I never meant to fall in love with football. If you told me two years ago to the date that I would be borderline obsessed, I’d tell you that you were on crack and had mistaken me for someone else. The truth is that I had sworn football off in all forms years ago. I realize now that it was silly of me to think that I could escape the Beautiful Game.
On my dad’s side of the family, football has always been prevalent. My grandfather, my dad and three of his brothers played. My dad was so good, in fact, that he could have been a professional had he not been madly in love with my mom and the misfortune of inheriting my grandfather’s weak knees. He had the opportunity to try out for a semiprofessional team, but he was dating my mom at the time and didn’t want to leave her (I know, I know). When he had another chance, he was told to stay in a cast to fix his knee problems or he would never make it professionally. If he chose the cast, he would not be able to walk for a few months and, unfortunately, be of no help to my mom when she needed him the most. He chose to be a romantic. But because of his intense love for football, he remained devoted to it in some capacity.
Because football was my dad’s mistress, as far back as I can remember, he was all about it all the time. At home, there were trophies on the shelves, team photos on the walls and jerseys in the closet. I even grew up watching him play in the local club. When I watched him, I was mesmerized by him running back and forth on the pitch, exerting power and command over everything. He was shorter than most of the other players, but he was also faster and smarter. Here he ruled: he was aggressive and assertive, so unlike the quiet man I knew at home. Every game, I dreamed of being like him.
I remember running along the sidelines, following his fluid movements between men bigger than him and filling my head with images of me doing the same one day. Unfortunately for me, I hadn’t counted on not quite being the natural I hoped I would be. To say I was completely athletically challenged might be a bit of a stretch, but only a bit. I gave up my dreams of being naturally gifted pretty quickly when I realized I wasn’t. I especially abandoned hope when I saw that my little brother was the natural-born athlete in the family. As I got older, I was happier going to games and reading on the sidelines and yelling at the referee every once in a while rather than running alongside like before. I still enjoyed the games, but slowly, they became little more than background noise for the adventures going on in my head. Slowly as we all got older, we stopped going to games. My dad’s knees eventually gave out and his team disbanded. Football soon became something that was on TV during the weekends and nothing else.
Even though I say I gave up on my daydreams, I didn’t really. By the time I reached 7th grade, I was convinced I would give school athletics a try. That year I joined lacrosse. Again, I wasn’t naturally gifted, but I had a blast. I tried to share the sport with my dad, but his job made it impossible for him to attend my games. Worse still was its foreignness to him. I gave up on making it an “us” thing and instead enjoyed it as a sport that belonged only to me. I was completely satisfied with my first foray into team sports. As the fall semester of 8th grade rolled around, I started to envision myself playing like my dad did back when I was younger. I wanted to belong to a team and rule like he did. I was also looking for something to bond over with my dad since our relationship left things to be desired. But lacrosse wouldn’t do it. That’s when I saw that my high school also had a football team. This was the perfect thing. And maybe I could finally fulfill my daydreams. I didn’t expect to be a Lionel Messi on the pitch, but I did expect to be somewhat decent. Yeah, I wasn’t. I was awful, embarrassingly so. Throw this fact in, and the fact that my dad’s work never afforded him time to train me, and I was left completely crushed by my venture into football. I handed in my jersey and walked away from football forever. Or at least what I thought was forever.
Having proven that I was an awful player, and having outgrown going to watch any live games, it was easy to think I had pushed it out of my life completely. But things never work out that way, do they? I didn’t realize how hard the Beautiful Game was to escape. The World Cup kept trying to suck me in. I could deal with those games. They gave me a chance to be proud of my country and to bond with my dad. Besides, they only came once every four years – enough time in between to forget all about my own shortcomings. Each year, I became more and more interested.
By the time the World Cup 2010 came around, I was thrilled. In May 2010, I attended a friendly match between Mexico and Ecuador, and I felt all the same emotions as I had when watching my dad play as a kid. But this was different. This was amazing in a whole different way. Truth be told, it was a rather uneventful game, but it didn’t matter to me. After the game, I was high off the experience. My senses and imagination were on fire with the way the players zipped across the pitch, with the way the crowd roared and surged and with the way my heart seemed ready to burst when I thought we had made a goal. It was intoxicating. June could not come fast enough.
From the beginning of the tournament, I was rooting for Mexico and Spain. El Tri broke my heart, but Spain did not disappoint. I watched La Roja clutching my lucky necklace and praying every game. I was starting to fall back in love with the sport. But I wasn’t hooked quite yet. The games leading to the final were the same dizzying experience; it was an emotional ride for me. By the time the final came around, I was ready to accept that the Beautiful Game was beautiful indeed. It was such an exhilarating experience, and I was hooked. Sadly, it was over, but I had tasted true football passion, and I wanted more. I could not wait four years for a World Cup or for every sporadic national team game to feel the way I did. I needed a fix more regularly than that. Naturally, I turned to club football and to the league that had supplied the heroes of the World Cup. With time, I fell in love with FC Barcelona and I fell in love hard. That began a whole different addiction, and one I don’t believe I will ever quit, nor would I want to. I’ve stopped fighting it and am now a proud fanatic of the Beautiful Game.