Friday, 25 May 2012

Part One: Root, root, root for the...

...laundry? Player? Flag?

I found Tom Tango's stimulating post about how one decides who to root for resonating quite powerfully with me.

I was born and raised in Detroit, and so the first team I cheered for was the 'home team', the Detroit Tigers. I also naturally developed an interest in the Red Wings, the Lions and U of M football. (I had no interest whatsoever in basketball then.) Baseball was by far my favourite sport, and I was all for laundry then. However, in professional football, for reasons I don't really recall, I began to latch on to particular players. My interest in the Lions quickly waned, while I remained a fan of the NFL. The watershed moment came in 1973. Although I was all of twelve years old, the introduction of the designated hitter rule struck me as a deeply evil flouting of tradition. At some point in 1972 I had discovered that my little transistor radio could receive the Cincinnati Reds broadcasts. So I switched to the Reds, and became a NATIONAL LEAGUE fan.

I was rooting for rules and accessibility.

The next development drew on my football experience, in that I began to follow players more closely. In 1976, I joined an APBA league, and suddenly the idea of rooting for a single team at all seemed unpleasantly confining. Via The Sporting News, I was already getting a lot of information on individual players, and the APBA experience of breaking up rosters in a distribution draft simply shattered the link between person and laundry completely. My focus remained on the National League, but the old 'splendid isolation' from the nasty DH was ended. The trade of a player might lead me to follow a team, as in the case of Tony Perez going from the Reds to the Montreal Expos, which was my first link with the Nationals' franchise.

Two years later, I left Detroit for Southampton, England, and a new era in sports fandom. Basically, I was not a fan of much sport at all. Insofar as I was a fan, the flag trumped all. But that was a consequence of the sports I was following. I briefly tried to be an England cricket fan, but my main sporting interest from 1980 until 1995 was rugby union, and specifically the Five Nations' International Championship between England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France. However, I was not at first an England fan. Partly, this was because I was not accepted as 'English', with my harsh Michigan accent. But also because some similarity of appearance (mostly the hair) was found by my friends between me and the 'Blonde Bombshell' of the French back row, Jean-Pierre Rives. I remained a French fan through the years of Serge Blanco and then Philippe Saint-Andre and 'the Try from the End of the World'.

Rooting for players had been transformed into rooting for laundry, in that there was no reason for me to continue with 'Allez les Bleus after Rives had retired in 1984. But I did.

One reason for that was an English lock named Wade Dooley. This policeman from Lancashire was a horrible brute on the playing field, whose sins went unremarked by the rugby announcer Nigel Starmer-Smith, quite a patriotic Englishman in pointing out the cheating play of England's opponents. Together, they prevented me from following my natural inclination to back England (as I had done in cricket), until this attitude hardened to the point that to this day I cannot bring myself to support England in rugby, or any other sport with the exception of cricket, with any degree of comfort. Thanks, Starmer-Smith.

So rooting against a player worked just as effectively as rooting for one.

By the early 1990s I had been living in London for about ten years, but begun taking regular trips to Florence, Italy. Soccer ('football' in English) held little appeal to me up to then, but my love of Italy and the broadcasting of Football Italia on Channel 4 in England sowed the seeds of me becoming a fan of calcio. Florence's Fiorentina was (and still is) my team, but at the time I was also living a short bus ride from Selhurst Park, a soccer ground where Wimbledon FC played. Rules had intervened again, as rugby union had abandoned 'shamateurism' and officially gone professional. This coincided with some other playing-rule changes that paradoxcially made the game less interesting to watch (a minority opinion, to be sure).

Now I was rooting for 'place' — the teams representing my two residences so to speak (a stretch in the case of Wimbledon, who were tenants of the laughable Crystal Palace at Selhurst, but they were still my closest Premiership side).

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