Monday, September 13, 2010

Are You Ready For Some Football?

For some of you football season began Thursday night or perhaps it started last week when the boys in red and blue kicked off their seasons. Some of my neighbors might disagree and say that football season has been here for a few months ever since summer practice began at the high school and little league levels. Well I’m here to tell you that football season has indeed already started and the official kick off date was August 15th. “August 15th?” you ask yourself, “that seems arbitrary… was that the first high school game?” Nope. “Fantasy football draft?” Guess again. “I don’t want to guess anymore.” Fine, I’ll tell you – August 15th – 1600 British Summer Time at Anfield Stadium in Liverpool England. “Beg your pardon?” many of you just muttered under your breath, well allow me to explain.

I've been a fan of soccer ever since my youth - played it for 7+ years, served a mission for the LDS Church in a soccer loving country but really the only soccer I ever watched was during the World Cup every four years.    Before you call me a bandwagon jumper, I'll have you know that it wasn't just this past World Cup that I enjoyed, I've been watching them religiously since 1990.  When Wheels and I were unemployed newlyweds  (a combo I highly recommend) in 2002, we would stay up all night watching the live feeds of World Cup games from Japan and South Korea with Flanksteak and his friend Jonny Boy.  In those days you felt as if  you were a member of some secret club and you felt pity for your friends who were missing out.  Soccer was a small, obscure indie band you loved to see in a dive bar on the verge of blowing up and playing at large arenas around the United States.  Actually a nice comparison would have been the Kings of Leon circa 2002.  In Utah, you could see them play at a small club with 200 people and over in England they'd sell out 40,000 seat soccer stadiums.  In fact, their second album was released in the UK six months before it was released on the band's home soil.  However, the past twelve months have been good for the Followill brothers as well as soccer in the USofA.  Neither have reached the status of U2 or Coldplay but each has received some mainstream recognition complete with radio hits and performances in larger arenas.

I enjoyed the crap out of the 2010 World Cup.  I would rank Landon Donovan's last minute goal against the mighty Algerian team that advanced the US into the knockout round of the cup as a Top 10 sport highlight of my lifetime.  Even better than the goal scored by Pele to help defeat the Nazis in Victory.  Had I been watching it at home and not in my company's cafeteria I would have possibly shed some tears.  I nearly did anyway.  It was that exciting and emotional.  Sure the US should have easily defeated the 'powerhouse' Algerian team but after some terrible officiating and near misses most of the fans had written off the game and the Cup for another four years.  If you haven't seen the youtube clip that was emailed around with the reactions from different crowds in the USA yet then I demand you watch it now.  Goosebump city.  Plenty of other story lines were enjoyable as well - the upstart Chilean team, the big bullies like France and Italy getting knocked out early and of course Uruguay's run to the semifinals.  By the end of tournament, the level of man crush that Flanksteak and I had for Uruguayan Striker Diego Forlan was off the charts.

Once the Cup ended and the last vuvuzela had been blown Flanksteak and I were at a loss.  Now what?  We didn't want to wait another four years to enjoy soccer.  We put our heads together and came up with the following two step plan:

1 - Stop taking Real Salt Lake for granted and support them with more sincerity.

We are lucky to have the MLS Cup Champions playing right in our hometown.  As much as I enjoy watching their games, I can't help but feel like I'm seeing a lesser brand of soccer.  It's like watching the SL Bees instead of the SF Giants.  Same game, still enjoyable, just not quite as good.  Part of the joy of the World Cup was seeing a sport played at the highest level.  We needed more.  This led us to step two.

2 - Find a premiere international team to follow

Although it hopefully will be someday, it's not a stretch to admit that the best soccer is not currently being played on US soil.  Just like foreigners who watch the NBA or the NFL we set out to find a team and/or league that would allow us to see the best soccer possible.  Which league should we choose?  The consensus top three most respected soccer leagues in the world are La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy) and The English Premier League (shockingly based in England).  We quickly settled on the EPL because we knew that it had recently partnered with ESPN and we figured the games would be more readily available on TV.  Our first thought was, "For which team does Diego Forlan play?"  Unfortunately he is no longer playing in the EPL so we dug deeper.  We read wikipedia histories, an article by ESPN's Bill Simmons discussing his quest to find an EPL team after the 2006 World Cup, and dissected each team's roster.  We must have spent two whole hours figuring this out.

