(How does someone from ^ there end up supporting a team in sunny Spain? Good question. I’m here to give you an incredibly long-winded answer and you’re going to read it. Yay! I actually wrote this days ago—this is the second part of my introductory post—but with all the new writers, it has been pushed back to today)
As a kid, despite growing up in the (currently freezing and snow covered) capital of the world’s hockey haven, I was always surrounded by soccer. The majority of my siblings loved to play it and I played too, with the kids from my neighbourhood on a wide, expansive, and clean, field in a nearby park (although with little supervision, this used to happen often). The biggest football fan in my family was my older sister, a Juventus supporter whose love for Del Piero was dwarfed only by one Brazilian Ronaldo. She was the only one who had followed club football in my immediate family (my brothers were more into basketball). Although I played football, I wasn’t really interested in the pro leagues. “Fun to play, but not that interesting to watch,” thought my kid self. Besides, I was too busy owning at 4-square (if you haven’t play this, you’ve missed out. I spent many-a-recess playing this game), dodgeball, and soccer-baseball (a.k.a kickball) along with football to sit in front of the TV for 90 minutes.
International tournaments were the only soccer matches I watched, mostly because it was the only football broadcasted on TV in Canada that was easily found on the TV listings and also because it was a family affair; all my siblings would gather in front of the TV and we’d all watch the match. Euro 2004 is the first tournament I have vivid memories of. The first match I watched was France-England. Let me just say now that the England NT and their football have always been ridiculed by my older sister (she was a Brazil supporter and a fan of Serie A team; the distain makes sense now that I think about it) and most of my siblings, and, as such, I never considered it. In my mind, it was an “overrated league” that, despite a lot of hype, no-one really cared about (Serie A was the top dog back then). David Beckham wasn’t the most popular in my family either and was considered as overrated and overhyped (Ray Hudson backs me up on this). Zidane, on the other hand, was highly rated and was seen as “the man” for France, so when France and England met in the first match of the group stage, it set up the perfect scenario: “overrated” England and Beckham would destroyed by the “awesome” Zidane.
Except it didn’t work out that way.
Fast-forward to the 75th minute and France was losing 1-0 to England and, to rub salt into the wound, Beckham had gotten an assist. It went from bad to worse when England won a penalty, which Beckham took. Although it was saved (and a darn good save from Barthez at that), the damage had been done. It looked like England was going to win the game. Dejected, my sisters had gone upstairs and it was just me watching the match. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. The clock was edging closer and closer to full-time and I was starting to lose hope and interest when, in the 90th minute, it happened: a France free-kick. Up stepped Zidane and I sat up. Was Zidane finally going to pull something out of his hat? The camera zoomed to Zidane’s focused face, the ref’s whistle blew and…
I’m pretty sure my scream from back then is still ringing in my house if you listen closely enough.
My sisters ran down the stairs just as Henry won a penalty. Up stepped that man Zidane again. Would he score it? Will France snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat at the death? Yes and yes. It was exhilarating, everything I had wanted to see happened, albeit in a way different from what I expected. The craziest thing was that I didn’t even like France–that is to say, I didn’t support them. I didn’t support anyone and I just knew the star names (Ronaldo, Zidane, Raul, Sheva, Del Piero…), but I hadn’t felt such emotion in any sport I’ve watched (which, to be fair, was few). I still don’t support France, but I knew I watched a good match.
France were eventually knocked, which didn’t matter because I didn’t support them. I went on to watch random games from the tournament. Coincidently, Deco had caught my eye for Portugal and even though I didn’t know anything about that lanky guy with the diamond earrings—I later found out his name was Cristiano Ronaldo—I knew I didn’t like him, even back then. Anyway, the tournament continued, but it was that France-England game that stood out for me. I remember Greece-Portugal being really boring, but me wanting Portugal to win because it was on home turf. It didn’t happen and all I remember with regards to that match is Ronaldo’s crying face at the end.
