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Switching On To Football: An American Supporter Awakes… Part 1

After hearing from fellow Americans who follow the Premier League, I’ve been pondering the idea of coming to English football as an outsider. Here’s how my own love affair from distance got started…

Part 1: Inhaling the World Cup…

Back in 2006, my inner football junkie came alive when I discovered the World Cup. Something switched on and I followed every match I could. The love I’d had for soccer playing it as a child returned tenfold as I became a spectator. I didn’t want to miss a single pass, cross, goal or save. If I wasn’t at work, I was inhaling the games. There was a gracefulness and a flow absent from the baseball and American football games I’d long enjoyed. Every soccer moment had infinite possibilities for the match to swing one way or the other. The boundless movement was tempered by an undeniable tension. I perched myself on bar stools and took it all in. Watching the English, the Dutch, the Brazilians, the USA, I began to understand why most of the world devotes so much love, time and nerves to this beautiful sport.

Mostly, I tuned in at a New Hampshire pub: The Coat of Arms – British Pub and Restaurant. I’d been going there for years, but the sound was normally off on the TVs showing soccer and rugby. Now the sound was cranked and when England played, the place was packed. Countless Brits I didn’t even know were my neighbors materialized at the Coat. The pints flowed (sometimes at 8am) and the staff scurried through the throngs of tense supporters, taking orders for greasy breakfasts, bangers & mash, fish & chips, ploughman’s platters and (my favorite) chicken curry pitas.

I remember being blissfully lost in the atmosphere of the England-Sweden match. Not able to jump on a plane and fly to Germany, the crowd at the Coat seemed the best possible substitute. Each change of possession, each ball out to touch, each chance on goal inspired raucous noise. Owen went down and the room groaned. Crouch came on and cheering erupted from the back corner—the Liverpool contingent? They shouted their encouragement. “C’mon, Crouchie!”

Who was this guy? I thought. Skinny, lanky, tall enough to look Paul Pierce in the eyes. This was a football striker?

Crouch didn’t score that match, but he made an impression on me nonetheless. His appearance and movement made him an athletic iconoclast to pique my curiosity. I can’t say why, but I liked him immediately and wanted to know more about him. And another player who quickly became ingrained in my conscience did find the back of the net: Steven Gerrard, the late sub. Joe Cole—who’d already scored one of the insanest goals I’d seen at that point, collecting a ball with his chest 35 yards from goal and volleying it back toward the top corner where the keeper got a hand to it but couldn’t keep it out—scooped the ball from just outside the box. His cross sailed over everybody and found Gerrard unmarked. Gerrard headed it home and the room absolutely exploded. I’d never heard such noise outside a rock concert. Gerrard ran. The pub shook. The beer flowed. It was wonderful.

Then Henrik Larsson killed the mood with his injury time equalizer. But I figure that sinking feeling was just an important introduction to football supporting as anything.

After the USA didn’t make it past the group stage, I kept up with England. If only to re-live the atmosphere of the Sweden match. This led to the Portugal quarter-final. The one where Wayne Rooney stomped Ricardo Carvalho in the junk. Rooney was sent off. Nobody scored from open play. Portugal won 3-1 on penalties. My English neighbors were crushed their team was out. I was crushed my English neighbors wouldn’t fill up the pub again that summer.

I wanted to feel how they felt. The highs and the lows. But I wasn’t there yet.

I missed the semis (keeping up with them on a laptop behind the bar where I worked), and I missed the final (my friend was supposed to DVR it for us to watch later, but his system crashed), so I was forced to watch the headbutt-heard-round-the-world on YouTube.

All I knew was I wanted more football. Based on the energy of the English supporters at the Coat of Arms, I started investigating the Premier League. I’d watch as many matches as I could. I was determined to find myself a team. But how, I thought, does one do that as an outsider?

When 2006/2007 was upon me and I dove in full tilt. I wasn’t sure of my place as an American seeking English football. But, hey, I had no choice. The inner football junkie had awakened and he had demands. Who was I to deny him?

Tomorrow, Part 2: Inhaling the Premier League…

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  1. AtlantaPompey

    July 10, 2009 at 10:57 am

    Great article. Mine is a very similar story, although I’ve followed the World Cup since first experiencing the crowd around the television in Moscow in 1986. Never really got into club football until 2006 after watching Pompey survive relegation. Been hooked ever since.

  2. Matt in MA

    July 10, 2009 at 10:50 am

    I too would like to say that this is an excellent article and it’s wicked cool to hear about other yanks interested in the EPL. Like most of you, I played soccer as a kid (up until 8th grade) but didn’t get interested in it until college when one of my roommates was a big soccer fan. I followed the WC closely in 2002 and 2006. But I don’t really have an EPL team. It was Reading until they got relegated and since I don’t currently have Setanta and can’t see Championship games, I can’t really follow them in the States.