Many teams were ruled out quickly - Manchester United - would be like deciding to just start watching baseball and picking the Yankees.  Chelsea - last year's champs, didn't want to hop on the bandwagon, plus we have multiple friends and family members who like Chelsea and we wanted to have some rivalries.  Even though we didn't want to pick the current champions, we did want to pick a team that would have a legitimate chance at winning a title over the next few years, which eliminated many of the other hopefuls.  We were left with a final three of Manchester City, Tottenham, and Liverpool.  My quick and Encyclopedia Brown-esque readers will be able to deduce the team we selected.  It wasn't Manchester City and we were glad to not have picked them because they have been buying up all of the world talent over the past few years and the games of theirs that we have watched so far have not shown them as a fun team for which to cheer.  Think Miami Heat come this NBA season.  Much more fun to root against.

So what made Liverpool so special?  Pleasant roster - check.  Cool jerseys - check.  Liverpool is also the most decorated team in English soccer history but they've been down for the past several years therefore a championship isn't out of the question but it isn't a given either.  We wanted to suffer a little before we were just handed a trophy.  All important and valid reasons but it was this final tidbit that really sealed the deal - "You'll Never Walk Alone."

Why am I quoting a song from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel and why would that sway my opinion?  For those of you who don't know, my Grandpa Strat was a renowned music teacher and because him our family has a deep love of all music and musicals.  I'm certain you could pick any member of my mother's family out of hat, pick a song from a musical out of a different hat and that person could name the musical from whence it came and sing it for you.  That person would then select three other members of the family and they'd bust it out for you in 4-part acapella no less.  Most soccer teams in Europe have a team song and that of Liverpool just so happens to be the above mentioned song.  Once Flanksteak and I saw that the decision was made - we were taking our talents to Merseyside.  Fans sing You'll Never Walk Alone at each match and it is so ingrained in the Liverpool culture that is included in the team's crest and above the stadium gates.

This announcement might come as a shock to some of you and most of you probably stopped reading this post many paragraphs ago.  Fear not, I haven't given up my love of Football and since I'm not British I promise to continue to refer to Soccer as Soccer and Football as Football, not American Football.  However, as my neighbor Coach T can verify, I will not be ashamed to sit in my kitchen on Sunday mornings in my underwear watching soccer on a shoddy internet stream and drinking yerbamate.  In fact, I have to - I made a pledge and if that interests you then join Flanksteak and I and we vow that you too, will never walk alone.


Jen said...

This is fantastic. I may have shed a few tears watching the people in the stadium slur their way through this song. I have heard a few rumblings of some obscure soccer team you and Bry are supporting and am happy to have the details.

Skye said...

Don't worry, I won't let Erik lose respect for you by reading this post.

PS I don't think our kids are allowed to play soccer.

flanksteak said...

Great, great post. The team is off to a slow start, but if we can get the rust off of Torres, we will have more to cheer about. And you forgot to mention the terrible color of Manchester City's uniforms (Tar Heel blue) as a factor in us not picking them. IRregardless, I'm happy with our decision.


kg said...

Jen - There's room on the bandwagon for more. Their jerseys are even red which I know appeals to your clan.

Skye - I'm pretty sure Erik lost all respect when he saw me in my g's watching soccer in my kitchen. He threatened to tell the Bishop of the horrible ways I was breaking the Sabbath.

Flanksteak - YNWA, enough said pal. See you next Sun at 6:30AM.

Anonymous said...

I stand by the fact that Webb Ellis is and was the greatest soccer player to ever live, and the greatest one who ever will.

DO not argue, just google him and let the world wide web prove my point.

Melissa said...

Robb and I are on the bandwagon. Except with clothing, of course. And hey...anytime you want to get together and drink mate? Well...Robb's in. I'll cheer from the sidelines. The point is, we're in. Always. :)

kg said...

Brohammas - I feel the same way about Webb Ellis as most people probably feel about soccer - what's the point?

Melissa - You and Robb aren't on the soccer bandwagon, you two are in the friggin driver's seat. Tell Robb that he is more than welcome to join the Liverpool Fanclub after West Ham is relegated this year.

Robyn said...

A beautiful post about a beautiful game. Seriously. I may have cried a little.
I'm jumping on! That was all just too good NOT to.
Liverpool it is! oh ya, and lets just keep this from my son, the Rooney look alike may get angry.
As long as I'm cheering for him he can't say anything!
Good stuff KG!

Corbie said...

I kept reading until the part about you sitting in your underwear...

Our house is full of Liverpool lovers as well - finally you pick a decent team.