I, a warm-blooded, (formerly) meat-and-potatoes American kid, have decided to join the worldwide multitudes who call themselves devotees of the Barclays Premier League (EPL).
This is a conscious decision. It is a devotion not pre-programmed into my sporting consciousness, having been raised in Detroit, Michigan, where the closest football royalty came by was when the 1994 FIFA World Cup played matches on the newly-invented field-turf at the massive and creaky Pontiac Silverdome.
Yet I have always been a bit of a sporting sophisticate, or snob, or just plain curious and easily enchanted. My brother and I would always gravitate to soccer when it was on the tube, or other internationally based sports, like Formula One, where the grand legend of Ayrton Senna once raced and won numerous times on the streets of Downtown Detroit. Hell, my brother and I became mildly obsessed with a recent Caribbean cricket tournament. Open-minded I am in my spirituality, and open-minded I am in my sport.
Now the choice to go deeper, to become an official follower of world-class European club football, comes from three motivations. One, I can clear out space in my mind to absorb all the intricacies of becoming a (real) football fan by giving up my interest in the "good-ol-boys" network of (American) college football. Not that club and international football is squeaky clean in its morality, but the recent degradations and illusions in the college football universe are more than enough to turn me off and away.
Secondly, there is the pleasure of being ahead of the curve, relatively speaking. As professional (American) football shows signs of going the way of the dodo due to a difficult reckoning with its own inherent brutality, the original football finds itself with a tremendous opening to finally find its way deeper into the American sporting consciousness. This relates closely to the third reason, in which the Premier League, and international football as a whole, is now readily and regularly available on the major sports networks in America. I don't think I would be moving forward with this obsession if I had to search the dark dregs of the Internet for blurry bootleg feeds of all the matches.
To focus my new-found obsessions, I've decided to focus closely this year on the EPL. I approach this venerable institution and all its patrons with the utmost humility, trying to learn what I can and not impose any of my own ignorance and misconceptions on the proceedings. Still, having 31 years of tremendous sporting experience under my belt, a lot of what goes on in the EPL, the solitary and individual dramas and emotions and petulance, the inter-club dynamic and intrigues over trades and transfers, and the simple yet deeply heartfelt aspirations of the fanbase for the sweet taste of triumph, is something that is deeply identifiable to me. Being a football fan already gives me a warm sense of being home.
I have heard from numerous people along the same lines as me that to dive into the EPL does mean to pick an allegiance. At this point, I consider myself an aspiring Manchester City fan. I became attached to them late last EPL season, with their rise to their first championship since 1968, including their final-day heart-attack heroics which rank as one of the most dramatic sporting moments I have ever witnessed. (Although I do rank it behind Landon Donovan's goal against Algeria in the 2010 FIFA World Cup).
I also spent a lot of time recently playing as Man City in the EA Sports football video game FIFA 12, so I have a good familiarity with their roster. Still, to follow Man City feels a little dirty, simply because of their immense financial advantage over many of the other clubs in the league and in the world. Still, sports is the only place where I tend to agree sometimes with unbridled free-market principles, so the contradiction is not too immense. Still, the underdog is firmly lodged in my heart, and I certainly enjoyed watching Everton down mighty Manchester United, and newly promoted Reading push the European champs Chelsea to their limits in the first week of action in this year's new season.
Sports is also one of the great realms of the individualist, and what draws me into the football world is more the charisma of the incredible personalities of the players and coaches themselves. The Jordan-esque brilliance of Lionel Messi. The haughty confidence of Sir Alex Ferguson. The swarthy magnificence of Gianluigi Buffon. The magnetic, confounding, and mesmerizing egos of Mario Balotelli and Cristiano Ronaldo (and his beautiful hair). I feel that the exploits and agonies of these demigod-like luminaries will help to shape many of my allegiances and ideas of this game as time goes on.
Most of all, I enjoy the privilege of being part of the incredible atmosphere of the EPL and of the real football world. To taste just a spark of the passion of the fans of whose this sport is their life, their soul, even their religion, is powerful and intoxicating, fresh and new yet deeply familiar and resonant all at the same time. May I soon move beyond a noob's sensibility and become an honest connoisseur of the beautiful game.