“This is important to me.”
“Why? Seems dumb, don’t do it, it’s not safe.”
My roommate made a fantastic point and I couldn’t really argue with anything remotely similar to a logical argument. He was right. I knew he was right. This was a dumb idea.
But this was also a vintage Alessandro Del Piero shirt on the line. And I wanted it. Nay, I needed it. This was not only a vintage Del Piero shirt — it was a 2007-2008 one, the Total 90 era, the era where Juve was coming out of the ruins of Calciopoli, when Juve was thrash, when Alex, David, Mauro, Pavel and Gigi cemented their legacies as club legends by staying in Serie B, when Juventus was not a trendy team, when it was my team and no one else’s.
I didn’t know much, but I knew that.
One of my favorite writers, Rembert Browne, once posited:
“There are a handful of things in life we can’t help. Two of those things are who gave birth to us and where we grew up. They’re decided before we have agency, and they dictate so much of our lives. Sometimes that works in one’s favor, and other times it’s a burden that one spends their entire life trying to overcome.”
Those things, as Browne suggests, not only influence major things in your life, but they also have a deep impact into a whole host of other, more insignificant things. I only like Star Wars because my dad showed me those movies religiously when I was growing up. My mom made me fall in love with writing and reading because she had the same passion and wanted to instill it in her son.
Sports? More of the same.
Some of the teams I follow, much like where I was born, I didn’t have any agency on. Of course I root for the Mexican national team — there’s no way I wasn’t going to. And my hometown club, Puebla FC, was also something ingrained in me since birth.
And I live and die with their play and I get pissed off when Mexico gets inevitably bounced in the Round of 16 of the World Cup and I get predictably annoyed and resigned when Puebla FC finishes yet another year barely above the relegation zone. Those are the things I was born into. I wouldn’t change them for anything in the world.
(A good friend of mine, an avid football fan, still to this date and under the effect of a few drinks will get very somber and meditative, only to blurt out “I can’t believe we lost to Sweden, I just can’t believe it.” This will happen, without fail, a couple times a month. He is 29.)
However, when it came to rooting for Juventus, it wasn’t ingrained in me. I wasn’t born in Italy, I have no connection to the club or the city anywhere in my family. That was conscious choice I made. A choice I made exclusively because I didn’t want to root for Barcelona or Real Madrid. A choice I made because as a 13-year-old I liked the black and white stripes. Of course, there was no way for me to know that I was choosing a club that would very shortly be relegated to Serie B as punishment for the Calciopoli scandal.
It would have been very easy to switch teams, Mexican superstar Rafael Marquez played for Barcelona, Real Madrid had the Galacticos, and Manchester United had David Beckham. I had only known about Juventus for a year. I was 13 years old, and it would have been perfectly reasonable to switch clubs and be done with it.
But, I didn’t.
It felt like a badge of honor in a group of people that I more and more felt apart from. Yes, I’m different. Yes, I root for a relegated team. I agree, I don’t belong with you guys, screw you. It was the smallest, most insignificant act of rebellion. That being said, going to a catholic school, the ways you can rebel against the status quo are limited to say the least.
Rooting for Juventus became the first step in a series of alienating moves for me. Oh, y’all like pop music? This show? That movie? Not me. Looking at it now I realize it was a form of armor, of self-defense, of rejecting them before they had a chance to reject me.
It sounds silly, in all probability it was. Entering what would be the peak years of teenage angst, sticking by a club that was relegated in disgrace felt like a statement. A rather pointless and harmless statement, but a statement nevertheless.
Did I catch El Clasico? No, sorry, I was too busy booting up the dial up internet and checking how Juventus did against goddamn Bari or some team you’ve never heard of, you neophytes.
Of course, the teenage years passed, I stopped alienating the people around me. Grew a number of inches, lost a decent amount of weight, and realized that hey, people can be OK!
Moved abroad and Juventus won their first Serie A title since coming back. Took the trip of a lifetime to Brazil, Juventus made the Champions League final. Graduated from college, got a good job and Juventus signed Cristiano Ronaldo.
Little by little, both Juve and I clawed and fought and got better. Suddenly, we were not underdogs anymore. Suddenly you could see people walking around in Juve shirts — all of them new, of course — and suddenly I was living my best life, I was happy.
There I was, standing on the platform of Indios Verdes, a rather sketchy and dangerous subway station in Mexico City, against the good advice of my roommates and everyone that had heard my plan. Waiting for a dude named Jose, a complete stranger that was very specific about meeting me there, who had in his possession the old Del Piero kit.
I spent hours online looking for that kit, my heart leaping every time I found it, only to realize it wasn’t my size, that the print was tattered or that it was a knockoff being passed as the real thing. It became an obsession. Why was it so important? It’s not like I collected old kits or I didn’t have newer Juventus kits.
The truth was that I still had a chip on my shoulder, I still felt like an underdog, despite not being one anymore, despite maybe never being one in the first place. This idea of Me vs. Everybody was the fuel that had gotten me where I was today. What to do now that I realized that the whole time it was Me vs. … nobody, really?
I wanted a reminder of where I came from, a reminder that at some point things were not as good and to be grateful for how far I’ve gotten. I wanted a reminder of what it felt to be an underdog.
(And in a lesser amount, I was sick and tired of people assuming I liked Juventus because of the Ronaldo signing.)
“Hey, you Manu?”
Jose was here, with the kit as promised. We made small talk for a second and then he gave me the shirt to examine it. It was everything I was expecting. I gave him the money and before I could really say anything more he left in a rush, like most everyone in this city. It felt quite anticlimactic, I don’t know why I wanted to tell him how much the shirt really meant to me, how my friends were worried that I was going to the station alone because they had to work that day and couldn’t come with me, how I was writing a post about it in this here blog. I doubt he would have cared, but I still wanted him to know.
It doesn’t really matter. So far, nobody has cared one bit that I’m wearing the Del Piero kit whenever I watch a match with friends and I haven’t told anybody the reason it meant so much to me. Juventus is still out here, throttling teams, looking nothing like the team of years ago and I’m still here, being nothing like I was before.
We both grew together, for the best. The Del Piero kit is just a reminder of that, nothing more and nothing else. And as far as I know what it means, it’s all that really matters.
The whole thing was pointlessly beautiful. In the end that’s all I ever wanted it to be.