This is a story of my transition into womanhood which, as we know in part thanks to Britney Spears and our own experiences, can be quite confusing, and it’s easy to feel ‘caught in the middle’.
I grew up as a football fan. My formative years, my teenage years, were strongly influenced by the identity of being a football fan, and it has brought me so much, but there’s also so much that I know now, that I wish I knew back then. For example, the number of times I compromised myself because I didn’t know better, because I wanted to fit in and be ‘one of the guys’, and I thought that being told that ‘you’re not like other girls’ was a good thing (ugh). Thankfully now I know better, through experience and meeting wise people I’ve realised that I want to be JUST like other girls because we are fantastic, and the term was coined in an attempt to alienate women from each other, as we’re too powerful together. I’ve learned that I’m allowed to take up space, I’m allowed to let my female self flourish also in an inherently male space, without having to conform to masculine ways. I don’t need to adopt an exterior that makes me pass as a “valid” football fan but instead, I can be the flawed, bad football fan that I am.
Everything that I knew about what it means being a girl, becoming a woman, I learned through the lens of football fandom
But all of these lessons came with a price. Everything that I knew about what it means being a girl, becoming a woman, I learned through the lens of football fandom, and occupying these male spaces on a daily basis … it was exhausting. Beautiful, but exhausting. There were so many times I felt alone, ruthlessly alone. As I’m sure most women can sign on, being a female football fan is difficult, as we encounter so many issues men simply don’t understand – I wrote about some of them here.
There was one man that introduced me to the world of fandom and came to define those years. This man is Fernando Torres. As I was entering my teenage years, I had Torres there accompanying me. From buying my first football top (his Spain shirt, on a trip to Greece) and plastering my room with posters of his face, the topic of Torres also acted as a great bonding topic for two shy and alone football fangirls, equipping me with a life-long friend. I had my first kiss at a football tournament I was playing abroad. I had Torres’ name on my graduation hat. Being a football fan gave me an identity, something that I, like most young people, was desperate for.
But he was actually not the one that introduced me to methodically follow football on an international club level, that was the making of Rafael Van der Vaart and that, my dear friends, is why I’m not a Liverpool or a Chelsea fan, but ended up supporting a fantastic club called Tottenham Hotspur (I definitely feel like it was meant to be).
You could say that Van der Vaart took over from Torres, who in many ways was a girl’s mega-crush whereas VDV brought me a level deeper. He wooed me with his fantastic technique, passion and endless grit at the World Cup 2010 and afterwards left me wanting more, so I started following his progress in his new team, and I fell hopelessly in love with Tottenham, their style of play (Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Van der Vaart all together, I mean …) and the history of the club, and as VDV left the club, going back to his old club Hamburg SV, I followed. I started watching Bundesliga and HSV on a more regular basis, admiring the special style of play in the German top league. This ultimately led to me moving to Germany a month after finishing high school, fully immersing myself in German football and culture. Two and a half years later, as it was time for me to break toxic routes, an opportunity opened up for me in Madrid and coincidentally it was (allegedly) Torres’ last season in Atletico Madrid.
This led to me packing my bags and heading to Spain without a second thought, as it was an amazing opportunity to get to see him play on home soil, at the club that he loves the most. By now I was, although still finding myself, more comfortable in who I was, and my extreme, hysterical fangirl-self only broke out occasionally, like the time that I got to actually be face to face with him, only centimetres separating us, and we actually exchanged words! And he signed my shirt! It was the ultimate fangirl moment.
In one sense my Torres-fandom came full circle the moment our eyes met. By this time I had been in a few mixed zones and already had my ‘omg-footballers-are-actually-normal-deadly-people’ moment, but it was something different locking eyes with my first ever footballing hero. It solidified a moment in time in which, looking back, something shifted in me, and I knew it was time to do something about my dreams. It was like a chain reaction; as one dream came true (me meeting Torres), my other dreams wanted to be fulfilled as well and as a result of that, things started to move slowly but surely.
When Lucas Moura scored that vital winner in the 96th minute I literally peed myself I was screaming so hard
I’m no longer hysterical over Torres (only when he posts nice things on Instagram), and I don’t sit and sob in the sofa after Tottenham has lost a Premier League game (yes, there’s actual footage of this) but there are undoubtedly moments when those strong feelings still overwhelm me and have to come out somehow. The second leg of the semifinal between Ajax – Tottenham was certainly one of those times. When Lucas Moura scored that vital winner in the 96th minute I literally peed myself I was screaming so hard, and the redness in my face was at a dangerously high level. But none of that mattered because my team were going through to the Champions League final for the first time! In Madrid, on June 1st another circle will close, as I’ve been blessed to see my team work so hard throughout the season and fulfil every Spurs fan’s dream, and I’ll be watching, ready to freak out no matter how it goes and continue to chase those dreams.