Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hello old friend, welcome back!

Posted By on Sun, Jul 12, 2015 at 7:00 AM

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Nearly a year ago, I wrote of how disillusioned I had become about a most beloved pastime, watching football, aka soccer. The piece followed the men’s football World Cup, and bemoaned all the negative things about the game that I had become increasingly tired of; the diving and cheating; the adverse influence of money and sponsorship; the constant barracking of officials both on and off the field and the instant iconizing of very average players indeed. It wasn’t the game I had grown up watching or playing, it felt irrevocably tarnished and tainted.

12 months later, however, I’m surprised and delighted to report a couple of things that have begun to shift my opinion.

In late March, the newly-formed Colorado Springs USL football team, the Switchbacks, took to the field at Sand Creek Stadium. I was part of the curious crowd trying to determine if the franchise was just another soon-to-be-a-memory pretender, or in fact the real deal. Although they narrowly lost that opening home game of the season, I saw more than enough to suggest that these guys actually gave a damn.

The heart they displayed on the field, and the appreciation they had for their fans encouraged me to return – and I haven’t stopped going since! This was, dare I suggest, proper football. These guys weren’t out there for the paycheck or for individual glory; they appeared to genuinely love playing the game. I have to confess, it freaked me out a little bit.

Last weekend, millions saw more evidence of what the beautiful game is supposed to be about. After three grueling weeks of competition, England’s women’s football team deservedly secured a third place finish at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Since the tournaments’ inception in 1991, England’s Lionesses had never gotten past the quarter finals. Were it not for an agonizing own-goal in the final minute of their semi-final, England could have been squaring off against the American women’s team in the Final last Sunday. Instead, they picked themselves up and for the first time in over 20 years – and 20 attempts – beat the world number one ranked team, Germany, 1-0, making history and securing their first medals in the process.

But more than that, and perhaps more importantly than that, the Lionesses truly inspired a nation of English children, particularly girls. Girl’s football in England has traditionally been a backwater — boys have always ruled the game. The Lionesses played with a passion and pride that shamed their male counterparts, and English football, especially the women’s game, will undoubtedly reap the benefit.

Similarly, we saw the American women’s team excel in the same tournament, vanquishing the ghosts of 2011 as they beat Japan to become World Champions. Judging by the response to these and other nations women’s teams extraordinary displays of skill and determination, and with the women’s World Cup Final being the most watched football game in U.S. history, there’s plenty to get excited about – or in my case, get excited about all over again – when it comes to modern day professional football. At least some of it.

The highest levels of the men’s professional game could and need to pay attention to what’s going on further down their food-chain, as well as across the aisle in the women’s game, where true football still flourishes. Fans are starting to see that players like those at Sand Creek Stadium, and those who entertained us in Canada these past few weeks are different. They play for what’s on the front of the jersey, the team badge, believing that the name on the back will be appreciated more because of it.

And you know what? They’re right.

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for over 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer (football!), hiking and biking when the weathers good. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett, or @BackChatPodcast, a Switchbacks F.C. fan podcast on which he is a co-presenter.

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