It’s already been established that I am a football fan but not how I’ve gotten to this point. I wasn’t raised into it, nor was I able to find solace in it at a public place during a low point in my life. I don’t exactly remember what motivated me to get up at 3 a.m. in the morning to watch a sport that I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy from the get-go. It was just one of those things that I was curious of trying, I suppose.
The whys and the hows
It all began halfway through 2014. My passion for wrestling was waning but it might’ve actually been through wrestling that my interest in football had started. My favourite wrestlers (Alberto Del Rio and Wade Barrett) were big soccer fans. The 2014 World Cup was coming up and they had been sharing their excitement on Twitter. In the spirit of wanting to know what the hell they were going on about, I wanted to try to get into football too.
I came into the World Cup, amused but confused at first. How could a game with the simple objective of kicking a ball into the opposing team’s net be this complicated? Why was that goal ruled offside? How do you get a free kick? How come that foul got a yellow card and that one didn’t? What’s the difference between a header and a headbutt?
It didn’t take long for me to catch on, thankfully.
Now, I can understand why football isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It can be very slow and feel like the longest 90 minutes of your life. There’s no instant gratification in football unlike in other sports like basketball and tennis. In football, it’s enough of a blessing to watch one goal scored. And you would yell out expletives accordingly if that one goal they finally scored was ruled invalid by the official.
Despite all of this, I fell in love with the sport anyway. Because sometimes, it’s about the journey and not the destination. At times, it’s the missed chances and the crossbar-hitting attempts on goal that get a bigger reaction out of you, mostly because of the agony of what was, the dream of what could have been, and the hope of what will be. It all makes the success of the actual goal much, much sweeter.
Now if you asked me which football match sealed the deal for me, that’s easy: Brazil vs. Mexico at the 2014 World Cup.
The objective may be to score a goal into the opposing team’s net, but there’s a simultaneous objective at the other end of the pitch to make sure you don’t get scored on. That’s the part I admired the most about Mexico as they held Brazil to a rather exciting goalless draw. Being the newbie that I was, I completely relied on the commentators to provide the narrative that would make me emotionally invested in the match. Through them I learned that Brazil had a famed attacking prowess and that this kid they called Neymar was apparently the biggest rising star in football.
Brazil had these things and they still couldn’t manage to get one past the Great Wall of Mexico, Memo Ochoa. I was in complete awe of him. Save after save, he left me gasping in my seat in the wee hours of the morning. All the memes that came out in the wake of his performance (including the one calling him Ted Mosby’s doppelgänger), I ate it all up. Mexican defense deserved credit too but for me, at that moment, Memo was king.
I spent my nascent years as a football fan practically in love with goalkeepers. They had such an important role in the match and yet they were always incredibly cool under pressure. And while Memo’s star was shining in the World Cup, I turned my attention to a star that was — by mixed public opinion — waning.
Iker Casillas was the first football player that I had a crush on. The first player that I had researched on and Googled endlessly for photos. He was handsome, charming and kind. As captain of the Spanish national team and Real Madrid, he exemplified grace in his leadership. He was admirable in every way.
And every goal he conceded from the Netherlands team was a shot to my heart.
Much like Brazil-Mexico, I was pulled into the narrative of this match. Spain were defending champions and won their first World Cup in 2010 by defeating the Netherlands by a goal in extra time. In 2014, destiny would place the two nations in the same group. Spain felt the wrath of their vengeance. The Dutch had figured them out.
The defending champions lost their opening match 1-5. Everyone was talking about Van Persie’s wonder goal and the self-destruction of La Furia Roja. I came into this match thinking I could ride a wave of continuous dominance but it seems I had been too late. The dream was already coming to an end. Spain would eventually lose to Chile 0-2 in the next group match, dashing their hopes of reaching the knockout stage and only managing a consolatory victory over Australia. Iker had to watch this bittersweet victory from the bench.
The criticism hurled against Iker got louder and louder. He was getting old, they said. He was past his prime, they said. He doesn’t deserve to be a first-choice goalkeeper anymore, they said. It only made me want to love and protect him more. He was only one man and I hated everyone that made him the scapegoat for a Spain side that had bigger problems to deal with.
Iker Casillas deserved, and still deserves, better.
Football’s pretty cool if you have the patience for it. It can give you moments of joy and moments of heartbreak. I, for one, do not regret allowing this sport to consume my life. It’s definitely helped me break out of my previous “anti-sport, anti-jock shell” so shout-out to the goalkeepers that saved my social life. You have turned this simple nerd into a slightly less embarrassing sports nerd.