Would You Still Have Fallen In Love With Soccer If You Grew Up Elsewhere?

I was born and bred in Great Britain and lived there until I was fourteen and then moved to the United States. During those impressionable years growing up in Wales, the sports that were thrust upon me were soccer, rugby, tennis and cricket.

After I moved to the States in 1984, the first time I played basketball was during my first PE class in high school. I had never seen basketball played before, so when they threw the ball to me, I ran with it toward the net. The PE teacher blew his whistle and explained that I had to dribble the ball when I ran. That confused me even more because what I knew about dribbling was that it was something I did with my feet in soccer. So my classmates told me I had to bounce the ball.

The game resumed and I bounced the ball once, ran a few feet and bounced it again. The PE teacher blew his whistle again and, with some embarrassment and a few laughs, explained that I needed to bounce the ball all the way as I ran.

Interestingly, when I played American football for the first time in high school, the sport didn’t seem as foreign to me because I had played rugby in Wales. It was flag football, so it was a little different. But the only thing that totally confounded me, and still does to this day, is how to throw an American football. It’s a completely different technique than in rugby. Not only is the grip different but so too is the way the ball is thrown. I’ve seen it done plenty of times before, but when I throw it, it all ends up horribly wrong.

This brings me to a thought I had last night. What if I had been born in the United States and had grown up here? Would I still be the soccer-mad fan that I am today, or would I have fallen in love with a different sport? After all, my father is not a fan of soccer and didn’t play the sport when he was younger, so there wouldn’t be the influence of a parental figure introducing me to the sport.

It’s likely that I would have eventually found soccer in elementary school, but I wonder how often it was played in American elementary schools in the late 70s and early 80s. If I lived in the States at that time, I would have found it on the television set thanks to the NASL games. But again, there’s no guarantee that I would have found the sport interesting at all. I like to think I would. But there’s no way of knowing especially when a child is brought up in a totally different culture than the one I knew.

What about you? If you were born in a different country in this world, would that have changed the sports you loved? If you’re American, imagine if you were born in the United Kingdom. How do you think that would have changed you? And vice-versa, if you were born in the United Kingdom, imagine how your life would have been different if you grew up in the United States. Share your insights in the comments section below regarding how your life would have been different, or the same.

40 thoughts on “Would You Still Have Fallen In Love With Soccer If You Grew Up Elsewhere?”

  1. I grew up all over the US. I didn’t play soccer as a kid except for fun in high school. I rode and showed horses through my early 20s. I love watching soccer, as does my husband, who also didn’t play and is American. I don’t like baseball, basketball or NFL football. I suspect I might have liked exactly the same sports I do (soccer and horse sports) had I grown up in the UK.

  2. Born and raised in Georgia in the US, loved the sport ever since especially my club, Arsenal. Had I been born in the UK, I might have ended up loving another club, but I like to think soccer would always be my first choice.

  3. I have lived in England all my life and I can’t stand rugby so I don’t think I would like American Football, I don’t like baseball, I did play basketball for my school team and loved it, I don’t particuly like watching it though but if I had to pick one sport over there it would be basketball. I’m only 5,11 though so couldn’t really have played to any kind of level.

  4. As am I a fan of soccer, American football, rugby, hockey, and tennis, I imagine It would be much the same if I grew up in the UK.

    Well, I might not be as big of a fan of the NFL as I am, but that is only a pretty small change.

    1. A wee bit, yes Detroit. I have a couple of more similar articles that are a bit deeper than usual that I’ll posting in the next few days.

      The Gaffer

  5. I grew up & lived in the American Midwest most of my life until relocating to Austin, Texas last year. I spent an impressionable year of my youth across the street from an English family, relocated to Indiana for the father’s job. His son, my age, introduced me to the game, and that was it. I’m usually the curious sort about food & customs from other countries, so I’d imagine that I’d still have been drawn to it without their introduction. Their team was Spurs and remains mine to this day: for the longest time, I knew no other! Probably would have been crazy tribal about it if I’d grown up in Britain.

  6. Born in the U.S., I grew up playing soccer (in Florida). It was the first organized team sport I tried and enjoyed. Both baseball (t-ball) and flag football were offered, but soccer was more enjoyable.

