The story of the Soccertes podast
One year ago, I, and my Soccertes podcast co-host, Greg Nussen, did not follow soccer. We didn’t pay attention to Financial Fair Play regulations, cared not for Champion’s League, and our closets were not yet overflowing with corporate branded jerseys. Since then, though, we fell in love with the sport, to the point where we felt the need, as two idiots just dipping our toes into this culture, to host a soccer-centric comedy podcast. While we enjoy the Premier League, MLS and the fluid beauty of El Clasico, our deepest passion likely lies in the lower tiers of English and European soccer. This is how we arrived here:
As red-blooded Americans, it shouldn’t be shocking that we found our way to soccer through the U.S. Men’s National Team. Sure, my co-host Greg Nussen always found soccer to be this worldly, cultural touchstone, but when he actually spent a semester in Paris in 2010, he never managed to find his way over to Parc des Princes. And I generally regarded the sport like the metric system: A good idea, but why bother when I’m perfectly happy with the inch?
So, it was during an event that celebrates the world, of nations setting aside their differences, that Greg and I latched onto the USMNT with a frightening nationalistic fervor. Accustomed to our country being the best (at sports, if not education or healthcare), we were thrown into a strange and exotic land where even losing could be considered a big step forward.
After all, we are the land of Major League Baseball, with players coming from Japan, the Dominican and the small island of Caracas to play on our shores. Where the NBA is still the destination for European players with great fundamentals. And NFL Europe—well, let’s let that fetid corpse lie.
Though we started by getting hooked on the rocket-pop-styled red, white and blue, Clint Dempsey’s Texas-tough style of play and Jermaine Jones’ wonder strike, we soon craved a connection with the rest of the world and its billions-strong community of fans. To use soccer, as Greg has put it, “Like a sci-fi portal to other dimensions.”
We became entranced by the world game. While our American sports are lovely, they are self-contained. With roughly 30 teams per league and no promotion and relegation, what you see is what you get. Even baseball’s sprawling and deliriously wonderful Minor League system is all about driving the best young players to the Majors. Which is why I was so confused when I learned that the lower leagues in England were not filled with 18-21 year-old Premier League lottery tickets, but rather with the never-will-bes and long-past-their-primes of English soccer.
It was a bit like joining a cult, realizing there was this entire sport with its dozens of leagues and histories sprawling out around us, its members a legion across the globe. Our eyes had been opened to this secret knowledge, and the knowing nods we could give people in Aston Villa kits were our secret handshakes.
Sports, at their greatest and most basic, are about community. They bring people together, are a great excuse for getting drunk, and, as Soccernomics proved, are also an excellent anti-suicide campaign. By virtue of the sheer popularity of the sport and the ubiquity of its rules across borders, there is a connection through the sport that little else can lay claim to. At the same time, it remains hyper-localized: Family lines are split between Everton or Liverpool all the way down to Bristol City or Bristol Rovers, and teams are named the Chairboys or the Iron for the local industries that they sprung from. Borussia Dortmund, one of the largest clubs in the world, was named for the favorite beer of its original creators.
By starting the podcast, we became a small part of that. Two fans in a Los Angeles apartment with a Skype account could take part in this world. We talked to Dan Callis, an Ipswich Town supporter who makes soccer crests with tacos even if his city only has one quasi-Mexican joint. Mere hours after the 6th-tier North Ferriby United upset Wrexham to win the FA Trophy, we spoke with Ashley Hope, a fan and writer who had been at Wembley and was about to head into the East Yorkshire evening to celebrate.
We chatted with German ex-pats and Williamsburg hipsters who gather in a Brooklyn bar to watch the second tier, left-wing St. Pauli watch their matches on tape delay. Their fear of the team’s relegation is less a concern for the results and more the idea their matches would no longer be televised and this small band would be unable to gather on Saturday nights.
We talked to Nathan Bees, a Bristol Rovers writer, who told us about how his family sobbed at the end of last season when the team was relegated from the Football League for the first time in the club’s history last season. He also wrote on his blog later, “When I answered the most typical American voice was on the other end of the line asking me how I was and whether I was ready for the interview. I knew he was American and would thus have an accent, but he sounded just like I would if I put on an exaggerated American accent, and that was strangely off-putting. I couldn’t comprehend that a bloke from across the pond was talking to me, a guy from Bristol – it was surreal!” It was just as strange for us to talk with these English fans.
We know that we can’t possibly learn all there is about soccer in just one year, that the full breadth and scope of the sport makes it impossible to know all there is in a full lifetime of support. But with the podcast, we’ve been able to learn, hear interesting stories, and meet wonderful people in a way we never considered or thought possible.
We will surely never reach the heights of a Men in Blazers, spawning a media empire on NBC Sports Network. But if we can be the listening equivalent of a seventh-tier Blyth Spartans, making the occasional FA Cup run, I think we’ll be pretty pleased.
Michael Clair writes for MLB.com’s Cut4 and Greg Nussen is a Los Angeles-based actor. Follow them @Clairbearattack and @GNussen. Find the podcast, Soccertes, in iTunes or check out the website Soccertespodcast.com.