Most of my life, I’ve been fond of saying I’m not a sports fan. It’s predictable for a girl to say that, but I did it anyway. Because the truth was that I really wasn’t a sports fan. I played softball in the summer for a few years because my friends were doing it, but my lack of anything resembling depth perception meant that catching or hitting a ball was a near-impossible task. Needless to say, I didn’t excel at the game and quit as soon as I could.
My dad was a sports nut, both of my brothers enjoy sports, and the husband is a sports fan. Even my mother is a sports fan. I was definitely the odd one out in my family, who neither paid attention to nor cared about sports of any kind. But that all changed about 10 years ago.
I’d started paying attention to cycling when I met the husband, because he’s a cyclist and we started dating in July – during the Tour de France. If it weren’t for the half-hour recap of that day’s stage that he was watching every day on TV, I might not have gotten into it. But the English announcers were fantastic, and I actually started learning something – almost in spite of myself.
In 1999, we went to France for a two-week vacation with two other couples and chased the Tour de France around for several stages. It was not only great fun, I learned even more about the appeal of the sport. I’ve been watching ever since, and can carry on a conversation about cycling with just about anyone now.
Still, I didn’t call myself a sports fan, because – let’s face it – most Americans don’t really consider cycling a sport anyway. Then came the 2006 World Cup.
Half my office was in Germany for the duration of the tournament, live-blogging games and just enjoying the atmosphere, and the rest of us would gather around the TV set up in the front room to watch games. Before that summer, I’m only exaggerating a little to say that all I knew about soccer was that you couldn’t touch the ball with your hands. But in the process of paying attention to the Italian national team (naturally), I began to understand why it’s so often referred to as “the beautiful game.”
I knew nothing of the players on the team, and usually couldn’t read their names on the backs of their jerseys. But one player stood out to me because every single time he touched the ball something magic happened.
“Who is that?” I asked my colleagues.
“That’s Andrea Pirlo,” they said.
And so it was decided. Whatever team this Pirlo person played for when he wasn’t playing for the national team would be my team. End of story. I wanted to see as much of that magical stuff as possible.
Fast-forward to today, when I am an avid AC Milan fan. Pirlo may not be as reliably magical as he used to be, but he’s still brilliant more often than not – and it doesn’t even matter anymore, as there’s very little that could tear me away from my beloved team now. I’ve got two team scarves (one winter weight and one summer weight) and a team coffee mug, and I get so worked up about games that the husband actually gets nervous when our windows are open in nicer weather. I scream obscenities at the top of my lungs anytime anything goes wrong, and I hardly realize I’m doing it. I also scream when something goes right, but that usually doesn’t involve words so much as just elated hollering. And jumping up and down. Can’t forget the jumping.
I’ve been to four games at the Stadio San Siro in Milan (five if you count the charity game we saw), and I know that as soon as we move to Milan I’m going to look into the cost of season tickets. I kind of doubt I’ll be able to afford them, but in that case I’m contemplating trying to get my hands on a press pass of some kind. We’ll see how that goes.
As is the case with cycling, I can now carry on a conversation about soccer – or proper football, if you please – with just about anyone. And even though I don’t really follow any leagues other than the Italian league, I know enough to not feel left out of those conversations, too.
In short, I can’t get away with the “I’m not a sports fan” thing anymore. And that’s okay. The husband likes to say he’s got the coolest wife in the world because I’m so into these sports (which, it has to be said, he also loves) that I can chat for hours with his friends about them. It’s a cute thing to say, and I know he knows I like to hear it, but I also think he means it.
I do, however, think he’d hesitate to have his friends around when I’m actually watching a Milan game, so as not to sully their image of me with all my truck-driver/sailor swearing.
And in case you’re wondering, the title of this post refers to something Milan fans say. “Il mio cuore è rossonero” means “my heart is red & black;” the team’s colors are red & black, and they’re often called the “rossoneri.”