With billions of fans, tens of billions of dollars, and a history just as impressive, football’s presence and influence on the world mercilessly grips the title of the biggest sport in the world. Few entities on this planet can display banners as big as football’s in humanity’s collective psyche. But while football may be the very groundwork upon which some people build their lives, for others it is nothing of the sort. For some, football is merely a conversation to tune out from – a collection of names and events with the same value as a stranger’s grocery list. A few months ago, this was me. While the series of events leading to my introduction to the world of football is unimportant and the fact that it took place likely less so, perhaps the experiences of an outsider holds some value to a community of common tongue.
They say submersion is the best way to learn a language, but it certainly doesn’t mean it’s easy. For someone such as myself, who decided to leap in the football world, drowning is much easier than swimming (even if I weren’t horrible at swimming). With so many clubs, players, managers, and countries that previously had little connection, it isn’t difficult to imagine that a stranger would struggle to learn them all. Even now, I struggle to connect names to teams or even names to faces. Just the other day I watched a Pepsi commercial featuring Sterling, Pogba, Salah, and Messi, and when asked to name the players, I offered simply silence that was then met with disbelief and laughter. This difficulty isn’t because of an inability to remember faces or names (although sometimes I actually struggle to do so), but because my brain’s default setting is to denounce them as unimportant or irrelevant and thus unworthy of keeping around. Likely to someone who’s lived in soccer since day one, this all sounds absolutely absurd or even disrespectful, but my intention isn’t so. I simply wish to share a perspective that may not be previously recognized.
But none of this is to say that I cannot find appreciation for the sport and its intricacies. As I am exposed to the history of soccer, I find depth in an aspect of the sport that was once but a portrait. As I witness outrageous referee calls and the reactions to go with it, I find emotion where once was but apathy. As I witness the historical landmark of a loss to end a 422 day win streak, I find gold and significance where there once was but dirt. And as I hear the stories of those to whom soccer was everything, I find breath and life where once was but static stone. Truly, appreciation is different from awareness, and the transition from the latter to the former is the hallmark of my journey thus far in the world of soccer.
Though I learned to appreciate soccer and the influences it has on the people of the world, I cannot say that I am emotionally invested in nor overall aware of the soccer world as the natives may be. Appreciation may have been the necessary first step to get my head above water, but swimming is still much more than simply not drowning. Thus, I find it difficult to believe that I may offer an opinion on soccer even the least bit as pronounced as a native’s, as my opinion would sound broken and ridden with horrible grammar. Perhaps the most I can contribute to the neighborhood of locals to whom I direct this narrative is simply… my narrative. And if the ramblings of a passing traveler such as myself is unimportant, hopefully it is at the very least interesting.