This is a personal follow-up to Kevin’s previous discussion of fandom. I am, if nothing else, a work in progress. Or at least I like to think so. It’s comforting, in a way, to know that in 5 years I’ll be in a completely different mental place, with a different life and a different set of values. And just like me as a whole, I think my fandom is constantly in motion, constantly absorbing new experiences into the totality of all that has come before it.
The whole, I hope, is greater than the sum of its parts, but that’s not for me to judge. What I can do, however, is share those moments that, for me, are treasured deep inside. I’m sentimental too, in case you hadn’t noticed—I love the club and the memories and can often sit for hours reminiscing about this or that match, much to my lady’s consternation, I can assure you.
Let’s start at the beginning, when I was in high school in northeast Ohio, avoiding an unruly study hall by getting permission from the librarian to hang out there. There was a TV in the back that got cable for some reason and whenever no one had it checked out for class (to watch Bill Nye or something, of course, while the class slept) I was allowed to close the back room door and watch whatever I wanted.
Once a week that turned out to be replays of Spanish soccer on TV and, for a couple of weeks in a row, it was this club called FC Barcelona. And then, suddenly, there was a goal:
It was magic and there was no turning back. I was sitting in a high school library, 2 days after the fact, watching the world change in front of me and, though I obviously couldn’t know it then, I had just embarked on a cule lifetime. I watched the replays dumbfounded, I couldn’t fathom these moves, this skill. And yet there it was and I was rooting for it.
I was just discovering the game, to be honest, so I had no preconceived notions of what was good and what was bad football, but Barça drew me in and never really let go. I dabbled with other teams in that I watched them as regularly as I could—which is like saying I took as many drugs as I could, but always preferred a particular one. I graduated from high school and went on to college, where I let the love of the sport grow in my mind and began to understand what it was that I wanted to see when I turned on the TV.
Having lived in Africa as a child, in rural Zaïre, I was fortunate enough to watch children playing a brand of love that they called football. It was at the height of Maradona’s fame and all the kids wanted to be him, wanted to reenact his goals, his feats, his brilliance. I didn’t know Maradona from shinola, but I understood the power of their play and the beauty that was being wrought on dirt fields by shoeless children whose only balls were plastic bags wrapped in rubber bands and string. After some time watching the game being played on TV by obvious masters, I realized that the joy with which Barça was playing reminded me of those kids in the street, who were playing and juking, dancing and scoring, for most of the day, yet never losing their creativity.
It’s probably a bit asinine to push that idea further, but I’ve always felt some sort of understanding that Barça was playing the way I thought it should be played because of what I’d seen as a child, before I understood that I loved the game dearly. In fact, I didn’t love the game then and almost never played, though my utter lack of skill is presumably a big reason for that. Still, years later when I was watching, there it was, that little head fake, the shift of the hips and the flick of the ball around an opponent. None of this kick-and-rush for me, please and thank you.
By the time I was a junior in college I was desperately hooked on the game. So when I studied abroad in Central America that spring, I took full advantage and every moment I had free I spent watching soccer, bonding with my trip coordinator over our love of Barça. And then The Valdes Moment happened. Whatever happens, I know that in my life there will always be the heart-stopping insanity that was the first half of the Bernabeu clásico of the 2003-2004 season. Oh hell, just watch:
I sat on the couch in my host family’s house in Managua, Nicaragua, screaming and cursing and generally being a loud American nuisance, but soon was joined by my host brothers, who realized something magnificent was afoot. Turns out, that was the beginning of an era that only ended after the 2006 Champions League final.
Fast forward to January 11, 2009 and a shift our gaze to a rain-soaked and fog-covered field in Osasuna. I was at Nevada Smiths here in New York, watching with some friends (hi inNYC and Andrew M!) and my lady amidst the denizens of that impressive establishment. When Xavi scored the 2-2 right as it happened we all started screaming and I was pretty much punched in the face and shoved into the bar by one of the guys there, who, it turned out, had accidentally flung his glasses across the bar in celebration. I never even knew that Xavi looked tremendously hurt until I saw replays the next day.
Then, of course, there was the grand finale:
When that came off his foot, we all celebrated wildly, jumping ecstatically in the dark of the bar in the middle of the afternoon as if we knew that that we were the real deal, as if we were fated to see it all end so well. We were no longer the team that gave up the goal at the end to Betis and Espanyol and wrecked our own title aspirations. We were not them! And we screamed like we understood all that that implied and which would be confirmed months later as Iniesta pegged in That. Fucking. Goal:
I screamed like a little girl when Iniesta’s shot when in, oddly while watching it 5 hours after it took place on my DVR because I’d had to work that day. There were 3 of us and we were all jumping and screaming and generally freaking the hell out until everything had calmed down onscreen and we dutifully watched the final minutes in a much better mood than before, giddy and stupid. And not the least bit sober thanks most of a bottle of Flor de Caña.
Those are my moments, but I won’t rank them. They are there in my heart and like people always say, you love your children equally, no matter what. Feel free to share your favorite or defining moments in the comments. And please remember that no matter how we came to be fans of The Beloved, they are our team and we as fans must accept all other fans. It’s a personal journey and it’s been goddamned amazing so far.