As the World Cup has unfolded this year and Arsenal won the FA Cup recently, I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic and reflective on my football/soccer journey (I can’t decide which to call it, so I use both depending on who I’m talking to), because my fandom really started in the 1994 World Cup. I was living in New York at the time, and I remember all of the excitement about a game that I knew virtually nothing about. I recall full pages in the sports section explaining the rules and who the teams were that were playing at Giants Stadium. My mother bought me a ball that had the flag for each team printed on it. It was all new and different, and really left an impression on me. Then Ireland played Italy. So, did you know that it turns out there are a bunch of Irish and Italian people in New York? I know, right?! The city was absolutely exploding with excitement, and anyone who knows about World Cup history will recall how much of an upset that turned out to be as the Irish pulled off a famous 1 – 0 victory.
I kind of latched onto the German team after that because the USMNT wasn’t all that great and I am mostly German. The 1998 edition proved a bit more difficult to follow, mostly because of the time difference. I remember Germany not doing all that well, and Ronaldo being pretty amazing. I actually don’t remember much of anything about the French team, which is funny since they actually won the tournament.
By the time 2002 rolled around I was a full-fledged fan. I was starting to follow the EPL when I could. It was not on tv very often. I wasn’t a Gooner yet, I was just watching this Henry guy and he was so good it almost seemed unfair. I hoped Arsenal would win, but it wasn’t the end of the world when they didn’t. The time zone in Korea was even worse than France, but I was older now and forced myself to stay up at all sorts of odd hours to see the key games. Somehow, the USMNT beat Figo and Portugal. Then they "dos a cero" through Mexico in the knockout stage. It’s funny to look back on that now and contrast, because if they had a game like that this week the country would be in full freak-out mode, but at the time there wasn’t much attention paid to it. It barely registered a mention on the morning news. The US v Germany game in 2002 was probably one of the most tense and wonderful moments of my fandome, and really galvanized me as a passionate footy fan ever since. I remember Convey running down the wings with Donovan and putting all sorts of pressure on Germany. They came up short, but playing so close and so well almost felt like a victory in defeat.
So, the World Cups after that feel like recent history by comparison, and I have since become a die-hard Arsenal fan as well. I used to get really worked up and excited for the Germany games in the World Cup, but I feel like as I've gotten older I don't feel as compelled to get so invested in a team from another country. Maybe it correlates to the USMNT playing consistently in the knock-out stages lately. I want Germany to do well, because I've always pulled for them and they have some of my favorite gunners, but it won't be the end of the world if they crash out. I’ve poured more of my energy into the USMNT, and even saw their WCQ game versus Guatemala in Kansas City last year. It would take a miracle for Germany to play the US in the WC 2014, but hope springs eternal. It all started with a little white ball covered in 24 flags.