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From the Publisher: Football Fans

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Published June 26, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.


Tim Ashe (in orange) playing soccer in 2017 - MATTHEW THORSEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Matthew Thorsen ©️ Seven Days
  • Tim Ashe (in orange) playing soccer in 2017

I live with a man who would rather be playing soccer. For the 22 years I have shared with Tim Ashe — and well before that — he has been a devoted spectator and practitioner of the sport. That means: For two decades he's been trying to explain the "beautiful game" to me. Long before "Ted Lasso," I got schooled in the complexities of English Premier League relegation.

Also: footwork, player bios, crowd chants and soccer history. Tim watches his favorite European "football" teams compete on TV channels I've never heard of — often in different languages. If the match is being broadcast live, he'll summon me for the instant replays. If it's streaming, he likes to rewind and point out the best plays. I've seen the glory of Cruyff turns, nutmegs and bicycle kicks and, sadly, witnessed plenty of heartbreaking "own goals."

I wish I had a dollar for every time he's tried to explain the meaning of "offsides."

Tim was onto Lionel Messi when only Catalans knew who he was. In 2010, we saw him score two goals against Villarreal from the cheap seats in Barcelona, along with 105,000 of his biggest fans. Well behaved and impeccably dressed, they were not the rowdy crowd we expected.

Even more than watching Messi, though, Tim enjoys playing soccer. Nothing makes him happier than running around a field with a bunch of guys — and, increasingly, gals — indoors and out in Shelburne, Essex and Burlington. I rarely see the games because of my work schedule, but when I do, I'm struck by the diversity of the players. The best place to really get to know Vermont's new Americans is on the soccer pitch.

Even if I don't get to the game, I hear about it after. When Tim gets home — muddy, sweaty and sometimes injured — he acts out some of the most memorable plays. Or he draws them on a napkin for me.

It's not just about skills; even at an amateur level, the game builds character and connection. Tim counts his soccer teammates among his closest friends. While I'm exercising alone at the gym or in the pool, he's bonding with buddies over postgame beers. His greatest concern is potentially letting them down. At 47, he's one of the oldest players on the field.

All of which is to say: Mostly thanks to Tim, I saw this soccer thing coming. Eventually the U.S. had to catch on to a sport that enraptures every other country in the world. I learned that lesson living in two different African countries, Benin and Uganda, where kids played in the streets using balls fashioned from whatever material was available. Traveling in Italy one summer night, I couldn't figure out why the train to Rome was almost empty — until I noticed a roar every time we passed through a town. Italy was playing in the World Cup, and everybody — probably even the conductor — was watching the game, cheering for their squadra.

Of course, Vermont is embracing soccer a little differently. The guys who started Vermont Green FC named and pitched it perfectly. In this week's cover story, "Green Dream," Chris Farnsworth explains the wild success of the team and the local culture growing around it. Full disclosure: When he isn't writing for Seven Days, Chris plays soccer — at times with Tim. Last time they battled for the ball, Chris kicked Tim hard in the ankle. I got a full report. Icing ensued.

It's all part of the game, which, bumps and bruises aside, is indeed some kind of beautiful.

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