Monday, August 30, 2010

First-Time Fandom

As sports fans, we often face existential crises when our teams perform poorly.  As a die-hard Cincinnati fan, I've endured (along with many others in the area code and beyond) the horrible Bengals teams of the 90's and a Reds team that for reasons of MLB economics or poor management haven't made the post-season in 15 years, without a winning season in ten.  While both teams have undergone a bit of a renaissance in the past few years, the point is that we as fans suffered along with the players (probably more, given the salary differential between us as groups), as well as exalted in the victories.

Seldom is this emotional roller coaster ride of our own choosing.  Often our support for a team is inherited from family, or dictated by pure geography.  You will not find many loud Yankee fans native to Boston...they are quickly silenced if they exist (I like to think they are silenced personally by Jack Nicholson, set to a soundtrack of Dropkick Murphys intros).  While this commonality among people and places is part of the essence of sport, it can feel a bit unfair if the team you've been born into is saddled with miserable year after miserable year.  I'm speaking of you, Pirates fans...but not you, Steelers fans.  Piss off.

Occasionally, however, we are given the opportunity to enter a realm of athletic fandom clean, pure, and free from influences beyond our control.  For an average American sports fan, soccer offers this opportunity.

I happen to like soccer, both to play--although I'm objectively terrible--and to watch on TV.  The World Cup reawakens this in me every four years, but after it's over most of the folks on this side of the pond just go back to forgetting that soccer is in fact a thing.*  This year, I've vowed to continue following the sport in a meaningful way.  Unfortunately, despite some high-profile signings and signs of progress, MLS in the U.S. is simply not cool enough.  Not to sound unpatriotic, but I've seen a few games on high-numbered cable...the stands may in fact be painted to look like spectators.  No, to really understand how to support a soccer club the "right" way, I need to go to foreign shores.  Thus, I announce my support for the Arsenal Gunners of the English Premiere League:

Why Arsenal?  There are good reasons, though probably only to me.  But that's the whole point!  It was totally my decision.  I have no reason to choose any particular team from the EPL, or any other soccer league around the world, for that matter.  I can't be accused of jumping on the winning team's bandwagon, a la every 49er's fan from the 80's.  Arsenal hasn't won the EPL title since '04, and they haven't won it any more often than any of the other clubs traditionally playing at the top of the English football system.  The roster includes several great players seen during this year's World Cup, from several nations (including both teams in the final), so no national bias.  The team's home base is in the middle of North London in an obscure (to me at least) neighborhood called Highbury, so it's not like all my neighbors (neighbours?) are rabid fans.

I like the name, I like the uniforms, they have a long, storied history, Highbury looks like one of those solid, working-class neighborhoods you see in English sitcoms, and they're not Manchester United (they're like the Yankees as far as I'm concerned, and now I can irritate my nephew on holidays).

Check back here for my progress in fanship.  Go Gooners!

*By the way, I will never call it "football," rest-of-the-world-looking-at-me-in-a-condescending-manner.  I'm from the Midwest.  Football involves helmets, shoulder pads, and a man dressed as a large inedible nut dancing in the end zone.  Soccer it will be.

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