How to pick up soccer (Or: What worked for me)

 

It all makes sense now. I finally get soccer. I finally love it. And you can love it too.

For me, it’s been a long time coming. After a decade’s worth of failed attempts to pick up the game by watching Arsenal games with my friend, who insisted I was an Arsenal fan until I believed it, I have finally swallowed the game whole, Arsenal included. (Quite recently, it’s been the bitter pill.) Previously, I have watched the World Cup, and I watched parts of the last five Euro tournaments, but not until now did I care about the sport itself, divorced from a single competition. I only understood the tournaments, not the game.

I tried going to soccer bars in the city to be around ‘real’ fans. I tried buying various kits, to see if being a part of the ownership society would work. I even tried pretending that my ¼ Italian-ness meant I liked Italy in the World Cup.

Yeah, well, it still hadn’t worked: not the gear, not nuthin’. It made me feel like a buffoon, not a Buffon. I appreciated soccer, but I still couldn’t enjoy it for long periods of time. It just wasn’t my shit. Now it is my shit, and I think the method that finally worked for me is a pretty good way to actually learn to like the sport, and it is very simple. Here it is:

Watch the best teams.

Full stop. Soccer works very unlike American sports, which are self-evidently the best leagues in the world; not so in Europe. This means a lot of the teams in Europe are butt, and are not fun to watch. For that reason, do not force an attachment to a team in England (or Spain, or Germany) and try to follow it alone. It will not work. Pick a team in England or elsewhere and follow it, then watch Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Zlatan and whoever else among the baddest dudes alive is playing on your television. The more you watch, the better it will get and the better it gets, the more you watch.

Fuck Real Madrid, though. You can skip them and the German teams. Bayern is great and Dortmund is everything I like in a franchise, but the sound of 60,000 Germans screaming rubs me the wrong way even if I was born 33 years after WWII finished in extra time. I only hear the Horst Wessel song, and I don’t even know how it goes.

What I do know is this: I can’t see myself going back. The Netflix revolution has made me allergic to commercials, and my allergies only get worse as I age. This is all I can handle, and it’s everything I want and more — even if it means Arsenal choking away its best chance at a title in 10 years. After all, if life was all roses, I would have never turned to this sport in the first place. I came here in desperation, but I’m not desperate any more.

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