It all began years ago in Haiti…
My wife and I had taken a group of Canadian high school students to Haiti for some relief work with Haiti Arise (ironically headquartered in Airdrie) when I discovered “The Beautiful Game”. I was dressed in semi-formal clothes wearing semi-formal shoes (I had been working with some of the church leaders I think) when the Haitian guys challenged us to a game of football (soccer).
For the next half hour or so all I remember is sweating like a pig aimlessly running around in a gravel pit in 30+ Celsius heat, all the while thinking “This is a great game!”. Our young guys had grown up playing it and knew their way around a little but it was to no avail, the Haitian’s scored at will.
I came back home and tried flipping channels trying to find some “soccer” and came across Italian league football. The particular games I watched were extremely boring and all you could hear were two very dry English commentators with absolutely no crowd noise. Not particularly thrilling.
Then something changed my life…
Setanta Sports offered a free preview for two weeks, largely of the English game. I was hooked! 60,000 fans chanting ridiculous insults and singing songs AT each other, some of which are made up on the spot, while the ebb and flow of this beautiful game unfolded before my eyes. The tension that I now consider unique to football was delicious to my sporting palate! Only $19 a month and it could be mine!
I remember the moment I knew there was no going back to lesser avenues when I started losing track of the clock. So entranced was I by the movement and strategy that it was nearly half time of a Premier League game before I looked up. Ninety minutes of tension slowly building and then this unbelievable release of energy bordering on violence when a goal is scored! The soaring highs! The raging lows! And footballing politics! I had found my purpose in life! (Not that football actually resembles any sort of purpose in life…)
One of the earlier games I watched was a European match at Anfield, home of Liverpool Football Club. The commentators were discussing the history and partial insanity surrounding the famous grounds during the buildup. The intense loyalty of the fans were famous the world over. A place that had fallen away from its previous glory at that time while maintaining its atmosphere and belief. Yes, they still believed!
The year I started watching was the year following that monumental and shocking comeback in Istanbul (2005) where LFC won the most prestigious tournament in Europe, the Champions League. Could fortune return to Liverpool once again? The supporters believed so!
During that game I watched Steven Gerrard in all of his glory galloping down the sideline while he plucked a ball out the air from head height with his boot and kept running; and I knew! He was the one! No hireling was he, but a Scouser (Liverpudlian) through and through. His team was my team and his team was Liverpool!
Having decided my favourite team I figured I had better find out who were our rivals in the footballing world? I knew who I loved, but who should I hate?
Until this time Manchester United had been making an impression on me with their attacking style and ability and drive to WIN imparted to them by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. I had actually been enjoying their success until I discovered, informed by other Reds fans, that if one loved Liverpool one must also hate United.
With all the passion in my Irish soul I despised them! Surely their success was due to some pact with the devil! How could anyone cheer for a team like that? There was no use in trying to salvage their souls, one could only pray for their families and loved ones!
The year I began my love affair we lost to AC Milan in the Champions League Final. I couldn’t remember the last time I had really cared about a sporting event or shared anything but a passing fancy for whoever won or lost. But it was US now and everything changed. I spent the rest of the day mildly depressed and somewhat lethargic, which isn’t like me at all. Something had changed inside of me and I couldn’t go back.
This year we have returned to old glory, having won the Champions League and currently sitting on top of the Premier League. Not only that, but United is doing terribly and though I’d like to think of myself as a good person it appears that I am not, as their pain makes me feel all the better.
Love and hate are emotions yes? Perhaps I’m finding my emotional footing that Erin has been telling me to get in touch with?
A blessing in disguise is still a blessing…