Soccer and Me

Some that know me, know that I’ve taken an absurdly large interest in soccer as of late. In truth, I’ve always liked soccer since playing it as a child in little leagues. However, in St. Louis, there simply wasn’t much love for the sport of soccer. We had a soccer team there that most of the city, or even the state, was completely unaware of. SLU had a decent soccer pedigree though, giving us stars such as Brian McBride. Still though, the city was mostly unaware of soccer, and was vastly devoted to baseball. It wasn’t until I was out my own, and paying my own cable bills that I ended up with Fox Soccer Channel.

Suddenly, my weekends became infused with nonstop soccer from England in the mornings. I started taking a liking towards Chelsea, probably because they seemed to be consistently on the television. This carried on for some time, and I slowly became a Chelsea fan. Yeah, I became a EuroSnob. Eventually we moved to Chicago, and I found that people actually like soccer here. I made a few trips to the Globe Pub to catch a few English Premier League games, drink a beer, and eat a nice English breakfast. I became aware of the Chicago Fire, our local soccer team that competes in MLS. Still, in our first year I only passively watched a few games here and there. I liked them, it just wasn’t a big deal.

I still kept up with highlights, statistics, and so on, just wasn’t wildly involved with the games. Rarely did I watch them live, typically recording them and just catching them when I had spare time to kill. That continued on into the early part of this year. Then I stumbled upon the MLS SubReddit. There I found a community to talk about MLS with, discuss strategies, etc, etc. I felt like I finally found that community that makes sense for me. People that liked all sorts of geeky stuff, Internet memes, and most of all American soccer. I quickly became quite enthralled with this community, and more importantly with the MLS itself.

Before long, I was following Chicago Fire and Section8Chicago on twitter. The former obviously is the official twitter feed, while the latter is the supporter’s group for the Fire. Now, for those not familiar, soccer is a lot different than other sports. We have supporter groups which are basically your die hard fans, but all grouped together in one section. Section 8 sits right behind goal chanting, orchestrating tifo displays, and heckling opposing players. Well, one day I noticed that Section 8 was hosting a sale where for $15 you got to see us play against New England, and then a couple weeks afterwards, the L.A. Galaxy. Kristie and I debated it for a bit, but inevitably we couldn’t pass up such an amazing deal.

Within the first ten minutes of that first game, I knew I had found something that was going to continue to be quite special to me. I’m normally a quiet, shy little geek. In reality, up until the first kick I think I still was that quiet, shy person. We followed our capo (the people on the raised platform, leading the chants), and blended into the crowd of Fire faithful. It’s hard to explain. It sort of took me back to being a teenager and seeing Nine Inch Nails for the first time. It felt like I was somewhere I’d belong, except I of course grew out of being a weird goth kid. I think.

In some really, really loose ways, I look at it as my religion. Part of the allure of religion, I feel at least, is feeling like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. Obviously, there are many ways to interpret that, but I think with traditional religion you feel like you’re a part of an overarching community. Most that know me, know that I am an Atheist (don’t worry, I’m not one of the asshole ones). I haven’t had religion for many years, so I can’t make comparisons to solidly. However, being at that New England game for me might be comparable to one singing in choir on a Sunday. Surrounded by people with a common goal or desire, and being outwardly excited about that is a fairly special thing. Letting go and enjoying a moment is pretty amazing.

I think what America sports traditionally lose is the emotion of the game. The constant action, the constant scoring, the constant need for *something* to be happening in most of our sports sucks out the ability for tension or drama to really build. I love basketball, and as the MLS playoffs wind down, I’m sure I’ll be watching much more of it. Still though, I can’t help but feel that it’s missing something. With so much going on, point swings back and forth, and so on, everything becomes insignificant until the fourth quarter. A missed shot in the first quarter means nothing at the end of the full 48. In soccer, that missed opportunity might be your last. The game might shift, you never know. Every second matters.

I’m glad to have found a community I can enjoy soccer with on Reddit, and here with the Chicago Fire. We have season tickets for next year, and I’m simply overjoyed with the idea that I’m going to see at least 17 games next year. That excitement, the laughter, the let downs, the goals and the lack thereof, I can’t wait.