How I Became a Diehard European Soccer Fan

As a Boston sports fan, I’ve been a bit spoiled over the last two decades. I’ve seen my teams win 11 championships in 17 years (I’m not a Celtics fan, that one doesn’t count.) We’ve been in the championship round 16 times. We’ve been in the Conference Championship round 21 times. Yeah, it’s been pretty sweet.

But, there is a downside to all this success.

*This is the part where if you’re not from Boston you might want to skip a few lines.*

I just can’t get myself up for regular season games anymore. It just doesn’t have the juice. Yeah, I’ll “watch” the Red Sox or the Bruins in the regular season. (Patriots are different because of the nature of the NFL.) But usually, it’s on an iPad on mute, while the majority of my attention is devoted to a TV show or movie or some funny internet video. I know the storylines surrounding my teams during the regular season, and I still root for them and everything, but the days of me having my main focus on them during some mid-June game against the Texas Rangers or a late-December game against the Calgary Flames are over.

As a result, there’s been a void in my sports life. I have seen all my teams win a championship, and while winning subsequent championships are awesome, nothing quite compares to that time you see your team win their first championship. Everything changes after that. It’s not life or death anymore. Yeah, it really sucks when the Bruins put up an absolute stinker in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. and it did sting for a few days. But that was nothing compared to blowing a 3-0 series lead vs. the Flyers in 2010. That was real heartache.

So I found myself missing that feeling while watching sports. I needed a new journey for a championship. A new team that hadn’t won anything before. 

Enter Tottenham Hotspur.

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I’ve always enjoyed watching soccer. But I was one of those “once every four years” type of fans. I’d watch every United States Mens National Team match in the World Cup and would love watching the best players in the world, even if I only recognized Messi, Ronaldo and a handful of other players. But once the World Cup was over, my attention would move elsewhere and I would barely give soccer a second thought.

That changed in the summer of 2018, when the Americans didn’t qualify for the World Cup. With no rooting interest, I was able to really just enjoy the entire tournament more. Really focus on the top teams and players. I wondered to myself why I don’t watch this more, why not pick a team to root for.

So that’s what I did.

After the World Cup was over, me and my buddy were both equally amped about soccer and needed more of it in our lives. So we set on a quest to pick a team to root for.

We knew we were going to pick an English Premier League team. That league was generally regarded as one of the best leagues in the world, and it would provide us the opportunity to watch the majority of our team’s games on a basic cable plan.

I also knew I wasn’t going to pick a team that was already really, really good. Manchester City had just won the EPL title last year, so they were out. Manchester United would basically be like rooting for the Yankees, no thanks. Chelsea? Arsenal? Nothing really drew me there. And again, those were all teams with a storied history of winning.

I won’t lie, I had a natural inclination to want to pick Liverpool. They are owned by the same owners as the Red Sox, so that could be a natural partnership. They have a long domestic championship drought. Liverpool is the home of the Beatles, the best musical group who has ever lived. They had a recognizable player that even a casual fan knew in Mo Salah. I even had a Liverpool flag as a child from a trip my dad took. All the signs were there.

But the more I thought about it, becoming a Liverpool fan made no sense to me.

First, John Henry and Tom Werner annoy me. So out of touch with what the basic fan wants. Why would I voluntarily choose to root for a team owned by them? They were just coming off a Champions League final and had won a European championship in 2005. Yeah, they have that long wait for a domestic championship, but it just felt too EASY to be a Liverpool fan. They were one of the favorites to win the EPL. I wanted it to be hard, I wanted a championship to mean something.

So we turned our attention to North London. I was vaguely familiar with Tottenham before, but all I knew of them was that they were a good, not great team who always had a knack for choking in the big games. It sounded like pre-2004 Red Sox to me. I was also familiar with their star player Harry Kane. He had just won the Golden Boot in the World Cup and led England to the semifinals.

Their kits weren’t ugly. They were playing Champions League football next season. They were building a new stadium and had a ton of young players to build around. They were a team on the rise who was poised to continue getting better and better in the next few years. It also didn’t hurt that they were located in London, so it could be an ideal place to combine a vacation and a game.