    One thing I would like to bring up: it’s completely B.S. when Americans don’t like soccer because it’s too low-scoring. The most popular sport in the States right now, American football, is just as low-scoring and defensive as any soccer game. Look at the stats. The top scoring team in the NFL (The Saints) averaged 3 touchdowns a game. The top scoring team in the EPL (Liverpool) averaged 2 goals a game. Is that really that big of a difference? The scores of NFL games only look inflated because a touchdown is worth 7 points. I know that’s not the deepest analysis of scoring in both leagues, but if one looked closed, I’d bet you’d find they were more similar than most Americans give them credit for.

  3. NJ

    July 10, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Great stories from everyone. I played a little bit back in my earlier years and would stay in touch with the game as much as I could, namely Fox Sports weekly round up show. I was lucky enough to have a break in my college schedule when the show came on each week.

    Following college I read Fever Pitch, and my interest continued to expand, as my support for Arsenal began. I followed as best I could between ’02 and ’06 (World cups, and the weekly game I picked up on my Fox Sports affiliate) then in 2006 with the World Cup, watching as much as I could, and glued to the TV for the Semifinals and Final, I ponied up for the expanded TV package, and took my support to the next level.

    With Fox Soccer I also received GolTV (until Dish rudely cancelled it on me, so I’m very excited about ESPN’s La Liga partnership) and have actively followed the EPL and La Liga since, as well as MLS domestically. Its funny how quickly the game can go from, a following from afar, to a passion that takes up a lot of time. I’m constantly reading news, blogs (the EPLTalk family of blogs are great) etc. and my wife complains everything that I read and watch is soccer/football related. I’ve even learned a little Spanish so I can more actively follow La Liga.

    I wholeheartedly believe our stories can and eventually will be the stories of many other Americans, who have their interest in the game stoked by one event or another, and as we all know its a very slippery slope and interest can quickly become PASSION!!!!

  4. BC

    July 9, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Great article, as a recent Yankee convert to the beautiful game I guess I’ll share my story too. I wasn’t a soccer fan by any means, but would follow the World Cup every now and then until I came across the Champions League in 2005. The first full club game I ever watched was the 2005 CL Final where Liverpool had their incredible comeback. Needless to say, I was shocked that a soccer match could be so exciting. After that game I started to follow the club game a little more but following soccer still wasn’t a passion of mine. That was until the 2006 FA Cup Final.

    I remember I first saw the ’06 FA Cup Final on tape delay on FSC. I had a vague idea of what the FA Cup was from seeing some EPL games that season. I was excited that Liverpool was playing since I remembered them from the famous ’05 CL Final. As soon as Gerrard fired that rocket in the 90th minute to equalize I was a committed soccer fan and a committed Liverpool fan. I will never forget that shot as long as I live as one of the most amazing moments in sport I’ve ever seen. Thanks to those two games I’ve been addicted to soccer and support Liverpool, the US National team and my local team, the Columbus Crew.

    I feel a little guilty latching on to one of the Big 4 to support as an American EPL convert, but blame Steven Gerrard, he’s the one who made me a soccer fan.

  5. Kevin

    July 9, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Fantastic article. I was lucky enough to have a cousin introduce me to football at a very young age ( I was 5 when I started ) and I have been playing it ever since. ( 19 years and still going ) It always took top spot in terms of other sports I played, like baseball and ice hockey.

    I became a Manchester United fan around 1998, mostly because I thought David Beckham was a great footballer and because he reminded me of my cousin. Living in the US, New Mexico all my life specifically, I wasn’t introduced to the world stage until I was a younger teen. I started to learn more about the other leagues, but always staying with United. World Cup 98 was the first real tournament I got into. I chose England as my international squad, and was disappointed that they were dumped out. Ever since, football has been a way of life for me. Six United shirts, two England shirts, scarves, flags, etc. all hang on my wall in my bedroom. Most of my friends don’t understand the obsession with the game. For WC 2002, I stayed up all night long to watch the live coverage, angering my family when Becks scored against Argentina, and the lost feeling when Brazil took them out. I was almost in tears when England fell to Portugal in 2006. I was working when United beat Chelsea for the Champions League last term, and when my father called me to tell me United had won, I went mental at work and got a lot of awkward looks.

    I can’t imagine my life without the Beautiful Game, and I will be passing my passion down to my children in the future.

    I enjoyed reading this article. It brought back the great memories of growing up around football, and the passion that grew inside.

  6. eplnfl

    July 9, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Well it was the 94 WC that turned a interest into a desire for a passion. Once FSC came onto my cable system my interest in the English game became more pronounced. I used to listen to matches on a shortwave radio from the BBC World Service once upon a time. Hard to believe now.

