Now back to my addiction. It wasn’t exactly how you might imagine it. First of all, it was difficult to even be able to watch soccer matches on a regular basis. In fact, seeing 60 minutes of a match was a struggle. By scouring the TV Guide, I would either get lucky enough to catch 90 minutes of Mexican Primera with Spanish commentary (which I learned to absolutely love), or I was blessed with replays of the prior week’s English Premier League matches on MSG. Sometimes – and this was rare – I would be flipping through channels and RAI would be showing a worthwhile Serie A match.
Here’s the thing: I had never been exposed to any of these leagues or their teams, and I was a newbie. I had no soccer knowledge, and I freely admitted it. My father, a first-generation immigrant from Senegal who has been extremely passionate about the world’s game for as long as I can remember, encouraged me to support just one team. “Pick a team and support them 100%. Do your homework – research their history. Learn about their players. Remember, they don’t have to be the best right now, and maybe it’s better not to pick everyone else’s favorite.”
So that’s what I did. I began my support of Chelsea Football Club, despite the fact that the majority of EPL matches that were ever shown were ones in which Manchester United were featured. I was a huge fan of Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Vialli, and Marcel Desailly, who had recently played a key part in France’s World Cup victorie had just joined the club.
When the 1998-99 season began, I was a 14 year-old about to take on the daunting halls and social awkwardness of high school. Very few of my friends were interested in soccer – let alone a particular team in a particular league in England. I was probably considered odd for not being excited by the upcoming American football season or for being unable to name major teams or players (I didn’t become interested in the NFL until 2007 and I am now a proud Jets fan). Instead, I was scouring public libraries for VHS tapes. Yes, VHS tapes – keep in mind it was 1998 and there were no YouTube, MatchHighlight, or 101GreatGoals websites. I was lucky enough to rent several Premier League full season highlight compilations from my municipal library, and they quickly became the only “homework” I was interested in doing. I spent hours – days, really – memorizing the names of players, coaches, clubs and even referees. I acquainted myself with the terminology: woodwork for post, kit for jersey, boots for cleats, manager for coach, etc.