In recent years, many of us have logged onto to social media on weekend mornings and seen phrases such as “Come on you Spurs,” “ You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “Glory, Glory Man United!!” and “She wore a yellow ribbon!”
These days, it’s pretty hard to not find a soccer fan -- even in America. The ratings for Premier League soccer games on NBC and NBC Sports says as much. Last month, NBC Sports signed a six-year extension to broadcast more Premier League games. According to NBC, viewership went up nine percent.
For years, I watched the World Cup and I realized that I wanted to support a soccer club. Early one morning, I saw a Black player by the name of Thierry Henry do cool things like this (My favorite is the one of the 0:47 mark):
My next question was, “Who does he play for?” Arsenal? The Gunners?
My favorite color is red and they had a strong contingent of Black players, so my European soccer fandom was born. Also, the team had a long history of winning championships. For instance, one of the most storied teams in the club’s history was nicknamed “The Invincibles” due to finishing the 2004 Premier League season with an undefeated record. I became a fan soon after, trying to catch as many games as I could.
The passion shown by the players and the fans, along with the storied traditions of most of the teams, is unmatched in any professional sport. Some of the things that fans complain about in American sports leagues as such “tanking,” holding players out, etc, doesn’t seem to happen there.
The way the Premier League handles losing teams, by demoting them to lesser leagues, makes the games much more important. Just imagine if the NBA told the Sixers to go play in the D-League until they were good enough to play with the big boys.
I reached out to fans of the Premier League to see how they picked a team to follow when they began following the sport.
Yaw Ofosu, health care professional and a Manchester United supporter said, “Being from Ghana, where soccer is king, Man U. was a household name. They were either the team to cheer on or the team to beat. Either way, they were always in the conversation. Today, they are the epitome of a well-run sports organization, with arguably the best known professional F.C. brand. Great players, world renowned fan base, and a stadium (Old Trafford) that is almost as famous. What's not to love?!? So, my first (football) love remains Man U.”
Justin Gillespie, a Tottenham Hotspur supporter said, “The story behind my Spurs fandom originates from my first trip to London, which was for work. While in a sports store looking at kits [team uniform], I asked my manager at the time which club was the most like the modern day Chicago Bulls (close to greatness, but could never get over the hump...) and he said definitely the Spurs...so from there I became a Spurs fan.”
Everett Fitzhugh, a hockey broadcaster and Chelsea supporter said, “I've always been an overall sports fan, but I didn't get big into soccer until I was about 17. I was a camp counselor back home [Michigan] and we had a lot of English and European counselors, so naturally soccer was huge at camp. We played it every day and the guys always talked about it. One of my mentors was a big Chelsea fan so I basically just followed his lead so we could connect better and I've been following them ever since.”
Eric Collins, a radio talk show host and Liverpool supporter stated, “I was attracted to Liverpool because of the fan base and the history of winning damn near every title in the ‘70s and ‘80s. They were also led by a great player in Kenny Dalglish. Kenny came over from his homeland of Scotland where he played for Celtic [F.C.] and scored 100 goals. He also set the transfer record of that time of 440,000 pounds in 1977. He was a great scorer and put Liverpool to another level helping them win their second European cup in a row in 1978. They won numerous first division titles and two more European cups. He also won as a player/manager in 1986. That's how I became a fan of Liverpool and the EPL.”
Etheria Modacure, soccer writer and Manchester City supporter said, “During the 2011 season, the [Chicago] Fire had an exhibition match against Manchester United at Soldier Field. I had the pleasure of covering the match and while I wasn’t a fan of the club, I did respect their long history and the success they had in the Premier League. However, I’m not a fan of teams who I would term as highly successful. I always root for the underdog or the team that gets very little attention or respect. I didn’t know that Manchester had two clubs in the Premier League until later that year. When I found out about Manchester City and how they weren’t nearly as successful as Manchester United, I immediately became a fan. I liked the players they had in David Kompany, Sergio Aguero, Joe Hart and David Silva. I liked their light blue jerseys compared to the red of Manchester City.”
But the more popular soccer gets in America, the more people begin to see a long entrenched problem rear its ugly head: racism in the sport.
Earlier this year, four Chelsea fans were banned from football matches following a racist incident in the Paris subway when they refused entry to a black commuter by chanting, “We’re racist, we’re racist, and that’s the way we like it.”
“I think the racism in soccer is obviously deplorable, but, as has been the case with race relations in America, you just become a bit numb to it and just shake your head,” said Fitzhugh. “Everyone always talks about how bad America is, but I don't ever remember someone throwing a banana at LeBron [James] (even though they did for Wayne Simmonds), or making monkey noises when Russell Wilson drops back to pass. I know that FIFA has tried to control it and fine teams and attempt to hold the fan bases accountable, but soccer is the "World's Game", and it's sad to see that this is the opinion of the world when it comes to people of color.”
Collins echoes Fitzhugh’s sentiments, he noticed something in European soccer that reminded him of some of the problems faced by Black coaches in American sporting leagues.
“I think that it is a sad state of affairs where you have leagues with Black and Latino players being treated like crap,” Collins says. “I wish there were more Black managers in top flight football especially the EPL. If there are Blacks playing in the league, there should be good and qualified managers in the league.”
Even though the overt racism in European soccer is problematic, many refuse to let a few knuckleheads ruin their love affair with the beautiful game.
I echo their sentiments. After all, no sport in any country is immune to foolishness.