    However, had I remained in the northeast US, I suspect hockey would have been my top sport.

    Your sporting interests have a lot to do with the environment. In a London pub on match-day… how could you not be a football fan.

    Had I been born in the UK, I am sure my interests in US sports would be more fascination rather than anything else. But with the Internet and all sorts of satellite, I am sure I’d have found a way to explore my fandom and chosen a side to support from abroad.

  7. Having grown up in Georgia, college football is the first sport I was introduced to, with baseball coming in second. Having grown up in the late 70s and early 80s, I was aware of the NASL, attended a few Atlanta Chiefs games at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and played the sport, if you can call standing around playing with the dirt while the athletically talented kids played actually playing. When the NASL disappeared, so did my interest in the sport. I still watched it when I could, but was never even remotely passionate about it. I remember the 1986 World Cup vaguely because I was in the USSR at the time. I remember the 1990 World Cup on TNT. While I watched each successive World Cup with more and more interest, club football did not become a passion until 2006 when I could watch it regularly on television, follow it closely on the internet, and interact with others through sites like this one.

  8. Absolutely! Born in California, but raised in Hong Kong. I had little to no interest in sports, bit of a video game geek until I hit middle school. I was 12 when I moved to Texas (where American football is everything) and that’s when I started picking up sports. Much like many states in the South, American football is loved to the point where entire towns will shut down to go to high school games. Let me say it again, high school level American football can cause an entire town to shut down for a night. That is the culture that I’m surrounded with.

    And the sport that I walked away playing and enjoying the most? Soccer. I played everything and understand all the rules and nuances to each major sport. Hell, I even played ice hockey for several years. Would I love soccer even if I grew up in the UK? Sure. Would it be at the same level as if I weren’t living in America? Maybe not.

    I think part of the fun of being a fan of soccer is that it is the underdog sport here. And the American culture loves its underdogs. I think the fact that soccer isn’t a mainstream sport, that it holds mostly an international appeal gives it an edge that makes it more attractive. I still like playing it over any other sport, but I do wonder how living in the U.S. affects how much I love the beautiful game.

  9. I don’t know much about the lower level or leagues that sports are played at in the USA but I think that I’d miss the close rivalries we have in the UK. For instance most of your sports are played at the top level across the continent, even though they are split regionally.

    Our nearest rivals here are in the same city and even though not always at the same level to allow a league meeting there’s always the potential of a cup clash. I think proximity is the issue. Where I live, Stoke on Trent, there’s only at most a four hour journey to get to matches. We’re an hour away from Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, two and a half hours from London so the away experience is easily accessible. To be honest in my opinion that’s what the overseas fans miss out on, the truly tribal elements of supporting and following your team all over the country, with like minded people. If you ever come over it’s an experience you should all try, attempt to sit in the away end and the home end at different matches. Away followers tend to be die-hards not band wagon jumpers so the atmosphere is undiluted and usually a little more raucous. From what I can tell it’s impossible to have this experience following top level American sport, is that correct?

    1. Given the distance, yeah, it is not possible for the average fan to follow their team around in the U.S.

      Of course, if you are independently wealthy, and have lots of free time…

      1. College sports, especially (American) football and basketball, are the place to find rivalries like those. Although the distances are greater, there are, inevitably, fans who make the trips to away games. I think the percentage of fans who are that hardcore is smaller for US college sports than for UK football, though. That’s probably due to the time and money needed to travel that much.

        I can’t speak for other conferences, but here in the land of the Big 10, it seems we’re less likely to get in fistfights over our teams (Drunken frat boys being the exception, not the rule).

  10. Louisville, KY
    I fell in love with football not by playing, but in stands as fan. When I was a freshman in high school, the school soccer team made a fabulous run to the final match of the state tournament. The season had all of the drama that I enjoy now as a fan of club and international football: A mid-season multiple game clean sheet streak, an All-American center mid, heated rivalries, a 30-yard match winner past the best keeper in the state, a mid-week match in a rain storm so intense that I was out of school for the rest of the week, all of the singing, the chanting, the confiscated noise makers, a pitch invasion after the semi final, and then… heartbreak! I was hooked! If it happened for me in the heart of basketball country, I believe it would have happened anywhere.

