It wasn’t quite déjà vu or nostalgia but, as we sat there watching as Everton Ladies defeated Liverpool 1–0 in the Merseyside derby this past November — Alba in her high chair beside the TV, tossing Cheerios casually to the floor for the dog, me nearby working from the couch on my laptop — I remembered a similar afternoon more than a decade ago.
I was in New Jersey at the kitchen table in my parent’s second-floor apartment, watching as Everton lost 3–0 to Sporting Lisbon to tumble out of the 2009–10 Europa League. Like a boy newly in love, I was in my first full season as an Everton supporter. The optimism of youth had not yet been trampled by the cruelty of the world. Naively, I wished that God might indulge the virtuosity of my decision to support the Toffees with a championship trophy I could shove in the faces of my friends who had raised disbelieving eyebrows when I swore allegiance to a Premier League side not named Manchester United, Chelsea, or Arsenal.
I am an American-born son of Argentinian immigrants, and the first club to make a claim on my heart was neither English nor American. It was Rosario Central, a mid-table side founded in 1889 by Scottish railway workers, which last won the Argentine first division in 1987 — the same year of Everton’s last league championship. My main purpose in watching European soccer leagues was to track Argentinians abroad. But by the late 2000s, when broadcasts of the Premier League and Champions League had expanded to Fox Sports and ESPN, more and more of my friends were claiming a club. They hung their crests on their dorm room walls. “How can you not have an EPL team?” they asked me. “Just pick one.”
Watching the Merseyside derby at Everton supporters' bar Mr Dennehy’s in New York City on Februar 6, 2010. Although the Toffees lost 1-0, I made quick friends with a group of visiting Liverpudlians.
I was raised to be a localista — a supporter of your city or neighborhood team. It felt unnatural, in the way much of American sports fandom outside of college football feels unnatural. How could I support a team I wouldn't likely see in person for years or even decades? Before I chose, I spent hours online researching, and even more in bed at night wondering which was the best fit, like the sweater you try on once and instinctively know it’ll be the first you turn to the next winter when the temperature drops. A plumber’s son from a gritty working-class city couldn’t support a soulless foreign-owned billionaire club, like the ones my college friends had chosen. I needed one that meant something to its people beyond championships — although I was an Atlantic Ocean away from experiencing any of it myself.
Eventually, Everton burrowed its way to my heart, where the club’s ownership stake only increased this past February with the arrival of my daughter.
But, will she love the Blues as I do?
Left: Watching Everton’s visit to Arsenal from UT Medical Center in Knoxville, Tennessee on Feb. 23, 2020
Right: Alba, 1 week old, at home after Everton’s 1-1 draw to Manchester United on March 1, 2020
Even before Alba was born, I purchased her more official club gear than I had for myself in a decade. I prayed that she would share my obsession. Her second day on earth, I held her in a hospital room in Knoxville, Tennessee — 4,000 miles in a straight line from Liverpool — as we watched Everton’s men collapse to Arsenal. At home a week later, Everton drew 1–1 to Man Utd. After the match, I posted a picture of her in her blue Everton onesie to Instagram, denouncing the injustice: “What a way to start a Blues fan’s career.”
Everton Ladies—they would be the remedy.
Though she cannot yet know it, Alba — whose grandfather had played in the youth sides of Newell’s Old Boys, the boyhood club of Lionel Messi and a brief late-career detour of Diego Maradona — is in line to inherit a tradition of infatuation that has afflicted those with Argentinian blood since football was first shipped overseas by the British in the mid-1800s.
I did not grow up watching women’s soccer, or even watching women play soccer, besides the historic 1999 World Cup victory every American soccer fan can recall with only the mention of an image (Siri, search for “Brandi Chastain sports bra”). Since that victory, two professional women’s leagues have failed; a third, the National Women’s Soccer League, looks more promising, though it consists of 10 teams spread across a nation of 330 million — the closest of which is located in a different state a 3½-hour drive from my city. While I spent five nights a week in college playing in a park behind my parent’s house with other immigrant kids from Mexico, Colombia, Poland, Egypt, Kenya, I cannot recall a single time a woman joined us.
That changed when I arrived in Knoxville — a more traditionally American and less immigrant-dense city in the American South — where I joined mostly co-ed indoor leagues with women who had played college soccer and didn’t hesitate to slide through you from behind then call you a sissy if you complained. Five years ago, I met my wife on one of these fields. In a league match last year, while pregnant, she turned to a Mexican goalkeeper she swore had called her a puta (Spanish for bitch) throughout the first half. After scoring, she asked him “Who’s the puta now?”
I dream of Alba being a woman like this.
Anticipating Everton’s opening match of the 2020–21 season against Tottenham Hotspur, September 13, 2020
When I learned we were having a girl, I searched online for information on Everton’s women’s team. I familiarized myself with their names and personalities. I had seen Izzy Christiansen against the US women in Nashville in March 2019 when the nations drew 2–2 in the SheBelieves Cup. I was grateful when Valérie Gauvin failed to score for France as the US eliminated the hosts en route to winning last year’s World Cup — which drew a record 1.12 billion viewers worldwide. Soon Alba was sitting beside me on the couch in her Everton jersey with a slobbery soccer ball moving from her hand to her mouth as we streamed Everton Ladies through the FA Player app (a godsend, particularly for the non-English who are trying to follow their teams abroad without navigating a labyrinth of illegal online streaming sites). I purchased my first-ever television — a 55-inch smart TV that towers above the previous 32-incher my parents had donated to me years earlier — and watched on NBC Sports as we lost the Women’s FA Cup Final to Manchester City. “You’ve gotta get used to this feeling,” I told Alba as she mumbled incoherently beside me, spit soaking her jersey like tears. “But we’re Evertonians. We’ll get them next time.”
