day I bought an FC Barcelona jersey and officially declared them my team with no knowledge of who they were, what their history was, or who even played for the team.
But that still wasn’t enough to truly kindle the fire. I kept up with Barca every now and then, but I still didn’t understand the difference between league, cup, and Champions League. It wasn’t until I watched the last half of the 2006 Champions League final that I committed completely to the beautiful game.
As you know Barca struggle the next two years going trophy-less. But I checked Soccernet.com every day, reading everything I could to learn about the game not just through Barcelona but globally. I found myself hating not only the teams that beat Barca, but specific players too (John Arne Riise for his goal at the Nou Camp that ended up putting the defending champs out of the Champions League, pretty boy Cristiano Ronaldo, etc.). But I never really considered myself such a huge fan.
Then came 2009 and the arrival of Pep Guardiola, former Barca midfielder. He brought a style that utilized the players’ talents, a style of possession, slick passing, and beautiful highlight reels. I wasn’t fortunate enough to have GolTV so most of my following of FCB came through the streaming radio off the club website. And I can point to you the exact moment that I knew I was an irrational, totally nuts fan. I was working in a professor’s office during the second leg of the Chelsea-Barcelona tie, listening on Radio Barca. And I was livid at how the dream of the first Spanish team to win all 3 trophies it could in one season (called a treble) was going to die. Then came a lightning bolt off the right foot of Andre Iniesta in the 93rd minute. And I ran around screaming. The professor had no idea what was going on and looked at me like I had 23 heads. But I never felt so much elation in my life.
Since then I have skipped class to watch FCB win one Champions League Final (on my birthday no less), not studied for an exam to watch them thrash bitter rivals Real Madrid 5-0. Watched them over my favorite American football team (but who wants to watch the Redskins these days?). And worn my Messi jersey underneath my shirt and tie at my cousins wedding this year for the Champions League Final, while keeping my phone off (which if you know me you know how hard that is) so I didn’t know who won until I watched on the DVR.
I am truly a convert.