  11. This would have been an interesting premise for me seeing as my Dad has been an American football coach my entire life. I was introduced to American football from birth and then basketball (in part b/c my Dad played basketball in high school too). If I had grown up in a another country, I would not have had the early sporting influences that I did and possibly instead of being born following American football and basketball and growing to love soccer as I became older, my situation may have been reversed. I currently follow all three sports (and baseball) but I could easily envision without having that early introduction to American football, I would have likely gravitated towards soccer sooner along with basketball (as it’s also a very international game) and quite possibly found American football on some trip to the U.S. I also wonder if we lived elsewhere if my Dad would have gravitated towards soccer as he was very into sports growing up.

    I think it goes without saying that completely reversing your upbringing would have profound effects on the end result of who one is today.

    Very interesting to think about, great piece!

  12. I grew up in Israel where the major sport is soccer (like almost all countries outside the U.S). I played soccer casually with friends over there at recess and after school.

    I was 11 when we moved to the U.S and was still just casually interested in the game but several years later am now a very enthusiastic player who belongs to the school team and several other leagues and clubs…

    I think certain sports just naturally appeal to certain people.

  13. Born and raised in Canada and still live here. This is likely a shock to all reading, but I grew up loving hockey. Footy is a recent passion of mine – I’d always been somewhat interested, but it’s tough appreciating it all by one’s self. I finally met up with some people on the East Coast who were rabid about it, and I got to indulge it.

  14. In my case, I don’t think it would make any real difference. I moved to the town I currently call home in 1975. It was, culturally speaking, a big move, going from an urban(ish) to rural(ish) community. One of the things I found strange was that everyone my age – and I mean almost literally everyone – played soccer in AYSO leagues. I found it unusual, but didn’t gain any interest.

    When I was a senior in high school, we finally got an “official” soccer team. It was 1982, and there wern’t a whole lot of schools in our part of the state that had them. We even had a European exchange student playing for our “football” team, who was supposedly quite good. Still didn’t really care one way or another.

    It wasn’t until I started watching EPL and Champions League footie that I gained an appreciation for the sport. I’ve started paying attention to other leagues/competitions (MLS, SuperLiga, etc.), which are definitely not as good, but can be interesting. But it never would have started for me without losing my job and being home in the middle of the day to watch the really good teams play.

  15. I’d also like to add that I love Football and Cricket and have done since I was 6yrs old. I played both from that age have only just stopped playing football.
    I can’t imagine having to watch and play the sports that you have over there, although if you grow up in America you don’t know any different and no doubt I would be playing basketball and attempting to swing a baseball bat with the rest of you.
    I do like the idea of playing ice hockey, not that I ever have and not that I can even skate but I loved the film Youngblood when I watched it as a kid and always thought that it would be an interesting sport to play.

    Anyway, you guys have managed to find football and no doubt I would be like you, loving a sport that is not the main one in my country.

  16. I grew up in southwestern Connectiuct and 90 minute train ride away from Thee Stadium (for those who were born in a cave I mean Yankees Stadium). My mom was and is still a big Yankee fan and signed me up to play little league when I was 4. I played during the normal spring/summer league and also in fall leagues until my sophomore year of high school. I went to my first Yankees game when I was probably 6 years old and have been back many times and got to see the Yankees win the pennant last fall versus the Angels.

    Most of my friends growing up were baseball and football fans except for one who was a big soccer fan, but because of him I hated soccer. He used to make fun of my favorite sport baseball and say how soccer was better and this completely turning me off to the sport until recently.

    I also very much enjoy American Football and am a fan of the New York Jets. I have to say the football is my favorite sport now with soccer a close second and baseball picking up the rear.

    If I grew up some place else I would probably like whatever the local sports were, but damn I don’t understand how people say cricket is better than baseball. I have tried to watch rugby union and league but can’t get into it.

    Blame Harvard for soccer not being the prefered sport in this country. Back in the late 1800’s when the universities would play football vs each other they would play one half they way on school played soccer or rugby and the second half the way the other school played. Harvard was better at rugby and because of there influence rugby became “football”. Once too many people were being seriously hurt or killed the rules had to be changed and what would later become the NCAA wanted to widen the playing field. Harvard was against this because they just built a new concret bowl stadium and there wasn’t any room to widen the field, so the board legalised the forward pass. A little ways down the road a coach at Yale name Walter Camp came up with the idea of the line of scrimage and thus American football was born.

