The most common path for loyalty to a sports team invariably will be due to some geographic and/or cultural proximity between the person and the entity.
As a person born in Dallas, Texas, the likelihood was that I would grow up as a fan of the Dallas Cowboys. And that was the case.
As a young child, I could rattle off the full depth chart. There were the greats of that era such as Randy White, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Drew Pearson, Tony Dorsett, and Roger Staubach. These are the Kenny Wharton, Peter Beardsley, Kevin Carr, and Kevin Keegans of my childhood.
Even though I was a huge fan of the Dallas Cowboys, I played soccer. I was on a great beginner team named the ‘Dynamite’ with royal blue over gold kits. I was unusual in that I could kick with either foot well although I was a bit stronger with my left.
We played 11v11 on full-sized pitches back in those days. I was positioned as a fullback and when the ball came out of the pack in midfield towards our goal, I boomed the rolling ball back over the pack to the other end of the pitch so our super-fast forward would run onto the ball, and score. We scored most of our goals with this strategy.
We were undefeated the first season and only lost in the championship game the second season. I was hooked. I had a Pele lunch pail (New York Cosmos). And then my father was relocated by his company. New city, new team.
The new team was almost full of beginners and had a coach who was reading a pamphlet on what to do. We were bad and we lost... a lot.
The way the city’s youth association formed squads, and based on when my birthday fell, I was shuffled to a new team every year. It was always the handful of us with a birthday late in the school year and the kids signing up to play for the first time. But I still loved to play.
Then, after a few years, the association changed its policy. Not only was I not getting rotated around any longer but I landed on a great team that won our level for the next two seasons. And then my father was relocated by his company. New city, new team.
By then I was starting to get too old for finding a good youth squad as they tended to be settled from one season to the next and did not take in new players that much. The city grouped teams into strata of gold (top), blue (competitive), and red (recreational). I was having to start over with a bunch of mostly-beginners in red. I quit after one season.
Then out of nowhere, my coach with the Dynamite had coincidentally also relocated to my family’s new city. Having been a coach, through contacts, he got his son on a ‘gold’ squad... and they needed a defender to fill out their roster. I was suddenly playing for the ‘Hotspurs’.
The coach had come up in the Tottenham academy years prior and had named this team after those memories. I played there a season or two. Then my father was relocated by his company. New city, no new team.
In a country dominated by American football, baseball, basketball, and in places ice hockey, there was no coverage of real football.
Back in the 1980s, if it was not on one of maybe four television networks (this was the maximum number of channels available back then), you did not see it.
Cable TV was just getting started in the second half of the 80s and my family did not have it. I have no direct recollection of either the 1982 or 1986 World Cups. World football, let alone football leagues, was inaccessible to me.
By 1990, I was in college. I was involved with football up to six days a week. I served as an assistant coach in the city league, played pickup games on the college campus (my school did not have a men’s team at the time), and played Sunday afternoons with the Hispanics on the pitch in the park across the street from the Catholic Church.
I had a Diego Maradona poster on my wall at home. However, 1990 was most notable to this story because the United States of America had qualified for the first time in 40 years for the World Cup, this time occurring in Italy.
If I could have had any football dream in life come true, it would have been to be in that squad walking out against the tourney’s home team in Rome.
Maldini, DiNapoli, Baresi, Donadoni, and Zenga to name a few. Looking back, Carlo Ancelotti and Roberto Mancini were in the squad although I did not relate to them back then.
The US was expected to lose by an untold number of goals. Might the deficit reach double digits? The final was 1-0 and if a certain shot had squeezed under Zenga with just a bit more forward roll still left in it, maybe it would have finalized 1-1.
By this time, cable television was much more prolific and I watched every match of the tournament that summer. Still, access to world football leagues was extremely limited but professional football was getting a toe-hold in the States.
Fast forward 20 years. I’ve gotten married and I am raising children.
