Football or Football

For most of my life, football meant to me what I suppose it means to many of us.

The term alone arose heartwarming feelings — screaming at refs to call a face-mask at my brother’s high school games or watching the Patriots during a complete blizzard, hoping the power would stay on so we wouldn’t miss the fourth quarter.

Football is an American past time. Soccer, on the other hand, was the sport I played for most of my adolescence as my mum coached on the sidelines. Somewhere in the mix, the language and meaning behind these two expressions blurred for me.

I distinctly remember my first real introduction into the world of English football. I was in a crowded bar in San Francisco where my older brother lived and my mum was complaining about how dramatic the players were being as we watched the 2006 World Cup final between Italy and France.

Late into the game, Zinedine Zidane famously head-butted Marco Materazzi in the chest.

The crowd erupted and I was amazed at the fueled passions, but it still wasn’t enough to excite me.

It wasn’t until my first-year of college that the watching began. It was initially a means to impress a boy, but by the time that failed I had become an avid fan.

 

I liked the stories best­–the international full-blown drama that is sometimes squandered in American sports. It became a solo tradition of mine to wake up early on Saturday and Sunday and sift through live streams of games that seemed to freeze at every important play. Yet, I knew that it wouldn’t be long until this problem subsided.

This semester I journeyed across the pond to study in Newcastle, United Kingdom. Football here is a living entity and it is a part of the collective national family — a notion that I had undoubtedly been missing during those early mornings in my dorm room in Vermont.

Feb. 2 2013 was my first proper introduction into this widespread tradition. I found myself in a local pub amongst pints and Geordie characters to watch the much-anticipated Chelsea vs. Newcastle match.

After a big sigh of relief that I was not going to be cornered Green Street Hooligan–style like Elijah Wood, I watched a television screen images of football without foreign languages and faulty connections.

The game was contentious from the beginning — Demba Ba, Newcastle’s former star-striker, was traded to Chelsea not long before the match. It was a hard-felt trade considering Newcastle’s low position in the tables and Chelsea’s high one.

In classic David and Goliath style, Newcastle battled fiercely to earn a 3-2 win and Ba got his face kicked in badly. It may have been the best game of their season and yet it was the rough-around-the-edges kind of people sitting right next to me that really stole the show.

It was evident that their sense of place for 90 minutes was etched into the landscape of that dark creaky pub every weekend and I was thankful that they allowed me to experience one game of it.

And so, football would continue to have a double meaning for me these days. But I realized that it all sort of represents the same thing. For a fan, it’s simply about feeling a part of something.

And unlike American football that has a distinct notion of geographical boundaries, English football is a part of that something in a much greater fashion. It is a livelihood that connects a little kid from Liverpool to a boy from a rural part of Uruguay. To watch football is to watch a town, a city, a nation and the whole world

I can now say I’ve seen a match in the great St. James Stadium, but that little pub in the alley I stumbled upon was really the true introduction into the maddening and absurdly beautiful humanity of this sport. Whether American football or English football, I’m glad to have both now.