  17. Growing up in the American South, there was no soccer in my hometown (pop. 25,000) during my youth – 1960s. However, there certainly was soccer played during that time in other areas of the country. Now, the hometown of my youth is completely different – all kids play organized soccer.

    I played organized baseball, basketball, and golf for many years, and also played American football with frends (unorganized). Some of us kids also kicked around a soccer ball and it was loads of fun, but we had no idea what we were doing – we were trying to emulate what we saw on TV (the very early days of the NASL) – it was new, different, and fun, but it had no future for any of us because there was no organized play in my hometown.

    So, it depends on where you grew up in America, and especially when.

    Your question of what would have happened if I had grown up in the UK – I’m sure it would have been either rugby or soccer, but I have no idea what would have happened – it would likely have depended on (1) my friends and (2) my dad – the two things that influenced me to play baseball, basketball, and golf when I was a youngster.

  18. I am 35 now and have been playing at a high level for 31 years. I was born and raised in football crazy Connecticut. I am fortunate to have grown up where I did because of the exposure to football at such a young age. Prior to the cable television we have today, football was not easily accessible to watch. I grew up watching Serie A on RAI and Brazilian league on Globo, due to the large population of both nationalities in Connecticut. I truly think that I would have gotten into football regardless of where I grew up. My brain is and has been obsessed with it for my entire life. Besides, football has been very popular in most of the country since the 70’s, so I would have found it regardless.

  19. Interesting article – it’s kind of like wondering if you would be a different religion if you had been born in a different culture.

    Personally, I’m from England. Hull to be precise. Despite it supposedly being primarily a Rugby League city (with two historic RL teams in the town), I never really got into rugby (league or union). And I can’t even stand to watch cricket. For me it’s been all football ever since I started playing in school. I think Italia ’90 sealed the deal for me.

    I had minor adolescent phases of interest in NFL and NHL, mostly picked up from computer games. I think if I’d been born in the US, the situation might have been reversed…only maybe a passing interest in soccer would have more chance to flourish in the US than a passing interest in NFL did in England.

  20. I grew up in a small town in southern Michigan and played the sport for as long as I remember. I think the biggest problem was that I would play the sport during organized practices and games, but never “just for fun”. I was always interested in this game and hockey, so I definitely didn’t fit in at my school (which didn’t have a hockey program of any sort and the soccer program was looked at in the typical stereotypical way you’d expect a few years ago).

    I think the only reason I didn’t love the sport more when I was younger was because there was no one else to really share it with and my coaches were American football rejects that used their high school “coaching skills” towards the soccer field.

  21. Living in Virginia, I grew up playing basketball and watching NFL football. Soccer was always a fringe sport and since it wasn’t really on TV, it didn’t capture my attention. I played 1 year of soccer with a friend of mine but didn’t really understand the rules and wasn’t very good at it so it didn’t last. After that, I wasn’t even aware of the sport until the 1994 World Cup.

    Despite that, I fully believe that if I had grown up in the UK, I would have been a rabid soccer fan. The culture you grow up in and the friends and family around you have an immense impact on what you like and dislike. It isn’t usually until later in life that you start thinking for yourself and experimenting with new things.

    Even at 38 now and having rediscovered soccer and the premier league, it’s hard to stay motivated to watch it from thousands of miles away and with no friends to discuss it with. The big sport around here is college football, namely the Virginia Tech Hokies, and I can have a discussion about VT with almost anyone but I just can’t do that with soccer. Even the most knowledgeable soccer fans around here are extremely casual fans and might know about the US soccer team but that’s it.

  22. being isolated in a country where few like real football, it has made me a even more rabid fan of football than if i had lived completely in my native land. i like football, at the expense of every other sport. i don’t even watch the super bowl unless forced.

  23. I was born in london, it was allways football for me. spurs in 1960-1 were the best. it was love at first sight. ice hockey had been very popular in the U.K. until about 1962 when the pro league folded. I used to watch the games on the b.b.c. show grandstand. I have to say football will always be my number 1 sport. but if i were born in the u.s. it would have to be hockey for me. I also enjoy baseball and thanks to the virgin cable network i get ESPN. so i get to see the best sport from the u.s.

