Bayern Munich players celebrated after win the UEFA Champions League title in London on May 25.
GOTHENBURG, Sweden — When I was 10, I remember a mentor telling me and my father how important it is to watch soccer games.
A family friend from England gave me a gray and orange Chelsea jersey with a collar, but as far as I knew, Chelsea was only the name of a girl in my class. The World Cup was the reason we couldn't watch any good TV shows when we visited Europe in 1994. And Maradona referred only to a strange spin move I worked to master.
I remember trying to enjoy watching the few games my dad and I could find on TV. The commentators' strong Italian pronunciation of "Parmaaa versus Rooooma" was much more entertaining than the action on the field. Even by 1998 I'm ashamed to say we still had little knowledge of the game. Everyone knew that Brazil was "the soccer country," so I remember being shocked when at my team's tournament we found out that some guy on France had scored twice to defeat Brazil in the World Cup final.
Little did I know that years later, watching video clips of that same French player (Zinédine Zidane) would be my equivalent of listening to a symphony composed by Mozart. I couldn’t have imagined that I would be staying up until crazy hours of the night to watch the 2002 World Cup games from Japan and South Korea. Or that I would travel through Europe, seeking out some of the storied arenas that at one time I viewed as simply housing a game with which a world of foreigners was so strangely obsessed.
The world’s love for the beautiful game has slowly infiltrated my being over the years. I have to admit, I am not good at supporting a club. It’s unnatural for me to place my allegiance with a group to whom I am not personally affiliated. Nonetheless, I have become passionate about the game in my own way.
I didn’t care much who won this year’s Champions League finals — women’s or men’s. But there is no way I would miss a minute of either. I marveled at how far the women’s game has come and continues to improve as I watched Lyon, the clear favorite, be upset by a first-timer in the competition, the German team, Wolfsburg. I was impressed by the quality of play and the way Wolfsburg fearlessly matched up with a team that is, on paper, clearly superior.
And then, only a few days later, I was awed by one of the best games I have ever watched, between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Rarely have I seen a championship match played with such an aggressive approach by both sides. I usually watch games quietly, but the end-to-end action and acrobatics from both goalkeepers actually made me yell out at times. Watching teams celebrate always gives me the chills.
As I saw Bayern Munich raise the trophy, I experienced a feeling that the 10-year-old me could not have imagined. It wasn’t only my admiration of the game being played at such an amazing speed and level of proficiency. Watching the game was about much more than studying the players in my position or analyzing the tactics. Watching the beautiful game fosters the wonderful connection of a shared passion.