(DISCLAIMER: I am choosing to call the beautiful game soccer, rather than football, given that this whole thing is about growing up with the sport in the USA, where it is definitely soccer, and not football.)
No one comes out of the womb a soccer lover; through our early years, we pick up the sport from our surroundings. What exactly then, inspired six-year-old me to tell my father that I wanted to play soccer, is a total mystery. He was a hockey fanatic himself, and had played just about every sport under the sun at one point or another through his life, excepting of course, soccer.
But there was six-year-old Adam, asking to play this game he had never touched before. So, in true father of the year form, he went out and signed me up for the local township rec program, and bought a book to learn how to coach the beautiful game.
He took me to my first professional match the next year, a New York/New Jersey Metrostars game (now the New York Red Bulls). The Metrostars had a fiery young goalkeeper at the time, none other than Tim Howard, who was beginning to gain some worldwide recognition for his excellent play in the MLS, at the time a small, relatively unremarkable league.
The years passed, with us slowly picking up the game, and my father coaching at basically every level I played from that first season of rec to my last season of travel soccer at 13 years old. As much as I loved the game, I did not have the pace to continue to play at a competitive level, and called it quits on playing. It was right around this time though, that Everton entered my life.
Howard first came to Everton in 2006, after spending 4 years at Manchester United. My father and I were well aware that Howard had gone to Manchester United, but neither of us could ever support a club of that size; it was not in either of our personalities. Everton though, a smaller club, focused on the supporters and doing things the right way, was right up our alley.
For both my dad and I, our love affair with Everton was love at first sight. Led by David Moyes, a man who had the club constantly punching in above their weight class, with players like Tim Cahill, Phil Neville, and Mikel Arteta, who left it all out on the pitch match after match, how could we not love them? Of course, most of those seasons were in the dark days of EPL fandom here in the United States, where we were lucky to have 3 games on the TV a week. Still though, we made do as best we could, and kept up with the team quite well.
Somewhere in the last few years though, Dad truly became a convert to the beautiful game. He had always enjoyed the game, both when I played it and when watching the MLS, but getting totally into the EPL pushed him over the edge. Saturdays were no longer about college football for us, nor Sundays about the NFL; the most exciting part of the day was over at 2, when the day's latest EPL match had ended. It seemed only right, as on one of those many weekends we sat watching a match, he said to me, "You know, I'm not sure how it happened, but soccer is definitely my second favorite sport to hockey now. There is no doubt about it."
Of course, I knew exactly how it happened; I had roped him into it. Even after he stopped coaching when I stopped playing, I was still watching the sport constantly, and slowing drawing him into it more and more. Once I fell in love with Everton, there was absolutely no doubt that he would be soon to follow.
In terms of soccer, my dad absolutely spoiled me. In my closet currently, I have a Marouane Fellaini and Seamus Coleman Everton kit, in addition to a Tim Cahill New York Red Bulls kit (how could I not?), all gifts from him to me. Of course, we went to matches too. We usually saw the Red Bulls two or three times a year, including a friendly against Tottenham in July of 2012. We drove into Philadelphia in the summer of 2011 to see our beloved Toffees play a friendly against the Philadelphia Union. They lost 1-0 on a late goal, naturally, but we still had a blast getting to see the team we had fallen in love with.
Last Christmas, I decided it was time to return the favor. I bought my father a Leon Osman kit. Ossie was the sort of player my father loved: hard-working, reliable, willing to play anywhere on the pitch. He absolutely loved it, and seeing the smile on his face as he opened it was absolutely heart-warming for me. Of course, now that we were seasoned EPL supporters, we knew full well that the next day, Boxing Day, would be a golden opportunity for him to break it in.
We awoke the next morning in time for the 10 am start against Wigan Athletic. It was a rainy, mucky, hard fought match, featuring Phil Neville's 500th appearance as a Toffee. In the 52nd minute, the deadlock was broken by none other than Leon Osman himself. There was much celebrating in the living room of my house, and Everton would hold on to win, 2-1.
I didn't know it would be the last match we would get to watch together. Later that evening, my father went out to play hockey, same as he did every Wednesday night. The man was in excellent shape for a 53 year old man, and playing hockey was still a huge part of his life. For this reason, my shock was immeasurable when we got the call; my father had a massive heart attack after playing that night, and was on his way to the hospital.
To make a long story short, and to not dwell on sadness for too long, my dad did not receive CPR, and although when the ambulance arrived, they were able to keep him alive until a cardiac procedure could be done, the damage was already done. His brain had been without oxygen for too long, and he was in a persistent vegetative state. Eventually, our family decided it was best to pull the plug, and he passed away on June 1.
As the Christmas season approaches again, it is certainly incredibly hard to know that he is gone, but I also take this season to be thankful for what an incredibly supportive father he was to me. I never could have possibly come to love and understand this beautiful game so much if not for his constant support and encouragement, and I will always be thankful for that Boxing Day victory, for Leon Osman, and for everything Everton was in our relationship.
What about you? How did you get into soccer if you are from the USA? And how did Everton become your club? Share your story below.