A Year of Football: Finding Culture in Fandom
I grew up a baseball fan. Watching Craig Biggio play second base for the Houston Astros was the highlight of my week, every week. Then, somewhere around the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, football took over. Sure I started out calling it soccer, like most Americans, but it's the only sport named football that actually requires extensive use of your feet. It's science, don't blame me. Ever since then I've been a huge football fan with my adopted club of choice being Chelsea FC in London. However, this year I'm trying something a bit different. I've taken the top football leagues around the world and chosen a single team to follow for the entirety of the 2017-2018 season. This isn't an exhaustive list of the leagues, notably absent are the South American leagues, mainly due to ease of accessibility on television. Football fan culture has fascinated me for a long time. Some of my favorite sporting memories have been watching matches at pubs with supporters from all over the world, listening to them trash talk other teams and moan when their preferred striker misses a sitter. There's a passion involved that I love, even if it's not for the team I support.
So without further adieu, here's the teams that you'll see updates on periodically here. Contact me to send kits, scarves, pictures or all sorts of things from any of these teams and I'll proudly display them. Seriously, I will. Kits, scarves, posters, you name it. I'll display it.
English Premiere League - Chelsea FC
This one's a no brainer. I've been a Chelsea fan for pretty much half of my life now and that'll never change. The Roman Abramovich era has seen a lot of trophies and turmoil, but I'm a Blue for life. Starting with watching Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and John Terry play for England and Chelsea in the early 2000's, there was no going back. I've even got the kit collection to prove it. Chelsea will always be my #1 team. You'll also be seeing a lot here about the local Chelsea supporters club, the Bayou City Blues. A lot of good friends and great people. Always a joy to watch matches with. Passion in spades.
EFL Championship - Aston Villa FC
Have I mentioned that I'm a bit of an Anglophile? Chalk that up to the reason I have England's second tier football league on here. Residing in Birmingham, the first city in England that I ever visited, Aston Villa FC hold a special little place in my heart. The fact that the greatest captain Chelsea FC ever had now plays for Aston Villa only makes it an easier choice. I've got two kits from Villa from my time in Birmingham so it's an easy choice to watch them try to regain Premiere League football next season.
Spanish La Liga - Athletic Bilbao
I couldn't bring myself to cheer for the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona or Atletico Madrid so I decided to go with a team from the Basque Country. Athletic Bilbao finished seventh in La Liga last season and so notonly will they try to go higher up in the table this season, they also get to ply their trade in the Europa League. Plus, headlines like this can easily endear a supporter to the Spanish side.
German Bundesliga - VFL Wolfsburg
Founded in 1938, VFL Wolfsburg sports a Volkswagen logo on their distinctive kits mainly because the club came out of an athletic club built for VW workers in the city. A little over 200km west of Berlin, Wolfsburg first caught my attention with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Julian Draxler, André Schürrle and now with forward Mario Gomez they are poised to scrub away the disappointing 2016-2017 season that saw them finish only five points above the relegation zone. Here's to a German underdog story.
Dutch Eredivisie - SBV Vitesse
Based in the Dutch city of Vitesse, SBV Vitesse has lately become a mega loan destination for the next crop of talented Chelsea youngsters. It's even acquired the moniker of Chelsea B in certain circles. That makes my choice pretty easy since I get to cheer for the players that will possibly fill the Chelsea ranks in a few years.
United States MLS - Houston Dynamo
So this is a pretty obvious choice since I'm a Houstonian and one of my favorite things to do in the city is go to BBVA Compass Stadium and watch the Dynamo play whomever. It's been a better year so far with a new attacking style of play thanks to new head coach Wilmer Cabrera and the play of Cubo Torres up front. If you're ever in Houston and want a good time, go see a Dynamo game!
French Ligue 1 - Paris Saint-Germain
In 2009 I spent 6 months living in the beautiful city of Paris and my apartment just so happened to be down the road from the Parc des Princes Stadium, home to PSG. At that point, they were still just a good French club that had yet to be bought by a Qatari investment group. Since then, they've managed to secure the Ligue 1 title multiple times and now have their sights set on UEFA Champions League glory. Fun fact, the first non-English football kit I ever owned was a PSG top so that I could fit it in the neighborhood on game days.
Italian Serie A - ACF Fiorentina
On our honeymoon in 2015 we managed to find ourselves in Florence watching a Europa League game featuring the hometown ACF Fiorentina among a small but spirited crowd outside of a local gelato/beer/wine/crepes shop. One of the main players for Fiorentina that year was former Chelsea player Mo Salah so I slotted right into cheering for the lads in the bright purple kits. This one was an easy choice.
Primeira Liga Portugal - Sporting CP
Based in Lisbon, Sporting's legendary academy has produced stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Nani and more. As a founding member of the Primeira Liga, Sporting have never faced the drop and always manage to push for a top spot against Bafica, Porto and the like. They finished third in the league last season and are poised to push again for a top spot as well as run through the play-in rounds for the Champions League.
Scottish Premiership - Hibernian FC
Newly promoted Hibs makes for three teams in Edinburgh playing in the Scottish Premiership, so it's definitely going to be an uphill battle for survival in the top Scottish league. Then again, I'm a sucker for an underdog story. Founded in 1875 by Irish immigrants, Hibs may be the oldest team on this list but also the one with the longest shot of winning a trophy. Here's hoping Neil Lennon and the boys can pull off a miracle.
So expect to see some regular updates on all these teams over the next few months. After all, the football season is basically year round.
Side note: Since I started writing this, Hibs was accidentally put in the UEFA Champions League draw due to an error. Technically, my fandom is already paying dividends.