Soccer has always been my favorite sport – with cricket a close second – dating back to my earliest days growing up in suburban London, England.
In the late 1950s through the 1960s I would travel to see soccer matches in what was then the Football League almost every Saturday afternoon and also on some weekday evenings – as first school and then my job would allow.
There was almost no live televised soccer games on British television in those days, save the season-ending F.A. Cup final the first Saturday in May. So in order to watch Leyton Orient, the team I supported and still do from afar, I take the London Underground train from Woodford station, near where I lived, for the 15-minute ride to Leyton in the east end of London, then walk to the stadium. I would also travel to some away games, especially those played in other parts of London.
Except for one fleeting season, 1962-63, when Leyton Orient (the name Orient was given to the club because it was founded back in the late 1800s by employees of what was then the London-based Pacific and Orient shipping line) played in what was then the top division of the Football League, Division I, against the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, after being promoted from Division II, only to be relegated right away. Since then the team has played in the lower reaches of the four divisions that make up the league..
There were some bright moments in that one season in the top tier, now called the English Premier League (EPL) or Premiership, and that was when Orient beat Manchester United, Everton and West Ham in three straight home games, all of which I was privileged to see, but thereafter there was precious little to cheer about for the rest of the season, except for the chance to see some top class teams in action.
The game has changed a great deal since those days, not only domestically, but all over the world. The season in Europe and elsewhere has expanded with the growth of both club and international competitions as well as more and more countries becoming powers in the sport. Nowadays, a domestic season in Europe, for example, will start in early August and not end until late May. But the top clubs will also play in the European Champions League and the Europa League, which adds even more games to their schedules.
And there are also international matches and competitions. The World Cup takes place every four years during what is normally the summer break, while in Europe, the top countries compete in the European Cup finals in the even-numbered year when the World Cup is not on the schedule. To qualify for those finals, countries have to play a series of games against other countries over a two-year period or even longer.
The 2012 European Cup ended in early July and the European countries have now started qualifying competition for the next World Cup in 2014 in Brazil; indeed, in some parts of the world, World Cup qualifiers began in 2011. While Brazil as the home country gets an automatic berth in the finals, 203 other countries divided into six geographic areas will be playing for the 31 other spots.
To do that, there are international breaks in the domestic schedules. There is one right now. After the domestic matches were completed the weekend of Sept. 1 and 2, the international players scattered to all corners of the earth to link up with their national teams and play one or two World Cup qualifiers, depending on the schedule – one this past weekend and the other Tuesday or Wednesday this week – before returning to their clubs for the resumption of domestic play this weekend. There will also be international breaks in October and November this year, then in March and June in 2013 before the new season begins in early August 2013 and another round of World Cup qualifiers leading up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil June 12 through July 13, 2014.
But with the Internet, particularly the BBC website, and Fox Soccer Channel (FSC) and to a lesser extent ESPN on cable television, this soccer fan’s insatiable appetite for the game is certainly satisfied.