Euro 2004 wasn’t the tournament where my football obsession began though. That wouldn’t happen until 2006—the World Cup in Germany. At this point in my life, I wasn’t playing football all that much anymore, despite it still being my favourite sport. After Euro 2004, I took interest in different sports, mainly due to school influence. I was a basketball player before I shifted to volleyball at some point (which is funny because I’m a midget <—not really), before leaving school sports in general in favour of sleep (Get up at 6AM for practice? Fudge that.) I had to occasional kick-about in gym class, but that was about it. None of my friends had any real interest in sports, let alone football (but they still humored me anyway) and all the kids I used to play with either moved away or became traitors, taking up hockey instead.
If you’re wondering, no, I didn’t/don’t play hockey. I don’t have anything against it, but it just isn’t my “cup of tea” (I do support our national team though. WE WON GOLD! TAKE THAT, USA!). I did play floor hockey in gym class and let me tell you, the myth that female hockey players are the ones with technique and the guys are the ones who are more physical is just that—a freakin’ myth. Women’s floor hockey is war and girls are brutal. Those who had technique were swiftly beaten at the shin level with the sticks we used—sneakily, of course. I have battle-scars to prove it. Female soccer players, by the way, have their moments of brutality as well.
The international tournament tradition continued, however, so when WC 2006 came around, I wanted a team to support. Brazil was my sisters’ team, some girls I knew were supporting Portugal (no prizes for guessing why) but I didn’t want to “piggyback” on anyone’s team nor did I want to support a team on the basis on one player’s looks, I wanted my ‘own’. In the end, I didn’t find a team; I found a player.
I went to fifa.com and surfed the teams. Spain? Nah. Czech Republic? I had a soft spot for Nedved in ’04 but nah. Australia? Nah. Argentina? Well, at the time, I had always thought that Argentina were under Brazil’s shadow—Brazil had all the super stars and Argentina just had…the occasional great player like Batistuta (my sister may have had some influence here). I looked through the squad list of Argentina and I didn’t recognize anyone. Heck, I saw “Riquelme” and I was like, “how do I even pronounce that?!” However, one name caught my eye and I, on a whim, decided to click it. The player? Lionel MESSI #19. This is where it all started.
I saw Messi was only 18, turning 19, during the tournament. I hadn’t known anything about him, or the season he had, or the team he played for. I just thought, “Cool! A teen at a WC!” Sufficiently interested, I checked out Argentina’s next game against Serbia & Montenegro (as it was known back then). Messi didn’t start and I was a bit disappointed, but that game turned out to be an Argentina master-class (I got the see THAT Cambiasso goal). It wasn’t until the 75th minute that Messi came on and touched the ball. And then ran with it.
I was instantly a fan.
Having played the game, I knew how difficult dribbling at full-speed was, but he did it with close control to boot. I was beyond impressed. Step-overs don’t impress me as much because anyone can do them. The time it takes for one’s feet to go over the ball may vary, but anyone can do it. What Messi did and does so often? I had never seen it before. I saw a player with a lot of talent and decided, just like that, to follow him. Just my luck he scored to boot.
After some research, I knew I found “my” player, so to speak. Messi, at the time, wasn’t a “big name” or anything like that. He was humble, soft-spoken and shy, and short, like I am. (I am, at 5’2”, the shortest in a family of giants). I saw a lot of similarities between Messi and myself. Argentina were knocked out by Germany, although I still think they would have won had Peckerman not taken Riquelme off at the 80th minute, but I came away with a player to follow. There was only one other player I had seen that I was semi-interested in. That player? One Francesc Fabregas. I kid you not. That’s how I found Arsenal, but seeing as I’m a cule, you know which player I cared about more. (The thing that impressed me, by the way, was an inch-perfect through ball behind the defense. A young player doing that a WC? Color me impressed. I now know, however, that Xavi does that a regular basis and had I watched a full Spain match (I always seemed to catch the ending of their games, which explains why I saw Fabregas), and seen Xavi from the start, I’d probably have followed him)
In any case, I found Messi’s team was Barcelona and I followed him there. My first season was the 06-07 season and I didn’t know anything about Barcelona. Nada. Zitch. I followed Barca games via live commentary and livescore.com, because they weren’t on my TV and I hadn’t discovered the existence of streams. I spent most of my time learning football terminology (“What’s a center-half? Okay, then what’s a center-back? They’re just interchangeable words? Man, I hate when words are interchangeable!”) and reading articles to expand my knowledge of Barcelona.
