Since its modern inception in 1863, The Beautiful Game has gained attention and followers until it has been recognized in the twenty-first century as a truly universal game. Today, over 208 countries have national soccer – as we Americans call it – teams and over ninety percent of countries around the world have club teams and leagues. Americans call it soccer, Europeans call it football, Italians call it calcio; wherever you travel, people watch it, play it, live it, and breathe it. Philosophers from across the globe have interpreted the game as inherently beautiful in its universality, hailing it as a perfect example of the blending of philosophy, emotion, logic, and the indomitable will of humanity.
What does it mean to be a fan of football? What draws people in and keeps them captivated far longer than the ninety minutes of each match? What does it feel like to be an American fan, isolated in her dedication but finally surrounded by kindred spirits here in Italy? Football is an addiction, a passionate love affair, as necessary to life as the act of inhaling and exhaling. It behaves much like a lover: kind at times, surprising you with moments of pure joy and ecstasy, utterly cruel and full of heartbreak at others, leaving you wondering why you remain loyal at the end of the day. When playing football, as in love, anything is possible. Football is a religion comprised of twelve men on a field, one ball, and millions of fans. Stadiums are hallowed ground that thousands of people from all races, religions, and backgrounds travel to so that they can worship at the altar of the most beautiful sport for ninety minutes. The game is built out of honor, perseverance, and loyalty. It gives life and saves lives. Football can see men made into gods and preserved in the annals of history as legends worthy of Achilles and Hercules. To be a fan of football, to spend three nights a week watching a club as they go to war against others in their league, is to be a fan of all of this. Football is life and to be a fan of the beautiful game is to be a fan of all that is pure and inherently good in this world.
In the United States, soccer is not as popular as other sports that have been deemed more “American”, such as basketball and baseball. However, since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, soccer has steadily been gaining more followers and media attention. It is most watched by the twenty- somethings and college students across the country. When our national team competes, the matches are broadcast on a major network and more than half our citizens tune in to see our boys defend the red, white, and blue they wear proudly on their kits. However, being a woman who is wholly in love with the sport and avidly watches European club teams, it is still difficult to reside in America and follow football. American media has a very USA-centric attitude when it comes to the matches that are broadcast, often only showing one European club match on the weekends.
In order to watch my clubs each week, I have to be awake often at four-thirty or six in the morning, depending on what time zone the team is in that week, and fervently hope that I can find a website with a livestream of the match. It is almost impossible to find a bar or pub with the matches, unless its during international week and even then they will usually only have the USA match. Spending this fall and winter in Europe has been an amazing experience thus far. I have traveled throughout the European Union, studied Roman and Florentine art and history, made memories that I will keep for a lifetime, and found a home at last for my football fanaticism. My favorite thing to do on the weekends is to go to the Irish pub near my apartment, order a pint of Guinness, and cheer loudly with other fans as we watch Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Fiorentina and other club teams battle for the coveted weekly three points.
This semester has been an incredible experience and one that I will never forget. My time in Europe will be marked by my memories of watching matches with kindred spirits, feeling the roar of a crowd around me and finding a home where I least expected to find one.
Student at Gonzaga in Florence University