26 January 2009
Something strange happened this last Sunday
Something quite strange happened to me on Sunday.
I was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking my coffee and enjoying an intense FA Cup derby between Everton FC and Liverpool FC when all of sudden, quite inexplicably, my heart began to warm toward those royal blue shirts.
I don’t know what it was or when it happened exactly.
Maybe it was seeing American Tim Howard in the goal that warmed my connection with the team. But there are other Americans in the Premiership - last season Fulham was loaded with American talent, so I don't think that alone was it.
Perhaps it was seeing Australian aerial maestro Tim Cahill’s header and Joleon Lescott’s redirection of the header in to the net to send Everton up 1-0 at Anfield. Cahill contributes gritty performances and game winning goals time and again and as a former footballing ex-pat in Australia, I follow the careers of Sydneysiders like Cahill pretty closely...but still, not enough.
Or maybe it was just something in Everton’s defensive work ethic, led by Phil Jagielka and Phil Neville, weathering barrage after barrage until Liverpool's playmaker (and current troublemaker) Steven Gerrard slotted home the equalizer, but I don’t think that defensive performances are what tipped the scale.
For a bit of history, I’ve always liked Manchester United, but I’ve never really felt close to them. It's a bit of a cliché to say that you follow Manchester United - they are after all the world's most valuable sports franchise. But I don’t own any of their game kits, I don’t have posters of Wayne Rooney or Cristiano Ronaldo in my room (I’m married and in my late 30’s, so that would just be weird anyway), and I don’t obsess over their performances (although I am a pretty big Ryan Giggs fan).
As a connoisseur of fine football, I think I’ve enjoyed Man Utd. as much for their skill at winning as anything else. Much like I enjoy watching Barcelona or AC Milan play.
But being American, I’ve never really held an allegiance to an English club. And frankly, I’ve been a bit jealous.
I’ve read Fever Pitch and while I understand where Nick Hornby is coming from, I’ve never felt that sense of belonging to a cause. Sure it’s easy to saddle up to perennial powerhouse clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, or Chelsea; they are winners. They have deep pockets. They have global superstars. Pick any one of these four as “your” club and chances are you’ll have bragging rights for something – FA Cup, Champions League, Premiership...something...all of them maybe, and yet, I still felt no connection.
My grandmother was from England. She was born and raised in a small town I’ve never been to called St. Helens. So this past Sunday, while watching Liverpool and Everton battle it out and feeling suddenly a bit angry at the sight of all of that Liverpool Red (and Liverpool $green) out on the pitch against that other side of everymen in royal blue, I fired up Google maps.
To my surprise, my grandmother’s childhood home was a mere 9 miles drive from Goodison Park (Anfield is a couple miles further)! I wonder then, did her family follow Everton? Did my great great uncle Ron dream of playing for The People's Club? Is there something in my genetic code which made me lean toward Everton on Sunday?
However mysterious the reason, I have decided to dip my toe in the water of choosing sides in English Premiership football. I have finally shaken off the cliché. I will watch and enjoy fine football as always, but I will now call myself an Everton supporter and an unofficial member of the School of Science.
“it’s a grand old team”