Times Like These

When tragedy strikes, whether near or far, it causes us to step back and look at our priorities. At times like these, what seemed important before now seems trivial, things we took for granted before suddenly gain so much more importance. Here in the United States yesterday, there was a tragedy that directly affected athletes. If only all sport was immune to tragedy. Yet it affects football, too. Like a year ago Sunday, when we lost Piermario Morosini on the pitch. Or more recently, the tragic and sudden loss of Milan Channel’s Claudio Lippi. I never know quite what to say in the wake of tragedy, words never seem to capture the range of emotions and can certainly never bring back those who are lost. But I have learned, over the course of a life filled with much loss, that taking that first step toward normalcy is the most important part of the healing process. And I have also learned in times like these to turn to things that truly give me joy, like football. I like to think those who have moved on would want it that way.

Part of a banner Sunday which read "Only those who are forgotten die..."

So, not to lessen anyone’s loss, but rather to take that brave first step forward, today I thought I would share my football conversion story. Being a white, American girl, growing up in a rural desert community in Southern California, I hardly fit the demographic for your typical football fan. In fact, I don’t think I even saw a “soccer” ball until I was at least 10 years old, and I certainly never saw the beautiful game played growing up.

What changed my world was when football came to me. The United States hosted World Cup 1994, and I decided to see what all the buzz was about. I studied the different nations that would be competing, and, admittedly, chose to support Italy because they put the “beautiful” in the beautiful game. I watched lots of games, though. I was initially fascinated with all of the storylines of the players and nations involved, that would be the emotionally dominant part of my brain that I have due to my less fortunate gender.

Not exactly born into football fandom

So of course, the Italian story (along with their good looks,) spoke to me. Everything that could go wrong did. Some guy with a creepy ponytail was singlehandedly carrying his team closer to the final, while the captain got a terrible knee injury, and more. My friends were all rooting for Brazil, and I stuck by those boys wearing that exquisitely blue color because they were the best looking. My friends, all guys, really had a tough time arguing that Brazil (or anyone else) were better looking.

But even still, the game was growing on me. The “gentleman” or sportsmanship aspect of the game really impressed me. I really liked that they played virtually non-stop for 90 minutes. What incredible stamina they had! And I actually liked that a game could end in a draw, how very un-American of me, I know. But it seemed to me simple but fair. And of course, the beautiful passes and goals, as well as plenty of physical “contact” to appease my less female “competitive” side, too. I also immediately fell in love with the goalkeepers. They were so crazy, yet brave… and the Italian one had a really funny name, too: “Gianluca Pagliuca.” I confess to repeating it over and over like a schoolgirl and giggling.

Some guy they called Baresi, the captain, made a miraculous return for the final

I was happy that knowing absolutely nothing about football, I had chosen a team that went to the final, a game which was played 40 very short minutes from my house. So I found some recipes for Italian food (which I also knew very little of at the time,) and I cooked up my best stuffed mushrooms, eggplant Parmigiana, and more to help me watch the final, Italian style.

The game was painful to watch. The sunny Southern California heat seemed to take everything else out of these incredible athletes that they didn’t take out of each other. Two very evenly matched teams, it seemed like a game of chess, but with injuries. And after an intense, yet goalless 90 minutes, then another grueling 30 minutes of added extra time, this game was going to be settled by some cruel thing called penalty kicks.

120 minutes down, 5 fateful penalty kicks to go

I don’t even remember how much of my “Italian” food that I ate. It really didn’t matter, my stomach was in knots. Back and forth, like some ritualistic display of sport amidst a battle, I didn’t think my young heart was going to survive this torture. Finally, the fate of my newly adopted football nation lay on the shoulders of their hero, that one with the horrible ponytail. But despite his poor taste in hairstyles, my heart was his for the taking, if only he could convert this one penalty kick.

Well, you probably know what happened next. Baggio, who had dragged his country to the final with his incredible skills, missed perhaps the biggest kick of his life. The not-so-beautiful Brazilians erupted in ecstasy, but my heart was shattered. Having grown up with a father who coached multiple sports, I had been exposed to many epic wins and losses in my lifetime to date, but nothing had ever hurt like this. I fell in love through a broken heart, and the rest of my life since has been a beautiful love affair with the beautiful game.

His pain broke my heart and made me fall in love forever

My friends teased me about Italy’s loss, but it didn’t even bother me. I knew I had chosen my fate, and the passion was growing and starting to burn inside of me already. I didn’t even care about the “beautiful” part of the game anymore, although I can still appreciate said beauty outside of the 90 minute matches. I began to watch a weekly Serie A recap show, and I was strangely drawn to this team that wore the red and black. It wasn’t just because several of the players had played for Italy in the World Cup that won my heart, not even the intensely beautiful Maldini was a reason. It was like coming home, or meeting relatives you never knew before. Slowly but surely, I was realizing that I was a Milanista.

I don’t remember exactly when I really started following every match and bleeding red and black. It was more of a slow awakening that has now become an eternally burning flame. Not even marrying a Juventino could change my heart, no matter how painful it can be to sit on opposite sides of the couch a few times a year. I fell in love with football through Azzurri blue, and together with the red and black of Milan, I think it’s fair to say that it has become my obsession.

I looked beyond the outward beauty and fell in love with the skills

How did you fall in love with football? Or with Milan? Do you have any interesting stories to share about being a Milanista? Please share them in the comments section below. Kind of like a family reunion, but without the annoying kids, drunk uncles, and octogenarian ramblings.

This post inspired by the music of the Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These”

Our next match is
Juventus vs. Milan
Sunday, April 21 • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)

Times Like These Times Like These Reviewed by Elaine on 12:00 AM Rating: 5
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