As there isn’t much at all to talk about in the sports world today, I thought I’d share the story of how and why I became an Arsenal fan. One of the most interesting things about American soccer fans is that we all come to the game in different ways. We weren’t necessarily born into families that rooted for these clubs. As such, a lot of us, myself included, had to put a lot more effort into falling in love with a team.
For me, my path to soccer fandom began as a general sports fan. Being raised in Boston, the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots were my life. And I was also an Arkansas Razorbacks fan – the biggest one in Massachusetts. But as my family never focused on soccer, I grew up thinking all of the American stereotypes about soccer. I probably watched fewer than five professional games before the 2006 World Cup, as I didn’t have a reason to want to like soccer. And once I got through the obligatory youth soccer, I had no intention of playing again.
I have very strong memories of the first few games of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. It was eye-opening to me that I knew next to nothing about a major sporting event, and when I sat watching the U.S.A.-Czech Republic game at tennis camp, the biggest sports fan there, and couldn’t say anything about what I was watching, I took it upon myself to get acquainted with soccer. I might not like it, but as a sports fan, I had to watch the World Cup. Or so 11 year-old me thought. And watch it I did, quickly appreciating the beautiful game. The Portugal-Netherlands match, considered one of the ugliest soccer games played in recent years, was the first soccer match that ever got me thinking that I could like the sport.
But after that month, I quickly went back to my old ways, primarily focusing on baseball, basketball and football. However, around that time, and over the next few years, I particularly enjoyed a British book series that I found. It was called CHERUB – a series about a special division of British spies that were kids. They worked alongside MI6 and it was an absolutely incredible series. The main character, James Adams, someone whom I identified with, was a huge Arsenal supporter, as he chose the last name Adams when he became a spy in honor of the Arsenal great Tony Adams. There were a ton of Arsenal references in the books, and I became an Gunners fan through James without realizing it. I’d known of Thierry Henry from those Gillette commercials of old, and I had generally compared Manchester United to the Yankees in my mind, so it was natural to want to be like James Adams in this respect.
So in 2009, I began following Arsenal results casually. I wasn’t even aware that I was doing it for a while, but late in the 2009-2010 season, a few months before the World Cup, I realized I was strangely excited for a game I had no business being excited for. It was Thierry Henry’s return to the Emirates with Barcelona in the Champions League in late March. I didn’t know how to watch the game, so I followed it on gamecast on ESPN.com. And from that day forward, I was officially an Arsenal fan.
Now at this point, I found myself trying to learn a lot about the game as quickly as I could. I had a bunch of friends who followed the EPL closely, so I picked their brains almost every morning at school. They of course were mostly Manchester United and Chelsea fans, but I was a Gooner, whatever that meant. We played a lot of soccer in our free time, and while I was awful at that, I was thoroughly enjoying learning a new game. By the end of that season, I’d found a few EPL games on ESPN, but I needed to learn as much information as possible before the World Cup began.
I would look at rosters on Wikipedia, reading up on all the players I only knew by name. And of course when the World Cup finally begun, I watched just about every match, learning something every second. While I had decided to be a fan roughly three months before the World Cup, it was the action in South Africa that got me to fall in love with the game. When it was over, I was dying to watch the EPL. By the time the season started, I had spent hours and hours reading and watching everything I could find about Arsenal. And from there, I’ve never looked back.
For the last four-plus years, I’ve probably read 10-20 articles a day about the club I follow from afar, utilizing the Google News function to find as many pieces of Arsenal content as I can. I quickly learned which British tabloids were semi-credible and which were not at all. But what made it all so much fun was that I came to this sport entirely on my own.
I knew that I would have to prove my Arsenal fandom through endless dedication and devotion. And that the reason I was an Arsenal fan was a book series only made me more determined to prove myself. Whether I was trying to prove it to my fellow soccer fan friends, to my family or to myself, I don’t really know. But I ended up taking this particular journey to super-fandom rather seriously. Missing a game was a felony in my eyes, and I did everything possible to develop my soccer knowledge.
Everybody I know is a Red Sox fan. And the same is true for the Patriots and Celtics. Even being an Arkansas fan wasn’t entirely unique. But Arsenal was my club. Every time somebody questioned why I cared, every time someone wondered why I wasn’t a Man United fan, I became even more of a Gooner. I wanted a sports journey that was entirely my own, and I got that and so much more.
I hate answering the question about what my favorite sports team is. Compared to everybody else, I’m the biggest Red Sox, Arkansas and Celtics fan I know. But I think at this point, it would be fair to suggest that Arsenal rivals those teams for the top spot in my heart. It may even surpass it. For I had to learn to love Arsenal myself. Now, after four years of hard work to learn the game to the best I can, I have an extremely personal relationship with the club I have come to love. Even though my reasons for becoming a fan aren’t convincing to some, and even though I’ve only been a fan for a little more than four years, Arsenal is everything to me.
I believe it is not how we become a fan that matters. And it’s not about how long we’ve been a fan either. It’s about how much time we spend thinking about the team. It’s about whether we’d wake up at 3 a.m. to watch a preseason match. It’s about how much we love our team. And damn do I love Arsenal Football Club.
What’s your story about becoming a fan?