The first Spanish newspaper I found was Marca and, after that, Sport. I was ignorant to the different affinities of the newspapers and the politics in Spanish football, so the whole time I was wondering why Marca seemed to be against Barca and why Madrid got more positive attention. I also wondered why Sport was saying the occasional nice thing about Barca, but mostly negative attention. (You can laugh at me here if you want. In my defense, I had thought all newspapers were objective and just reporting news). At some point, I even thought Marca was pro-Barca newspaper and Sport was an EE paper (I didn’t know any Spanish so I relied on Google Translator).
Oh, how clueless I was.
What was really happening was, at that time, Marca was talking unmitigated glee in the end of an era and Sport were being their hyperbolic selves. I had found a Barca who was at the beginning of the end, coming off a double and a poor WC for star man Ronaldinho. A Barca that would soon self-destruct quite spectacularly. I was new to the world of club football, having never been exposed to it in Canada, so I thought everything they said had some truth to it. I was like that noob on your team on Call of Duty who, being a noob, would always walk into that area filled with campers and get killed. Time and time again. Because they didn’t know any better (or they did and just wanted to piss you off, the bastards) and I didn’t either. I was just an innocent Canadian girl who found a player I wanted to support and went to the team he played for.
Despite the lack of streams and all the other things I’m aware of now, I still followed Barca, but if I’m honest, at first I followed Messi and not so much Barca (but I still wanted them to win). I saw the highlights when I could and read every article I could find. The only games that would be on my TV were the Champions League games, but even then, Barca had to be playing an EPL team (as opposed to nowadays, where they are shown because they’re FC Barcelona, the best team in the world. Games the EPL teams play in are still secured first though).
My first major disappointment was the loss of the Club World Cup to “lesser known” (in my eyes) Internacional de Porto Alegre (I didn’t know (much) about the intense rivalry between Barca and Madrid, so the 2-0 loss wasn’t any more significant than any other loss. I’m telling ya, I was a total newb). It was the first of many disappointments that season, the biggest being the draw with Espanyol where we lost the league on the final day to Madrid. The highlight of that season for me, though, was Messi’s hat-trick against them and his growing profile in Europe and the world.
The summer of 2007 is when I first attended a football tournament. Canada was hosting the Under-20 (also known as Sub-20) World Cup and Ottawa was one of the host cities, so the first thing I did was buy a ticket. Why not? It was in my own backyard and a good opportunity to see some professional soccer right in front my eyes. Argentina, the Czech Republic (Martin Fenin! I don’t know what the flip happened to him, but he was the MAN for them. And their goalkeeper whose name eludes me. Their team actually walked around the street during Canada Day, taking pictures with people who noticed them. RESPECT), North Korea, and Panama were all playing in Ottawa. Aguero was called up (but not Messi, sad face) and he was the only player I knew other than Giovani Dos Santos and Carlos Vela of Mexico, who were playing in Toronto.
Now, Ottawa is a quiet city, some would even say it’s a little dull, but when the U20 WC came around, people came out in droves. I did not know Ottawa had such a large Argentine population. The excitement in the air was almost palpable; people had large drums, bagging it any chance they had; some were wearing their countries traditional clothing; others painted their faces, or even their whole bodies, with their countries colors… it was amazing. I had seen documentaries of how football could bring people together, but I was seeing it firsthand. I lived in Ottawa my whole life; I hadn’t seen anything like this. Hockey may be the nation’s game, but football was the game everyone came out to enjoy.
