sports (2006-23)

Basilio’s got a secret passion for (soccer) balls

Coming Out

by Tony Basilio

First it was Ellen, then Melissa, then Rosie and somewhere in there Anne Heche took a turn, or was it a turnaround? Now it’s my time. I’ve hesitated about making this public admission here for several months. You see, I’ve carried this secret around with me for close to 20 years in East Tennessee. I risk being ostracized like never before by coming clean, but still this full disclosure is bound to free my weary soul. In this spirit, I offer this admission to you the reader, one of several thousand who will no doubt dismiss my dirty little secret.

You see, I’m a…. Well, let’s just say that I’ve always enjoyed…. What I’m trying to say is that I’m not a communist or a socialist or a Central American sympathizer, though I love their sport. I don’t just like their sport; I love their sport. OK. There. I came close to saying it. I’m a football fan. No, it’s not about UT and Florida or Bama and Auburn but the beautiful game (“Jogo Bonito!”). With the World Cup rolling for the next four weeks, it seems appropriate to come clean. I love soccer.

Good, I feel better already. It’s a funny thing living a double life as a soccer fan in East Tennessee. When I’ve admitted to close friends and acquaintances my enjoyment of soccer, I usually get a reply in the form of a judgmental look that could pass for a cross between “You can’t be serious” and “I’ll pray for you.” This, after all, is football country! You think the Super Bowl is a big deal? The World Cup is the quadrennial celebration of the sport that grew out of the Olympics back in 1930. The month-long event will be seen by over a billion people on worldwide television with broadcasting rights fetching FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) over $1.4 billion. The event is expected to net tourney organizers a tidy $130 million profit.

This year’s World Cup takes place in Germany. Since most of the games air in prime time overseas, the games will air here in the states anywhere from 10:55 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon. This means little to no production from me and the rest of the few folks in our community who love the beautiful game (“Jogo Bonito”). I’ve been so jacked up for this World Cup that I’ve actually gotten into the recent habit of purchasing import magazines dedicated to the game. At $9 a pop, my lovely wife just shakes her head when she sees me coming with a weekly stack of ‘sheets’ that I devour from cover to cover. Nobody understands.

I’ve even gotten an earful there while picking up the latest copy of the British soccer periodical 4-4-2 . The nerdy looking male clerk looked at me and inquired, “Who are you buying this for? Do you have a child who enjoys soccer?” Excitedly (thinking maybe I found a rare World Soccer fan in East Tennessee), I blurted out, “No. They are for me! Do you watch soccer?” He deadpanned me and replied, “What do I look like, some kind of communist? I hate soccer! To me it’s a horrible game. I don’t know how anybody could enjoy it. But if it’s your thing, it’s your thing. Enjoy your purchase.” Thanks a bunch, buddy.

It’s always been this way with me and soccer. I’ve taken a lot of private abuse through the years. When I was growing up, my Pop and older brother Rich would chide my love of soccer by asking when I was going to outgrow that “minor league sport.” Really uplifting, don’t you think?

While admitting I’m a soccer enthusiast, I must confess that I’m not a big fan of soccer fans. Many are insufferable in the way they are always trying to convert others to “Jogo Bonito.” In my worldview, it’s fine if you don’t get soccer. It’s your loss, after all.

I’m so sick with my enjoyment of the game that I actually drug my family down to Nashville to see the U.S. National Team versus Morocco in a World Cup tune-up in late May. While there, it dawned on me. Soccer fans are geeks. I felt like I was in a time warp with 26,000 extras on a bad episode of The Brady Bunch . The only other time I can remember seeing a crowd this square was when I witnessed a Rush concert a few years back in Atlanta. 

The poor sightlines (football stadiums like the Coliseum weren’t designed for soccer) coupled with the U.S. National Team’s failure to score made my lovely daughter turn to me in the 79thminute (of a 90-minute contest) and remark, “Dad, when is the game going to start?” A great question, I thought, as I gazed at a row of teenagers in front of me clad in argyle socks. It was in this moment that I had an epiphany.

I paid great money to drive from Knoxville to Nashville, missed some valuable work, wasn’t really feeling all that great anyway, all to see the United States have about five shots on goal and get shutout by somebody called Morocco in the blazing hot sun. Still, I wouldn’t have missed it. So, it’s in this space that I admit, alas, “I, Tony Basilio, am a soccer fan.” My inner geek never felt so liberated. Go U.S.A.! And go Argentina!

Listen up! Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM. Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.


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