But, despite my best efforts, my dog generally would not let me sleep in too long in the morning. So, I'd get up on Saturdays at around 7:15 or so and take her for a little walk. We'd walk to Starbucks a couple blocks away, and Clea would sit outside as I picked up my venti coffee.
One morning -- it was probably February, but it might have been early March...it was after after college football season had ended, and it was also after the NFL had wrapped up for the year -- we got back home after our walk and I turned on the TV. I flipped channels some before coming across Fox Soccer Channel. A live English Premier League game was on, and I stopped to watch. I had played a little soccer in college in intramurals, but I was hopelessly lost on the pitch -- I had no idea what I was doing, where I was supposed to be on the field, how difficult it is to put a shot on goal, how difficult it is to beat even the crappy keepers we were facing. But, with very little else on TV that interested me, I started watching.
Almost immediately, I was hooked.
I'd watched the Premier League on highlights shows in the past, to be fair. In fact, I distinctly recall watching Eric Cantona's kung-fu kick one day in 1995 on a "World Sports" show.
But, I'd never watched games live before. I started planning my Saturdays to watch games. I went to the local Barnes & Noble and found some books about the history of the game. I found one magazine called Four Four Two from England, and I bought it immediately. In fact, I recall exactly which issue it was:
I even picked a team in those first few months. I had a sort-of friend who lived on my freshman hall in college and who then showed up in Athens unexpectedly to transfer to law school there who loved Arsenal. As a result, I immediately disliked Arsenal.
I was trying not to like Manchester United. Everything I knew about them said I shouldn't like them. People call them "the New York Yankees of England." That should have dissuaded me immediately. But whenever I saw them play, they were just fantastic to watch. Great, attacking football -- swashbuckling, even. They won games regularly. They weren't Johnny-come-latelies either.
Despite my efforts, I became a fan. Just another glory-hunting non-local Manchester United fan. It was cinched for me just a couple of months later.
United went down 1-0 to Newcastle United before equalizing through Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Then, Paul Scholes scored first a great team goal and then a thundering shot from outside the box. Ryan Giggs tucked away a rebound next, and suddenly it was 4-1 before the break. Scholes finished his hat trick, then Ruud van Nistelrooy closed out the scoring for United by putting away a penalty won by Diego Forlan on a Titus Bramble tackle. Newcastle got a consolation in the end, but the attacking, foot-to-the-throat play had won me over.
I could go even deeper into my backstory on English football -- I went to New York to see Man Utd. play AC Milan in 2004, I went to three games in England in 2006, I woke up at 3 AM local time in Sydney and watched games, and I still watch today and love NBC's coverage -- but all of this is a long way to introduce a trade package. Back a couple of months ago, I corresponded with Jackplumstead of the excellent blogs Pursuit of 80s, Pursuit of Red Sox, and Pursuit of Jacoby. I sent Jack a package of Red Sox cards that I think he needed.
In return, Jack recently sent me a fantastic package of Brewers cards and a bunch of unopened packs of stickers and cards from the world of Football. Not Gridiron. Football.
Here are a few of the highlights. Let's start with the Manchester United cards and stickers:
Radamel Falcao came to United with a lot of promise. For years, his name would be heard every transfer window, tied to big clubs in England like ManUtd or rich clubs like Manchester City or Chelsea. When he came on loan last year, it was on eye-watering wages and for a loan fee that was crazy. For all that money, we got to see Falcao falling over frequently. I'm glad Chelsea now have him.
Tyler Blackett played a fair amount last year out of necessity thanks to injury. I recall him costing United a game last year by giving the other team the ball back very politely. That allowed the other team to take a free kick quickly -- while United were out of position -- leading directly to a goal. He's on loan at Celtic in Scotland this year.
Finally, there's a sticker of Chris Smalling. Smalling is quickly becoming one of my favorite players. He's composed on the ball as a central defender and is quickly becoming a take-charge man in the defense. Unfortunately, with Luke Shaw's terrible double-leg break at PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League today, Smalling will likely have to form a partnership now with the rotund Marcus Rojo.
There were also some great World Cup cards and stickers that Jack sent. Here are three former United players. First, here on the bottom, is Angel di Maria. di Maria looked as happy in Manchester as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. It didn't help that someone -- probably a Scouser -- broke into his home in January. But di Maria always wanted to be in Paris and not Manchester.
The top two cards are far more pleasant to discuss. First, there's Robin van Persie. van Persie was probably pushed aside a year too soon by Louis van Gaal. Okay, he definitely was let go a year too soon. Perhaps van Gaal figured he didn't need more than one true striker on the team? I don't know. But van Persie came over from Arsenal and provided the goals to give Sir Alex Ferguson one last league title to knock Liverpool off its f**king perch. For that, everyone loves RVP.
Then, there is Patrice Evra. Evra was always a favorite of mine, bombing up the left sideline from his fullback position to drive attacks and provide crosses. He made 273 appearances for United before Louis van Gaal told him he could leave Manchester United. So, he did -- and got to play in the UEFA Champions League Final for Juventus.
Jack sent a bunch more stuff, so tune in later this week (or tomorrow...not sure yet!) for more.
I promise that I won't keep telling my soccer stories.