Growing up, I played soccer religiously. Practice happened three times a week, and then there was a game on Saturday. Oftentimes, there was a tournament at the weekend, so that took up all of my time. You would see teams sponsored by clubs from Europe. Everton and Celtic are two teams that stood out as frequent opponents for the teams that I played on.

However, I never had much of an interest in watching. Instead, American football, basketball and hockey dominated my TV screen. I figured that, since I played soccer and baseball, I did not need to watch those sports. Yet, everyone watched the World Series for baseball. So, in 2010, it made sense to watch the World Cup. A younger me thought that was the equivalent of the Super Bowl or the World Series. The current me understands that there is no competition to the World Cup.

Still, after the United States exited the tournament in the round of 16, I was enamored with the way Spain played. The ball did all the work with Xavi, Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, and Xabi Alonso in the midfield. I compared myself to them. Never the fastest, biggest, or strongest, I always preferred to pass the ball and make the other team work. No, I was not equivalent to these world-class players as an 11-year-old. But, kids have dreams, no? That team won the World Cup, and I was one of millions who found the Spanish side entertaining.

From Spain to Barcelona as a supporter

Naturally, I sought out those players so I could watch them more. Most of that Spain squad in 2010 played for one team, FC Barcelona. Naturally, I started watching them more. They had Lionel Messi, which only made things more enjoyable. Seeing his array of talent took some of my focus away from the midfield trio of Iniesta, Busquets, and Xavi. The Argentine was simply incredible to watch. As someone who could not dribble, his ability to take defenders on was unbelievable.

However, my fandom solidified itself during that 2010/11 season and the following campaign. That is when Messi was in his prime, and it led to success for Barcelona. Yes, the club won LaLiga and the Champions League. But, I think you find out how much a club means to you in the lower points. I remember watching the 2011 Copa del Rey Final. Cristiano Ronaldo scored a world-class header in extra time that ultimately sank Barcelona. Real Madrid emerged as the villain in my soccer fandom.

Barcelona’s relative struggles over the next several seasons with one trophy per campaign were not ideal. However, that kept my expectations in check. Then, in the 2014/15 season, I got to see one of the best teams of all time. Luis Suarez, Neymar, and Messi in front of that same midfield three that won the World Cup in 2010 was unbelievable to watch. That team looked unstoppable anytime it went forward. Every player played a key role in that squad. The 3-0 win over Bayern Munich in the first leg of the semifinal remains one of my favorite games to watch highlights from.

The ups and downs of Barcelona

Thankfully, I enjoyed those moments. By then, there was no turning back on being a Barcelona fan. Granted, there have been times when I wish I were not a Barcelona supporter. That night at Anfield, that night in Rome, that night in Lisbon against Bayern Munich. There have been some haunting days that my friends still remind me of.

Such is the nature of being a fan. If you want the good, you have to put up with the bad. Unfortunately, the last five to seven years have been more bad than good. Each of the players who coaxed me into the club is gone, some more unceremoniously than others. There are new faces that carry the weight of that kit. However, Barcelona may be turning a page, and my spirits, with recent success.

This club has my heart now. Many weekends orient around being able to watch Barcelona. Sometimes, that is a struggle. Other times, it is a pleasure. Whichever it is, Barcelona is a part of my life as a supporter, and it will be for years to come.

PHOTO: IMAGO / PanoramiC