CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — I woke up to my alarm, put on my Juventus jersey, and headed downstairs to the living room Sunday morning. It wasn’t a major championship, no one I knew personally was playing, but as I turned on Fox Soccer, I felt nervous in anticipation of the outcome.
I’ve always been a fan, but never truly supported a team. I am a fan of the sport, of particular styles of play, of individual players, but as I watched my boyfriend agonize over Juve’s failures last season and saw him celebrate their goals as if he had scored himself, I realized that maybe there’s a part of this sport that I have yet to explore.
I remember when I first started watching soccer with my dad. My coach at the time told us that it was helpful to watch games on TV, so of course, we made a point to do that whenever we could. We didn’t know much, and this was before DVRs, so we watched whatever game was on.
Over the years, I got to know all the major players, got a subscription to FourFourTwo magazine, and spent a lot of time (mostly during class) watching highlights. I used to memorize the names of the players on Man U because one of my youth coaches was a die-hard fan. I had a calendar of Real Madrid when Roberto Carlos and Zidane suited up for it. I have an old Arsenal uniform, an Inter hat and shirt (sorry Juventini, it was before I knew any better!), a really old-school Chelsea jersey, and some other random team memorabilia that I somehow acquired over the years.
I absolutely love the way Barça plays and moves the ball, but my support is for their personnel and playing style. I have not followed the club through its ups and downs, and who knows whether I will watch them once Xavi, Iniesta and Messi are long gone.
I started watching Juventus toward the end of last season. Initially, I wanted it to succeed mainly so my boyfriend wouldn’t be in a bad mood for the rest of the day. I watched in hope of falling in love with a skillful, creative team, that was just an underrated version of Barça. But it was nothing like that. I saw a group that was noticeably struggling. Despite momentary sparks from wing Milos Krasic (one of the first Juve players I could identify on the field because of his blond hair and distinctive style) and the important late addition of striker Alessandro Matri, I didn’t see much that I felt was worthy of my support.
But what I soon realized is what it means to really support a club. As I learned more about the history of Juve, saw the pride of its supporters, and watched the team unveil its new stadium, I couldn’t help but want success for the Old Lady, as it is called.
I like the new manager, Antonio Conte, and the changes he’s made this season. Andrea Pirlo is now one of my favorite players and has a style I aim to emulate. I admire the work-rate of right back Stephan Lichtsteiner. And I actually get kind of emotional when Alessandro Del Piero (the club’s career leading scorer and most capped player) takes the field. I am far from a Juve expert, and wouldn’t dare yet say “we” in reference to the team, but I watch every game and my support is growing.
It is easy to watch Barça and know that they will do well and it will be an enjoyable viewing experience. I will always appreciate beautiful fútbol. But there’s something to be said for being more than just a fair weather fan. I’ve watched Juve begin a transformation back to the Italian powerhouse they historically have been. And I will probably need to get rid of my Inter gear next time I’m home.