Review: 'The Soccer Diaries' Shows the Power of Becoming a Soccer Fan

SND columnist Daniel Casey reviews Michael J. Agovino's book on what it means to be a fan
by Daniel Casey   |   Monday, February 16, 2015

The Soccer Diaries - Michael J. Agovino

Origin stories matter. In an origin story, you can find comity, a respite from isolation, and sense of kinship. For US soccer fans, the sport isn’t something cultivated as an identity. Fans come to the game on their own, sometimes in their own experience, rarely through friends, and even more rarely through family. We don’t inherit the game, we find it, and because of this each fan feels an acute sense of ownership and rightness.

With "The Soccer Diaries: An American’s Thirty-Year Pursuit of the International Game," Michael Agovino has composed a memoir that is more than a story of becoming and staying a soccer supporter, it is a recollection of how he not only made the sport his own but also how his family (specifically his father) encouraged his obsession.

I was struck by just how authentic "The Soccer Diaries" was. In the age before the Internet, Agovino had to hunt out resources: books, mail-order VHS tapes, Spanish-language television and radio coverage, and the community of ex-patriots from all over the world who made New York City’s boroughs their home.

But what is perhaps most striking about Agovino’s story is just how willingly supportive his parents were about his youthful obsession. It suggests that his parents recognized this soccer bug was not mere passing fancy or phase, it was becoming a part of their son’s identity. Insisting that his family fold into their trips overseas (for vacation or work) outings to whatever matches were happening in the city they found themselves, Agovino appears to have put together a rather comprehensive program collection.

The enthusiasm with which he collected those match day programs as a boy is carried through to his young adulthood and maturity where we see him not just pursue a career in sport journalism but an authentic eagerness to get to know others who reveal their nascent or deep interest in soccer. Agovino doesn’t want to be superior or one of the mandarin, he wants to be your friend and soccer is the way he can do that.

The contemporary landscape of soccer would put Agovino in the ‘Eurosnob’ category, because it is much easier to revert to a false dichotomy rather than genuinely engage in conversation (this is a symptom of the early social media era of the Internet). Growing up during an era where the United States lacked a professional league and a connected culture, Agovino found his desire for soccer sated via the European game.

But there is clearly never a time when Agovino feels the need to exclude people from the sport, which the term ‘Eurosnob’ (and its counterpart ‘MLS fanboy’) do. Rather, we have a story of someone who only caught the end of the first NASL, lived through the dark ages of zero professionalism, and the rise of new professional domestic leagues. There isn’t a moment in the book where Agovino demands a litmus test of a potential fan. In fact, he recoils at this notion. Rather, he demands of himself and others like him to be catholic in their knowledge so that they can help bring more to the game. He presents us with an adult who wants to be the resource to those who versions of his younger selves.

"The Soccer Diaries" is the chronicle of a US soccer fan before Major League Soccer, before the United States believed in soccer and actually could give a good account of itself internationally, it’s the story of what we could call the first generation of the modern US soccer supporter. Those of us who grew up alongside Major League Soccer and were able to actually attend matches would be the second, and the third generation would be those who have never know our nation to not have professional leagues, a beloved national team (Men’s and Women’s), and a vibrant culture of coverage.

Agovino’s "The Soccer Diaries" is the testament of those patient fans who knew in their heart-of-hearts that soccer in the US wouldn’t fade away, that it would grow into what we see today, and continue to do so.

"The Soccer Diaries: An American’s Thirty-Year Pursuit of the International Game" is available on Amazon for $20.31.

Daniel CASEY

Carthage College Univ. of Notre Dame
Club Domestic:
Chicago Fire & Minnesota Stars
Club Foreign:
Manchester United
Founder/editor of the literary magazine Gently Read Literature, active but barely read poet and literary critic, and an occasional English professor. Never got to play soccer until his mid-30s, so he is routinely schooled by U10 crowd at pick-up games.