Coming back from Tampa in 1996, filled with excitement after the Galaxy game, I had no one to talk to. All my Manchester United/Liverpool/Arsenal friends wouldn’t understand. They didn’t care. U.S. football didn’t exist for them. There were no supporter clubs here, no social media, no TV coverage. Nothing.
Rewind back to 1990. Italia ’90 – the first World Cup that I really got in to. The U.S. National Team’s first World Cup in 40 years. Admittedly, England were the team that I loved/had my heart ripped out by, but Tony Meola really stuck out for me in the tournament. So imagine my surprise when he arrived in England shortly after.
My brother and I were both in the Brighton and Hove Albion Youth team at the time, when the club announced that they had signed the U.S. goalkeeper on loan. Back then the youth players were allowed to attend first team training, so me and my brother stood in awe, waiting for his autograph. I was lucky enough to be a ballboy at his professional debut against Wolves, where he was unstoppable. The next season American ‘keeper Juergen Sommer also arrived at Brighton on loan, leading to more admiration.
I put U.S. football to the back of my mind for a few years, missing the ’94 World Cup after England failed to qualify. Until, that is, I went to watch Coventry play Norwich at home, Cobi Jones netting the winner. I didn’t think that day that I would end up naming my first-born son after him.
Summer of 1996 was magical. My family announced that they were taking us on holiday to Florida. I hadn’t picked an MLS team by that point, so decided Tampa Bay Mutiny would be a good fit as they were playing the Galaxy that week.
27th July, Houlihan’s Stadium – my first MLS game, and I loved it. I began the game a Mutiny “fan” but left transformed. The Galaxy lost 4-3 but Cobi Jones scored a hat trick and had me hooked.
The next few years were spent in frustration. My family couldn’t afford to fly back out so I had to make do with reading the results in a national newspaper. That is until May 2001 when I took myself over to the Rose Bowl to witness Ezra and Cobi score in a 2-0 win over New England Revolution.
I’ve been over a few times since. Not enough as I want, but enough to feed my soul, each time just as magical as that first. I feel satisfied that I didn’t let my fourteen year old self down, since he looked out at the ’96 team, hoping for a lifetime of Galaxy memories.