My dysfunctional relationship with soccer

What is it that you love about soccer? Why does it inflame your passions?  If you were hoping to get a friend to understand why you’re a fan (or more than a fan) of soccer, how would you explain it? What makes it, in different terms, unlike any other sport?

If I asked you this question about your intimate partner, I imagine that you could go into great detail about him or her. You could provide all types of nuance not just about their physicality, but about the extraordinary highlights of their personality, coupled with minor quotidian details. But, somehow, bound up in all those details, there’s generally something almost ineffable about love.

Shop MLS Jerseys at

That said, if I asked you to cut out all of the gobbledy gook and hippie mumbo jumbo, and to try to identify some aspect that makes your love work, I bet you could do that as well. It may well not be the same reason the two of you were drawn to each other, but it’s the element that keeps it going, makes it impossible to imagine otherwise.

So, if I turn the question back on to myself and soccer (ain’t no way I’m talking about my actual love life here), I know that while my first brush of love for soccer came about because of the behavior of soccer crowds, the crowd behavior is not the explanation of my love. Indeed, the behavior of the crowd is more simply a manifestation of the central aspect of why I am so deeply and profoundly in love with soccer. To drill it down to a phrase, my love for soccer, and all the different ways it manifests, is desperate anticipation.   

Unlike any other sport, soccer forces the fan into a constant position of anticipation, of waiting. Waiting for a goal in one’s favor, for a goal against, for an opening. We are forever clutching pearls, watching and praying with very little momentary relief.

While every other sport—even hockey—seems to guarantee scores, you can’t even count on anyone scoring in soccer. Indeed, most sports almost guarantee you multiple scores. College basketball is my go-to second favorite sport, and there’s little to it besides scoring. Teams may miss for a while, but they are going to put points on the board, and the opposition is going to score. Something is always going on.

More, because scoring is so relatively rare, the problem becomes even worse in soccer once you do score, or, heaven forbid, your opponent does. At that point, you sit scared to death either that your opponent will equalize, or you are desperately praying for the equalizer yourself. And it rarely ever comes quickly. Even when it does, you sit in terror waiting, waiting, waiting, for the next shoe to fall.

Sure, other sports have leads that see saw back and forth, and other sports have games that come down to the wire, but in other sports, those are more exception than rule and more momentary than an almost permanent part of the game. I rarely ever feel able to relax when I watch soccer. My basic emotional thermostat tells me that I can never relax until the whistle blows unless there is at least a two goal lead, and, even then, I can only relax for one minute each per goal above that one goal lead (e.g., if my team has a two goal lead, I can relax the final minute). 

And, for my money, it’s the constant state of anxiety, the constant fear of what might happen, that makes the other parts of the game that we love, even more intense. Indeed, being in a crowd in which almost everyone there is sweating the same adrenaline fear, ready to jump and hug at a score, ready to finally have a sense of relief, makes the experience all the more powerful. 

So, sure, I love soccer because it’s a beautiful game. I love soccer because of the community. I love soccer because of the sense of identity. But these are all simply manifestations of the inherent anxiety that is build into the game itself.

While a marriage or romantic relationship based on such anxiety would certainly be labeled dysfunctional and requiring a nasty dose of codependence, with soccer, it strikes me as a displacement of all my everyday worries. 

Desperation. Anxiety. How it makes me swoon.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Broadway Sports Media as a whole.

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

Leave a Reply