Saturday, March 14th was the last time I played a game of football. Rooftop in NYC, surrounded by friends. It was magical. 2 hours of creativity, fitness, passion. It was competitive, yet completely friendly and fun. One of those days where you’re simply so happy to be out there stringing passes together, moving the ball around with likeminded players, expressing yourself through a game that you’ve loved your entire life. And it’s an added & positive consequence that I looked down at my Garmin watch an hour into our game and saw that I had run 6 miles. Fitness for the day, check!
We were all a bit skeptical of shaking hands after the match, so we didn’t. But we certainly didn’t foresee a global lockdown that would prevent us from playing the beautiful game for months — a pandemic that would halt every major sports league in the world.
It might sound a bit petty to speak about the pain that the soccer community is going through as a result of the absence of the game, considering the severity of COVID-19. People are sick, others are distanced from their closest of family members. The economy has forced people to shut down their businesses, while retirement accounts have taken a beating. Some are dying, without funerals — you don’t need me to preach about the negative implications of the virus.
But, at the risk of sounding insensitive about the more costly world issues, I miss football, and I doubt I’m the only one.
I miss nearly everything about it. First and foremost, I miss playing with my mates. Soccer is my community, and, with leagues and all team sports on hold for months, I feel disconnected from many of my closest friends. The groups that I play with most often have become extensions of my family, and I look forward to our nights and weekends playing together. More often than not, my time on the pitch with friends is the highlight of my week.
I miss watching professional football. Without the Premier League, Champions League, MLS, or any other professional football league, there’s a whole lot less to talk about with my soccer-loving friends. Elusive are the days where I’d get chirped at after City drop points to a team in the relegation zone. Life seriously feels like it’s on hold when there’s a shortage of Arsenal jokes floating around the internet.
I also miss the thrill of it all — moving the ball around, taking on defenders, scoring goals, simply moving about the pitch. There is an element of team comradery that I miss in the absence of football. There is also a level of competition involved in the game that I can’t seem to fill through other activities. Of course, as an adult player, the game is less competitive than it has been in years past, but I continue to look forward to a healthy level of competition.
Lastly, I miss the fitness. Back in college ball, I used to train off the pitch to perform my best in matches. Now, the relationship has flipped, and part of the reason I still play soccer is that it helps me stay fit. Now, soccer is the most fun form of fitness. These days, due to the lack of organized soccer, I’ve been running more than ever, and I’ve never hated it more. Treadmill? No thanks.
I have a feeling that I’m not alone in missing the game. The entire football community is going through a similar withdrawal, to some extent. So without football, and without a clear route towards getting back on the pitch, what do we do?
We stay home.
But then what? Sure, football is on hold, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do right now that will positively impact our relationship with the game.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to engage in the game while we’re at home.
- Play FIFA — You now have an excuse to play FIFA on your “lunch break.” Use it wisely.
- Zoom with your soccer mates each week. Why should we neglect groups of people who we usually spend time with each week on the pitch? Organize a Zoom call and chat footy for a half hour. Laugh at the content you’ve been seeing on BR, grab a beer and shoot the shit about what the next big transfer move will be, or what will happen if Liverpool wins the league with an asterisk.
- Keep a ball in your apartment/in your house. When you’re on the phone for work, get some touches in while you pace around. For a quick WFH break, keep the ball up in your living room. Learn how to sit on the floor and juggle. If you live in an area where you can get outside and remain isolated, take a ball with you and get some touches in! Something about touching the ball makes everything else better. Plus, you’ll feel less rusty when play resumes.
- Watch soccer-specific shows. Yes, live matches are on hold, but there are a bunch of great soccer-specific shows & documentaries out there that will fill the void for the time being. A few of my favorites include:
- The English Game (Netflix) — mini serious that depicts the beginning of football in the UK, and the bitter class warfare between wealthy Londoners and poor factory workers in the north. The battle for the FA cup was heated back in the 1870s!
- All or Nothing Manchester City (Amazon Prime) — Pep is a genius, ‘nuff said.
- Make us Dream (Amazon Prime) — For the Reds, this doc is all about Stevie G and his lasting legacy. Absolute legend.
- Green Street Hooligans — If you can find this online, watch it! This is my favorite football movie of all time. It follows an American through his adventures as part of the Green Street Elite (GSE), a West Ham supporter’s group that consistently brawls with other club’s supporter’s groups.
Nothing will beat actually playing the beautiful game. I can already picture the moment when sports resume and we step out onto the pitch. That first touch on the ball, that first crisp pass…a feeling like none other. But it’s important to remember that the game will resume, and that it will be there for us. The game, and more importantly, our community, will always be there for us.
And that’s what I love most about football. Members of the global soccer community come from dramatically different backgrounds: Rich, poor, young, old — from all walks of life. But the beauty of the game is that it unites us all. It’s truly universal.
So even though it’s painful to be away from football, it’s important that we stay positive. Stay positive for the game, and stay positive for each other. Engage as much as you can from the safety of quarantine, and banter it up with your football fam. Despite the chaos in the world, we shouldn’t shame ourselves for missing the game we love.
So whether sports resume June 1st, September 1st, or even in 2021, I’ve come to terms one thing: it’s okay to miss football. We all do. It misses us, too.
Stay healthy and happy my friends!