  24. i grew up in South Carolina, and i love the game with all my heart, so i can’t imagine what growing up in the UK would be like. but, i also love American football and baseball. i go to a big SEC school, so i live for college football, but it doesn’t take away from my love for soccer or vice versa. i consider myself just a fan of sport in general. i think if i grew up in the UK i would obviously be a die hard football fan, but i think i could embrace American sports as well. i have found that i can sit down and watch any sport, if i just listen to the announcers and try to get a feel for the basics of the game and the strategy that is involved.

  25. I actually wonder if I would still love football had I grown up in the UK. As a kid I was obsessed with baseball and basketball. A little later on I picked up golf and became competitive enough to play collegiately. Soccer was a total afterthought. When I got to high school I became friends with many of the soccer players and grew to respect the sport but not love it. Due to that respect I realized that the World Cup coming to the USA in 1994 was a huge deal. My brother and I went in to the lottery to get tickets to games at the Meadowlands. We were lucky enough to get tickets to 3 of the matches and I have been totally hooked since then. I quickly fell in love with Liverpool when I started watching the premier league highlight package in the fall of 94. Since then I have been over to see Liverpool play twice and the whole nine yards.

    The reason I ask if I would still love soccer had I grown up in the UK is because the other sports I grew up watching just don’t mean as much to me. I was a total fanatic about major league baseball and the nba, now I barely even pay attention. I have maintained my interest in golf, but the passion is gone. I wonder if my love for soccer is hanging on because it is relatively “new” to me compared to the others. I guess I’ll be able to tell in 15 years. If I am still checking epltalk.com 10 times a day I will realize that it is a true love!

  26. great column, Gaffer, stirs a lot of thought.
    Your initial troubles with basketball aside, it does seem like it’s the simplest sports that cross borders best, In my travels I’ve been amazed at basketball’s global growth, but it makes sense as, like soccer, it is a fairly easy game to learn how to play and watch.
    Whereas sports that are not intuitive upon first glance, cricket, baseball, rugby and american football, seem tied down to their traditional markets.

  27. I’m soccer mad, and I grew up in the US; specifically Florida. I’ve played for 23 of my 28 years and watched every single World Cup match this year (even the third-place match that I traditionally boycott and I’m glad I did.) I even got V-Cast on my Verizon phone so that I could finish watching the morning game when I got to work. I can’t imagine things would be much different if I grew up in the UK, except for the fact that it would’ve been much easier to watch quality clubs. I even grew up with a dad that played rugby my whole life, and only quit last year at the young age of 55 due to back problems. He was a staple with the Red Eyes old men’s league for years. No skill, but a helluva tough-guy enforcer and he loved the game. I would say that I was born in the wrong country, but I love my guns, American football, southern cooking and still can’t understand what the f#@% is going on with cricket.

  28. I played soccer in high school — not many American men my age can say
    that — but I didn’t fall in love with soccer until I had a team to support. My allegiances to the NASL Tulsa Roughnecks in the late 70s, and Arsenal, beginning in the 80s, sealed the deal.

  29. Born and raised in india, i was first fascinated with cricket ( everyone here is). But my interest in football coincided with decline in passion for cricket and now i am die hard fan of beautiful game. Though i don’t play any sports ( partly coz i am not good at any except volley ball which i don’t watch ;), i love watching inter alia tennis and F1.

  30. I played soccer as a kid in the 70’s and like most Americans moved onto baseball and football as I got older. Didn’t really follow soccer until the 90 WC as I was unemployed at the time and the only other thing on TV was soaps and game shows. Started watching club soccer about 5 years ago as my son continued to progress in the sport past youth to travel teams.

    I love sports and would probably have started a soccer fan if I had been born in almost any other country. However I would regret not getting to become an avid fan of American Football.

  31. i want to become a soccer player manchester city i want to come to man city caomp but i m poor i have no money to come to manchester city plz give me a chance my father is also dead i m keeping paracticing i m from pakistan quetta my age is 14 and to contact me this email mohammedshahidwali@yahoo.com plz give me chance

  32. the only other sport that I watched in Hong Kong during the 1980s is horse racing, but since i’m way over weight for that sport, so football has to be the one – even though I am not that great at it.

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