I’m really tired and don’t have any thrilling ideas to write about, so I thought I’d instead share a story that I submitted for a “listener mail”-type section of a podcast I listen to. It’s about how I came to choose my favorite soccer club, and how another member of my family had chosen his. He chose incorrectly.
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I had always played soccer as a youngster, as part of the local youth league and, later, my middle school team. I enjoyed the game, but as MLS was still in its infancy, and my hometown did not yet have a team, it was difficult for me to follow.
That changed when I went off to college in 2002. On the heels of Team USA’s appearance in the quarterfinals at that year’s World Cup (an event that has long been my favorite in all of sport), and with the internet readily available and a lot of time on my hands, I was able to follow the game overseas. But I needed a club. So I did some research; I knew I didn’t want a “big” club, but I also didn’t want to go digging around the lower divisions. Members of my favorite band often spoke of their love of their favorite club, so I looked into it. To me, the struggles of the club, and its inferiority complex, seemed to mirror those of my local sports teams. I looked at photos and saw the kit and it just looked right. And thus, the most important decision of my freshman year of college was made. I was a Blue. A Sky Blue.
A Manchester City Blue.
I checked scores on matchdays, read articles, learned the roster. Seeing the matches remained difficult, but I did the best I could to keep up with the squad. Plus, it felt good to say when I saw some clown in an Arsenal shirt that I was “City ‘Til I Die.”
By senior year, I knew enough about what was going on at the club to be considered about as “true” a supporter as a 22-year-old American guy who had barely seen a match can be. Over the Christmas break, I sat down with my father to watch a documentary made by my favorite band, Oasis. The Gallagher brothers had been instrumental in my selection of City, and I got a chuckle out of the graphics on the screen identifying those who were speaking as “Cool Blues” and “Dirty Reds.” My father asked me what that meant; I told him that I could only presume it correlated with their choice of football club.
That was when he said the words that changed everything forever: “Oh, well I guess I’m a ‘Dirty Red’ then.” My dad had a favorite club as well, and it was Manchester United. My God.
As far as I knew, my father’s affinity for soccer ended at the same time as my sister’s middle school career. Since then, the only relationship he had to the game was his emergency gall bladder surgery that forced me to watch the Americans’ win over Mexico in the 2002 World Cup from a hospital waiting room.
I asked what drove him to the dark side. He was a fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL, and the owners of the team, the Glazers, owned United; thus, he heard about the club and began to follow it. Not intensely, but still, enough to tick me off.
To that point, we had never talked about English football, and I had never mentioned my support of City. He then reminded me of something that I had completely forgotten about: when I was on a student trip to the UK some years before, I had brought him back a souvenir pen set emblazoned with the Manchester United shield. The familiarity with the club name, from this souvenir, had combined with United’s ownership situation to create a new supporter. I was hoist by my own petard.
As the years went on there was minimal trash talk between us on the topic, mostly because I had nothing to crow about. But once that oil money came in, things began to change. It all culminated on that glorious day in October of 2011: City 6, United 1. At Old Trafford, no less. I called my father at work to make sure he had heard the score. Then I called him again. That dirty Red. He deserved it.
Of course, karma reared its ugly head, leaving City eight points back late in the season. But just as City manager Roberto Mancini declared United the league champions, a comeback for the ages began. City pulled level on points and entered the final day of the season in first place on goal differential; the advantage, of course, was a result of that thrashing at Old Trafford.
I had to work that day, but was able to watch the first half of the match before leaving home. When I got into my car, Pablo Zabaleta had given City a 1-0 lead, and the title was there to be had. But by the time I had been able to set up the live stream at work, Queens Park Rangers had tallied twice to take the lead, and in typical City fashion, i.e. suffering their sole home defeat of the season to a team in the drop zone to blow the title, it was all to be for naught. Part of me thought that, thousands of miles away, I had a part in this. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut after a win in October, and I was paying for it in May. I dreaded the phone call I was about to receive.
But lo, there was stoppage time…and there was Edin Dzeko. 2-2. Maybe. Just maybe. No. It couldn’t be done. Could it?
I was explaining to the uninitiated around me that “if City could just get one more goal, maybe right here from…AGUERRROOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”
They had done it. Manchester City Football Club were the champions of England. And I had a phone call to make. My lone regret is that my dad wasn’t there in person so I could give him a triumphant wanker sign, in traditional hooliganistic fashion.
A game of fathers and sons, indeed.