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How I Fell In Love with a Soccer Club

I’m a sports fan.  I know that might not be admitting much, but it has to be said.  Just look at my Twitter feed.  It’s often clogged with sports comments.  I love the fall because so many of the sports are back in session.   Summer is an odd time because there are few games to look forward to – even when there’s a tournament like the World Cup to take your mind away.  One of my biggest memories will be being in the French Quarter and watching the Saints win Super Bowl 44. 

Like most people, my sporting allegiances have been either geographical or generational.  I am a fan of the New Orleans Saints because I grew up in New Orleans.  When the Hornets moved from Charlotte to New Orleans in 2002, I threw my support behind them.  My brother Al got me to follow the Colorado Avalanche when they moved from Quebec.  I love baseball because my dad loves baseball – we watch the World Series every year together.  I also love soccer because we’ve watched the World Cup since I was a 5-year old tyke and saw him watching the Spain ‘82 World Cup.

Which makes my supporting of a soccer club thousands of miles away all the rarer.

Don’t get me wrong: after a decade or so of supporting Arsenal, I can’t see myself not doing it.  I will get up early every Saturday or Sunday morning or look for ways to clear out Tuesday or Wednesday afternoons for games for the rest of my life.  I will obsess over transfer rumors.  I will take to Twitter and Facebook to comment on games and news and everything else.  Obviously the dream is to eventually see a few games at Emirates Stadium in person. 

But none of it was predicated by anything else beyond a love of soccer.  Like so many, I began to follow European soccer during the turn of the century as satellite TV and Internet streams began to pop up.  It was the Re-Discovery of Soccer in Our Shores.  You could catch Premier League replays late at night on Fox Sports World.  I’d sit and watch Bolton-Blackburn replays because it was rare to see soccer played outside the usual confines of a month in June every four years.  The Internet provided a chance to read newspapers talking about players and blogs, as they began, would go into greater detail about what was going on with the clubs and leagues.

And as I watched, names that I remembered for the World Cup in 1998 kept appearing on one side.  Names like Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira.  And the more I watched, the more I kept coming back to that side.  They wore red and white (sometimes yellow).  They were called Arsenal.  And their football was beautiful.

I don’t just mean beautiful in the pass-pass-pass sense.  That side was beautiful in how it destroyed opponents. They’d pry open defenses and score any number of ways.  Headers, set pieces, direct free kicks, indirect free kicks.  You’d never know who would score but you knew goals would be coming.  Arsene Wenger was like a mad scientist, putting together an alchemic formula on how to eviscerate teams foolish enough to get in his way.  And no matter who took to the pitch, they seemed to be of one mind in their dedication to winning. 

It was addictive. And enthralling. And the more I saw, the more I wanted to see. 

Of course, this led to me learning the history of Arsenal FC.  Of managers like Howard Chapman, Bertie Mee and George Graham and players like Winterburn, Dixon, Rocastle and Adams.  And of course, of moments, like the 1989 Anfield title decider (22 years ago to this day).

The short version of the 89 Liverpool-Arsenal game that settled the titled.

How bad has it gotten? I’ve gotten out of work for mid-week Champions League games.  I’ve woken up early in Saturday and Sunday mornings to catch a game.  I will scour the Internet for news and bits of info about any potential signing that may be joining the club. I spend way too much time every day reading blogs, message boards and thinking about a club I’ve yet to see in person.

But in our modern age, is that necessary?  I get to see approximately all of the 38 Premier League games, all the Champions League games and most of the Carling Cup and FA Cup clashes.  Thanks to Twitter and the other social media sites, there’s an online community of Gooners around the world with which to interact, celebrate when great moments happen and commiserate when things go badly. 

The goal remains to one day see a game at Emirates Stadium – Arsenal’s home since 2006.  I hope to travel there and enjoy a game with the team I’ve supported for so many years.  Until then, I’ll be on my couch or at Finn McCool’s (best pub to catch a game in New Orleans), rooting on the Gunners.

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