I was born and raised in Alvin, Texas, just twenty miles south of the big city of Houston. I grew up loving the Houston Astros, Houston Oilers and Houston Rockets in the 1980's. I played youth football, baseball and basketball and excelled as a young athlete. I always wanted to emulate my favorite local sports heroes.
One sport I never played, much less saw was soccer. I didn't have any friends who played. It was never on television. My dad never played it when he grew up. I never even knew there was a league in Alvin until I reached seventh grade. By then it was time for junior high sports and soon high school. So soccer stayed in the background as far as my personal interest went.
Fast forward to 1994. I was a newly wed attending college. The big sporting event that year outside of the Rockets winning their first championship was the World Cup being in the USA. As I love rooting for my Houston teams, I will also watch almost any sport where a team wears USA across the front of the jersey. So I found myself watching the USA play in the World Cup.
The USA was very successful in 1994. I attribute watching them and every other game I could catch on tv helping start the flicker of passion I have for the game today. I was able to pick up most of the rules of the game fairly quickly from those matches. I didn't know what any of the formations were, but I could see how teams tried to create space. It was easy to see the little triangles form as players passed the ball between each other. It was the start for me.
So I of course picked out Everton to follow in 1995, right? No it was ten more years from 1994 before I even knew who Everton FC was. For the next several years I generally only watched US men's and women's national teams. I might catch the rare MLS game on tv but Houston didn't have a team and I wasn't going to support the Dallas Burn. Yes it is still one of the worst names ever in all of sports.
The path to Everton opened up in 1998 when my son Xander was born. You see it wasn't until he started playing soccer in 2004 that I became fully excited about the sport. Like most things I become passionate about, I poured myself into learning about soccer. I checked out books from the library, watched matches on tv, talked to local youth league coaches and scoured the internet for information on how to help teach my son to play. I also wanted to take him to some games and help him see how the big boys play. Now he was six at the time, so his passion and attention span was much less than mine, but I digress.
On a Thursday morning that summer I opened up the Houston Chronicle our local paper to notice that there was an actual English Premier League team playing that night in Houston. The game was going to be against Mexican Football League team Pachuca. I quickly told my wife we were going to the game that night. Luckily she then gave her permission. So my wife and I and our children Xander and daughter Sydney headed off for Reliant Stadium to see our first big international friendly.
We bought tickets about ten rows behind one of the goals. This made it exciting during warm-ups as I had to keep knocking shots away from the heads of my kids. Xander loved this part. Sydney wasn't even a year old and was basically just a small target for errant shots.
As for the match, well it was an exciting one. Everton scored their first goal in the third minute. James McFadden scored off a nice pass from Leon Osman. Everton would go on to win 5-2. The players I remember most from that night were Osman, Marcus Bent for his amazing speed and Thomas Graveson as he knocked down countless Pachuca players and controlled the midfield.
We had such a good time that I went back to the Sunday match of Everton versus Club America. Club America is the most popular team in Mexico so this crowd was much bigger. Club America beat a tired Everton team 3 to 1, but I was hooked. I sat behind the Everton supporters club and talked with a few of the fans who flew over for the trip. They were very friendly and told me the background of the blues. After the game I was able to talk a bit with Leon Osman who came over to the side of the field. Just a few words but this also cemented my feelings toward this club.
After the Sunday match I went home and searched the net, finding out as much about the team as I could. I quickly learned that Wayne Rooney was going to be sold. It was expected to be a season in which Everton fought against relegation. Instead the team pulled together and had a great season.
It is still hard to sometimes follow Everton from America. They aren't a small club, but they aren't one of the big four either. I catch as many games as possible on tv, and I enjoy reading the post match reports after the games that I can't watch. This year those reports haven't always been as much fun to read.
So that is my long road to becoming a fan of the Toffees. If another club had come to Houston first, maybe the story would be different. I like to believe however that fate knew I was meant to follow "the People's Club," and helped send them my way at just the right time.
If you don't mind, tell me how you came to support your favorite club.
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