    Finding the Gaffer’s site has taken my interest into a full passion. Finding a community to interact with, at least online has changed things for me. I have to thank Chris for it. Also, this site has helped me become a better fan to our national team and my local club the Chicago Fire. Thanks, Chris and sorry I’m spending so much time over on Kartik’s site but right now it’s where the action is at!

    • The Gaffer

      July 9, 2009 at 8:14 pm

      Hi Lou, thanks for your kind words. No worries. I’ve been spending a lot of time on our sister site, MLS Talk, too at

      It’s been a very exciting summer for supporters of the US national team.

      The Gaffer

  7. Adam Childress

    July 9, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    I am up in Detroit and played AYSO as a kid. I spent my teenage years playing Americas 4 major sports. Overtime all the bias’ that are handend down from generation to generation about soccer being boring, low scoring, and nothing but divers and cheats, took its toll and I actually believed I knew the game and agreed with these upserd allogations. However after I got a job working for a British engineer from Wolverhampton, everything changed. The first 6-8 months all I did was joke around with him about liking such a boring sport. However in an attempt to kiss a little a@@ and talk a little shop I decided to watch as many games of the Eurocup 2008 tournement as possible. 2 games in and I was hooked. I really realized how little I cared for American sports when I heard a conversations about the Detroit Tigers, a conversation I would have normally jumped into, but did not. To this day I have not watched a full Tigers game. I went from watching on tv 1OO+ baseball games a year on tv, going to 21 tiger games a year, watching the NFL all day Sunday and Monday, and possesing Lions season tickets, to only watching the Lions play on tv after the sunday morning games are over. At the end of the summer I started listening to Wolverhampton games via the web and fell in love with Liverpool during the season. I have Setanta and FSC and watch 8-9 EPL games a week. Finding soccer was like breathing for the firs time. Now with the Wolves in the premiership I wont know whats going to happen on gameday between Liverpool-Wolves but its a great problem to have.

  8. Jayoh

    July 9, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    I too found soccer again after the 2006 world cup. I am from an entirely Italian family, (both sides of grandparents are immigrants) and I have always had a favorable disposition towards the Azzuri even after watching the choke job that was Baggio. Nevertheless the rest of the nineties was filled with no soccer coverage here in the states, and even the upstart mls was crap and so I all but lost interest. But after the 2006 world cup something clicked for me, I couldn’t get enough! I now watch just about anything I can and have now had FSC for two years and am an mls season ticket holder here in Seattle. Watching the EPL on saturdays and sundays are what get me through the long winters of grad school. Two years ago when I first started watching EPL I decided I would choose a team to start following, and didn’t want to be a big 4 supporter and so I’ve been a Villa fan ever since…I am thrilled to see things such as the champions league and other tournaments start to take off here in the US…it’s exciting! I agree with backpacker, I too find immense pleasure in wearing obscure footy jerseys that strike conversations with a select few. What a joy it is to talk football with people, but man does it make others zone out real quick! Go Villans!

  9. CA_backpacker

    July 9, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    I actually gotta say I find a sort of peverse pleasure at being one of the few and the proud, a hard-core EPL fan in the USA. There is something really cool about wearing my Liverpool jersey, and once in a while having some random person notice and strike up a conversation because they too are EPL footy fans. Any fool can be an AL/NL, NBA, NFL, NHL (less so) fan in the US…it means nothing and is expected of any red blooded American to support at least one of the major sports here.

    That said, I do wish there was a cool English pub near where I live to share the experience with others…

  10. Mark

    July 9, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    “Nothing better than watching a sport with two 45-minute halves without commercials.” Amen to that. I used to really love NCAA football, but now when I try to watch it after the Saturday morning matches are over, the mind numbing number of commercials render it almost unwatchable.

    • CA_backpacker

      July 9, 2009 at 5:41 pm


  11. Juan-John

    July 9, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Check out Simmons’ latest podcast. Towards the end, he and his guest talk about international footie.

    For me, I got hooked into the EPL after watching an MLS game between DC United and Kansas City back when Freddy Adu was still in the States. Have absolutely NO idea what the score was, but I do vividly remember the atmosphere of the Screaming Eagles and Barra Brava. This made me wanna seek out more footie on TV, at which point I discovered FSC and GolTV. Within a year, I was watching the EPL constantly, and then fell in love without wanting to for Hull City during their first-half-of-the-season Cinderella run and pictures of the Tigers’ gorgeous, 25,000-seat KC Stadium, a copy of which I wish DC United would build.

    Nothing better than watching a sport with two 45-minute halves without commercials.

