Thinking about diving into the life of a soccer fan? Take these tips from someone who has done it.
I started watching soccer in college. I had never played soccer (even as a child) and I didn’t know anything about the game. Like many people growing up in the dead center of Ohio, I knew and loved football. So, how did my friends convince me to go to a game? Obviously, it was the tailgate. Most people would be hard pressed to turn down a good tailgate experience.
My first soccer games were in Columbus watching either the Crew or US Men’s National Team take the field. I knew NOTHING, but I loved being there with enthusiastic friends chanting and coming up with clever, sarcastic things to say. The more games I attended, the more I wanted to go to. And, watch parties were just as much fun with this group of individuals who were quickly becoming family to me. After watching a handful of games I knew the bare minimum to determine if my team was doing well or poorly and that was enough to get me emotionally invested in the games. Soon, I was asking questions and requesting some drawings as I’m not one to keep quiet and I like to sound at least somewhat intelligent.
If you have started attending games with your friends and find the atmosphere to be contagious, here is some basic information to help you understand why it is called the beautiful game and get you fully invested in your chosen team:
- The fans are part of the experience and you shouldn’t hesitate to find the supporters group, introduce yourself, and ask them all the questions about the group, the team, and the words to any chants you didn’t quite catch. The supporters love to talk about what they are doing to make their team stand out, what their team is doing (or not doing) on the field, and to bring new people into the fold of gameday chaos. I know they can be intimidating with their bullhorns, drums, inside jokes, and scarf waving, but they are a group worth getting to know. They will change your life, in a good way.
- It can be really frustrating to not see a lot of action on the field but pay attention to the players’ feet and the way in which they pass and dribble the ball. Noticing who has good control, who has done something a bit tricky (often called clever or cheeky by those in the know), and who hesitates too much can lead to some great conversations. I love when I can make one good point and watch that really knowledgeable fan’s eyes light up and start talking strategy. 80% of it is over my head, but it gives me a better understanding of the vernacular, naturally leads to more questions, and the next time I’ll understand a little bit more.
- Understanding the basic rules is a fine place to be and there are some rules you may never be able to regularly call out. Offside is a great example, even if you don’t know it has happened until there is a call, at least you understand the basic idea behind why your team’s goal was disallowed. Even if you are sitting midfield, or watching the game on TV, don’t feel bad if you didn’t know someone is offside. There is a lot to keep an eye on during the game. It is worth paying attention to the replay though. If it is a close call, feel free to disagree with the ref and maybe the person sitting next to you about the call. Talk through it a bit.
- Root for any team you want, as many teams as you want, and for any reason you want. I have a lot of teams that I follow and the degree to which I follow them has changed as my life has changed. I started off as a Columbus Crew fan and a casual USMNT fan. Now, I am all in for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, pay attention to what goes on with the Columbus Crew, make it a point to follow Fulham FC as much as I can from across the pond and am invested in both US national teams. I chose my teams in a wide variety of ways, based on the country where I was born, based on my current geographical location, and due to silly quizzes. I became a Fulham fan because NBC had a quiz to help you pick an EPL team when they purchased the broadcast rights. The quiz spit out Fulham and since I grew up a Browns fan, it was easy to get behind their underdog story. Also, if I’m being honest, they had plenty of very attractive players that year and so they became my team and I’ve stuck with them through relegation and promotion and had a lot of fun learning about the English leagues since I am, at least a bit, invested.
- Finally, have fun with whatever level of fandom you choose. My game day experience does not need to be your game day experience. Everyone has a different comfort level for how much time they want to spend with people, where they want to spend their time, and how they enjoy sporting events. If you buy season tickets and find that it makes your life too crazy so you can only handle attending 6 games a season, then make those games everything you want them to be. If you love a road trip but being away from your family every weekend isn’t a viable option, then split your time as you see fit between home and away matches. This game has so much to offer its fans and the fans have so much to offer each other.
I started watching soccer for the tailgate experience and I’ve continued to watch soccer for the sarcasm and supporter’s experiences I have had. I know the basics about the big American sports, but I don’t seek them out anymore. I can, and do, watch soccer all day for many days in a row across many leagues. I’ll even watch games where I don’t know the teams or the language because I’ve truly started enjoying the sport and analyzing why a type of play works or doesn’t work for other teams. There is a lot to see about the style of play between teams, leagues, and countries. There are so many things for me to learn and I’m eager to find more people who are willing to answer my questions and talk about why they like watching their teams. I’m completely enamored with soccer and I hope your journey is as joyful as mine has been.