Remember when the U.S. soccer community was all united and welcoming?
No? Then you’ll have to trust me. It did indeed happen.
If you don’t trust me, trust Michael J. Agovino, author of The Soccer Diaries: An American’s Thirty-Year Pursuit of the International Game (coincidentally, thanks to a buyout of my publisher, now issued by the same press — University of Nebraska — as my book Long-Range Goals) and a recent guest on Tim Hanlon’s “Good Seats Still Available” podcast.
Agovino talks about discovering the game in the early 1980s while living in New York City, where it wasn’t particularly easy for him to get to Cosmos games. Like a lot of us that age, he sought out magazines and whatever broadcasts could be found in whatever language.
Without mainstream acceptance, soccer fans formed what Agovino called a “secret society” before backtracking because the “secret” adjective implies some sort of exclusivity that soccer fans weren’t seeking. Soccer fans were welcoming, Agovino says. If you found someone else who liked the game, you found a friend.
And that’s how I remember things as well — not just in 1982 but even in the late 1990s. I was excited to move to the D.C. area in part because I knew there was this sports bar called Summers that showed soccer. I could go and see soccer with other soccer fans. Sure, Greensboro had the late, lamented Keegan’s Pub, where 4-5 people would show up for Saturday morning EPL broadcasts, but this would be different.
We were still outnumbered by a wide margin. People hated soccer. Hated it. It’s not like cricket or rugby, toward which nearly everyone I met was indifferent. Hated it.
So perhaps we soccer fans were nice to each other because we were united against a common enemy. Perhaps we had to cling to each other because we simply didn’t have many other people who shared our interests.
Or perhaps Twitter hadn’t been invented yet.