  12. edgar

    July 9, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Wow! I love the fact that you guys are writing pieces on how yanks get into footy. I would like to relate mine as well. I have always loved football (soccer). I remember playing as a little boy through 3rd grade then pee wee football (american) starts, then everyone forgets about (soccer). I also live in Texas north of Fort Worth, born and raised. I remember watching my first World Cup in 1994 and haven’t missed one since. Here in the States we usually don’t have many people interested in (soccer), i gave up on it and played mostly baseball. I started work in a Manufacturing shop after high school and a couple years later, i had a co-worker who had been following the EPL for a couple years prior. As we had to work together, we talked about Premiership Football. As he detected interest, the says: Hey you should pick a team an follow them so that we can have something to talk about (By the way he is an die hard Arsenal fan). The only team i had heard about was Manchester United. As i watched United play the World Club Cup Tour vs Club America from Mexico and watching them thump America 2-0 in their own stadium, i fell in love with United. My favorite player became Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Needless to say, as i tuned in for more Prem that season and beyond, i lost interest in American sports. I find American sports boring and very slow compared to (soccer). I play footy with some friends every monday. I look forward to mondays every week. I do follow MLS. I know MLS can be very boring at times, but we have to support our own league. How is it ever going to grow if we do not support it? Go FC Dallas! Spencer, your girlfriend supports Colorado? That sucks, I hate Colorado, they have kicked FC Dallas out of the playoffs twice in the previous seasons. I’ve been there in attendance. I didn’t like that feeling. Wow, I’d hate to have a girlfriend who supported Liverpool! No offense.

  13. bizriak

    July 9, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Nice article. I’m also a Yank who played as a kid quite a bit, tried to monitor the sport as best I could, and has had a recent renaissance since the internet explosion.

    What tipped the scales for me was the ESPN Bill Simmons article that chronicled his choosing of a team.

    Right before the ’06-07 season I chose Villa (good timing). I don’t regret my choice for one second!

    BTW Nick, the manager is MON, not MOL.

    Up the Villa!!

  14. Nick

    July 9, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Im right there with you. This article is almost about me seemingly, except after playing the game as a child, I rediscovered the game during the 94 World Cup as I was a Freshman in High School.

    Throughout the years, I would monitor all games shown on easy to access American TV (r.e. Not many)

    So honestly, My football resurgence started two years ago once I came across GOLTV and FSC. Now im an addict, lol. Always talking about the game with the handfull of other fanatics (mostly all of whom are Portugese imigrants) while my fellow American sports fans roll their eyes cause friggin Nick is once again talking soccer.

    Anyways, love the site, love the article, GO VILLA!!!


    • Mark Flint

      July 9, 2009 at 4:03 pm

      Nothing clears a room quicker than bringing up soccer in the US.

      • Ethan Armstrong

        July 10, 2009 at 1:13 pm

        If I can add a brief anecdote:

        A friend and I went into a pub to catch a Champions League match in 2007. Nobody was watching the TV so we asked the bartender to switch it over to ESPN2. Only, we got there too early. ESPN2 was showing men’s beach weightlifting. Huge dudes. Tiny bathing suits. The entire bar turns to look at us. “There’s a soccer match on after this…” I tried to explain.

        “Riiiiiight,” said the bartender.

  15. Spenser

    July 9, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Excellent article. I love hearing about others like me, as I said in my comment after the Michael Owen article. I’m a big Liverpool fan from Fort Worth, Texas (born and raised, go to TCU) and I support the US internationally, but after that I go for England and then Spain, then Germany I suppose. But I love watching any international match that has top teams. I ate, slept, and drank the Euro last summer and like you, I started following internationally with the WC 06. I played the game in high school, and I play intramurals in college, though I’m not so good, haha.

    I try to get a team in every league, so I can watch the matches and have someone to root for. So I’ve picked Atletico Madrid in La Liga, Inter Milan in Serie A, Werder Bremen in Bundesliga, and Rangers FC in SPL. I obviously support FC Dallas, but I often get bored with MLS. I try to watch some of those games anyway, and I hope to take my girlfriend to Pizza Hut Park (lame stadium name) on a date to see FC Dallas play her home team, Colorado Rapids.

    Nevertheless, I’ve loved becoming a huge football fanatic here in the States, and I wear jerseys or football related t-shirts all the time. I got one of my really good friends into it to, so I finally have someone to talk to about footy with. He became a Chelsea fan, so that’s always a good time. Otherwise, I just appreciate the occasional pat on the back when wearing my Gerrard jersey, but I also love the feeling of some random fan on campus calling me a “tosser” for supporting the Reds.

    I love football.

  16. Brad

    July 9, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    I also fell in love with the game while following World Cup 2006, but my real soccer experience is limited to one year of soccer when my team scored one goal the entire season.

    I’ve been following the Premier League on FSC since 2006, and I’ve decided to choose a team to follow this season so that I can attempt to get the whole experience.

    I’ll never mistake myself for a diehard fan — I think those who are have paid their dues — but it will give me more incentive to tune in.

    Who knows? Maybe this will be the start of a lifelong following.

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