Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

I’m Ready for Some (European) Football

By John Nagle Hoya Staff Writer

I am beginning to think I have a problem.

I need soccer. Big-time soccer. European club soccer. And no MLS with its shootouts and Astroturf fields is going to be able to compensate.

For the solid nine months that I spent in Dublin, I would spend an average of an hour a day on the Internet trying desperately to keep in touch with the American sports world I love so dearly. ESPN.com was the first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing before I went to bed. Georgetown basketball bulletin boards slaked my thirst for discussions of our beloved Hoyas’ mediocrity. The Boston Globe online gave me daily doses of Nomar and Pedro when I most needed them. In short, the Web allowed me to maintain my sanity, or so I thought.

Somewhere along the way, however, a strange thing happened. Reading about sports can only do so much for the true junkie, and there comes a time when it is essential to watch sports on television, or better yet, actually attend the events in person. Unfortunately, in Ireland there are very few opportunities to watch baseball, basketball, hockey or American football. Generally those events that you can watch are either on very late at night or else they are a few weeks old, by which time the Web has already told me the outcome.

So it was then that I was forced to find an alternative to quench my thirst for live sport. Ireland’s favorite sport is Gaelic football, a fun sport combining aspects of soccer and rugby. A close second in Ireland is hurling, which is somewhere between field hockey and lacrosse, and supposedly the fastest field sport in the world. Unfortunately, most of the television broadcasts of these sports are in Gaelic, a language I cannot fathom, and I was never clear on the rules, so they never became true favorites of mine.

Next I turned to the sports channel on my cable, EuroSport, convinced that I would find some excitement there. It will probably be just like ESPN, I thought. Maybe it is something like early ESPN, with its humorless highlight shows, extensive coverage of track and field and weightlifting, and 1 a.m. bedtime, but it certainly could not satisfy my cravings. I needed something more.

I knew I enjoyed rugby, but the big international matches were still a few months off, my Guinness budget was through the roof, my classes were less than captivating, and I still needed something to occupy my idle hours. It was then, sometime in late November, that salvation came as if from the gods of television and sports. I turned on my television one night during dinner, hoping for a good “Simpsons” episode, and I found instead to my shock and dismay a soccer game.

Don’t get me wrong here. I have always appreciated soccer as a supremely athletic contest. I knew that there were subtleties and nuances that attract more viewers to the World Cup final than any other event in the world. Heck, I had even gone to a few D.C. United games myself, albeit primarily for the beer. But I never expected to be so captivated as I was by what I saw in front of me.

Manchester United vs. Barcelona in the European Champions League. The announcers made it out to be some sort of clash of the titans. I was skeptical, but intrigued. When I discovered that anchester United’s captain was an Irishman by the name of Roy Keane, I decided to root for them. Little did I know then that I had found a hero and a team for the ages.

The game was intense, well-played, and physical. Keane played with fire and determination, a true leader on the pitch, and according to some, the “hardest man in football.” Both of these teams were light years ahead of anything I had ever seen in the United States. United won in thrilling fashion, and I was hooked.

Every time their games were on television, I was there at the pub, cheering them on. As the season went on, they kept winning, rolling over everyone in their way. Sometimes I felt ashamed to root for them. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I was not accustomed to cheering for such a front-runner. But I could not help it, I loved the games, and I loved that team.

By the end of the season, Manchester United had the chance to make history as the first English club to win the triple of the Premiership, the FA Cup, and the European Champions Cup. To explain each of those titles would be too time-consuming, but suffice to say that it would put them up there as one of the all-time great clubs.

United’s main rival for both the Premiership and the FA Cup was Arsenal, the London based club my roommate had adopted as his own. They were a good club, and defending Premiership and FA Cup champions, but they proved no match for mighty United. The crushing blow for them came in the FA Cup semi-final, when Ryan Giggs, Manchester United’s fleet left-footed winger dribbled through the entire Arsenal defense and blasted the game-winner past keeper David Seaman in injury time. Friends of mine say it was the greatest goal ever. It was certainly the finest I had ever seen.

As thrilling as that victory was, it paled in comparison to the Champions Cup final against Bayern Munich in Barcelona, Spain. With two-thirds of the triple in the bag, all that remained for the United was this match-up between European super powers. Bayern led the entire match and really dominated play. But they could not put it away, and United sub Teddy Sherringham scored twice in injury time to tie and then win the match, setting off the biggest party in the history of Manchester. I only wish I could have been there. As for me, I could not believe my team had won something. I ragged on my roommate for days and it felt great.

Now I am going through withdrawal. The only games on TV are pay-per-view. My Internet service won’t be hooked up in Village A until October, which we all know means next semester at the earliest. And FIFA ’99 on Nintendo 64 is not quite getting it done, although the Manchester United-Arsenal rivalry remains strong with my housemate. It is getting to the point where I might actually wake up on a Saturday morning and go to Bethesda to find a bar that will show me the games. Pathetic.

 

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