When I was a little kid, I actually gravitated more towards playing baseball and basketball rather than soccer.
My interest in soccer, however, grew with age. My first real memories of watching soccer on TV came during the 1994 World Cup here in the United States.
I vaguely remember catching some of the action on my grandma’s TV during a summer trip back to rural Virginia.
The early days of Major League Soccer admittedly did not necessarily grab my attention. European leagues were also not exactly available to watch at this time.
Instead, I was essentially focused on the sport every four years for the World Cup. I even got up early in the morning to watch USMNT matches during the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
Thierry Henry helped guide me towards Arsenal
Nevertheless, things drastically changed for me when I randomly turned on the UEFA Champions League Final between Arsenal and Barcelona in May of 2006. I didn’t particularly even fully understand the significance of the game. However, during the pregame discussions, one particular player seemed to get a lot of attention: Arsenal’s Thierry Henry.
After listening to the analysts go on about how incredible the Frenchman was, I took to YouTube. I was immediately blown away. Being a casual soccer fan in the States at the time, I had never seen a player like that before.
Henry’s audacious goal versus Manchester United in 2000 definitely stuck in my mind. However, it was his famous run, goal, and subsequent celebration during a 2002 matchup with rivals Tottenham Hotspur that actually gave me goosebumps.
The video I watched at the time also highlighted Henry’s own account of the epic goal. He explained how he focused on the facial expressions of opposing fans as he glared towards them. I was hooked.
Sticking by the club despite heartbreak
Although the Gunners disappointingly lost that game against Barca, I stuck with them and never looked back. Later that summer, I remember reading an article by former ESPN writer Bill Simmons on how to pick a Premier League team (he ended up going with Spurs).
It was an interesting read from an American’s point of view, but there was no way I could root for any other English club. I firmly believe that you can’t really choose a team, the team chooses you.
Over the last 17 years, I have only missed a handful of Arsenal matches. I have gone through the tough times of the team only grabbing a top four place in the league and even tougher times of missing out on European qualification altogether.
However, the moments of triumph far outweigh these low times. I even now care more about a club from a city that I’ve never been to, than I do the baseball and basketball teams that I grew up watching.
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