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Roundtable Special: June 9th Edition

June 9, 2010

For a change of pace from the World Cup itself, we examine how we fell in love with soccer and how we came to writing this blog. We also tell you, the reader, about our favorite clubs and players for you to better know us because we’ve already you our favorite national team. This is not the weekly roundtable, (which will be posted tomorrow in time for the kick-off Friday) but a special edition we thought you would enjoy:

Question Number 1: How did you come to be a soccer fan?

Role Player: Honestly, I don’t know. Nick Hornby probably puts it best, “I fell in love with football how I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it.” I’ll give it a stab though. I started playing when I was four. I always loved watching what older kids were doing and I watched Mexican league games when they would come on TV, but I have to admit they were boring. I’d say I really became a fan the day I was at a movie store and messing around in the sale bin. I found three films in the “All the Goals of the World Cup” series. They were from 1982, 1986 and 1990. I watched Lothar Matthäus ( W. Germany), Zico (Brazil) and Roger Milla (Cameroon) among others over and over again. I was hooked. Shortly after, we hosted the 1994 World Cup.

In Arsene We Trust: Like many other Americans, I played soccer for much of my youth without ever really knowing much about it. I wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t good enough to keep playing much past elementary school, so I forgot about soccer for a long time. Then I went to college and found myself playing soccer more and more, and becoming more interested in the sport. When I went home for the summer, I happened to catch the Champion’s League final on television. It was the Barca-Arsenal game, and already I had fallen in love with game. Fortunately for me that was the summer of the 2006 World Cup, which fed my growing soccer fandom. I started reading about soccer, and following it avidly through whatever means available, until I eventually started writing for this blog.

What’s Offsides?: Unlike many other Americans, I didn’t play soccer for much of my youth because my parents wouldn’t fork over the $50 registration fee. (I’m not bitter… ok, I’m lying. I’m totally bitter.) None of my friends growing up played soccer, so I didn’t really have any exposure to it until I got to college. In college, most of my friends played soccer. My spark of interest had finally gotten the chance to ignite into a flame. Unfortunately, if you don’t really know how to play soccer by college, it’s almost too late to learn (at least to a level where you can be competitive), so I just watched from the sidelines. I’m still a total noob – you won’t see me giving much advice – but I love to watch and I’m even starting to recognize some names.

Lila Zidane: My affinity for the beautiful game was somewhat unpredictable, as my father was a division 1 collegiate basketball coach. I grew up participating in many typical childhood activities, and at some point(I’m pretty sure it was second grade) soccer became one of those activities. I remember very little of that experience other than the fact that I scored in my first game and I continued to play for the next decade or so. Moderate success amongst my peers and the friendships I made playing the game led to the fact that I always appreciated the sport. Still, I didn’t truly become immersed in following it except during World Cups until last summer. The Confederations Cup run by the USMNT initiated what has become a mini-obsession with the game.

Captain Robert Hatch: My path to fandom was a lot like What’s Offsides’. And it was really a combination of things all happening about the same time. Just as soccer evolved into rugby which evolved into football, my passion followed the evolution, but in reverse. I never had the physical tools to play competitive soccer, but I played some recreationally in pick-up games and also in a summer indoor league. I did, however, play rugby in high school which made me more appreciative of the sport of soccer. And also, while in high school, I was friends with most of the soccer players so I became a “hooligan” as much as an American fan could be, complete with taunting and flag. The 2006 World Cup and 2008 UEFA Championship exposed me to the national teams and, more importantly, the players so I could more closely follow club soccer year-to-year.

Fergie’s Fledgling: I did not know much about soccer until the ’94 World Cup. I vaguely remember sitting on the floor in my living room watching Carlos Valderrama run around with his crazy hair in the US. Soon after, my dad started coaching at the High School he taught at. When I went to that school in the 7th grade, the program wasn’t much. I decided to “try out” and got a bunch (17) of my friends to do the same. We had a huge team and most of us had never played before, but we all learned together. By the time we graduated, there were still 12 of us playing. Those years helped develop my love for the game to what it is now.

Question Number 2: Who do you support the three years between World Cups?

Role Player: While in college, I spent a semester studying in Rennes, France. The only match that I missed was the one that occured the first weekend I was there. It was a soldout match against Marseille. A German friend of mine and I watched it in a bar across the streetfrom Le Stade de la Route de Lorient. Stade Rennais FC became my passion outside of school. I started reading the paper just for SRFC news, ate galette saucisse, learned the songs, sat with the firm folk and lit flares when we scored. In six months they had become my home team. However, as a distant observer growing up, it was Arsenal who first won my heart. I followed them closely because of one player, but soon fell in love with their style and manager. I still follow them closely. The rest of the clubs I follow are usually due to certain players.

