Why Venezuela? I asked.
“A friend from the States sent it to me as a gift. He liked Chavez and sympathized with Venezuela while Chavez was still alive.”
Venezuela’s national team, nicknamed La Vinotinto, has never qualified for the World Cup. I imagine, there is not much space for football in the nation crazy about baseball. But La Vinotinto jersey made it all the way to Sarajevo. Boris is my brother and these days our Bosnia and Herzegovina team plays in its first World Cup tournament in Brazil. So will Venezuela one day, I hope.
Why Stoke City? I asked.
“I like Stoke.”
Then, after I insisted on more, he added “I like them all (teams), I like football.” Which explains it all. It was the first time I met someone wearing the Potters‘ jersey and I was trilled. Koffi and his family arrived to Montreal, from Ivory Coast, only two months ago. I quickly reminded him how Bosnia and Herzegovina beat Ivory Coast just a couple of days earlier in a friendly warmup match before the WC. He wasn’t concerned.
Why Marseille? I asked.
“Always, always, from when I was a kid, always only Olympique de Marseille!”
Frederic didn’t mind the rain and was happy to show his colours for the camera. He is from Togo and came to Montreal 5 years ago to study economics and is just finishing his last term. He was to young to remember his team playing Red Star Belgrade in the European Cup final in 1991 but I made sure to remind him of that match. Frederic intends to stay in Montreal – it’s a beautiful city, we agreed – and plans to work in real estate. May you sell many homes Frederic!
Why Liverpool?, I asked many times and got always the same answer in a language I don’t speak with the attitude I understand perfectly. There is no need for translation – a raised eyebrow and a pose of someone who will never give up speak volumes.
I know Khun Suarez for many years. He is one of tough motorcycle taxi drivers working in my street and he wears his football shirts to work. Most of the time it is one from his vast Liverpool collection although recently I’ve seen an Atletico Madrid emblem under his taxi vest. He takes me through the madness of Bangkok traffic almost every day – without people like Suarez (not his real name but we both like it) I would be just another miserable passenger stranded in what often looks like one huge parking lot in the streets of a monster city.
Our conversation, always short but pleasant is a combination of gabbling in my non-existing Thai and his equally understandable English, with important elements of pantomime. The words we understand are always the same: Liverpool (followed by his smile, a rare moment in the world of Bangkok’s taxi drivers), Manchester and Chelsea (with a face expression of someone who is about to vomit) and number of goals from last night’s matches. At the end of the day when I come back home and when he had already taken off his taxi jacket, we share a few glasses of poisonous Thai whiskey, rarely a beer. The conversation however remains the same, about football. It’s been like this for years and I don’t want it to change. He is one of very few things that can make me feel Bangkok home.
Tomorrow morning I will be again on the back of his decomposing 125cc Yamaha and he will wear a Liverpool shirt. There is a slim chance Liverpool is snatching that trophy tonight but that will change nothing. Some things are just bigger than anything money can buy, including the title.
Why Liverpool? I asked.
“My uncle is responsible.”
I talked to Andy in front of 11th Street bar after Liverpool’s game, and a few beers, so I’m not sure I remember his exact words. But an uncle had something to do with him falling for Liverpool and not some other club. Andy came to live in New York City not long ago. He is from a town somewhere in the English south. He, definitely, is responsible for Tanya becoming Liverpool fan.
Why Arsenal? I asked.
“I’ve been an Arsenal fan since just before my 17th birthday. My high school soccer team went to England for a pre-season and our coach got us tickets to a game while we were in London. I don’t know how he chose Arsenal, but I’m pretty sure that it was the opening game of the season at Highbury. This was before the Premier League, but Arsenal were still in the top flight. I don’t recall the game very well, except for being impressed by David Rocastle. Mainly what I remember was standing on the crumbling terraces behind the goal and understanding why there were stadium safety issues. It was terrifying, especially squeezing out of the too-small-for-Americans turnstiles onto a street full of mounted policemen in riot gear, but also exhilarating.
I’m pretty sure that it was the first game of the season, which I think is also mentioned in Fever Pitch, because the next home game that year was a 6-0 and I definitely would have remembered 6 goals. I had to look up this up, as well as Arsenal’s opponent that day; the internet tells me it was Liverpool and that they won 2-1. I guess If I had chosen my team based on performance I would be a Liverpool fan.
Why Liverpool? I asked.
“I started dating Andy who is a passionate Liverpool fan and that was it.”
Finally, it looks as if the long winter is over. We can expect a great football year ahead with exciting finales in a few European leagues as well as the World Cup.
This weekend I was in New York City. I went to watch West Ham – Liverpool match at the 11th Street Bar which is home to Liverpool’s Supporters Club in New York. There I met Tanya. She is not the first person on this blog who fell in love with a club through their love for another person. With the amount of love in this post there could be no better way to kick-off a new season here. Enjoy it and spread the word that Footballists are back.
Why Liverpool? I asked.
“Liverpool has been my team since I was a little girl growing up in Minnesota.”
Sometimes I don’t desire to find out more than what strangers tell me right after I ask the question, so not to spoil the story I imagine. I don’t know if Britania was just visiting New York, like me, or she lives there now. I don’t know if she grew up in a city or out in a country. What I imagine is a little girl growing up on a farm, somewhere in western prairies, mysteriously falling in love with the beautiful game and the Liverpool football club.
Why Chelsea? I asked.
“It’s my team ever since I was a kid.”
For a few blocks we were overtaking each other at intersections, Nick on his skateboard and I on my bicycle. Finally, we were stopped by a red light and I asked him about his jersey. Nick was just visiting, for a weekend, from Toronto, and doesn’t have much time for soccer. Then the lights turned green.
Why LA Galaxy? I asked.
“I know nothing about football. I’ve got this shirt from a friend”.
Locked behind the bars of a cage made of bamboo sticks, 23 year old Taung Lon shivers under his filthy blanket. It is his first week at the Youth for Christ centre for heroin addict and tropical heat is not enough to make him warm in a moment of obviously painful crisis. He is going through detox cold turkey and a young man will stay locked in what is called the Special Prayer Room until the eight day with no medication, only to pray and sing and read Bible. I try to talk to Taung Lon but he just smiles and backs off to the corner of a cell he shares with few others, a typical reaction of someone marked by brutal society as guilty forever.
I come back to the centre few days after and Taung Lon looks much better now. Out of a cage, wearing a totally unexpected LA Galaxy jersey he sings “Jesus Loves Me” in full voice, an important and surreal morning ritual all the people from the centre attend. The bizarre collective offers a 40-day “course” of prayer, Bible study and devotional singing, with football and weightlifting for those strong enough to try to overcome devastating heroin addiction.
Ndingi Laja, a former convict and folk singer, better known by his stage name Ahja established the centre in remote mountains of Kachin state to help fight the problem that is totally out of control in this part of Myanmar. I ask him for the results, how many boys quit drugs in the centre – Ahja’s left eye starts blinking and his tough face turns even tougher. Okay, a wrong question – obviously the main point here is to bring addicts on “the right path”, something us, who believe in science more than in divine intervention find difficult to understand. However, anything is much better than young men staying higher up in mountains hand picking through waste of a mine to get a piece of jade or amber to sell for their daily dose of heroin.