24 May,2016 By Jagabond
Okay…I know what’s coming – “Oh my, did he really just post an article about soccer?” Hear me out, as it’s hard to love Europe without at least appreciating their most popular sport…and the most popular sport in the world.
In May 2012, I began my journey into liking soccer, as I watched Chelsea surprisingly march through the field on their way to the Champions League final against heavily favored Bayern Munich. Germany was already producing some of the best players in Europe, and this would be evident in 2014 when they won the World Cup in Brazil.
I remember watching the match in San Diego…in the morning live on TV due to the time difference. They were playing in Berlin, so basically a home game for Bayern. Bayern pulled ahead 1-0, which in soccer can be an insurmountable lead in some cases. Near the end of regulation time, Didier Drogba, Chelsea’s star, used his head to get his squad the equalizer. In my short life as a European football fan, this is my favorite moment.
There was still time to go from hero to goat, however, or as the commentator bluntly stated, ‘hero to zero’. Drogba was called for a penalty in the final moments, and needed his goal-keeper to make the save against Arjen Robben, a former Chelsea player.
After extra time, the match was decided by penalty kicks. The deciding one by Drogba, of course…which set off a celebration of Chelsea blue in the streets of London, I’m sure. After this, Drogba left to play in China and Turkey for a few years, then returned to Chelsea for a farewell tour in 2014. He wasn’t done yet, and in 2015 went to North America, playing for the Montreal Impact and becoming the only player to score a hat-trick in their first MLS start. The guy is a natural footballer…fun to watch.
I moved to Europe eight months later, and was committed to learning more about this sport. I learned the rules pretty well, at least better than hockey which I never fully understood. I realized that a 0-0 match could actually be exciting, and that corner kicks were among the most dramatic moments in sports. In some ways I like this more than American sports, especially the fact that the game clock never stops, and there are no commercials. Including the break at halftime, you can watch an entire match in two hours. On a trip to Manchester, I also learned how nuts people were about their football when I pulled out my Chelsea wallet to pay for a drink…I just barely avoided a fight that night. I was also able to catch a few matches in Scotland, with my favorite Edinburgh team Hibernian…I was even able to get a goal on video.
I posted all that backstory because the Euro is getting ready to kick-off. This is basically the second most important tournament next to the World Cup. The matches will take place throughout France, with some in Lille, which was only an hour drive from where I used to live in Belgium…so wishing I was there for this. I’m dearly hoping for a Belgium victory, as they have an outstanding team and with the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels it would be a nice story. If not Belgium, then I’m hoping Ronaldo and the rest of the Portuguese can get it done! Luckily, there are a few European-themed bars in San Diego which show all the Euro matches, so I might need to take a few days off from work to get my fix in.
“Becoming a footballer is only the first half of the silent prayer a kid offers up to the sky or confides to his teacher in a primary school essay. The second part is the name of the team he wants to play for.” – Andrea Pirlo