Way back in 2013, the CdT crew decided to take a different approach to our season preview series. Sure, we did the usual positional previews and predictions, but in an effort to pull back the curtains a bit, we each gave our Roma origin stories. Growing up in a household where soccer was an alien pursuit best left to Europeans, my route to Roma was rather circuitous and delayed. However, thanks to a chance encounter the Sydney airport, my sporting world was about to be turned upside down—and I guess my actual life since I was now on the other side of the planet.
Out of the nearly 2,000 pieces I've written in my eight years here, that one remains my favorite, not only because it allowed me to share my Roma origin story, but it gave me a chance to reflect on how something I hated as a kid had become an all-encompassing passion.
But when you live thousands of miles away from the source of that passion, it can be hard to share, explain and express that joy; doubly so back in the early 2000s before the internet had truly erased global boundaries. Back then, you had to rely on dodgy Russian sopcast streams and hard to find copies of FIFA on PS2 to get your Roma fix. But those were inwardly-focused pursuits, what a newly entranced football fan needed was a public face to their obsession; an outward symbol to let the world know which flag you rallied around.
Enter the soccer jersey, or football kit, as I would soon come to know it.
While I may have loathed soccer as a child, the appeal of actual, legit jerseys and gear wasn't lost on me. I still remember standing in the middle of a Champs Sports pleading with my father in vain to buy me a pair of the baggy, yellow Michigan basketball shorts. They probably would have looked ridiculous on my chicken legs, but they would have given me instant sixth grade street cred, and you can't put a price on that.
Despite that failure, I had a few prized possession in my collection: My completely fake Lawrence Taylor jersey my mother got from god knows where, a semi-authentic Tom Barrasso black Penguins sweater with the diagonal Pittsburgh running across the chest and the beautiful, fully-legit Barry Bonds San Francisco Giants third jersey my father bought after my first two choices (Ryne Sandberg and Ken Griffey Jr.) were sold out—later on in college, I would wear the Bonds jersey ironically in the midst of the steroid scandal.
I like to think that, had my family not left L’Aquila prior to the outbreak of WWI, my family photo album would have been full of pictures this or this. So, while I found football later in life, the child-like rush of excitement that comes with wearing your favorite player's shirt wasn't lost on me; it just came in a different form.
However, once I got the bug in college, once the beautiful game really became beautiful to me, I needed a shirt to rock as I drudged my way to a 9 a.m. western civ. class. Fortunately for me, my nascent days as a football fan coincided with the rise of eBay, bringing a world of jerseys to my fingertips.
Buuttt...here is my confession. In the earliest days of the 21st century, I was still under the influence of my Premiership-obsessed friends, and as such, I was really only aware of the stars of those early 2000s Arsenal, Chelsea and United squads, not to mention the Ronaldinho-era Barcelona teams and the Figo-led Real Madrid sides.
While I would discover my Serie A roots circa 2002-2003, leaving all that English non-sense behind once and for all, as an impressionable young man, I was being heavily steered towards the Gunners, towards the waiting arms of Arsene Wenger and Thierry Henry.
They were certainly an entertaining side and I could see why so many fans on this side of the Atlantic worshiped at the Highbury altar, I just couldn't get down with that, not when this guy was putting on a clinic in the Theater of Dreams...
Ruud mother *&^%$@#! van Nistelrooy! I didn't know much about football back then, but I knew I liked goals, and not many players were better at scoring them than van Nistelrooy. You didn't have to understand tactics or the subtitles of manipulating space on the pitch to appreciate van Nistelrooy's talents. The guy could just score, full stop. You could criticize his athleticism or the aesthetics of his game, but he was undoubtedly one of the best goal scorers of his era. He got shit done, basically.
With time on my hands and my meager campus job paycheck burning a hole in my pocket, I rolled the dice and bought my first football kit on eBay; a gleaming red Ruud van Nistelrooy United shirt—proper badges, the little v, the big NISTELROOY, the Vodafone logo, the whole nine yards.
I guarded that thing like it was my child and enjoyed all the strange looks I would get from people while wearing it (football hadn't become mainstream in America just yet), but in due time I would discover my love of Roma, while also discovering that Roma kits weren't easy to come by, even on eBay. And as much as I wanted one of those glorious Kappa/WIND shirts, especially the black long-sleeved ones, they were waaaayyyy out of my price range back then.
I still had my van Nistelrooy, though, and while it had picked up a few nicks and the letters and logos were now a bit crumpled, I still shared my love of Ruud van Nistelrooy with the world. From shopping trips to Home Depot runs and the occasional sports bar, he had my back, letting the world know that I not only loved Dutch beer, but Dutch strikers as well. (You could imagine how excited I was when Roma were pursuing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar shortly thereafter).
As the years rolled by and I distanced myself from the Premiership, my once prized possession soon became fodder for dust bunnies under my bed, losing it's closet real estate to the likes of Francesco Totti's 2006 World Cup shirt, Radja Nainggolan's creamsicle third jersey and the oh so crisp 2014-2015 collared home shirt with “Totti 10” emblazoned on the back.
These pieces of fabric didn't necessarily cost more, but they meant more, and even if I had somewhat outgrown the idolatry of football kits, they still had a sentimental value; they represented a part of me that I still can't quite explain but would feel less than whole without.
And while he can't conjure up those same emotions, I still have Ruud resting in this house...somewhere, and even though I haven't watched a United match in well over a decade, that shirt will always be a tangible reminder of the moment I fell in love with football.
It may not have been Roma, but that single purchase, that simple old shirt, may be the reason you're reading this right now.
So that's my tale, what's yours?