In Arsene We Trust: Between my answer to the question above, and my answer to the question below, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out who I support and why. For the dense, I’ll give you a hint: its Arsenal. But that isn’t the limit of my support. Normally I’m a big fan of Barca (though my feelings for them are more than a little strained right now). I also like and admire clubs that run things the right way, like Fulham, Wigan, and Everton. They all live on their budgets (mostly), and do incredibly well considering the amount of money they have to spend in the market. It helps that David Moyes and Ralph Hodgson are both great coaches, as was Steve Bruce when I started following Wigan.

What’s Offsides?: Until recently, I hadn’t really supported any teams because I didn’t know anything about them. I don’t have any of the soccer channels on TV so I never get to watch any games except for the occasional MLS game I might happen to catch on ESPN2. However, this past (American) football season I was talking to Role Player and Fergie’s Fledgling about finding a Premiere League tream to follow and we decided on Everton. I forget what the criteria were, but it worked out nicely because Tim Howard is one of my favorite players and I didn’t even know he was playing for them. Other than that, I follow a few friends who play in local leagues and cheer them on from the sidelines.

Lila Zidane: Here’s the deal. In sports–in professional sports–I rarely follow teams, but rather individual players. I’ve found that to be the case with football as well. This year, I was a huge Everton supporter because of Landon’s stint. Generally, I root for Manchester United, as I do like Wayne Rooney’s bulldog-likeness on the pitch. I also like to keep up with Pachuca from the Mexical League, as I spent a few weeks living in Pachuca during the ’06 World Cup.

Captain Robert Hatch: As far as the English Premiership goes, the individual players and style of play determined my loyalties. I support Everton and Fulham because of Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey, respectively. Yes, that’s the American in me. I also like Tottenham Hotspur because they’re competing at the top of the table, but at a financial competitve disadvantage compared to the “Big Four” and they have a glut of exciting and prolific scorers up top. However, my two favorite squads are in the Bundesliga, courtesy a trip there last summer. I travelled to Bavaria where I visited and toured Bayern Munich’s Allianz Areana and it was the most unbelievable stadium I had ever seen and was in complete awe. I then also visited FC Nuremberg’s stadium and it happened to be ticket distribution day for their supporters and seeing their passion made me more passionate about soccer.

Question Number 3: What players do we love?

Role Player: It was 1998 and I was watching the World Cup. I don’t remember who France was playing, but it must have been early in the tournament. A substitute came into the game, played on the wing, wore the number 12, was quick and had some shifty moves. That player was Thierry Henry. I followed him throughout the World Cup and on after as he moved from Juventus to Arsenal. He was probably the first player I actively followed. He led me to my favorite EPL team. Today, I love too many players to list but I usually fall in love with quality defensive center-mids because I grew into playing that position.

In Arsene We Trust: As I mentioned above, the first game I ever really watched was the game between Barcelona and Arsenal in Paris. I remember being incredibly angry when Jen Lehmann got sent off, but the joy of watching Sol Campbell equalise. In the end, though, it was Thierry Henry who captured my imagination. He didn’t score in that game, but the way he moved with the ball, they way he passed, it captivated me. He was really and truly the first player I loved. But perhaps my favorite player of all time is one that I have never watched play in a live match. By the time I came to soccer, he had retired, and all I could do was watch old clips of him and stare in wonder. That man is Dennis Bergkamp. I’ll never forget the sheer pleasure of watching him skin the Newcastle defense and score. From then on, I just watched in wonder at his touches, his passes, and his shots. He was truly amazing.

What’s Offsides?: Tim Howard – even to my untrained eye I can tell that the man’s a beast. He was one of the first names I learned, and the more I find out about him, the more impressed I become. I can’t imagine the stress of being a keeper or dealing with Tourette’s syndrome, but to have to manage both and perform as well as he does is simply amazing.

Lila Zidane: I generally find myself overly supportive of most USMNT players abroad. I do love Wayne Rooney, and also find myself rooting for other Brits, such as Ashley Cole and Peter Crouch (what’s not to love about a 6’7″ forward). I love rooting for out of place stars in Euro leagues such as Didier Drogba, Steven Pienaar, and Ronhaldino.

Captain Robert Hatch: Much like my namesake, when I play soccer I bring an American football mentality to the game, so I consequently love the “grinders.” This may also be the American in me speaking because our team is described as such and this attitude is exemplified by center-back Jay DeMerit and the more skilled midfielder Michael Bradley. And, for whatever reason, I also have this infatuation with Liverpool’s and the Netherlands’s Dirk Kuyt and his incredible work rate and knack to score “ugly” goals, much like myself when I play the game. Also, consequently, I have a hatred of “soft” players who “flop” and have the likes of Christiano Ronaldo in mind when I say that.

Fergie’s Fledgling: If I had to pick a favorite player now it would hands down by Ryan Giggs. I think that he exemplifies everything that is right with sports. He has played for one team, at an incredibly high level and never let any of the fame go to his head. He is an amazing leader and he does it a very unassuming manner. He started his career as a man who made his living bombing down the wing with speed and power and now that he is older, he controls games from the center of the field. Everyone of his teammates both love him and respect him, and I will be sad the day he hangs up his boots.

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