I remember a time where soccer was just something I did.
I started playing when I was six years old because my parents wanted me to be more active. As a result, I continued to play all the way through Middle School.
But then I got to High School, where playing soccer wasn’t as cool as playing football - no one wanted to be a “footy-snob.” Playing football was so cool, that being good at it didn’t even matter.
And yet football still fell to the wayside, just like soccer.
Meaning I went to college without either. I could’ve returned to soccer, but I had fallen in love with another sport, lacrosse. I thought playing lacrosse in high school was great, so playing in college would be even better. My excitement, however, didn’t last long. I had realized that the time commitment made lacrosse a job, and it was really only fun when I was playing it in my spare time.
But then came World Cup 2014, the summer after my sophomore year.
That summer, I watched as the United States took on the ‘Group of Death’, where they: finally beat Ghana, drew Portugal, and loss to the eventual World Champions Germany. And although making it out of the group was great, it failed in comparison to watching Tim Howard, the ‘Secretary of Defense,’ break the all-time saves record (in a World Cup Match).
Sadly his efforts weren’t enough, and the United States were knocked-out of the World Cup following the completion of the match - they had loss 2-1 to Belgium.
This match, in all its grandeur, alongside the passion and emotion that player’s like Tim Howard had shown, got me hooked. From that point on it was decided, I was now a soccer fan... a proper “footy-snob.”
But that was the story of me, the soccer fan. Not the one of me, the wanna-be soccer writer. What got me there?
Manchester Derby... Round One
That story started two years ago today, April 7, 2018. When I would watch the single greatest match that I had ever witnessed in real-time. This match was a Manchester Derby, and with Manchester City three points away from lifting their third Premier League Title, it was a crucial one.
After 45 minutes, City’s play made it seem like the match was already settled. In fact, if it wasn’t for an uncharacteristically poor performance by Raheem Sterling, in front of goal, the match and the league surely would have concluded. But instead, City entered the break up only two scores (2-0).
Then came the second half, where Manchester United came onto the Etihad Pitch a completely different side.
A well placed finish by Paul Pogba in the 53rd minute put them a goal back. He would score again just a few moments later, to make it 2-2.
That goal came following United’s best move of the match. In the final third, the move saw Pogba maraud through the middle, quickly laying it off to Alexis Sanchez, who then lifted the ball into the box where Pogba would head it into the bottom left hand corner.
With the score 2-2, the comeback just needed a Chris Smalling touch, in the 69th, to complete it.
Reflecting back on the match, you would have likely been surprised to see the scoring stop there, as the chances never seemed to dry up. But for United fans, you knew they were certainly happy to hear that final whistle.
That’s why the pure adrenaline that this match filled me with forced me to consider a future with soccer. It’s obvious I enjoyed everything about the sport, so why not attempt to give it a real run-out.
So that’s what I did.
And since that match, I’ve worked the sport in several different ways. Including, but not limited to, attending matches. My favorite to date: the thrilling 4-3 Extra Time win that the Philadelphia Union had over New York Red Bulls in MLS Cup playoffs in 2019.
However, nothing, and I mean nothing, has been more rewarding than meeting supporters, and attempting to get a pulse on why they support the club they do.
That’s why I started, and continued, my adventure into finding the best atmosphere for the unaffiliated in Philadelphia. Because, taking part in the sport that has brought me so much joy, and finding the perfect fit for them, seemed like the least I could do.
So while this adventure is just getting started, my most recent visit has certainly brought me the most joy - as it’s taken me down memory-lane, while adding another segment to it.
Manchester Derby... Round Two
On March 8, 2020, I was able to join Manchester United fans, once more, in excitement at the result of a derby. However this time it was in person, as I was able to experience MUFC Philly and The Black Sheep Pub at its finest, when United won 2-0 over their rivals.
Before attending, I had reached out to MUFC Philly.
I don’t know if doing so made a difference, but I can honestly say that I couldn’t have expected a warmer welcome.
Laura, the President of MUFC Philly spotted me as I walked into the pub. I was that unusual person not wearing United gear and obviously looking for someone. But in this case it just happened to be her, so she grabbed me and had me join the usual group she watches with.
She offered me a beer, and introduced me to everyone in the group.
But when the match started there was no more chatter about anything other than United, and barely any of that either. As a young man, named Louie, would belt out a chant the rest of the bar would soon follow suit.
The coolest thing about these chants is that they were loud and authentic. Almost like the experience you would have had at the actual Old Trafford, the site of today’s derby.
Another really neat thing about the group is how the pub treats it.
The Black Sheep Pub is owned by a United Supporter, named Jim, and he goes to every extent to ensure that supporters enjoy their time.
Following both goals, the lengths that Jim goes to become obvious, as the level of noise and chaos that ensue would have annoyed most other bar owners and staff; because, well, I have never seen a group get so rowdy.
This combination of depth, and passion, is what re-affirms the extent that I have been willing to go in following this sport, as the experiences have begun to compound. Making each experience I have even better.
So much so, that I may have finally found something I actually do love... even if it is something I once pushed to the wayside, as a thing my parents wanted me to do to stay active.
But I want to leave you with two questions: what is your story, and why do you love soccer?
Because if it’s anything like mine, I would certainly make a trip to The Black Sheep Pub on Match-Day to join MUFC Philly - you won’t regret it!