Being born in the United States in the late 80′s and growing up through the 90′s, I was exposed to the great “resurgence” of “soccer” in America. With the World Cup here in 1994 and the US women’s team winning their titles in ’91 and ’99, soccer began to get massive exposure here in the States, and even though I’m from Indiana, a state known for it’s love of basketball, the first organized sport I ever played was soccer at the age of 6.
Unfortunately it wasn’t something I seriously stuck to, quitting before high school, and I definitely didn’t follow the professional game or even know of any teams outside of the MLS until one day someone in school had a Manchester United jersey.
Acquiring a bit more information I was informed that they and Arsenal were the two best clubs in England (mind you, it was about 2004), and I was given the understanding that they were big rivals. From then on I decided that I would be a fan of Man United. From that point anytime someone brought up soccer that’s what I told them, “I like Man U,” even though I didn’t really know anything about the team and, at the time, failed to even realize that they had dominated the Premier League since its inception.
Eventually, from watching the World Cup in 2006, I had decided that I thought Wayne Rooney was cool, and since he was a United player it gave me even more reason for liking my team. So that was that. I had a team that was good with a player I liked, and my gradual interest slowly increased as I started watching the occasional game more and more often.
Then suddenly, as if a bomb went off in my in my world of soccer fandom, the 2010 World Cup came and I supported my country like never before! I felt connected with every other US soccer fan. We struggled together. We cheered together and we cried together when we were eventually knocked out after a half decent run in the competition, compared to 2006, and it was that feeling of togetherness I had received that spurred me on.
So I had decided to closely follow the Premier league that year. Now at this point, from playing FIFA, I knew that there were lower leagues in English football, but embarrassingly enough what I hadn’t realized, until before the start of the 2010/11 season, was that a promotion/relegation system even existed. This was a completely foreign concept. As soon as it was explained to me by my younger brother, who incidentally stuck with soccer and had become a Chelsea fan, this concept shook the very foundation of what it meant to enjoy Premier League soccer for me. Realizing that essentially the same team won every year and that the three worst teams got knocked out of the league, I began to notice that the supporters of the teams at the bottom of the league table really had something to lose.
Nevertheless, the season started and I knew that Manchester United had been beaten out for the title the year before, and that they were looking to take it back. I had bought my Wayne Rooney jersey and I was ready to support the Red Devils. Then something happened. United won, and won again, and kept winning, and as happy as I wanted to be about it, I was far more entertained by how well this team called Blackpool was doing. They were beating the odds and climbing up the table, reaching 5th at one point, while at the same time my favorite American player was performing exceptionally well for Fulham.
This began to leave me at a bit of a crossroads if you will. I wanted to stay true to the team I had thought I had supported for so long, but my interest in other teams left me saying things like, “I’m a United fan, but I also like Blackpool and Fulham.”
Coupled with my newfound understanding of the promotion/relegation system, I began exploring teams in the Championship by playing with them on FIFA (probably the most common exposure to soccer for the average American). For some reason I’m not quite sure of, I settled on Queens Park Rangers (probably because their kits looked great). I began to occasionally check their real progress, but continued to focus mostly on the Premier League.
Then one day a friend of mine said to me that he worked with a guy who was from England, loved to talk about football and that I should meet him. For me, this was exciting news because I had never talked to an Englishman about football before, and it was an exciting chance to get to meet someone who was actually from “the promised land.” I asked my friend which team he supported, but he couldn’t remember, so it was up to me to find out myself.
Excited, I went to visit my fried at work and he introduced me to his workmate. We shook hands, and the first thing he said to me when he realized I liked soccer was, “I bet you’re a Manchester United fan!” From that point he proceeded to explain to me that if you’re American, you like United, Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea. To which I explained I also liked Fulham and, unenthused, he knew exactly why — Clint Dempsey. Slightly taken aback I asked him what his team was and he proudly pulled his sleeve back and said, “Queens Park Rangers,” as he showed me a tattoo of their old crest on his arm.
From there he proceeded to give me a brief history of the club, the area of West London it’s in, and a breakdown of how strong community they have. And when he was done he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll convert you.”
Later that year on the last day of the Championship season, we watched QPR lose 2-1 to Leeds, but it didn’t matter because we had been promoted. At that time it was just us supporting QPR in Indianapolis, but a year later there were four of us there all watching another game we lost on the final day of the season, only this time we had stayed up.
For me it wouldn’t have changed anything if we had gone down though. I’ve found what I was looking for. Not just a team to follow, but the community surrounding it. When you’re not from the area these teams are based out of, its hard to pick a team to follow. My brother now follows QPR instead of Chelsea because of me.
Some people like to follow teams that win, some like the underdogs. Some like to follow their favorite players team, but teams don’t always win and players don’t always stay. I can honestly say I love QPR, and no matter what league they play in, I always will because I have a sense of community.
So if you do happen to be an American who supports one of the big name clubs, ask yourself, would you still really care about Manchester United if they were in League Two?