Sunday, April 23, 2006

Part of my essay that I am continuing to re-work......
I grew up knowing just one sport: soccer. I have been playing it for as long as I can remember. My brother began playing when he was about 7, and as most siblings do, I followed in his footsteps. I started out playing recreation league, which is basically where all youth soccer players start their career. From here, I moved onto the club level, also known as "Travel soccer," so-called because my team would play teams from all over the country. For example, we would play in tournaments against teams from up and down the east coast, or in league games with teams from all over Virginia. We also did our fair share of traveling, going to places like Arizona and Florida for games. About this time, as I was traversing my way through the journey we all know as Middle School, my dad got involved with soccer. He took a job as General Manager of the Richmond Kickers, a professional soccer team based in Richmond, VA. He has since moved on to become President of the Club, and is respected nationwide as one of the pioneers of the new soccer movement based on vertical integration; that is, soccer clubs being taught from the ground up, going from youth clubs to semi-pro teams and on to professional teams, both for men and women. I went on to play for my high school squad, continued with my club team, and eventually was scouted to play for the Randolph-Macon team.
My meteoric rise to a love for the sport is similar to the meteoric rise of the sport itself around the globe. Soccer began to spread around the globe in the mid to late 1800s, a time when American citizens were beginning to exercise their newfound independence from their British counterparts. Free from the prejudices of the new world, American’s took their culture as a chance to stand alone, to do their own thing. They wanted to move away from many of the cultural aspects that had been forced on them in their former homeland, sports included. For this reason, they began to invent their own sports. Baseball, American Football (what we see in the NFL), and basketball all became the weapon of choice for sports enthusiasts. "Soccer remained a backwater in the United States, the game of the recent immigrants, and as such one that was frowned on by parents who wanted their sons to become good Americans" (Murray 15). However, the strongest instances of rejection came from immigrants from countries outside of England, where soccer, at this point, was virtually unknown. Support for the sport tended to be strongest in the areas where the inhabitants were of almost exclusively British descent. "It was strongest on the Atlantic seaboard, particularly in New England" (Smits 3). So although it was rejected by many, the more British of the colonies still enjoyed the game and hoped to bring its success in the homeland with them. This British influence was seen in other parts of the world as well. For example, in Calcutta, soccer was gaining popularity through its wealth of spectators, who would gather to watch the British soldiers play, and go on to form their own teams. Similar things were happening in Asia and Africa at the time, a result of British imperialistic ways. However, this development ended as quickly as colonialism ended, and the rapport of support that had been exhibited quickly filed out, along with the British, in all parts of the world (Murray 20).
I grew up, however, in the United States. A place where, generally speaking, soccer is a forgotten and often times overlooked sport, save for its popularity in youth programs. Inherently, sports fans in America are always looking for more; more goals, bigger venues, better players. But soccer in America never had these proclivities to begin with, as their support came from wealthy businessmen who had made their money through other investments; that is, other sports. The first soccer league in the US, the American Football Association (founded in 1884), was a strong step in the right direction, but ultimately fizzled out. "The league was organized by people with no real interest in the game, and it was played by ‘foreigners’" (15). It had strong financial backing, but never was able to garner a healthy fan base. In turn, investors saw it as a money-losing venture, and turned their back on the sport. Meanwhile, investors were putting excessive amounts of money into sports such as baseball and football. The equipment needed to play these games far exceeded the costs of a soccer field and a ball, but the return was also far greater than in soccer.

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