Where does soccer passion come from?
After seeing last week’s video where I asked players in Chinatown about their preferred 5-a-side formation, a friend of mine suggested I ask NYC Footy players how their love for soccer (well, being from Ireland, I said football) came about. So visiting the 11-a-side games on Saturday at East River Park, I was excited to hear what great soccer moments the players would recount. What soccer moments lit their passion?
But what quickly became apparent, is that, aside from a few select players, many of the American born and bred players didn’t have a moment that instigated their love for soccer. It was simply a case that when they were young they started playing soccer. They were brought up to play soccer. This created a slight issue for me making this week’s video, as the response “I just started playing when I was young,” didn’t really make for the video I was imagining.
This highlights what I think might be a cultural difference to other countries.
In the States (again, that’s what we Irish call the U.S.), what appears to be commonplace is that parent's enroll their kids to play organized soccer. Whereas in other countries, a passion for the game is passed down by elders out of a love for a particular club. Perhaps the kid is brought to a game, or perhaps they are made to watch it on TV. The kid has no choice in the matter. But they are often seduced by the loud crowd, the smell of the grass and the grand drama of it all.
Prior to the age of 7, I had no interest in soccer. I distinctly remember saying to other kids, rather pompously, “It’s just a bunch of people chasing around a ball.” In truth, I had absolutely no idea.
Then in 1990, the Republic of Ireland qualified for its first World Cup, which was taking place in Italy. I remember being made to sit and watch Ireland's opening game v England in my grandmother's apartment with my parents and various uncles and aunts. My family were not football mad in the slightest, but the country was all in on Italia 90 hysteria. Ireland saw that World Cup as one of the first times we were represented on a global stage. There was a huge sense of national pride for the Boys in Green.
During the course of the first three group games Ireland played, I quickly got swept up in the madness. I think I was surprised by how easy the game was to understand. “You mean it’s just about getting the ball in the goal? And whoever gets the most goals wins?” I mean what a simple (yet brilliant) concept.
By the time Ireland drew 1-1 with the Netherlands to progress out of our group, I was spending every waking (and most likely sleeping) hour thinking about soccer. Not just thinking. When I was drawing, I was drawing soccer pictures. When I was making Lego, I was making soccer stadiums. When I was reading, I was reading absolutely anything to do with soccer. And, of course, I was out in the garden endlessly kicking a ball against a wall. And too often kicking the ball over the neighbor’s wall, driving them nuts in the process.
After the World Cup I got sucked into following football in the pre-Premier League era. At the risk of sounding like an old man, it all seemed to carry more of a mystique back then. Less globalized. More exotic.
Watching soccer just made me want to play. Whenever something exciting would happen in the rare televised game (you might get one a week in the early 90s) I would run to the phone and call my best friend.
“Did you see that goal!”
Which would be quickly followed up by…
“Do you want to play.”
My feet would literally tingle with excitement to play when I watched games.
When we would play, we would just go out on the street. We would play till it got dark and we could barely see the ball. Our parents would have to demand that we come back inside.
Those were the days when there was no fear at all about letting your kids just go out and do their own thing.
Here is yet another difference between the U.S. and other countries. The U.S. is often frowned upon by foreigners for having such a heavy pay to play model. I think many of us would agree that this limits access and opportunity for people that might otherwise become soccer superstars. That said, while the rest of the world gets distracted by social media and the like, the US may just be ahead of the game in creating the next generation players. That’s another story.
For all my soccer passion though, I have to admit, the best thing about soccer, is that feeling of having a ball at your feet. And I think to truly love soccer is to know what that feels like. As the game has become commercialized to death in recent years, there is a lot to be said for getting right back to what it’s really all about - and that is simply the joy of playing.
In saying that, here is a great clip showcasing the action and national hysteria created by the Boys in Green at Italia 90.
Hope you enjoy the video. If you have any feedback, opinions, or ideas for future content just drop us a line.