Picking a team vs #gocanadago

I started watching soccer in the sixth grade. It wasn’t something that had been on tv my whole life or that I grew up around like if I’d been European. I played it as a kid and liked it but it was nothing more than the obligatory soccer of childhood. I stopped about the time when we learned to run in the right direction. I enjoyed playing but my parents didn’t want it to get too serious or competitive so they stopped registering me.

One afternoon the world cup was on and I was tucked away in my parents bedroom surfing tv channels. I usually went up there to watch the cartoons I wasn’t supposed to — something something violence. If the door opened or I heard foot falls I hit the last button to something my mother thought was more suitable. While looking for a back up I found a bunch of men kicking a ball around.

The image was small, smaller than my current laptop. You couldn’t really make them out the way you can with HD.

Still it seemed cool. I kept watching. The next time I went upstairs to watch tv I was trying to find the game again. I did. I also picked out my first team. When you watch sports you have to prefer somebody. It’s more fun that way. I liked the colour blue, still do, so I picked the guys with the beautiful royal blue jerseys.

My mother told me later that they were Italian and bought me an Italy jersey for my birthday, which conveniently falls during the world cup and Euros.

They were eliminated in the round of sixteen and I missed them. I don’t remember much else from that world cup. I was quite young.

I did pick up where I’d left off with Euros in grade eight. I watched them somewhat. I have no memory of what happened.

It wasn’t until the following world cup that I became fairly religious in my watching habits. Every game. And I taped them. And Italy won.

I watched the final at my cousin’s house. I prefer to watch by myself or with other fans but we were visiting. After extra time and penalties we drove to the cemetery where my grandparents are buried before heading off to Pearson. My father remarked that the Italian district must be going off. I wished I was there. Instead I was in a rental car on a freeway.

I loved that team and followed them religiously. Fabio Cannavaro the eccentric leader. Andrea Pirlo who looked like Professor Snape. Fabio Grosso who looked like a vampire Zach Braff.

I had a favourite Italy hat that I wore throughout junior high. The jerseys I outgrew. The hat I sometimes wear hiking.

That was it for Italy and me. The team wasn’t the same afterwards. They retired or disappeared or faded. And people were mean, exceptionally mean about the Italian team and what it meant about me as a fan. I didn’t have Italian heritage. I just thought wearing blue was nice. I didn’t see why everyone was so rude about it.

I decided to stop telling people I was an Italy fan and just cheer for them in private.

Then the botched the next world cup anyways. Hard to cheer for a team that’s not playing.

In the same way I’d picked Italy I decided on another team. They had bright orange jerseys that I liked the look of. The Dutch turned out to be a more acceptable choice. Everyone’s okay with the solid northern European teams. By chance they were cooler There was also the perk that when I wore their jersey while riding my bike it screamed please don’t kill me.

The Dutch have lasted me well. People like them and respect the choice. They haven’t won but they generally make it far enough that you get to see them play quite a few games. Nobody’s ever mean to you if you’re wearing an orange jersey.

There have been other brief flirtations with players or teams. I spent far too many hours watching Joe Cole videos after he scored a stunner against Sweden for England.

Sadly the players I loved always seemed to get injured or just disappear not to be seen again at the next world cup or Euros.

I watch league games but it’s hard to care in a sport so associated with money. To me it seems like billionaire vs. billionaire. It’ not like hockey teams, which have specific regional meanings and affiliations – if you ask me nicely I can rank who I would prefer in any NHL match up. They’re a bunch of teams that bought fancy players who earn way too much. Sometimes they do beautiful things but the results don’t mean a lot.

I will say I have my hates, those teams I want to see lose. I don’t like the Argentinians because they tumble too expertly to the ground (the American women’s team are also a wonderfully sure footed lot). The Brazilians get lumped in with that boat.

Generally I’ll cheer for an underdog. In men’s this includes the Americans.

My latest world cup fling are the Germans. I know, I know. I fell for Thomas Muller with his lovely assists and passing during the world cup before last. He was certain to win the Golden Boot and did. Sadly the Germans who I thought were much better than the Spanish team fell in the semis. (To my dismay Muller didn’t play due to a yellow card in the quarters.) The last time they’d lost in the semis I was on the other side. This time around I was disappointed.

The next time around the Germans made it past a semi for a change and won. It was a fun ride. I hope they bring it at Euros.

My relationship with soccer teams (all of a national men’s variety) has been one of flightiness and flings rather than undying loyalty. I am not a Nick Hornby type die hard fan. I fell for the game and have been jumping on random boats ever since.

(Soccernomics has some interesting things to say about bandwagon fans. I don’t have a copy handy but it’s a great read. They also have some things to say about Canada being the worst performer in the world in the men’s game based on wealth and population size.)

The other thing is that I don’t have a home team. I don’t have a club or a region or a nation. Canada is terrible and will never qualify for a world cup. Our men’s team grows with the MLS but it’s still not a contender. I can’t name a single member of our national men’s squad. I have no loyalties other than thinking a player’s cute or gifted or a jersey is a nice colour.

Women’s soccer is different. I care about it for the same reason many Canadians do: we watched the 2012 Olympic semi-final against the Americans and were hooked. We were betrayed by the bullshit calls and the horror of Abby Wambach’s bullying.

I don’t really care that much about women’s soccer. I have been watching games because I like soccer. I mainly want to watch Canada win. I will not be jumping on any other bandwagons. This is my country and my team. This is different. Finally Canadians are getting soccer memories. I don’t know if they’ll win like everyone wants them to. We’d all like a rematch against the Americans. Or to just see the Americans go out before the Canadians.

Hopefully the Canadians stay in the tournament long enough to keep Canadians caring. This is good for both the women’s game and soccer in Canada in general. Hopefully they start scoring more goals.

I wrote this post a few days ago on sheets of lose leaf lined paper. I usually write that way even if it means there are delays between writing and posting (sometimes spanning months rather than a few days). Tonight I stumbled upon an article about that semi-final at the Olympics, which was the moment Canadians decided we cared about soccer. They should have won and a bad ref and Abby Wambach stopped that from happening. That sense of being wronged and falling to our Americans neighbours spurred this excitement. I remember saying afterwards that we’d get them at the world cup in Canada.

FIFA, which oversees all international soccer matches, including those at the Olympics, tacitly endorsed all of Pedersen’s decisions from that night. But she never refereed at a major international competition again.

I hope that we do. Apparently they won the bronze on a relatively easy path through the knockout round and a goal on the only shot on target in the bronze-medal match.


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