You Never Walk Alone: A Reflection on my Soccer Journey from Childhood to Adulthood

By | April 1, 2018

I moved to the US in the 02-03 winter when I was around six years old. I was a decently chubby child, and I have vague memories of opening Christmas presents and building snowmen with my sister, but my recollections are for the most part very vague. Soccer, however, was one aspect of my young childhood that I remember more clearly.

I was by no means the healthiest child. In fact, I had very severe asthma to the extent that my mom tells me I was in an out of the hospital on a weekly basis, although I cannot recollect it. I’d like to think that American society’s heavy emphasis on health and athletics saved me—not in the sense that I would have died but rather been much less healthy growing up otherwise. Nevertheless, I luckily lived in a community with well-organized recreational sports leagues, such that the majority of kids partook in recreational sports all-year round. My mom chose to enroll me in the community’s soccer and basketball leagues, and I enjoy playing and watching those two sports to this day.

In many ways, those many years playing recreational soccer were my glory days. Many of my lifelong friendships have been fostered from that experience, and there’s really nothing like practicing and playing with your best friends on the best team in the league (honestly, we were so good). As a kid, you don’t realize how small you are in the world. You relish in the glory of every win or goal, yet you can enjoy yourself without the added pressures of reality. I used to go to my best friend’s backyard almost everyday to practice shooting, and once we learned how to kick the ball in the air, we felt like the kings of the world. My parents were happy to watch me running down the wing a healthy child, and I enjoyed improving at a game I loved more than any other. I can’t say I know why I enjoyed soccer more than basketball or any other sport as a kid. The reasons I think I love soccer now are reasons 6 year-old me would never understand. Back then, I just loved running on a field and kicking a ball with my friends.

While I cannot remember the first soccer game I ever watched, I do remember key moments from my childhood that have contributed to my present fanatical fandom. Once, my best friend and his family visited London, and he bought for me a Maroon Thierry Henry Arsenal jersey from 2006, worn by the player in Arsenal’s final game at Highbury. To this day, it is one of my favorite jersey designs. Hence, I must have become a Liverpool fan before that. Otherwise, I would have become a Gunner for sure. Props to the old me!

I originally became a Liverpool fan because my sister went to the University of Liverpool for medical school. I remember visiting her at Liverpool, and I was so excited to visit Anfield and the official Liverpool FC store. I bought a replica of a 08-10 jersey signed by four players including Steven Gerrard, and it is still my primary home Liverpool jersey, which means my parents were smart in buying a larger size that I could wear in the future. I have watched hundreds and hundreds of Liverpool games, but the ones that immediately come to mind are the magical comeback against Milan in Istanbul, the recent Liverpool-City game that makes us still the only team to have beaten City in the EPL this season, and the 4-3 Liverpool-Dortmund game in the Europa league, which is one of my favorite games of all time. If I had to guess, my passion for and inability to separate myself from Liverpool derive from three primary reasons. Firstly, while many would disagree, I will always believe that Liverpool fans are the most loyal. No matter how bad things get, we will always support our team, produce the most electric stadium atmosphere in the world at home, and sing our favorite song. Secondly, we are great at developing players, whether it be young players from the academy or other clubs. While we do not often buy the world’s best players for ridiculous transfer fees, we are able to stay competitive with squads of players who have become great at Liverpool, even if many of those players eventually leave for greater ambitions. Thirdly, despite often not being the best, we are always capable of beating the best teams and achieving the most miraculous moments in soccer. I often rewatch the highlights of the Liverpool-Dortmund game simply to see the reactions of Klopp and the fans. The emotions were unbelievable.

I do admit that somewhere along the way, likely during high school, my passion for Liverpool FC and soccer had waned. It was an extremely busy and important time in my life, and I was no longer playing club soccer. While I spent hours everyday playing for my high school, it was difficult to keep up when only one of my close friends religiously watched soccer like me, and that person was/is a Manchester United fan. Soon enough, I had become a starter for my high school team playing in the midfield, but the time commitment involved in conjunction with academic stress made soccer feel different than it used to. Some days, I went to practice with barely any sleep, and all I wanted to do was play a scrimmage rather than run or do drills. Eventually, I started an indoor soccer club at my school with a couple of friends where we played in the basketball gym with pugs on weekend nights (I went to a boarding school). While I did not realize it at the time, I think the club allowed me to play soccer with the same feeling as when I was a kid. It was carefree, and there was no pressure or stress. I wasn’t worried about making a mistake, and I played better because of it. We once organized a tournament, and we all got back to our dorms an hour late. I’m still frustrated because we never finished the final…

The first few years of college, while my love for the game was rejuvenated, opportunities to play soccer, especially with a close-knit group of people, came few and far between. I played the occasional pickup game and FIFA, but I missed playing everyday for high school and at the indoor soccer club. Just when I thought I’d have to accept my new relationship with the sport where I was a fan first and player second, I luckily happened upon some pretty passionate friends. The current semester, I’ve played IM, played pickup, played FIFA, watched most major EPL/UCL games, and enrolled in Soccer Politics. While we were knocked out in IM semifinals, I enjoyed finally playing on an organized team again. Furthermore, Liverpool is having an incredible season, and while we might not win a trophy this season, we’re playing exciting, consistent soccer with a well-rounded squad of passionate players, led by the legend Mo Salah. I wasn’t happy with the draw against Manchester City, since if we get knocked out, we would never have gotten the chance to face a European giant. However, we beat them once, and we can hopefully beat them again. I truly believe Klopp has revitalized the club, and while I would have liked to win a trophy, I am in fully support of the manager for the energy, passion, and offensive potential he has brought to the club.

Honestly, it has been a long time since soccer made me this happy. The World Cup is coming up, and I can barely contain my excitement.

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