Every few years I join many other Americans in gaining an interest in World Cup soccer. Unlike many others who casually follow the sport in men’s or women’s World Cup years, I can say I’ve spent a lot of time covering it over the years.
It’s not something I watch on a regular basis. I’m not one of those superfans who wakes up at the wee hours of the weekend to watch Premier League matches from overseas. I couldn’t tell you the difference between Manchester and Liverpool or what makes Madrid so Real (pronounced REE-AL). But I can say I’ve made some decent memories in my career thanks to soccer, a sport I literally once knew nothing about.
I truly learned the sport in college when I attended a university that didn’t have a football team. Filling that void on a small campus meant soccer matches on the weekends. And while we were void of raucous tailgating and thousands of fans, we made do with unified student sections and a group that decided to start its own pep band by bringing instruments to the match. Some friends and I once drove from San Diego to Santa Barbara with a couch in the back of my truck. Our opponents had a tradition of bringing couches out to their home matches, so we schlepped one more than 200 miles to join the fun. We even slept on it in a tent the night before the match.
One passenger on that trip packed an air horn for the sidelines; however, when his foot accidentally kicked it in the cab of the truck, I almost died of a coronary, right next to Disneyland of all places.
I’ve seen some miracles, watched a team down by two goals in the final five minutes come back and win in extra time. I’ve met young men and women from all over the world who come to the United States to get a college education, and in turn, play soccer. Rumor has it one of the kids on my college’s team, a student from Zimbabwe, wasn’t the player recruited by the coach. However, when he arrived in the U.S., our coach didn’t have the heart to send him back. Apparently there was a mix up with who the Zimbabwe National Team was sending where. Only in soccer, right?
Along the professional journey I’ve been witness to some great players. I was fortunate to cover current Columbus Crew and U.S. Men’s National Team member Gyasi Zardes during his time at Cal State Bakersfield. I watched him record a few hat tricks with ease and saw him shatter the goal from 40 yards out. The sound of him striking that ball still resonates today. Fan or not, things like that are impressive.
I’ve had the chance to be part of the NCAA Men’s Soccer Tournament, and even spent some time as an announcer on telecasts for a women’s conference tournament. Memorable, even though I’ll admit I crave a little more action than that. One can only cover mistakes and poor passes so many times by saying “unlucky.”
I led the marketing effort that sold out a soccer match at CSUB in 2014, on a Friday night, during football season in Kern County. Not bad for someone who only learned what offsides was in soccer about eight years ago. Of course, watch any soccer match and it seems most officials still don’t know what it is either.
I won’t go so far as to call it “the beautiful game” as many die-hard fans will, but sometimes cool stuff happens.
As mentioned in prior writings, there has been a host of accomplishments recently by our local high school programs and club soccer continues to grow right here in Tehachapi. When you see those kids asking for donations at the local grocery store, fan or not, throw a few bucks their way.
I’m not trading in a baseball jersey for a soccer “kit” or replacing my football cleats with “boots,” but I’ll throw on a game from time to time and realize that there are plenty of fans out there appreciating a game that has provided me with some lasting memories.
Even if I still don’t know where Tottenham is or why those fellas insist on trading sweaty shirts with their opponent after the game. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
Corey Costelloe has covered the NCAA, professional and local sports for more than 20 years as a reporter and broadcaster. A THS graduate, he now resides and works in Tehachapi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are his own.