Everyone has regrets. If they say they don’t, they are lying. These regrets can range from the
grand – “I shouldn’t have purchased all that WWE stock at that high price” – to the small – “I
wish I hadn’t left my umbrella in the car.” Sometimes they can haunt you for years and years.
Other times, you have the chance to redeem yourself. My case falls into the latter category, you
see, for a very long time, I hated soccer.
To be fair, my “hatred” was less actual hatred and more a formula made up of several parts,
as most formulae are – firstly, my ignorance of the sport and it’s beauty and additionally my
general status as an asshole. Now, subtract what little maturity I have, and add in the fact that my culture – the American one – at the time didn’t really have a soft spot for the sport.
So, I spent a good chunk of my childhood and early adolescence not watching soccer, not
playing it, and making ignorant and dismissive comments of the sport when it came up in conversation. A phrase I quite liked at the time was “foot fairy bullshit.” Typing that now, I want to punch my younger self. Or slide tackle him from behind. Or maybe get him in the chest with a high foot.
Either way, my icy anti-soccer exterior would eventually melt in time. Sure, I watched parts of
the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, but given my age and lack of general interest they didn’t have
much of an effect on me. It was not the World Cup that got me, no, it was the Peace Cup. The Peace Cup is a friendly tournament held biannually in South Korea, and in 2009 it featured two teams in particular: Real Madrid and Juventus. Now, one of my best friends from summer camp was a big soccer fan and a big Juventino. He decided we would sneak into the “staff lounge” at said summer camp to watch the game. Maybe it was my older age, maybe it was the rush of breaking a meaningless summer camp rule, but this game actually had me interested. I don’t remember who scored, and in the interest of intellectual honesty I will not look it up, but I know Juventus won that game.
That planted the seed. Three months later, the seed sprouted a few leaves. You see, I was visiting the same friend, and we had ended up playing FIFA with his brother. In an odd match up – but a fair one, given my ignorance of the game and, to a lesser extent, the controls of FIFA – my friend and I played against his younger brother. We ended up winning 1-0 after my friend – via the video game avatar of Alessandro Del Piero – scored a last minute free kick.
That game began my descent into fandom, although for a few months I was limited to reading
about Juve online, simply for my sheer ignorance of what channels showed Serie A in America.
Come December, my friend notified me that a big match for Juventus was coming up: the derby d’Italia versus Internazionale. Furthermore, I had finally found out the proper channels to tune to so I could watch said game.
I must say, I picked a great game to watch. Though Inter were en route to a treble winning
season and Juve were weeks away from getting a new coach, the game was pretty even and was
1-1 as the one hour mark approached. After a near Inter goal, the ball found its way to Claudio
Marchisio, in Inter’s half near their right side. Marchisio played the ball to Momo Sissoko, in the middle of the pitch, who fired off a powerful but ultimately blocked long range effort.
Then, there was Marchisio, running for the loose ball in Inter’s box. Somehow, and to this day
when watching this goal I cannot figure it out, Marchisio evaded an Inter defender with a dribble, and then his point blank effort on goal beat Julio Cesar. Juve had the lead.
Juventus would win that game, and I would begin watching every Juventus match. I was hooked. I began religiously watching Juventus games, suffering through two of the worst years in Juve history (not that I knew any better really) until the now famous 2011-2012 Juventus squad, led
by club legend Antonio Conte, brought Juventus back to the top of Serie A, and out of the desert
where the club had wandered for several years. Tears of joy were shed, and then tears of sadness
were shed when Del Piero played his last game with Juventus.
While my club fandom timing was a bit off, my general timing was phenomenal. Six months into
my new life as a soccer lover, the 2010 World Cup was held. Landon Donovan gave me some
national team memories to pair with my club memories, and the fact that I spent the knockout
rounds in Europe and then Israel – where I watched the final on a Kibbutz with dozens of Israeli
families cheering quite passionately for Spain – two places that loved soccer much more than the
US, at the time at least. This was the perfect environment for a burgeoning soccer fan, as I could spend hundreds of dollars on Panini World Cup stickers, and I did.
These experiences were, of course, paired with my usual obsessive research into a topic I am
interested in. Books on the tactical side of soccer, both obscure and popular, were ordered from
Amazon and read. Tactical blogs and news sites were bookmarked. I tried out for the team in
high school, making the junior varsity team due to a generous no-cut policy at my high school. I
got my refereeing license from the USSF and began reffing club youth games on the weekends
for money. I eventually became confident enough in my knowledge of the game – perhaps
wrongly – to begin writing about Juventus. Now, I’ve been doing that for four years. Hell, I even took Italian classes in college so I could get my news straight from the Italians themselves.
That I could turn from a hater to an obsessive speaks, I think, to two things: the relative obscurity of the sport in the USA pre-2010 – relative being the key word – and the beauty of the game. That I would learn a language more or less to read sports news also speaks to the beauty of the game, and the power it has over its fans. In 2008, I would have never expected myself to become a soccer fan, but falling in love with this sport has been one of the best things that has happened to me.