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#ItAllStartsHere…. With A Beer

Editor's Note: I don't often post personal items on the Free Beer Movement site. The FBM, is, after all, a grassroots organization, so by definition is about the people and their actions that define us. That being said there are times I like to drop in to share a few things about myself, my ideas, and my hopes and dreams for soccer in America. 

Today is one of those days. Lucky you.

Major League Soccer is running a contest called #ItAllStartsHere where American fans share their stories of their soccer beginnings. I'm not interested in the prizes, but it certainly inspired me to think about where the Free Beer Movement all started. 

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By Dan Wiersema / Founder, Free Beer Movement

I wasn't born with a ball at my feet. I was awkwardly introduced to soccer during my middle school years after it became very obvious that there was no hope for me in pretty much every other sport. 

I was a serviceable defender, then a serviceable midfielder, then a serviceable forward. Then I wasn't. In high school the starting goalkeeper found himself on the receiving end of too many knocks and so, I, in a desperate attempt at getting some playing time clocked in between the pipes. I never returned to wearing the same shirt as my teammates again. 

But you didn't stop by to hear about my mediocre playing career.

You're here for the beer. 

When I travel to soccer games around the country a lot of people ask me, "Where did the Free Beer Movement start?" That question is usually before or after another common question, "Can I get you a beer?". They're both delightful questions because I love telling the FBM story and, well, I love beer. 

What up Naperville? Home of the Chicago Fire from 2002-03.

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I remember the first season of Major League Soccer back in 1996. I ended up with a full-page ad from USA Today with all these American and international stars on it, one per club, plastered across it. That "poster" hung on a closet door for years (I wish I still had it.. the flowing locks of Lalas and Valderrama... Wynalda, Harkes, the whole denim bridage from '94). But I was a terrible American soccer fan.

My parents bought my a USMNT replica t-shirt jersey (they had a knack for that... I also owned a Florida Marlins t-shirt jersey... cheapskates) that I wore with pride until, when watching the 1998 World Cup in a bar in Hungary (at 15... the beer flowed early), the Steve Sampson squad embarrassed themselves, and more importantly, me in front of all these Europeans.

The stage was set for me to go full-on EuroSnob. 

My first soccer jerseys were a 1998 Netherlands jersey (I'm Dutch by heritage), a Chelsea jersey, and a Michael Owen Liverpool shirt. I was lost. Clearly directionless when I came to my fandom... desperate to latch onto any shiny object of Euro-success that I caught wind of. 

Then the 1999 Women's World Cup happened. USA! USA! USA! My faith in American soccer restored. The women's national team saved my fledging American soccer fandom. I've documented my love of the USWNT before, but it doesn't do justice to the fact that if it weren't for Hamm, Akers, Foudy, Scurry, and Chastain... there would be no Free Beer Movement. 

So I was (kinda-sorta) an American soccer fan again. The Chicago Fire joined MLS. I attended a bunch of games. Born and raised in Wisconsin this was my closest club, but.... a Chicago team? This was a bridge too far. My MLS fandom waned.

Enter the 2002 World Cup. Early mornings! Take that Portugal! Take that Mexico! Germany.... screw you!

Dan... you still haven't mentioned beer yet. You're droning.

Yes. Yes. The beer.

MLS, the USMNT, and the USWNT all floated in and out of my soccer life. FIFA entered. College soccer... playing more than ever before; coaching soccer, too, but I still wasn't the greatest fan. I was also a crappy beer drinker. High Life's and slaying werewolves with the "Silver Bullet". Sigh...

Honduras, 2008. Early victims of the not-yet created FBM.

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Then I moved to Honduras in 2008. There's nothing like living in a futbol-mad country to reassess your personal fandom. Back then, before leaving the United States, I thought I was a pretty good fan, but clearly I was wrong. I followed the Honduran national team and the local Liga Hondureno with zest (as much as my poor Spanish would allow). Los Catrachos were on the cusp of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and when they did (Gracias, Jonathon Bornstein) the nation went bonkers. 

I returned to the U.S. a year later having irreversibly changed my perception as to what kind of soccer fan I thought I was. Because I wasn't one really. What had I really done to help turn the United States into a country like Honduras where the sport flowed in the streets and in the veins of nearly every person?

Nothing. There were builders of American soccer. Those who took up banners and flags when Major League Soccer started in 1996. I had a newspaper clipping on my door. Those who gravitated to the sport in the league's darker days around the turn of the millennium. I was nowhere to be found.

But now it was 2009 and up until that point I had done precious little for soccer in America. 

Dan! Beer!

Yes, the beer.

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Before I moved to Honduras I lived in Milwaukee, "the Good Land", where my craft beer education began. Living down the street from Lakefront Brewery changed my perception of what beer was and having moved to Honduras, a craft beer desert, during these formative years, put a damper on my growth. 

Having returned to the land of the free and the home of the brave and settling in Austin, Texas I had dual goals: be a better soccer fan and consume as many of the diverse options that the craft brewing world would possible allow me.

The Free Beer Movement was born. At first a personal journey of my own soccer and beer exploration. Then a resource for others who might also be following my same enlightened path.

Mrs. FBM's first USMNT match. January 2010. She got me into craft beer. I got her into soccer.

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Since the founding of the FBM I've attended dozens of matches from the NPSL to MLS to NWSL to USMNT/USWNT, I hold season tickets to my local Austin Aztex, and have probably tried countless thousands of unique beers from around the country and the world. 

More importantly, though, is that it wasn't just about me anymore either. It was the invitation extended to friends, family, or even a stranger in the barstool next door to have a free beer and join me on my soccer journey. I didn't just need to be a better soccer fan myself, but I needed to be a better ambassador for soccer as well. 

Most importantly, though, is the discovery of hundred if not thousands of like-minded fans who believe in the power of the pint to build American soccer. That something as simple as a free beer offer (and a bit of educator alongside it) can transform a sport. 

It's a Movement that has re-defined what it means to be more than a fan and to help "build American soccer one beer at a time". The success stories come in bunches to FBM HQ from East Coast to West Coast and what started as a silly idea now has a serious goal.

Now the Free Beer Movement isn't so much about me anymore. And that's a good thing. I mean, someone still has to bang at the keyboard, but it has taken on a life of its own with empowered American soccer evangelicals (polite and not too pushy I hope) taking charge of their own destiny, growing the game, and enjoying a few beers with a few new fans along the way.

That's the essence of the Free Beer Movement. One game. One newbie. One offer. A chance to build American soccer. #ItAllStartsHere.... with a beer. 

Tags: Beer, Through The Drinking Glass, USMNT, USWNT

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