Romancing the Beautiful Game

It’s passion like this that makes soccer great.

I want to love soccer. I really do. Oh, we’ve had our torrid flings in the past. In fact, I’ll never forget the first time we hooked up. It was the summer of ’96 and I was young, carefree and looking to sow my wild oats while working abroad. We met in a pub just outside of London, where the European Championship was taking place that year. After a few initial awkward moments, we found some common ground and the chemistry was undeniable. It was fresh, exotic and mysterious; you know, everything you would ever want and hope for in a summer romance. The more time we spent together, the deeper I fell. What can I say? I had never experienced such an intoxicating combination of passion and beauty before. I was smitten.

Of course, you know how these relationships end up. They never work. When the summer came to a close, I returned home and that was that. Sure, we checked in on each other once in awhile, but we both knew it wasn’t the same. Before long, our correspondence consisted of nothing more than an extended catch-up session that took place every four years. The ocean between us had conspired to douse the fire within my heart and though I still felt fondly toward my former flame, I moved on and didn’t waste much time thinking about it.

That is, until fate intervened ten years later.

This time, my travels took me to northern Spain, just as Germany was preparing to host the 2006 World Cup. And, predictably, the moment the games began, those all too familiar feelings returned. Call me a sucker, a hopeless romantic or even a glutton for punishment. All of those labels may fit. But there’s simply nothing like living in a country that holds its collective breath during every corner, cross and carom on the pitch. Even for non-sports fans, that sort of emotion and drama is practically impossible to resist.

I bring up this tale because I watched the UEFA Champions League Final Wednesday night. Since I work during the day, I was forced to record the match and watch it later in the evening when I got home. This time, I was not accompanied by screaming fans attempting to will the home side to victory. There were no chants or spontaneous songs. It was just a man, his television and a wistful longing for days gone by.

The match itself was nothing special. AC Milan beat Liverpool 2-1, gaining a measure of revenge for its stunning defeat at the hands of the Reds back in 2005. But, truth be told, I really didn’t care about the result. Because just as I’d done ten years earlier, I placed soccer in the rearview mirror as soon as I left Europe last summer and returned to North America.

She looked so much better in Europe.

Trust me, I don’t want it to be this way. I really do want to love this sport. It’s just so hard without the built-in soccer support group you have in nearly every other country on the planet. After all, how do you remain passionate about a sport when it’s relegated to the back pages of newspapers and used as nothing more than a punch line on talk radio? In Europe, it felt as if I were romancing Monica Bellucci. Here at home, it’s like dating Bea Arthur.

Of course, these are all just excuses. There comes a time in every relationship where you have to decide whether you’re just passing time until something better comes along or playing for keeps. Truthfully, I’m tired of our on-again, off-again romance. It’s time to find out what we’ve got and that means commitment, trust and open communication. Sure, the beautiful game isn’t going to look hot and sexy all the time. But the same can be said for America’s Big Three (football, baseball and basketball) and I’ve had no problem cultivating a decades long love affair with each of them.

Or maybe, just maybe...

So we’ll see what happens. I’d like to take things slow and start out with a Dynamo game or two. They’re offensively challenged these days, so I figure I’ll feel right at home since that description applies to every other professional sports team in this city. Plus, I hear the Texian Army is fairly passionate, so hopefully that will put us in the right mood. From there, who knows? I’m just excited to have an opportunity to rekindle a romance that began more than a decade ago. And if things don’t work out? Well, I’m sure we’ll still be the kind of friends who reminisce and catch up with each other every four years. And I also wouldn’t have to wear the ignominious label that comes with being known as the dude who’s dating Bea Arthur. Hmmm, maybe we’re better off as friends after all. –

Jason Friedman

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