In my return to blogging on this blog, I intimated that I was working on a new writing project. Since it’s in its infancy, there’s not much to write about. But, it revolves around my love of the beautiful game.
I’m sorry to those who will read this piece and come away offended. But there’s only one “football”, and it’s not the one with a quarterback.
I’d been a desultory football follower since my childhood. One of my earliest memories was watching German Bundesliga highlights on my local PBS station, WNET, back in the 1970s. I can still remember the announcer’s vocal timbre, high-pitched, excited, so English, leading Americans who knew nothing of the game through its progress.
And, of course, growing up in 1970s New York City, I was a fan of the New York Cosmos. Yes, Pele was way past his prime, but we didn’t know that, or didn’t care. And it wasn’t like he had much good competition to show him up. The Cosmos were a show, for a couple of years outshining even the Yankees for star power.
Then the NASL crumbled, and the PBS show stopped airing, and the only place you could watch football was on the Spanish stations, and Mexican football never much enticed me. (Again, sorry to those who will write me angered missives.) I remained a sports fan: the Mets were my life, when I moved to L.A. the Lakers became my obsession, and then there was tennis, track & field, and so on. (No, not American football. I watched it more because there was nothing else on to watch for four months on Sunday afternoons than any other reason.)
Fast forward to the early Aughts. I had just started graduate school, and had cut back on my work schedule. This meant that many afternoons I had to myself. I’d arrive home, and of course flick on the television. This was in the days when Fox Soccer Channel still existed. At first it was Fox Sports World, and I started watching its afternoon offerings. (No Jerry Springer for me, thank you very much.) It had a wide array of international sporting offerings; however, football was its bread and butter. So, I began watching. And all those memories started flooding back. (Also by this time I was a confirmed World Cup viewer, ever since the US hosted the 1994 Cup. So I had some grounding before the mania overtook me completely.) Bit by bit I was enamored by the game: its fast pace, its lack of timeouts, its lack of commercial breaks, its insistence on peak fitness (only three substitutions per match). No 350-lb. linebackers on this pitch, or overweight golfers being called “athletes”. You could either run up and down a 100 meter pitch for 90 minutes, or you hung up your cleats.
And, spare me the cavils about draws and 0-0 games. Just like a pitcher’s duel in baseball resulting in a 1-0 result can be one of the most riveting things to watch, so can a 0-0 draw where both sides are going hammer and tongs at each other but the goals aren’t going in be a marvel to behold. (And yes, there are boring 1-0 baseball games and boring 0-0 football matches. Such is sport.)
The team which caught my eye and almost immediately commanded my loyalty was teh team at the top of this essay, Chelsea Football Club. At the time it was managed by a mercurial little Portuguese man named Jose Mourinho. To put it into American terms, Chelsea were the Boston Red Sox of the English Premier League: a storied history, but not many trophies to show for it, with a lot of down-and-out years. But the football the team played, even to my neophyte eyes, was just stunning. And the swagger the team had was what I was used to with the Lakers. And it’s funny how quickly I became a true supporter, as much of a fan as I was with my Lakers. Chelsea became my passion, and more than a decade later it hasn’t waned.
And about that book? Well, it revolves around men of a certain age, living in Los Angeles, who get together every weekend to watch football. Of course, it’s more than that, but that’s the starting point. More as it develops.
And so, dear readers, I leave you with this, as another weekend looms and 22 men take to the pitch to play a simple game which simply means so much to so many in an unsure world.