The Beautiful Game

Pitch side at Cardiff City FC

Growing up I used to hold the same stereotypical disposition towards the game of soccer as must people in American have: it’s boring, it’s slow and it’s a game for little kids played in the suburbs on the weekends.

Not to mention, ties are not only allowed but some teams actively play for them. I didn’t like it and the only time I watched it was when team USA was playing in the World Cup. Even then I paid marginal attention to what was going on in the game. 

One Saturday morning in February 2014, I was scrolling through the channels trying to find something to watch while I ate my breakfast and I stumbled across NBC Sports and saw “Premier League Football – Liverpool vs Arsenal”.

I didn’t think much of it, but live sports at 7 a.m. is a rarity and I thought why not give it a whirl. I didn’t expect much from it other than a boring game to give me some white noise in the background while I ate my omelet.

Instead I found something that will stick with me for life.

I watched Liverpool thrash Arsenal 5-1, it was one of the most exciting games I’d ever seen in my life. The crowd was electric, Liverpool’s game was scintillating and I was hooked.

Watching that Liverpool side of Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge fly up and down the pitch changed the way I viewed the game forever and from that moment on I was a fan of not only Liverpool, but soccer as a whole.

Fast forward six years later to the month that I fell in love with the beautiful game. Earlier this year, I found myself traveling to the Wales, to tell one of the more fascinating soccer stories I’d ever heard.

Cardiff Metropolitan University, our partner university, reached the UEFA Europa League in 2019, guided by their coach Dr. Christian Edwards

Cory Vervynckt interviews Cardiff Met FC

Dr. Edwards’ story of rebuilding the Met program, his many years of experience and reaching that elite high is even more powerful when you learn he collapsed on the pitch just six months later.

My time with Dr. Edwards and members of his team for our Transatlantic Storytelling project is one I’m excited to share soon.

While we were there, we were lucky enough to attend a Cardiff City match and experience a real proper British soccer match atmosphere. It was everything I’d ever imagined it’d be.

Being there to experience the stadium, the songs and both sets of fans reinvigorated the love I had for this wonderful game.

Leading up to the game we had a group training session conducted by an academy Coach Gary Wimot. We learned about playing with no fear, one-touch finishing and the Ayatollah goal celebration Cardiff City is known for.

Following the training session, our group played a fun pickup game of soccer on the practice pitch. 

Cory Vervynckt and Michael Garbarz after a ‘friendly’ game of football.

After lunch, we headed to the Cardiff City FC stadium and were taken out on the pitch pregame. What a moment, here I was standing on a pitch played on by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Steven Gerrard, Gareth Bale and so many other stars I watched and idolized.

Here I stood on a pitch that I had watched on TV over 3,000 miles away across the world. Here I was standing in a stadium I had played in on Xbox so many times before, but this time it was real and it’s a feeling that will be hard to replicate.

I got to stand on the exact spot where Georginio Wijnaldum scored a volley in the 56th minute against Cardiff City to keep Liverpool’s title hopes alive last season, talk about a nerd out moment for myself. 

Outside the weather changing every five minutes it seemed, the match was amazing. It had everything you could want from a match, a free kick goal, a comeback for the Blue Birds and the heated atmosphere of the away fans only British football can bring. 

Being able to travel to UK, the home of football, felt like a pilgrimage and going to the Cardiff City match felt like going into a cathedral of worship.

It’s a day, a trip and an experience I will never forget for as long as I live.

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