I know, Xabi. I feel it too.
My love affair with The Beautiful Game began like it did for most girls in my age range: young.
Local Parks and Rec leagues.
Elementary school leagues where the coolest thing to do was to make bouquets out of the flowers you found in midfield.
That love got lost along the way. It happens when the sports that infiltrated your life are determined by people other than yourself.
In my case, it was NASCAR.
Major League Baseball.
But soccer – The Beautiful Game – was still there, if only in a dormant state.
It came and went in waves.
The Summer Olympics every four years.
Brandi Chastain and the 1999 Women’s World Cup.
The 2006 World Cup, where I first noticed the international team that now rules supreme over everything else I love in the sports world, the German Nationalmannschaft.
But there was a time between now and then, a sliver of time before the child with the flowers in hand became the fan I am today, when she was a novice about all things European.
And that’s where we start our story.
I knew nothing about club football in Europe.
MLS was barely on my radar. There were no professional teams anywhere near me, so who was I to expect that wasn’t normal? International teams had been good enough for me so far, why should I want more?
I was in college – a music student. Singing was as much a part of me as anything I knew. My small chamber group had the opportunity to sing in Mexico after the spring semester concluded, and so we gathered ourselves up and headed across the border to sing in four cities: Mexico City, Puebla, Tasco, and Acapulco.
We were in Puebla on May 23, 2007.
We had a member of the college’s men’s soccer team in our choir, and he was bound and determined to catch the UEFA Champions League Final that day.
I liked soccer, so I tagged along, not really knowing what the “Champions League” was. Not informed on what getting to the Final actually meant to the two teams participating. Just thinking it was another league match that featured two teams from different countries. No biggie, right?
I really could kick myself for how naïve I was, and how one team was going to pull me in that day and never let me go.
After walking through the city and coming across a small square with an open-air bar with that all-important “television”, we sat down. There was about 4-5 American Choir Kids in total. We ordered a bucket of the cheapest Mexican longnecks we could get, and settled down to watch the match.
I didn’t know who AC Milan were.
I didn’t even really know who Liverpool were. They were an English team, and that was good enough for me.
I was DEFINITELY clueless to the fact that this was a rematch of the 2005 Champions League final, a rematch of a game that is now as close to any Liverpool supporter’s heart as YNWA.
One Night In Istanbul.
Well, for me this was One Afternoon in Athens, and history will tell you that it didn’t go well for the team from Merseyside.
Throughout the match, I was the only patron in the bar supporting the Scousers, willing them to score after they were down 2-0. Thrilled when Dirk Kuyt scored, making it 2-1.
Saddened when that solitary goal wasn’t enough to guarantee the boys in red victory over their rivals.
We stayed at the bar a little longer, but finally made our way back to our hotel then back on tour across central Mexico the next day.
That experience, that game, those feelings, laid dormant until they were needed.
And that need was post-EURO2008.
My Kapitan played in England.
The Captain was Michael Ballack of Germany.
The Team was Chelsea FC.
Those two were my gateway drug into the (then) English Premier League.
Online fandom didn’t help matters much either.
Chelsea supporters that followed their Sexy German Caveman Who Doesn’t Know How To Dress Himself™ through Austria and Switzerland that summer brought me back (figuratively) to Stamford Bridge, and introduced me to the world of English Club Football.
I was happy there, getting to know the ins and outs of the system, obsessing over The Special One and his scarves… but then there were others.
Other online compatriots that spoke of a different club, a club from up north.
A club with a captain who had been with the team since childhood.
A club whose motto was from a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, albeit with a bit of Beatles-esque twang.
I was sold.
It took me some time (more time than I should care to admit) to realize that this new team I had discovered was the same team I had supported back before I knew really what European Football was.
When I did, though, it all made sense.
I may have loved my Kapitan and wished him well (and cursed the heavens two years later when Kevin-Prince Boateng tackled him in the FA Cup Final, blew out Micha’s ankle a month before the 2010 World Cup, and effectively ended his international career), but this team, this club, these supporters that sang songs set to Beatles melodies, it was like nothing this girl from the Pacific Northwest of the United States of America had ever experienced before.
I didn’t know you could love a team that much, and I’d been a “Seachickens” fan basically since birth.
Now, being a true Liverpool supporter going on seven years, I’ve seen and experienced highs and lows with this group.
Seen beloved players ask to leave.
Seen beloved players turned pariahs, lose their form, and never get it back.
Seen old owners refuse to help their investment in any way.
Seen new owners come in who value tradition and history as much as the fans do.
Be so close and yet so far from trophy, cup, and shield.
Relive One Night In Istanbul with the girls that had shown me the way to Merseyside.
I wouldn’t change a thing.
Except maybe not letting Xabi leave.
(photo credit: Getty via Who Ate All The Pies)