Yesterday, Bren shared how his passion for football and football kits started. My story has many parallels to his, especially in terms of our late discovery of the beautiful game and the many beautiful shirts that come with it. I still call them soccer jerseys, so I apologize in advance to our European readership. I just can’t seem to drop the American sports lexicon.
Like Bren, I also grew up in a family where soccer wasn’t ever watched or talked about. With all my great-grandparents having immigrated from various parts of Italy generations before, calcio wasn’t in my dad or anyone else’s sports lexicon. During my formative years, it was all about the big four American sports: baseball, football, basketball, and hockey.
And despite my mom signing me up to play the sport from grades K-2 (mostly because her friend’s kids played), a passion for the beautiful game didn’t grow in me. I was all about America’s favorite pastime—baseball.
Adding to my disinterest in soccer was the fact that it carried a stigma in my hometown. Growing up in a town that was transitioning during my youth—going from mostly Italian, Irish, Polish, and African-American to one that is a majority of Latino immigrants—soccer or futbol was considered a Latino sport by the American kids. Thus, with none of my friends or family embracing the sport, I had little reason to gravitate toward it.
That being said, I’ve always loved wearing jerseys, though, and had plenty of them growing up. I remember having a Barry Sanders Detroit Lions jersey, a Florida Panthers hockey jersey that my grandparents sent when they moved to Florida and various Syracuse University basketball jerseys and shorts. Of course, being a Yankees fan growing up in the late 90’s, a pinstriped Derek Jeter was one of my favorites.
But slowly the beautiful game snuck into my life and closet. I’ve always been in tune with my Italian heritage, but my passion for the peninsula grew exponentially once I started studying the language in 7th grade. Then there was a school trip in 8th grade; my first to the old country.
With these experiences recently behind me, I naturally took a greater interest in the 2002 World Cup. And it was during that tournament that I bought my first jersey: That beautiful sky blue Kappa kit that the Azzurri donned in Japan and South Korea.
I chose to go with Christian Vieri. It seemed like a logical choice after his goal scoring exploits in that tournament. Unfortunately, my first Azzurri shirt wasn’t an authentic Kappa. Rather it was purchased off eBay from China, which means it probably took about a month to arrive. But once it did, I wore it proudly. I was all about representing the Azzurri around my high school that was full of the Green of Mexico and Yellows of Brazil and Ecuador.
After that tournament my passion for calcio began to grow. Even though I didn’t become a Roma fan until the middle of the decade, I did have a Euro 2004 Totti jersey, along with a Vieri Inter jersey and Pirlo 2006 World Cup shirt. Slowly the passion was growing, which led to the first Roma kit.
After a brief flirtation with Vieri’s Inter, I chose Roma in the lead up to the 2006 World Cup— thanks to a love for the city and its history. Of course, some guy named Totti had something to do with it, too. And by the time I went to study abroad in Siena during the Spring of 2007, I was a full-blown Romanista.
It was then that I bought the shirt that started my obsession with jerseys from all over the peninsula. During that semester, I went to a sporting good store in Florence and picked out my first Roma kit. It was the rosso Diadora kit with no sponsor. I requested to get it customized with Totti #10 in gold lettering. Damn it was sexy.
From there my passion for collecting shirts grew. I came back with a few other ones from that study abroad. And in the years after I returned, my friend Nick and I went wild, collecting tons of shirts. They were purchased mostly through eBay, many from China, but some authentic ones too. (I don’t even want to think about how much we spent in the years after college.)
The collection now probably numbers somewhere around 100. In recent years, as budgetary priorities have changed, new purchases have been limited to authentic Roma and Italy kits. And with my wife moving in last summer, all but the Italy and Roma kits were relocated from my bedroom closet and relegated to a drawer for storage. But I still love my collection, especially that 2006-07 Diadora Totti.
It may no longer be my favorite Roma jersey, but it still holds a special place in my heart. After all, there’s nothing like the first one.