The origins of the obsession come back to me, in fits and spurts. You have to understand, those of you who only remember 21st century America, that if you were ever transported to late 20th century America, you would find much of it to be familiar, yet there would also be some profound differences. For the purposes of keeping on topic, I’m going to only stick to what it was like for those who had an interest in soccer.
By the time I was growing up, soccer already had a century-plus history in the world under the rules and regulations that had been started up in an English pub around the time of the American Civil War. I knew none of this history growing up. I knew soccer was a game where you kicked the ball and used everything but your hands to move it, but that was it. There weren’t any games I could either watch on TV or hear on the radio, and the first match I ever saw live were the YMCA youth games I played in.
I’m sure I probably looked up the encyclopedia article for soccer at some point, but the first proper book I remember reading about soccer was a small one published by the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO). I forget its name now, other than it was a little green book that went over the rules and general positions for soccer. (They still had the kids line up in a 2-3-5 (Pyramid) formation 30 years after it was obsolete.
It also talked to me about some of the legends who played soccer – Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, and Shemp Messing and Kyle Rote, Jr. (Americans playing soccer? Impossible). It talked about their exploits in America, in the old North American Soccer League, even though I didn’t know and the book didn’t say that the league was at that moment dying a quiet death.
Pele became my first soccer idol, even though he was retired from playing and I never saw any of his games as a kid. He was just that good, right? I did see him in a World War II movie directed by John Huston called Victory where Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone (what???) were Allied POWs who were challenged to a soccer match by the German National Team in occupied France. Stallone was the goalie and actually looked passable in the role – I learned years later that the former England keeper Gordon Banks had helped coach him. Pele was on the Allied team – they had to make him someone from Trinidad because while Brazil was on the Allied side during WWII, they never sent troops to Europe during the time in history.
Then there was my own limited playing experiences in YMCA soccer. I loved the freeflowing nature of the game, how improvisational you could be with the ball and how you didn’t have to be built a certain way or have a certain look to be successful with it. To be honest, I was a pretty limited player even as a kid – a defensive left back with a good right foot whose main defensive weapon was “get to the ball before the opponents and kick it as hard as I can.” The old English managers would have loved me.
I remember seeing a article in People magazine during the mid to late 80’s, a lifestyle story about Diego Maradona. I was fascinated about him being so small and yet so dominant in soccer, and intrigued about the wild lifestyle the article just hinted at. He became my first soccer antihero.
I vaguely remember there being a World Cup, but I really didn’t get into it until the USA hosted it in 1994. That was the first time I remember the entire tournament being on TV. I specifically remember visiting my then-girlfriend, now-wife, at her mom’s home and randomly turning on the TV to see how the US v. Columbia game was going on. When I saw we were already 2-0, I jumped up shouting and everyone in the house wondered whether I was nuts. I was a fan of the US men’s national team from that moment forward. I guess I was technically a US women’s national team fan from then on, too, but not really until the 1999 Women’s World Cup, when I saw them work their magic.
Ever since then, it’s become easier and easier to feed into my soccer fandom, with better coverage of the game in America and overseas, especially the English Premiere League which I have been addicted to since they began broadcasting those games regularly on American television. It’s been fun to find teams to root for in the different leagues, even ones in Mexico and Germany, among others.
And now, that passion for the sport has bled into my writing world, the Project A that I’ve talked about. I have a great main character from America and it’s been a blast dipping him into the world of soccer, though I think that this character in particular would be interesting no matter what he was doing.
However, I’ve put him in the world of soccer. That’s because, in part, I’m always up for seeing what happens during a good game.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I debated whether this was going to be a Volume I (childhood) entry, a Volume II (young adulthood) entry, or a Volume III (middle age and onwards) entry. I first learned of the sport and played it as a young child, my soccer fandom started as a young adult, and I didn’t complete the main project I’ve been working on for the past couple of years. It was a roll of the dice, but I settled on Volume II because that’s when the obsession really started.
Anyway, I’m publishing this not on the weekend, so I can still call it a midweek post and keep my word to everyone, lol.]
[AUTHOR’S NOTE #2: [AUTHOR’S NOTE: The pic I used for today’s post comes from a photographer I found out about from the blog In Bed With Maradona. If you are massively into football ⚽️ culture, you need to check it out. The photographer’s name’s Jurgen Vantomme and he does some great stuff. This comes courtesy of this collection, and you can check his web site out here.]