My Soccer Life
December 13, 2016
Having spit out a few thousand words about the Armada, I felt obliged to let everyone know where I’m coming from as a soccer fan. I think I’m a little bit of an oddball as I have never played the game in any organized fashion other than junior high/high school Physical Education class. LikI ae most of what I’ve written on this blog, this is an exercise for myself; I certainly don’t expect anyone to be interested in every last detail of what I put out here.
I am the son of a (now retired) Navy officer. As you will see, I moved around a bit.
My first memories as a child come from living in Jacksonville, in the early 1980’s. I have no memory of the Jacksonville Teamen, who played in the original North American Soccer League after moving from Boston and subsequently played in the American Soccer League and United Soccer League before shutting down. Given how young I was, I guess it isn’t surprising that I’ve no memory of the Teamen, but I do have ever so vague memories of the Jacksonville Bulls of the USFL.
We moved from Jacksonville to southern Maryland. I have one distinct memory of kicking around a soccer ball with my best friend next-door. The organized sport we participated in was tee-ball, though. If soccer was being played in our area (and I suppose it was), it was completely off our radar.
Things were a little bit different after the family’s next move. When I arrived there, Stephen Decatur Elementary School, which served the children of Navy Air Station Sigonella (Sicily), did not have any playground equipment for third graders. There was a black-top, though and every recess, it played host to the most chaotic, direct, soccer ever played by Americans, I reckon. I remember participating in it from time to time, but never becoming a determined participant in it. About half-way through 4th grade, basketball hoops were added and I stuck to that.
While I believe there was organized soccer offered on-base, we lived off-base, about an hour away (outside of the town of Nicolosi). I distinctly remember a conversation with our landlord’s son, Marco (a teen-ager) who schooled me a little bit about soccer. He made sure that I knew who the greatest player alive was (which I knew) that the greatest player in the sport at that time was Diego Maradona (which I didn’t know). My parents had a television for picking up Italian stations. I don’t think I ever watched or happened upon a game during that time, oddly enough (as opposed to memories of watching the Seoul Olympics via that medium; due to the time differences between Korea and US compounded by the lag in broadcasts on AFN at that time, watching the games in English were not preferred).
I did, though, watch soccer, in Italian, on television when we lived in Pennsylvania. Our cable package included a random New York City Station that on Sunday mornings, had RAI’s Serie A game broadcast. I couldn’t tell you which games I saw or who I saw play, but I do remember watching a few of those broadcasts. I only found out recently that the Italian government paid television stations in “Italian” US markets to broadcast the games. That combined with the chance of having the particular New York station on our cable is what made my experience possible.
There was plenty of organized soccer going on where I lived in Bucks County, but I never participated in it. Despite enjoying (and seemingly being at least a little bit skilled) playing in gym class, I never had any interest. The only sport I played in school was basketball, in seventh grade. I must admit that I now do imagine an alternate path in my life where I actually played organized soccer ( to go with all of the time I played keepy-upy and did make-shift footwork drills). Oh well.
From Pennsylvania, I went to Brunswick, Maine. The high school was a bit of a state power in the sport. I remember my mom, sister, and I going to the 1992 Class A State championship in which Brunswick was soundly beaten. It was an absolutely freezing morning (I don’t remember for certain how cold it was now, probably mid 20s; these days we like to recall it as being negative 50) the chill compounded by sitting on steel bleachers. We left after my school fell behind by three goals and decamped to a K-Mart where we promptly took in some hot chocolate.
I was a high-schooler living in Chesapeake, Virginia during the 1994 World Cup and watched most of the games. Was crushed by Italy’s defeat in the finals.
Having been a fan of most of the DC based sports teams, I was nominally a fan of DC United when MLS was formed. With little coverage in the paper and not many opportunities to see them on television, I didn’t become attached to them, though.
I did, though, go to my first soccer game during this time though. I ventured out to First Colonial High School to watch the Hampton Roads Hurricanes of the USISL play. I got a t-shirt, which survived a few moves, but I believe ultimately got thrown out, alas. I also remember getting a set of team cards (and getting one signed by the goal-scorer that night); I’ll have to try to find those.
My family returned to Jacksonville after my father’s retirement from the Navy. I was working during the 1998 World Cup and listened to many games via Spanish language radio (and actually watched a few games with the sound muted and the radio on).
I apparently had no awareness that there was a soccer team in Jacksonville at the time (the Cyclones of the A-League). That means that I missed the day Leicester came to town. I also somehow missed the US Men coming to Jacksonville, when they beat Germany 3-0. That was four days before I shipped out for boot camp, so I guess that’s somewhat understandable.
I was in A-School in Pensacola during the 1999 Women’s World Cup. The final was a big deal and the common area of my barracks room was packed with guys watching the game.
The 2002 World Cup found me in the Med, on deployment. I was scarcely aware it was going on. Somewhat similarly, I was away from home for the better part of the 2006 World Cup and in a hotel room whose television didn’t have ESPN2 (!). I didn’t see much of the 2010 World Cup, either.
I did see the key games for the US down the stretch of the 2011 Women’s World Cup. The game against Brazil is one of my all time favorites of any sport. I was subsequently locked in for all of the team’s games in the 2012 Olympics.
By this point, of course, I was becoming re-acquainted with the game. Sara and I saw the US Men play Scotland at Everbank Field in May 2012. She also made it out to see the US Women play the following year (I had a scheduling conflict, much to my disappointment).
Due to Formula One, I was already a viewer of NBC Sports when they won the Premier League contract. I watched the early games with some interest, nominally a fan of Fulham (due to Shad Khan’s ownership of the team). They never took with me though, and they were, of course, relegated during that year anyhow. I did, however, become captivated by “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and subsequently became a Liverpool supporter. The Premier League has since become a part of my weekend routine (and Everton-Arsenal are on my television as I type this).
As mentioned in my first post about the Armada, I got season tickets not long after the details of the team were settled. I made it out to a couple of the World Cup Watch parties (at The Landing for the Ghana match and the now gone Nippers for the crushing Portugal match). I’d been pretty ignorant of what had been going on in professional soccer in the United States since the formation (and early struggles) of MLS, but I started to become acquainted with the scene.
As one may have figured by my mentions of the Women’s World Cup, I enjoy women’s soccer. I have been to (almost) all of the University of North Florida matches I’ve been able to attend during the last three years. I also trekked out to Tallahassee and cheered with the Renegades for a couple of games in 2014 (I wasn’t able to make the trip to Boca to see FSU win the title, alas). I also centered a 2015 trip to Blacksburg around a Virginia Tech-Florida State match. Sara and I made the trip to Orlando to see the Pride’s debut in the NWSL (we have talked about, but never actually followed through, on going to an Orlando City MLS game). I finally got to see the US women in person when I traveled to Tampa to see the She Believes matches between France, Germany, England,and the United States earlier this year.
To finish out the list of games we’ve been to… Sara and I were at the Fulham-DC United friendly at Everbank last year (which was followed by a Carrie Underwood performance and the debut of the new video boards). I went to the Florida Cup games at Everbank (Koln, Fluminese, Bayer Leverkusen, and Corinthians).
So, I sit here a devoted fan of Liverpool from afar (Sara is a somewhat less devoted Everton fan; she was a fan of Cardiff, who were relegated the same time Fulham was. We do keep track of the team’s performances in the Championship with a bit of ado for the Fulham-Cardiff matches) and of Armada FC at home. I don’t have an MLS team and here’s hoping that (short of the Armada eventually joining that league) I never will.