So we went with them. I wasn’t sure how long my Spurs fandom would last, and figured it might just be a fad that would dwindle eventually.

Instead, they took me on one of the most incredible single-season sports roller coasters that I’ve ever experienced.

*****


The best thing about soccer is the morning games. 7:30 AM is the perfect time to hold a sporting event. You’re able to get up at a decent hour, sit on the couch and watch your team play, and still have the rest of the day to do everything else you need to do. Waking up every Saturday or Sunday morning to watch Spurs play became something I eagerly looked forward to every week.

They got off to a hot start, going 15-4 in the EPL’s first half of the season, and I quickly started to become familiar with all the players on the team. Harry Kane was the star and you could tell right away. He had the most scoring chances, and scored the most goals. An obvious leader. There was Dele Alli who could seemingly nutmeg (which I quickly learned was dribbling the ball through your opponent’s legs) defenders once or twice a game. There was the poise and brilliance of midfielder Christian Eriksen on set pieces.  Moussa Sissoko was basically like watching a bull in a china shop. Danny Rose was the Brad Marchand getting under every opponent’s skin. Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld were the Belgian rocks on defense.

But my favorite player became Heung-Min Son, a South Korean national. He always seemed to show up in the big matches, including this incredible goal against Chelsea early in the season.

)

He also played with the biggest smile on his face and seemed to just enjoy being out on the pitch every day. I mean look at this adorable boy.


As soon as I knew every player’s quirks and weaknesses, I knew I was hooked. My yelling at Kieran Trippier letting attacker after attacker waltz right by him reminded me of how I used to scream at Dennis Wideman or Joe Carlo or Kyle McLaren. Backup striker Fernando Llorente’s inability to do anything positive was infuriating. I genuinely cared about this team.

Watching the EPL during the weekend mornings was great, but I found myself more drawn to the Champions League. The Champions League was my chance to watch the biggest players in the world, and to see how my Spurs matched up against them. They were drawn in a group with Barcelona (Messi!, Suarez!), and Inter Milan (I had heard of them!) so I was immediately hyped to see how they matched up against the best in soccer. 

Their Champions League campaign started horribly. They let up two goals in the last 5 minutes to lose to Inter, then lost to Messi and Barca, before drawing some Dutch team I had never even heard of. They basically had to be flawless in the last three games of the group stage to even have a chance to move on to the knockout stage. All the blogs and Twitter follows I started reading over the last few months all said the same thing, this was “Spursy”, which you can find so elegantly defined here in Urban Dictionary. “To consistently and inevitably fail to live up to expectations.” This is why I told myself I became a Spurs fan. I knew there would be lows.

But then a funny thing happened. Spurs started pulling some magic out of their ass. After letting up an opening goal to the Dutch team, Kane scored two goals in the last twelve minutes for a miraculous win. Then Eriksen scored in the 80th minute to beat Inter. They got some help along the way, and all they basically needed to do was draw Barca and get some help to move on.

They let up a ridiculous goal in the opening seven minutes, but Spurs kept coming and coming before this from Brazilian striker Lucas Moura



I jumped off of my couch, something I hadn’t done in the middle of December since god knows when.

I then became obsessed. I woke up early one morning just to watch on my iPad who they would be drawn with in the Round of 16 (think NBA lottery). I was stoked to see it was Borussia Dortmund, a top German team who featured the next American star in Christian Pulisic, but a beatable team. Spurs dominated the first leg 3-0 while Kane was out with an injury. I spent the next two weeks until the next leg constantly watching highlights of the victory, before they finished them off.

They got a poor draw in the quarterfinals. Manchester City, who led the Premier League and was the favorites at the time to win the Champions League. I figured this would be the end of the run. City was just such a deep team. Fortunately, City thought the same thing, and came out with a conservative approach. Still, when Harry Kane suffered a brutal injury halfway through the first leg, I figured they were cooked. Until my guy Sonny came to the rescue.

So up 1-0 heading into the final leg on the road without Kane, still didn’t feel confident. I had been trained that my team wasn’t good enough. What unfolded in that second leg, was one of the craziest sporting events I’ve ever witnessed.