Long ago I quit following the Cowboys or any other major sports team closely. I have gotten back into playing the left side of defense. I play in an indoor league once or twice a week and I play in an adult outdoor Sunday league. I love playing defense anyway but it was also a sure way to play a lot. In the adult leagues I was around, there were many attacking players trying to relive their glory days but not as many defenders came back to play. I guess you have to love it to come back and play defense.
Technology has advanced such that a few English Premier League games are available to watch from time to time and tracking results is now easy. I had followed the results of Inter Milan for years because there tended to be a bit more info shared regarding Serie A. I had also seen some info out of Spain and so tracked Real Madrid very loosely.
Most importantly, the EPL was becoming very accessible in the US and so I needed to choose a team to be mine. I considered it as an ‘adoption’. I do not mean to lessen in any way what it means to be adopted. On the contrary, my wife was an adopted child.
As a person born directly into a fandom, like being born into a family, you are there from the beginning. You know the history and players and facts and especially the highs and lows in detail from over the years. In the field of family law, at least in the US, a child naturally born into a family can be disinherited. There can be an official and complete separation. In the case of an adoption, once it is decided to bring a child into a family and they are finally adopted, no disinheritance is allowed to occur. This was the way I wanted to adopt a club... once, and forever.
I was not going to club hop and then maybe eventually finally settle into one. So who should I become a fan of? These types of decisions, I suppose, can come across as logical or looney (and hopefully entertaining) but the following criteria were the nexus I went through in making my decision.
I am not a bandwagon fan. I was a fan of the Cowboys, America’s Team, because I was born and raised in Texas. I have tracked Inter and Real to a limited degree because that is the type of club I could get information about in those days. In this case, where I perceived following would become easier and easier as time passed, I was not going to choose a team that already had a history or expectation of winning it all. That was too easy and would not require any real emotional investment. I wanted a team that had some ups and downs so when big winning occurred, it would be that much sweeter, that much more appreciated.
However, I did not want a team that I feared would be relegated too frequently (if at all) or was not really Premier League quality as following a team in the Championship is quite difficult even now in America, much more 13 years ago.
As a rule, I do not cheer for teams that wear much red. Call it superficial if you want. I like mid-to-dark greens and blues, and black is a favorite. White is fine as a complementary tone but I was hoping to avoid a team that wore an all-white kit. Gold can be okay but is not a top choice. Red is okay on the socks or as trim but that is the max. Gold can be a nice accent particularly if metallic.
I wanted a team with a traditional-looking crest. I wanted a team, hopefully, with a rich history of talent and national storylines. I wanted a team, hopefully, with a sponsor I could appreciate.
You might notice that having US-born players was not in my criteria. At the time, Clint Dempsey (I currently live about an hour from his original hometown) or Everton’s Tim Howard could have been seen as magnetic options. Brad Freidl was around Tottenham and I had even played for a team named the Hotspur in the past.
As you can tell from my criteria, though, Newcastle United was the best team for me.
Northern Rock was the sponsor at the time. It was a sleeping giant of a club with a rich history that happened to be a little short of hardware in the trophy case. Additionally, with all the red in their kits, it was very easy for me to get on board and despise Sunderland from day one.
I am for Newcastle United. They are my team. There is no option to change. I adopted them. We have been ‘family’ from that point on.
The MA years initially held promise. The 2012 season, with a fifth-place finish, had the appearance of the great thing to come I was expecting. Obviously, that optimism quickly dissipated into the frustration that we felt for so many years enduring even relegation.
But now that the takeover occurred a year ago and we are sitting third on the table, where will the story go from here?
I am a huge fan of the current second jerseys as they look like the modern version of my old Dynamite kits. I understand an updated crest might end being contemplated. I partially adopted the team because of the crest so I’d hate to see it replaced with a logo. But time marches on.
I know I made the correct choice many years ago.
All the pain and disappointment over the past decade-plus (and for the many, many decades for others of you born into the family) seems to have turned a corner into a potential future that may include dizzying heights of winning. It will be so much more grand having been a part of the MA years first.
I am proud to have come home to Newcastle!