VFS Goes Stateside | Messi, Concussions & Goalkeeper Shirts
(Posted on 29/09/17)
Football in the United States has gone from being a nothing sport of indoor soccer played by ageing ex-professionals in front of small crowds to the MLS sensation that has put itself on the map, football has truly gone Stateside.
For years the United States has been streets behind the rest of the world in terms of the beautiful game, but in the last decade the game has propelled into the forefront of American sport and is building steadily to establish itself on a grand scale.
US soccer fan Robert Tavera is an American soccer fan who has fallen in love with the worlds most popular sport. “I was first exposed to soccer years ago in the 70’s” said Tavera, a 63 year old retired medical worker.
“I’m Hispanic but I’m born and raised in the US, my parents are from Mexico, so my dad would go visit his family every year growing up and they had the world cup one time in Mexico in the late 60’s early 70’s and we visited his family which happened to be at that time.
“So, I had cousins who said ‘let’s go play football’ and my brother and I looked at each other and said ‘between you and me, these guys are small it’s not even going to be fun’ because we were thinking of American Football, he then comes out with this ball!”
The USA is dominated by the ‘big four’ sports with American Football, Baseball, Basketball and Ice Hockey’ dominating the scene, but slowly over the last few decades soccer or football as we call it on this side of the pond has slowly crept up from below the surface. Many fans across the states have been listening and now have their own culture.
Big superstars and billion dollar television deals now means that brand football can be reach by the mass audience in the US like never before.
“My favourite team is Barcelona” admits Robert, “but for whatever reason I don’t get La Liga at all I only see Premier League which are fun, one of my friends’ teams is Liverpool where they went to see them and most recently we met at a sports bar, we’re all retired and we went and saw the Champions League”.
Robert’s story is a little different to those in Europe who live and breath the game, coming from a background of football fanatics and surrounded by a Latino community in his particular corner of red belt, he learned to love a game that is rooted in his Mexican ancestry.
“In the mid 90’s is when I got really interested in to it [soccer], part of it is that I’m not a big guy, I’m 5ft 6 160lbs so I was never big enough to play American Football.
“During that time that I grew up in high school there wasn’t a lot of exposure to the other sports, here it was the bread and butter, American Football, basketball and baseball.
“I was too small to play basketball, I was too small to play American football so I started taking up soccer because you don’t have to be huge, you have to have a lot of skill and a lot of agility, but you don’t have to be 6ft 5 and 250lbs!”
It’s not just the approachable and enjoyable nature of soccer that is attracting Americans more and more to play and watch, but at the moment the country’s most popular and watched sport is going through a bleak time when it comes to injuries and the problems caused.
Robert’s background comes from the medical profession, having spent years in the trade and was quick to bring forward the fact that college football and the NFL are in a turbulent time.
“As a physician I’ve seen and read all the associated injuries that are with American Football, forget the physical side like busted ACL’s and knee injuries, forget the strains and those risks it’s of course the head injuries, the multiple concussions that they’re getting and you start realising that that’s not a good thing”
When asked if young people were being attracted to soccer now and away from the tradition in the southern states of American Football, Tavera posed an interesting point.
“I think it’s not drawn the younger people but I think it’s drawn the parents of the kids to other sports, I think that are what’s happening where the parents have done it themselves. I have a grandson that’s four and my son in law who lives up in Austin and they said ‘he ain’t playing football!’, he can play baseball, he can play soccer but the choices aren’t being made by the students”.
With these points and the excitement growing for the beautiful game over in the US, Robert like many others enjoys not only watching the big stars on television, but making sure he sees the action up front and in person. He and his wife often attend matches locally in San Antonio, but can never resist watching the big superstars when they come to town.
“We were very fortunate last year my wife and I we went and got to see the Copa America and see the US play Argentina, of course Argentina beat the US 4-0 but we were also fortunate see the Gold Cup this year”
Like many fans, when going to the game Robert can’t resist picking up a souvenir and even a present for those around him.
“One of the shirts that I bought was a shirt from Barcelona which had Messi on it, and I’m going to give that to my housekeeper.
“She comes in and cleans my house every two weeks , she’s a sweet lady, she’s a soccer fan from Mexico and when she saw that I had gone to Houston last year to see [Lionel] Messi she wanted to see the pictures and everything and asked ‘could you send me that picture and let me show my friends that I have a picture of Messi’ as we took a picture whilst he was practising so she’s going to be ecstatic when she gets here and gets a Barcelona shirt with Messi on the back!”
It’s not just the action that gets Robert - who hopes one day to attend a top-flight match in England - and many other Americans excited when it comes to soccer, but the lifestyle day in and day out where he sparks up a conversation with fellow supporters.
“I’ll go to the grocery store sometimes and I’ll wear my shirt and somebody will recognise it and they will have a different shirt and people laugh and ask ‘where did you get yours?’ or ‘how did you get it?’ and ask which is your favourite team”
Often there was a prejudice towards football fans in the states, but it seems in 2017 it is no longer with social media and television deals throwing it straight into the mainstream of America.
“I don’t think that’s happening anymore, there’s a lot of soccer your seeing with school kids, it’s all in high school level now,major schools have soccer so you aren’t getting a funny look if you wear your hat, shirt or speak about soccer.
“I think people are much more excited, accepting and there is a growing fan population in the US for soccer. The soccer fans are just hoping to see higher quality soccer but the feeling is that for American soccer to get better the players themselves have to be playing in Europe, the best players play there and you are only as good as your competition.
“You’ve got to get players to the Premier League, La Liga the Bundesliga and the Italian leagues, get them in Europe basically! You need to get these players playing higher opposition otherwise you aren’t going to get any better”.
Having really began to watch soccer in the 1990’s, Robert was there when the US hosted the 1994 World Cup, and although a landmark occasion for the sport in the country, just like every other fan in the world, he had a right to be miffed.
“I was excited yet a little disappointed with the American! But at the same time I had to come to the realisation that there is a huge gap in talent, I was excited about the sport being played in the US but recognised the talent gap”.
Having spoken to Robert, we couldn’t not ask about his love for football shirts having recently added to his wardrobe some of our finest shirts from vintagefootballshirts.com.
“I love the goalkeeper shirts with the long sleeves; one of the reasons is because winters are so mild here in San Antonio and it’s rare that I’ll wear a coat, so I like the goalkeeper shirts! I like my Arsenal shirt that I have so what’s interesting is that I bought a couple of shirts and I’m going to order a few more, I’m just waiting for the holidays to come so I can treat myself and see what you have!
“My long term objective isn’t to over wear them but to use them when I go out, especially when I go to the grocery store where I meet people and give them to my grandson when I get older; when he’s old enough to wear those shirts he can have my collection”.
As real as any soccer fan all over the world, the passion for the game is America grows day-by-day, we salute fans like him across the globe who take to the game with passion and enthusiasm, no matter what colours they are wearing. We’ll leave you with this, as he sums up where soccer in the US is right now.
“Soccer is becoming bigger and bigger in America but I don’t believe it will ever take over from the other sports, but I think what’s happening out there in terms of concussions that it’s going to be a huge footprint in sports and for families”.
As we say here in the UK, cheers!
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