Just watch those highlights. They are must watch if you haven’t seen them. Four goals in the first 11 minutes! In soccer! There isn’t supposed to be scoring in soccer! It went back and forth, there was controversy, heartbreak, overturned goals, edge on your seat tension. It was incredible. I swear it’s one of the most phenomenal sporting events I’d ever seen. European soccer analysts were debating whether it was one of the best matches EVER. I’d been a soccer fan for nine months and I’ve already seen my team win one of the best matches of ALL-TIME. Was my Boston fandom spreading across the pond?

We got Ajax, a scrappy Dutch team, in the semifinals. The first leg at home sucked. Out-played and fortunate to only be down 1-0. They then let up two goals in the first half of the second leg. They had run out of gas. Still, the semifinals of the Champions League is the furthest they had ever gone, and they are taking steps toward the future.. but then wait a minute, no…



THEY DID IT AGAIN. That’s two completely emotional, unbelievable victories in about a three-week span. I will put this game up against any other sport-watching experience during my sport fandom as well. Well maybe not 28-3. But this was close! Back from the dead! Onto the final. Just jaw-dropping. How did I become so lucky?

It was around this time I started thinking about the Lippa Quadruple. The Red Sox and Patriots had already won titles in the last six months. The Bruins were on their Stanley Cup run, and Spurs were in the Champions League Final. If all four of my favorite teams (yes, by this point I cared about Spurs just as much the other three teams), won championships in the SAME YEAR, where do I go from here? I think I’d have to retire from sports fandom? I don’t think it could get much higher.

Well, those dreams came crashing quickly. Of course we were facing Liverpool, and they capitalized on an early penalty and pretty much put a stranglehold on the final. After such an incredible Champions League run, the final was a complete dud of a game, even for neutral observers. It was brutal, they’d gone this far only to put in a terrible performance. This was an experience I’d feel again just two weeks later.

I still couldn’t get enough Spurs though. I found myself reading British newspapers, trying to figure out what their offseason moves would be. Who’s coming, who’s going? Speculating on who they could get, and how they would get them. I was diehard.

Sunday morning, I woke up to watch the Spurs first preseason game. Pre-season! No chance you’ll see me watching Red Sox or Patriots or Bruins pre-season games. But I wanted to see how our new signing, Tanguy Ndombele, fit in (spoiler: he looked great) and just be able to watch the team again. Oh, and Harry Kane scored one of the most remarkable goals you’ll ever see.

That preseason goal gave me more joy than anything our floundering baseball team has provided this season.

So here we are, the Red Sox stink and are a lifeless team, the Patriots season doesn’t start until the AFC Championship game, and it’s a long nine months before the annual Bruins-Leafs first round playoff series. But the biggest thing circled on my sporting calendar right now is Aug. 10.

Spurs opening day. 

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2 Responses to How I Became a Diehard European Soccer Fan

  1. Josh says:

    Good lord, reading this, I felt like I wrote it myself. You totally encapsulated how I feel about soccer. On my difference is, I got on the Hotspur train in 2017 when I went to my first premier league match at Old White Hart Lane Stadium. What an experience! The Crowd, The Songs, I took it all in.

    Like you, Son has become my favorite player. He just always looks like he having fun on the pitch.

    There is nothing better than getting up early to watch the Euro matches throughout the day and afternoon. Every match matters. I wish the sporting leagues here in the US took that approach. I would love for relegation and promotion to be the norm. No more drafts, no salary cap.

    Time to go watch a replay of Lucas Moura against Ajax….

    Like

    • Lippa says:

      Thanks for the kind words man. Would love to make my way to North London and the gorgeous new stadium one day. It’s now my number one bucket list sports venue to visit.

      I sort of agree on your point about promotion/relegation. Adding that into US sports would be insane and would completely eliminate tanking, but that would never happen. Do think the EPL could still use some sort of playoff system. It’s such an anticlimactic end to the season most years and years where the first spot and the fourth spot are already decided could just end up being quite boring.

      Like

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