Sports, please come back

Wednesday, July 22, 2020 - 11:35am

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Illustration by Hibah Mirza

Our sense of normalcy has all but eroded over the past few months. Classes have moved online, restaurants have closed and we can’t see our friends. The world we left when we locked down in March is a far cry from our world today. Some of us, however, are still looking for ways to reach back into the past. We are trying to hold on to parts of our pre-pandemic lives that were important to us. This effort is fueled by a desire for at least some parts of our reality to resemble what feels long forgotten. For me, this piece of my past is soccer.          

I acknowledge to the non-sports fan that this could seem a bit absurd. My mom, for one, thinks it’s ridiculous that when the Bundesliga first came back in mid-May, I was waking up early every morning to watch German soccer. But for me, it was more than just empty stadiums in a country I have never even visited — it was the light at the end of the tunnel. 

For context, I have been a soccer fan for my entire life. Growing up in a Mexican household, it was almost mandatory. From a young age, my grandfather instilled in me a love for the sport, and still to this day despises it when I call it “soccer” instead of football. 

“You use your foot, it’s football” he says indignantly. 

Still, I persisted to call it soccer while in the US so as to not cause confusion. Even though we called the “beautiful game” different names, we managed to bond over our shared love of it. 

Some of my earliest memories are centered around soccer. Playing it, watching it, reading about it and wasting time with soccer video games made up a large portion of my childhood (and a large portion of my life to this day). From birth, I have lived and died by two teams that I have family connections to. One of my grandparents lived in North London and had been a Tottenham supporter their whole life, so I became one. My other grandparent’s family had lived in Barcelona for generations, and had been FC Barcelona fans since the founding of the team in 1899, so I became one. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that, although I love both of these teams, Tottenham is certainly number one and Barcelona number 1b in my heart. 

I belong to fan clubs and supporters’ groups for both of these teams and watch every match without fail. It has become so intertwined with my life that many of my friends even text me after Tottenham loses to check in, or after they win to celebrate with me. 

So, as ridiculous as it sounds, losing soccer was one of the hardest parts of quarantine. 

As a result, when the Premier League and La Liga games started up again, I was over the moon. It felt like my life was beginning to trend back to what it had been. Beyond just watching the games, I knew that a massive community I belong to was starting back up again. Unfortunately, when matches ended and things went into lockdown, many of my friendships that centered around the game went a bit dormant. 

For example, right before quarantine I went to Spain for Spring Break with my friend Matteo to watch Barca play Real Madrid. I saved up money for the entire year before and spent every penny to my name to have this opportunity. It was the experience of a lifetime. Even though we were in enemy territory, and surrounded by Real Madrid fans singing their songs at the top of their lungs, I felt like I had pure energy rushing through me. Seeing our Catalan team walk through the tunnel, greeted by a cacophony of booing and jeering that outweighed our cheers no matter how hard we tried, was magic. Even though we lost that match, the experience was incredible. But even with this, Matteo and I didn’t really speak much until the matches started back up. Shortly after we returned from our trip, we both left Ann Arbor due to COVID. I went home to Texas and he went home to D.C., so we kind of just fell out of touch. Yet when Barcelona had their first match of the restarted season, we were texting and chatting like we had just left the Bernabeu (that’s Real Madrid’s stadium for the uninitiated). Our friendship is bolstered by our shared love of the game.

Similarly, another friend, Andrew, and I have grown closer since the return of soccer. When discussing the topic with him, he echoed my sentiment, saying that “given how stale life has become, it’s easy to run out of things to talk about. But now, FaceTiming during a particularly promising game provides a great opportunity to keep in touch and consistently leads into conversations deeper than mere match commentary.”

The return of our beloved sport has provided more than simple entertainment— it has instead served as a link between people with similar interests in a time when human connection is incredibly hard to come by. Watching matches is a little oasis away from the stress of living through a pandemic. In fact, since the return of the game, I have felt myself become less anxious and have noticed a marked improvement in my mental health. It feels like I finally have something concrete to look forward to every few days, instead of only being able to look forward to the end of quarantine — which at this point, has no end in sight. 

The future looks bright for sport lovers. While soccer is my primary love, I am also eagerly anticipating the return of the NBA, NFL, MLB and hopefully college sports. These things trickling back into our lives makes this time a bit more bearable. So, while my piece of the past is sports, others need to find their bits of normalcy too. I really don’t know how I would have coped with quarantine without soccer coming back when it did.

Other friends of mine have found things other than sports to grab at from their past. For example, my high school friend Drake has been working on his dancing, as he wants to be an actor on Broadway. If we had simply let our lives come to a screeching halt right when quarantine started, it would be incredibly hard to start them back up when it finally ends. We need to hold on to bits and pieces to ensure that when normalcy returns, we still have our passions. Our mental health depends on being stimulated and engaged with the world around us, so don’t sacrifice it. 

Luckily for us, the modern era provides ample opportunity to connect with the world we inhabit from the comfort of our own homes. So, take advantage and pick up a new hobby, learn a new skill or maybe give watching soccer a try. We shouldn’t be too worried about productivity right now. Instead, focus on what makes life fun and give yourself space to enjoy those things. We deserve it. 

I, for one, will be eagerly awaiting the next Tottenham and Barcelona matches, while connecting with my fellow soccer lovers to debate whether or not Messi or Ronaldo is the greatest to ever play the game (it's Messi, by the way).