I Have a Confession to Make.

I Have a Confession to Make. . . . 


     I’m pretty sure I was not recognized in the three hours I was at the game, so I could keep my secret, I guess. But why? Is there any real shame in attending an event I had mocked for three decades? What’s so bad about experiencing new things?

    OK, so here’s my confession: I went to a Union game on Saturday night. That’s right. I paid full price to watch a soccer game. I sat in the stands like all the other fans. The seats were wedged high in a corner of Suburu Park. We could only see one net clearly, but it was no problem. The party extends to every nook and cranny of the building.

     I went because my grandsons are crazy for soccer, though, I’m proud to say, they actually prefer the English Premier League. Nothing but the best for those boys. Last winter, they actually held the flag on the field for a Tottenham game, in jolly old England. Their father has coached them for most of their lives. He has gotten the soccer bug, too.

     Unlike their grandfather, both boys – they are 15-year-old identical twins – have shown an undeniable knack for playing the game. Imagine that. Members of the Cataldi family with actual athletic ability. They must have gotten the good genes from their mother’s side of the family.

      Technically, I had attended a Union game once before, but it was much different. I got the VIP treatment that time – luxury box, full buffet, even a meeting with the owner of the team. It was a fun night, but hardly the true fan experience. So when my son asked me if I wanted to give soccer another try, I was happy to say yes. Now that I’m retired, it’s much easier to say yes to new things.

      After the 2-2 tie (ugh) last Saturday night, I summed up my feelings in the car ride home to my far more open-minded wife, who – like just about everything in her full life – enjoyed the experience.

     “I really liked most of it,” I said. “It’s just the game I didn’t care for.”

     Huh? At the risk of beating a dead horse, I am still struggling mightily with the rise of soccer in America because the game itself is still so unappealing to me. Even in the very best games, most of the 90 minutes (plus stoppage time) are an exercise in frustration. The very best plays, more times than not, end up with a ball flying just beyond the top of the net or right into the mitts of the goalkeeper.

      On Saturday night, my son said we saw a rarity in soccer – two red cards, one for each side. This odd twist was more exciting than it sounds. Each team was forced to play with 10 players rather than 11. Otherwise, there was no evidence of any change in the futility of both teams trying to score.

      But I come here today not to rip soccer, but to offer a grudging appreciation for it, in a way. I remain a huge fan of the TV documentary on Hulu, Welcome to Wrexham, the charming story of what happens when two Hollywood stars (Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney) buy a low-rung English soccer team and change the culture in an old Welsh town.

      The love that those Wrexham fans have for soccer – they call it football – reminds me of the passion Philadelphia has for the Eagles. McElhenney, in fact, is a huge fan of the Birds, and the creator/star of the terrific, long-running sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He knows what sports passion really is.

     And just like in Wrexham, the best part of the Union soccer experience is the fans. The rhythmic chants, the boos at an unfavorable officiating call and the explosion of cheers when someone on the Union scores a goal contribute to a party atmosphere that rivals any in the other major sports.

     The other impression I had that made the night so positive was the unspoiled nature of the fans. The stadium is strictly working class, the food is (to be kind) unappealing and the prices are alarming. My son said the seats he got for us were a lot less expensive just a few years ago. Through it all, I only heard one complaint. Predictably, it came from me.

     I made the rookie mistake of ordering a hamburger before the game. My wife braved the chicken nuggets. The bill, including four drinks, was $67. I gasped with disgust when the cashier told me the total. He laughed. I got the feeling it was not the first time he had heard that response.

      With the game tied and about five minutes to play, my son urged us to leave before the traffic became unmanageable. I have always believed in the early exit, but my wife was shocked we were leaving a game whose outcome remained undecided.

     “It’s soccer,” I suggested. “Nothing’s going to happen anyway.”

     Just before we left, though, I asked my grandsons a question that is very important to me. I wanted to know, strictly as spectators, whether they enjoyed soccer more than football. (To me, there is no sport close to football in excitement.)

     Before they could answer, their father said, “Football!”

     The boys both hesitated to respond, before tepidly agreeing with their dad. The idea that soccer would rival football in my meat-and-potatoes sports family is hard for me to process, even after a nice night at Suburu Park.

     The world is changing.

     The boys are growing up way too fast.

     It’s official. I’m an old man.


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