For football fans living in North America, the license to become a supporter of a club is not necessarily the by-product of hereditary lineage—unlike many other pro sports leagues in Europe and abroad, where the environment in which you were bred often dictates the team you follow.
Of course, there are intra-city rivalries that exist, which induces segregation amongst those living in places that house two or more teams.
That’s when pedigrees are thrown into the fray.
But that sort of familial tension is not seen in North America, unless it pertains to the NHL, NBA, MLB or NFL.
As I begun to understand football and the passion it exudes, I found it only natural to seek a club that granted me the power to at least simulate life as a European fan. I wanted the right to celebrate; I yearned for inclusion; and I sought to revel in victory—albeit in front of a television screen instead of live in a stadium.
It was during the impressionable years in which I attended elementary school—where football allegiance can be significantly altered—when I discovered a defender by the name of Paolo Maldini, a clear force in Serie A football for 25 years. It was he who provided the necessary link to AC Milan and, eventually, the keys to its clique.
Although the old adage intimates that the club chooses you, it was I who chose the club. But Maldini was the source of persuasion by which all the red and black dots were connected.
To gauge the persuasive qualities of the five-time European champion, the complexion of my closet drastically changed upon the epiphany I experienced; a moment of change which could be considered a microcosm of my journey to becoming a Milanista.
And to further put this in perspective, I had initially donned the blue-and-black stripes of the Nerazzurri and the detested referee-like stripes of the Bianconeri—all of which, by the way, have been banished from my home.
Would I have forged ties to another club if a different player affected me to the same degree as Maldini?
Possibly, and it’s a scary prospect to entertain at this point, where I tend to rebuke too many teams to name. But it’s a truth.
So as I saw Maldini play in his last home game in front of the San Siro concourse last evening, albeit a 3-2 loss to a European-bound side in Roma and a distasteful display of disparaging comments hailing on Maldini from Milan's own curva sud, it was hard to gestate.
I didn’t react to it as an end to a farewell tour—and perhaps that's due to the handful of disrespectful fans responsible for blemishing the occasion. Not Maldini; not the iron man and 902-match (soon to be 903) record holder.
It’s because of him that the natural fabric of my adherence, which has occupied seven years of my life, is no less sturdy than the perpetual boulders that line the Stonehenge.
On a personal note, this is where my gratification for one of the greatest defenders is cited from.
And his legacy, in my books, will stand as my unwavering allegiance to A.C. Milan.