Soccer? Well, of course I’d heard of it. I’d watched Bend It Like Beckham twice and seen Brandi Chastain tear off her soccer jersey in victory. And who doesn’t know that people the world over are crazy about futbol?
However, I wasn’t one of them. Just the opposite. To know-nothing me, the game looked simple, requiring feet, a head, and stamina. Then I met Jonathan, who is originally from Liverpool. Need I say more? (Well, I could, such as “fell in love with” rather than “met.”) He never missed a match, whether live or DVR’d, due to an unavoidable conflict, such as his day job. Weekend plans revolved around the matches. I didn’t mind; in fact, I found his viewing habits endearing and Nick Hornby-ish.
Occasionally, I’d be present for such a viewing. I’d look up from my knitting when a ruckus signaled a goal scored. So when did I get hooked? It was the first home game after Luis Suarez’s 10-game suspension for biting a Chelsea defender; it was also 10 days after the birth of his second child (Benjamin — same as my son!). Suarez brought the baby onto the pitch pre-match, then went on to score, brilliantly.
Does my recent conversion sound like merely a crush? I hope not. Yes, it’s only Suarez whom I follow on Instagram, but I appreciate all the Reds, marveling at their talents, their genius feet, often repeating what my father used to say about Rico Petrocelli at short, “Poetry in motion!”
Jonathan is an excellent teacher and a purist, cheering when an opposing player scores handsomely. (Pre-immersion, that could confuse me, especially when I hadn’t figured out which team was wearing which color.)
A spectator’s bonus: Brits in the broadcast booth. A player is observed “cutting a very disenchanted figgah.” Reactions may be described as “vociferous” or “a genuine moment of mirth,” a yellow card as “a decent riposte,” or a scoring attempt from afar “Audacious!” — not the vocabulary I hear during baseball play-by-play.
A friend observed, “How interesting that while your buddies are watching Downton Abbey, you’re watching soccer,” by which she means lords and ladies on PBS versus hooligans on NBC Sports. So not true; so unfair — her hooligan innuendo. Luckily I had exculpatory evidence: Besides the entire stadium singing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (our theme, thanks to Gerry and the Pacemakers’ 1963 cover), Jonathan tells me that at halftime, at Anfield, the season ticket holders are served tea and biscuits.
This Red Sox loyalist is going to Yankee Stadium in July to see Liverpool play Manchester City. I sometimes worry, not aloud, What if Suarez doesn’t come? And what if it’s too hot to wear the LFC scarf Jonathan gave me on Boxing Day? My best friend, who humors me when I announce, “Liverpool won three-nil!” has started calling Suarez my “beloved.”
Meanwhile, the real-life beau and I, if watching separately, text about the match. The exact moment I felt I earned my football merit badge was after he texted, “Who did Sterling replace? I missed that.”
I knew the answer! I wrote back jubilantly and correctly, “Coutinho!”
It’s a loovly thing when two people care so much about the same team. Jonathan has two grown sons and I have one, so to me the Liverpool FC lads feel something like a family we adopted together. Recently I heard him tell a friend that I was the only woman he knew who understood the offside rule. Eavesdropping from the kitchen, I smiled. In the arena of sweet nothings, what more could a girl ask?
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