The side of the stadium I was in was predominately where the Argentina fans were, and man, can they create an atmosphere! It was like a mini-Bombonera! I wasn’t even Argentine and I couldn’t help but chant along, “Ole ole ole, ole ole ole, ola! Ole ole ole, cada dia, te quiero mas! Soy Argentinooo! Es un sentimentooo, no puedo pararrrr!” ( Holy crap, I can’t believe I still remember that). I went to the tournament with my Messi #19 Barca kit, and everywhere I went, I got a nod of acknowledgement, or a knowing smile. It was so cool. When the tournament was over, I felt a little sad. The solidarity among the fans was just astounding. I hope another tourney comes around.
One day, couple of weeks later, I found an article on Google. It had a different, less “pro”, title to its name than the others (I think it was a Kxevin review). I looked at the source and saw “Barca the Offside”. I clicked the link, read the article and I bookmarked the site. I read more posts and comments and I was hooked. The quality was astounding. I went to a variety of Barca, and football, blogs, but this one was totally different. The people and writers were rational, as opposed to hyperbolic, and seemed to know what the heck they were talking about, as opposed to the first online board I went to; the La Liga section of FoxSports.com (the less I say about it, the better. Let’s just say it wasn’t very good). I found my go-to place in the football blog-o-sphere.
Barca the Offside was where my Messi obsession became a genuine Barca love (but I still have a Messi obsession). I saw the club in a different way and learnt more and more about it, and football, through the Offside. It was funny and informative at the same time. The “in-depth” football knowledge I have is thanks to the Offside (and BFB). Previously, I knew that rules (and yes, for the millionth time, I knew the offside rule as well. Oh, you didn’t ask? Sorry, female football fan defense mechanism/reflex) but I didn’t really know tactics very well.
The most crucial thing I found, however, was the existence of streams. Now, I could watch a full Barca match and this is when I became a true cule. I grew to love pretty much everything about our team; the small, incisive passes from Xavi, the croquetas of Iniesta, the aggressiveness of Puyol, the beastliness of the Yaya, the insanity of Eto’o, and, of course, the runs of Messi. It wasn’t the best season from our team, but, in my eyes, the football was just out of this world. Pass, move, and receive; everything, so simple, but so complex as well. I missed all of this when I followed via live commentary. The biggest downside, though, was our inability to hold on to a lead. I always felt that, at some point, the other team was going to score.
I lurked on the Offside the whole of the dreadful 07/08 season. I was content to lurk because it seemed like the commenters knew each other for a while and it had a nice family atmosphere which I didn’t want to interrupt. Plus, I didn’t have enough confidence in my Barca and football know-how to join in. I was also a little too shy. Eventually Barca the Offside became Barcelona Football Blog and it was then when I first posted a comment. I had lurked for a while, bidding my time until I gathered courage and I thought that was a good time to act (why does this suddenly sound less innocent and more malicious?). I don’t remember what the comment was, but I remember wanting to make an “intelligent” post. I also remember failing.
Time has passed and I’m a full-on cule, becoming an admin on a site I used to lurk. How ‘bout that? So let this be a message to all lurkers: no matter how little your football knowledge is, or how shy you may be, just join in! People here are nice, so feel to ask questions (even though I was too shy to at first). You never know where you might end up! Some of you even live in Barcelona, right? We’d love to hear from you! My Catalan is as good as my Spanish, which is to say, horrible. Lots of Europeans, Africans, Asians, Central and South Americans here as well. 🙂
(And an extra message to the grammar nerds among us: have some mercy. The only time my grammar skills were tested was in 9th grade when my English summative (something worth 15% of your final grade) was a 14-page grammar test. I’m neither a professional journalist nor an experienced blogger—I actually never blogged in my life—I’m just a girl with a laptop and a lot of free time heart.)