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I was about 12 years old when my family got cable for the first time. Before that, we didn’t watch TV at all. But the sudden (albeit strictly limited) availability of Sky Sports blew my mind, because now I could watch professional soccer for the first time in my life.
I’d always played soccer for school and club, so this was a pretty big deal. I spent a lot of time just marveling at the team names in the lower reaches of the English system (Scunthorpe United. MK Dons. Leyton Orient. Grimsby Town. C’mon, that’s pretty exotic for a kid in central Texas.). But for all its hustle and industry, the English game just never really did it for me; instead, it was the southern and central European segments on Sky that really got me going.
And of those leagues, Serie A was always going to be my favorite. My dad’s mom and her family were from the Mantuan town of San Benedetto Po and came to the US in the early 1930s to escape Mussolini after being harassed and, in some cases, tortured by the squadristi. As I was just starting to get interested in genealogy and family history, it was a no-brainer to pick an Italian team.
San Benedetto Po, though, doesn’t have a professional team, so I had to pick another northern Italian team. The summer before, I’d been to Italy for the first time; 10 years after her death, my dad finally had the time to return her ashes to her native country, as per her last wishes, and scatter them in the Arno. I still don’t know why she chose the Arno, rather than the Po; I was only 2 when she passed, so when we all went over and did the deed and spent a week in Tuscany, that’s my strongest recollection of her. Remembering back to that pretty well made up my mind that Fiorentina would have to be my team.
The more research I did on my new team, the happier I was. I’ve always been an off-the-beaten-path (read: snobby, stubborn, and generally blockheaded) person, so I was thrilled to learn that the Viola, while a reasonably big team in the country, had just been relegated and were fighting their way back up; nobody could accuse me of being a bandwagon fan. Furthermore, they had history: Kurt Hamrin, Giancarlo Antognoni, Socrates, Gabriel Batistuta, Rui Costa, 2 scudetti. They had a reputation for a centrist/leftist fanbase. And those unmistakable purple jerseys, my god. I was in love.
Of course, it was pretty hard to follow a team in Serie C2, or even Serie B the following year, from Texas. I had to wait for another couple of years to actually watch Fiorentina matches or even highlights on TV. I didn’t figure out how to consistently watch games until I stumbled onto the old Fiorentina Offside (RIP Ted and Tim) in 2005ish. Finding a funny, informed, and passionate community settled it for once and for all: I was a Fiorentina fan. Of course, watching Luca Toni and Adrian Mutu bang in the goals didn’t hurt, either.
I guess I’m a fan for a variety of reasons, none of which is particularly Florentine. I feel a pretty strong connection to the city because of my grandmother. I was and still am a shameless hipster who tries very hard to like stuff that’s just a little bit out of the mainstream, but still really cool and good. I think that purple is badass. And I guess I’m some kind of closet masochist who likes getting Charlie Browned over and over and over again, but keeps coming back for more. But seriously, 2017 is going to be a Viola scudetto. This time for sure.
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