In 2002 I had the amazing chance to spend a chunk of my summer going to school, through North Central Texas College in Corinth, at the University of Stirling in Stirling Scotland. As a 20 year old kid who had never been out of the United States it was a chance of a lifetime and one that helped shape the man I am today. One of the ways that it most effected me was that on this trip I was introduced to the beautiful game of Football. In fact without this trip I wouldn't be writing for this site, wouldn't be dating the woman I love (not the Scottish girl for the record), or be immersed in the amazing world of DBG, FC Dallas, and the countless friends I've made while following this sport.
I grew up a baseball kid. Some of my earliest memories are of going to the old Arlington Stadium to watch the Rangers lose to somebody. I grew up watching it with my Dad. My heroes growing up were Ozzie Smith and Nolan Ryan. I played the game all the way up through high school. My only experience with soccer was the ill fated fall of 1991 where I spent several miserable months playing this funny sport where the highlight, for me, was eating orange slices at halftime. So when a good friend of mine told me before I left for Scotland to make sure I went to a pub and watched a World Cup game, I rolled my eyes and laughed.
While I was vaguely aware that the World Cup was going on that summer. I was more interested, as many young single men are, with having a drink and chasing Scottish girls than paying attention to a sporting event that nobody back home cared about.
One Saturday afternoon while walking around downtown Stirling I met a pretty Scottish lass at a bus stop. I put on my best moves, that weren't as good as I thought they were, and she invited my buddy and I to the local pub near the campus the next day to watch some soccer game with her and her friends. Who were we to turn down a pretty girl especially one with friends! Little did I know that going to watch that game, the watching of which was the furthest thing from my mind at that time, would have such an impact on me.
It was Sunday June 16th, 2002 that my friend and I, dressed a little too nice for a midday soccer match, walked into the Meadowpark Hotel in Bridge of Allen and into a room that was filled with people wearing Irish flags, shirts, and other regalia. The Republic of Ireland were taking on Spain in the quarter finals in Suwon South Korea. The pub was packed and loud. Very loud. The game was on every screen and they even had a projector with a drop down screen set up to view the game on.
I had never been around footy fans in my entire life. I had always heard stories of British soccer supporters but almost none of them were flattering. As I watched the match, in between sad attempts at flirting, I was amazed at the passion these seemingly normal people showed to a country that wasn't even theirs (I had almost zero knowledge of Scotch/Irish/English politics at the time). It was a tight game in which Spain scored early, Ireland missed a PK, and then in the 90th minute Ireland earned a second PK attempt. When some Irish player named Robbie Keane put the ball in the back of the net a wave of joy like I had never seen exploded out of that bar and the game headed to overtime.
Another 30 minutes of play went by with no one scoring a goal and the game headed to spot kicks, a concept that was almost as crazy to me then as loving a sport that could end in a tie. I watched the rollercoaster of emotions that these fans were going through as, after Keane scored the first spot kick, Ireland went on to miss three in a row thanks to a stunning young keeper named Iker Casillas, and then Spain missed two in a row. After Ireland made their fifth attempt it all boiled down to Shay Given vs Gaizka Mendieta.
Just as I had never seen that type of excited passion from fans during the game I had never seen the mood sink so low as when Mendieta put the ball just pass the legs of Given. I remember a man standing up screaming "Are there any Spanish bastards in here?!?" Never in my life have I been more thankful for NOT being Spanish. I didn't fully understand what they were going through that day but I knew that I had witnessed something that piqued an interest deep down inside. If this sport could engender that type of emotion inside of people maybe it was worth checking out.
A dozen years later I'm so thankful for running into that Scottish girl at the bus stop and for her invite to go watch a game of soccer with her and her friends. I'm thankful for the passion that those fans showed that day and for setting me on the path to discovery of what would become my favorite obsession.
This World Cup find someone who laughs at or discounts soccer and take them to an AO pub or some sort of watch party and show them what passion means to those who love the beautiful game.