I grew up like most kids in coastal southern California; surfing, being outside, and playing sports. Soccer was something I played in elementary school with friends at lunch, along with 3 seasons of AYSO. Playing soccer was something fun but at the age of 10 or 11, my understanding of soccer pretty much revolved around chasing after the ball within a certain area. My dad tried vainly to keep me interested by taking me to NASL games for the California Surf and indoor games in Long Beach and even getting me to watch “Soccer from Germany” on PBS in what I can only guess was the Bundesliga circa 1981 or 1982. Higher understanding of how to actually play soccer would have taken longer but surfing and sailing were more fun and soccer pretty much fell away from my mind before junior high.
The next time soccer showed up in my life was the 1994 men’s World Cup and the 1999 Women’s World Cup. I saw as many games as possible and loved watching it, but then what was there to watch after those World Cups ended? Eventually the LA Galaxy and later Chivas USA played nearby but with so many Lakers, NBA, NFL, college football, and baseball games on cable — and the beach right outside my door, watching soccer pretty much never happened.
Fast forward to fall of 2009. I’m newly married and trying to find new things to do with my wife Juliana (Jules). We watched David Beckham’s first game with the Galaxy in 2007 (Jules loves Posh Spice and David Beckham) and a couple Galaxy games without much impact on either of us. One weekend we decided to head for downtown Huntington Beach to have breakfast and watch a match. The first bar we approached had no satellite working so we headed up the block to Killarney’s. Inside we found 10-15 guys; all dressed in red, drinking beer, yelling at the TV, singing, and generally having an amazing time. I figured out it was Manchester United while we ate breakfast and joined in the drinking, watched from the edge as the guys at the bar kept on drinking, yelling at the TV in barely understandable English, and of course singing. Jules likes to drink beer but I couldn’t believe she was having fun watching sports on TV! Towards the end of the match, one of the guys leading much of the singing, walked by and we asked,
“Where did you get the cool shirt?”
“Brought it from home. Hey give me your email and phone. We’re starting our own supporters group, we’ll have discounts on beer & food and we’re here every weekend”
And away he went. Victory shots followed the win and off we went.
On the drive home and over the next couple of days, Jules kept saying how much fun she had, that we should go again. (By the way, here’s stuff my wife likes: beer, fun, singing, and big groups of people. What can I say, I’m very blessed.)
That next week we both received an email from the HB Red Army detailing who the opposition team would be and what time the match would start. That next weekend we went back, watched, drank, cheered, but stayed off to the side but had more victory shots. Arsene Wenger was sent off by the ref during the game and decided to head for the stands to make a random but memorable game.
The next week she bought Manchester United jerseys for us on eBay and that weekend we went back, watched, drank, cheered. But this time we were recognized a little and we started talking with some of the group we began to know as the HB Red Army. More victory shots.
One of the big changes came with the Manchester City game in September 2009. The match started at 4:45am Pacific Standard Time. A birthday party ending very late the night before had Jules beg out of heading for the pub (as we now called it) at 4:15am. For fun I set the alarm, loaded the bike onto the car and headed out. Strange riding at 4:30am through downtown Huntington Beach, lots of people out and about and of course a lot of HB police. Most of the HB Red Army had yet to sleep, as a big fight the night before encouraged everyone to avoid sleep if possible. And lots of hurting people were there way too early. Being in California, there was no alcohol served before 6am, so when 6am came the bartender was super busy as the orders came in fast. Michael Owen’s game winner at the end of what we had already come to know as “Fergie Time” sealed the victory which was followed by lots of different victory shots and a slow bike ride home at 7am. Nothing like careening into the house and waking the dog and wife, reeking of booze, and being so ecstatic about a game that took place 6,000+ miles away on another continent.
I was newly married & found something new to enjoy with my wife, something nobody seemed to understand or care about but us. This was ours and yet it’s something we shared with most of the world and with a few million Manchester United fans worldwide.