My father-in-law has said he’s met no other person as single-minded in their dedication to the future they imagine for their child. I take it as a compliment, though beside it in my mind is the constant trickle of comments from others who hear, for example, how this daughter of mine may one day need to move to England if the Women’s Super League, as I predict, truly does overtake whatever professional American women’s league exists at the time, and ask: “What if she doesn’t even like soccer?” “Are you prepared for her to crush your dreams?”
No, I am not. Even at my most pessimistic, I cannot envision a future where this love for football, for Everton, does not ingrain itself somehow into Alba’s growing brain, eventually making its way to her heart. Once it’s there, how can she turn away? “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell…” wrote the Apostle Paul in the Book of Acts 2,000 years ago. Football fans know this biblical truth well. Ours is a faith that can never be stripped from us, no matter the despair or the heartbreak.
Maybe football isn’t life, as the character Danny Rojas repeats over and over on Ted Lasso (the AppleTV+ show that arose out of a joke about what would happen if an American football coach were to coach a Premier League team). But isn’t there something about football that is inseparable from life? Being an Everton supporter has taught me that longing for greener pastures might only lead to lament once I’ve arrived. It has taught me to be bold in enjoying the joys of life, for they may be fleeting. It has taught me that long-distance relationships can work, and that hope persists beyond crushing failure.
Alba proudly wears her Everton sweater on walks at the park
I am glad for the way England has invested in women’s football. To have something else to hope in. I am excited every week to share videos in the “Everton That” GroupMe I share with six or seven other Knoxville-based Blues, of Alba watching beside me as Lucy Graham scores another goal (“She’s Scottish,” I tell Alba. “You’re named for Scotland.”). Already, there are a few extra dollars in my savings account for the trip we’ll make to the United Kingdom in a post-Covid-19 world, enough to stop at both Goodison Park and Walton Hall Park for a weekend of matches.
This past week, an American soccer player made history as the first woman to play in the upper echelons of college football. My wife, with Alba on her lap, and I, beside them on the couch, joined millions of American boys and girls, women and men, tuning in to watch Sarah Fuller make a kick. Representation matters. “I saw it, therefore I know it is now possible.”
Maybe Alba will not be the next Alex Morgan — though I fully expect her to compete with Morgan’s daughter, Charlie, who is just two months younger than her, for our nation’s No 10 jersey. Maybe she will not care as deeply as I do about whether Everton wins or loses. It’ll probably be healthier for her if she doesn’t. But I tell her every day, whether she hears me or not, that nothing will ever prevent her from becoming everything she desires. There is no dream too big. If that dream happens to coincide with being an Evertonian, an Everton Ladies player, all the better for us. I’ve already started saving for the trip to Liverpool.
Reader Comments (17)
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1 Posted 03/12/2020 at 23:59:05
At least that's what you should tell Child Protective Services when they file on you for submerging Alba in Everton.
Lovely name, by the way... Alba... although it does appear to restrict her future football career to the left back position.
This was a great read. Please share Alba's youth soccer debut with us about five years hence.
2 Posted 04/12/2020 at 00:57:15
3 Posted 04/12/2020 at 09:24:58
4 Posted 04/12/2020 at 11:11:17
5 Posted 04/12/2020 at 11:23:01
She never would wear anything I bought her, whether Everton or not. Even with her own clothes, she would head the other way from my selection even before she could speak. When she could speak, she just said "Yuck!" Now, she just has a look.
She does check the results as a barometer of my mood, as does my wife.
6 Posted 04/12/2020 at 12:34:11
Me personally I really envied my older bro who was mascot mainstay in early 60s. Vernon loved him and we have many photos of him as part of the lap of honour vs Fulham in 1963 and in the dressing room afterwards. You see, it's our destiny (unfortunately).
7 Posted 04/12/2020 at 14:03:41
8 Posted 04/12/2020 at 14:42:03
Brian (6), I knew a fella, an old fella who drank in The Everton Red Triangle, he called his granddaughter Eva Toni Anne. There was an article in The Daily Post about him by the late David Charters, who sadly died this year.
9 Posted 04/12/2020 at 14:54:51
Up to 2012, Everton Ladies were one of the best sides in their game under their manager Mo Marley but she left due to work commitments with the English national side.
Not long after, the likes of Man City and Liverpool threw money at their teams and we lost all the best players. It seems like we're on a revival under this Willie Kirk chap so hopefully we'll still be a team for your daughter to aspire to when the time is right.
10 Posted 04/12/2020 at 15:13:20
Love the Romans chapter 8 quotation.
There is also Romans 5:3-4 which could have been written for Evertonians.
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
I hope in a few years she will realise how special she is and what a wonderful father she has.
11 Posted 04/12/2020 at 15:26:59
12 Posted 04/12/2020 at 16:45:08
So we left Liverpool.
My wagon pitched up on the Hereford & Worcester borders but he figured a place where English is barely recognised would be better somewhere near the edges of civilisation so the pernicious effects of media could not sully their senses. He bought a house on the Wirral.
It made no odds â€“ they all support Everton, forever muttering some incantation about "being chosen". The plain fact is there is an unnatural force defying reason about being an Evertonian: if the royal blue penetrates the eyes to the soul, beautiful children are captured â€“ no matter what we do.
13 Posted 04/12/2020 at 16:52:43
14 Posted 04/12/2020 at 17:27:55
15 Posted 06/12/2020 at 14:15:27
Of course she does and always will. Will all fall victim of the spell that is Everton.
For better or worse, in sickness and in health as the saying goes!
16 Posted 06/12/2020 at 17:11:06
17 Posted 06/12/2020 at 17:37:39
Great to see our international Evertonian brother- and sisterhood growing.
All The Best.
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