An American’s Sports Odyssey Into Soccer

On September 15, I awoke to the sound of the typical digital alarm clock at the stroke of 7 AM on a Saturday morning. Unlike most days, however, the alarm was more than welcome.

After all, it would soon be time for my beloved Tottenham Hotspur to pick up their first win over beyond-arch-rival Arsenal in eight years in the game known as the North London Derby (pronounced "darby").

Despite Spurs' (as they are colloquially known) poor start to the season which saw just one win from five games, a win in this game would put the collective paddles to their hearts with over 30 matches still left in the English Premier League season.

College football be damned for this Saturday, another form of football over 3,000 miles was the highlight of my sports weekend.

By half-time, Spurs were up 1-0 over Arsenal thanks to a free kick by 18-year old Welsh phenom wonderkid Gareth Bale, one of the few players in Tottenham's $100 million summer transfer spending spree to make an impact.

The first half wasn't without signs of impending doom. Arsenal's flowing, attacking short passing game had created opportunities on Spurs' dodgy defense and perhaps even dodgier goalkeeper Paul Robinson.

And indeed, Spurs ultimately fell at home 3-1. Two goals from striker Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor and one from Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas had done them in.

The loss was a microcosm of the atrocious season thus far, with bad goal-keeping, horrible defending on set pieces (free kicks and corner kicks), and absolutely clear everything-short-of-just-giving-you-the-goal scoring opportunities being missed by Spurs.

College football be damned, this was the low-light of my sports weekend.

I came into my soccer loving own sometime in late 2002, when I was channel surfing one weekend morning and happened upon FOX Sports World (now FOX Soccer Channel), which was to me and my friends the late night rugby union, rugby league, and Aussie rules channel, as I only became interested in soccer as a sports fan about once every four summers for the World Cup.

I decided to watch this game I happened upon and quickly I noticed one of the teams as Manchester United, one of the only soccer clubs I had heard of at the time. They ended up hanging four or five goals on some inferior team, and so naturally, by default, I became a Man United fan.

This, however, would have been like watching the Yankees destroy the Devil Rays 10-0 in some random game in 1998. And quickly I discovered that Man U was the overwhelmingly dominant force in English football for a good decade before I just happened across them one morning. And something felt very dirty and bandwagon jumping about that.

Those that follow the sport from the States will usually tell you when asked for advice on which team to support will usually say one of two things: their team, or to watch a bunch of games and whatever team you end up rooting for on multiple occasions is your team.

In those early seasons of me blindly following Man United, I found myself starting to root for Tottenham Hotspur, a North London team that had great successes in earlier times, but had fallen on hard days in recent years. The club seemed to have more passionate fans that those of Manchester United, and there was no bandwagon jumping factor anywhere to be found.

Moreover, the process of becoming a fan just happened naturally, as it did with the other team in world soccer I support, AC Milan, who I ended up naturally rooting for just a few weeks after stumbling upon the hated juggernaut of Manchester United.

The calendar and time zone issue makes following the highest levels of the sport from this side of the pond particularly interesting, or if you prefer, difficult.

Just about every summer, in the offseason for the top European leagues, I vow to take my soccer-watching experience to a new high, watching as many games as is humanly possible. The start of the club season comes in mid-August, meaning there is not yet football (yes, the American version) on the docket to overshadow my soccer obsession.

When the football season does start, I am usually able to keep up with soccer in a large way, and for the last couple of years, not miss a beat at all. Then, in November, with football still in full stride, the college and pro basketball seasons start, and the sport that is in my blood even more so than football puts soccer to the de facto back-burner.

Sure, I'll download the highlight packages and watch an occasional game in the months from November to early February, but it's nothing like the joy (or misery, see: Tottenham 2007-08) that the opening months of European soccer give me.

Then, once the Super Bowl comes and passes, and football is an end, it is almost my ticket to jump right into a giant, beautiful, yummy sports pot of nothing but soccer (the club season rolls all the way from August to May) and basketball for the next four and a half months.

This year, however, will be different. After that first ball is tipped off on TNT or ESPN in early November, signaling the start of basketball, that will be my sign to watch "The Beautiful Game" more religiously that ever during the winter months. Or at least I can think as much.

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