I hate(d) soccer. Yep, I said it.
I never played soccer as a child. I did plenty of other sports but never soccer. Sure I learned to play in gym class in middle school, and I liked it alright. Then I moved. I wound up in an all-girls gym class in Utah with a girl that would eventually become my best friend. We played soccer one day, I went to get the ball, she beat me to it, and standing just a few feet in front of me, she smacked the ball into my thigh. I should probably tell you that this girl went on to hold the women’s weightlifting records for our high school. The hit left a soccer ball imprint on my leg for three days. After that I decided I didn’t like to play soccer. (Sadly, this is not my most tragic gym class experience. That one involved the game Steal the Bacon.)
In high school and college I found my spectator sport was ultimately football, because football and tailgating is really where the fun lies. I did happen to watch a soccer game on tv though because my ex was a huge soccer fan. I didn’t understand why people ‘run back and forth, back and forth, and never score!’ At least in football, if a touchdown isn’t likely, you can hope for a field goal. That was the last soccer match I ever watched with him… or at all for that matter until I went on my latest trip.
I was very fortunate to be in Africa during the World Cup. It completely shattered my disdain for soccer. I watched matches in Malawi. I saw the bars packed with people in the small town of Monkey Bay. I enjoyed the matches on Likoma Island at my hostel with little kids who came over to see it. I watched one in a fisherman’s house on Chizumulu Island because it was the only place we could go. It was so lively. I was on a long bus ride and saw an old man pull a ratty envelope out from his shirt pocket. As he read the newspaper, he jotted down all of the soccer scores reported that day.
I was a bit unsure but I believed I liked soccer at that point- I just wasn’t fully convinced yet. I was worried that maybe the fact that I was in Africa had made me change my mind. Or the fact that soccer is what brought people together in these villages as they crowded around tvs in public places . Or walking through villages and seeing little handmade signs posted about the games… it was all very endearing to me. The final game was played on my birthday, and I landed in Cape Town a week later. I got to see the new stadium built for the World Cup, and I stayed with an American for a few days who came to Cape Town to be a World Cup volunteer. Vendors were still selling World Cup memorabilia. The excitement had not yet passed.
Three months later, I arrived at my hostel in Barcelona and was told that I should go to an FC Barcelona match because they had some really cheap tickets for the following night. I thought a.) it’s a cultural experience b.) I can brag to friends that I’ve seen them play (even if I don’t know really what’s going on) c.) if I’m going to go to a professional match, what better place to go than in Spain d.) I had missed all football games that Fall because of my trip and this might be some consolation and e.) it just sounded fun.
I purchased my ticket online with the help of my hostel staff and picked it up at the Servicaixa, which is essentially an ATM for tickets that is at La Caixa banks in Barcelona. After exiting the subway station closest to the stadium, I was surrounded by soccer fans. I should note here that they were playing some rinky-dink team, and the stadium did not come close to filling up that night. Yet, you could barely navigate around the stadium because there were so many fans. It took me a solid twenty minutes to find the gate I was supposed to enter through. The crowd was enthusiastic (the wave even went around a few times) and I made friends with an African sitting by me (I think he was from Ghana). I stayed through most of the game but left in time to catch the subway back before it closed at 1am.
While I’m not going to go so far as to say I’m a soccer fan (after all, I can’t really call myself a fan if I don’t know all of the rules), I’d definitely go to another game. Plus, we all know that soccer players are easy on the eyes. Tall, dark, and handsome? Yes, please.