Between 1987 and 1989, Nathan Nipper, the Bedford-based author of Dallas 'Til I Cry: Learning to Love Major League Soccer, was a soccer-obsessed 12 year-old son of missionary parents on the go. In those two impactful years, the Nippers moved from Rose Bud, Arkansas (population 202 at that time), to Fort Worth for a few months, then to Tours, France for another short stint where the parents attended language school, eventually landing in Dakar, Senegal, where they would remain for four years until moving back to the States in 1993. The map-dotting journey served as a mechanism which enabled Nipper to morph from a simple soccer kid into a full-fledged football fanatic.
In the late 1980's, Nipper was an active youth player with an insatiable thirst for soccer. At an age when many boys in America shed their soccer cleats for football cleats, Nipper's love for the Beautiful Game only grew. Seeing the Tatu-led Dallas Sidekicks play as north Texas was enraptured in the mania surrounding the MISL team's thrilling, seven game triumph for the Championship in May of 1987, aided his addiction, as did the family move to soccer-friendly France and Senegal. During his time in each foreign port, Nipper relished the manner in which his favorite game was also everyone else's, which was the opposite of what it had been in White County of northeast Arkansas.
In 2001, Nipper, then a newly married 25 year-old aspiring screenwriter, moved back to north Texas where he and his wife, Trevlyn would soon start a family. In 2003, a screenplay he co-wrote, This Time Around, which starred Brian Austin Green and Sarah Rue, aired on ABC Family. Things were going rather well for Nipper as he settled into life here, except for one major aspect - his favorite soccer team's home was 4,700 miles away. In the years since he had last lived in the Metroplex, Nipper developed and nurtured a taste for a specific brand of soccer - an extremely un-American flavor, no less. For many years now, Nipper has been an ardent supporter of the English Premier League powerhouse, Chelsea F.C., all but ignoring the less-than-world-renowned clubs of the domestic, oft-overlooked Major League Soccer.
In his book, which was just voted as MLS Book of the Year on World Soccer Talk.com, Nipper owns up to the fact he had become a "Euro-snob, essentially shunning MLS for its perceived inferiority." By 2013, Nipper was enjoying his lot as a fan of a team he could only admire from afar. With three children and a career as a High School Varsity Soccer Coach in the Fort Worth suburb of Colleyville in full bloom, though, he had developed a bit of a guilty conscience as to how he could legitimately call himself an American Soccer Fan, yet not be an MLS supporter, especially when he was 4,650 miles closer to a local MLS franchise than he was to The Blues of Chelsea.
Given his background in storytelling and his experience as both a contributor to WorldSoccerTalk.com and to his own soccer-intensive blog, Total Football Cafe , Nipper turned this soccer-fueled existential crisis into something bigger. The resulting book, which Nipper self-published via the Amazon-owned CreateSpace, is a tight, personal account of the 2013 F.C. Dallas club as a first-time season ticket holder. Published in June of 2014, the book's 246 pages offers a detailed diary where Nipper aggressively dives into FCD fandom, even as he harbors doubts about whether F.C. Dallas, and the MLS as a whole, are doing enough to make soccer in America a viable alternative to English football for local consumers.
"In 2010 I finally attended my first FC Dallas game since 1997, when they were still the Dallas Burn," explains the now 38 year-old Nipper, who cites the Nick Hornby modern classic "Fever Pitch" as an inspiration for his book. "I had already been blogging for a couple years, mostly about Chelsea, and had wanted to write a book for several years. I decided becoming an FCD season ticket holder would be my vehicle for exploring and writing about MLS. Giving myself a limited timeframe to write about (the 2013 season) and a hard deadline goal of releasing the book by the start of World Cup 2014 helped focus my writing and reduce procrastination."
At times, the book treads in somewhat tedious waters as Nipper unapologetically breaks down even the most mundane of 2013 FCD games in impressive detail. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if one knows David Beckham only as "the guy that married to a Spice Girl," then certainly the Beautiful Game may not be quite so lovely. But if there's one thing all sports fans from around the globe can do with equal fervor, it's picking apart the respective league and team they support.
Nipper's passion for the game, and his high hopes for MLS led him to be entertainingly frank, pulling no punches for the local club when it came to items as varied as player transactions, season ticket-holder events, and even the design of Toyota Stadium in Frisco. Nipper's book isn't a patriotic cheerleader's tome, but a colorful report on a league where the American version simply isn't the best, and how we as Americans have a hard time understanding that equation, let alone accepting it.
"I definitely felt apprehensive about being painfully honest regarding all aspects of FCD and MLS," says Nipper, who led his Boy's Varsity Soccer team at Covenant Christian Academy to a Texas State Championship earlier this year. "Because I'm not really a boat-rocker and I don't like to hurt people's feelings. My default position is that I want to like FCD and MLS. At the same time, the concept of the book was to honestly evaluate MLS via F.C. Dallas, so I tried to write about all aspects as I actually experienced them, warts and all. There are awesome, fun, unique aspects of F.C. Dallas and MLS, and there are also quirky, irritating, humorous aspects to them.
"As for F.C. Dallas," Nipper continues. "I was definitely concerned about what the club might think of my warts-and-all approach. It would surprise me if the book genuinely offended anyone at the club though because in the end, it's a wholehearted and sincere endorsement of F.C. Dallas."
Since the book's June release, international soccer in America has boomed. Thanks to the exciting run of the U.S. Men's National Team, and the continued explosion of popularity the English Premier League has enjoyed stateside, there are more American fans of international soccer than ever before. Nipper, who suggests any newly-minted soccer fans read "Soccernomics" by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, admits that "it would've been a very different book if I'd written it about 2014."
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The fact Nipper chronicled his experiences in 2013 is worthy of note as this was a pure experiment, void of any attempts at capitalizing on an often fickle American public. Such a factor lends this book a great deal of sincerity. Simply put, it would've been more exciting to write about the rejuvenated, play-off squad of 2014, rather than the frustrating, fizzling FCD group of 2013. Nipper could've spent more time looking for a publisher, or consulting agents, but he didn't because it wouldn't have served the book properly, nor his possible readers.
"First, I'm weary and cynical about the submission process from my screenwriting days," he says. "Second, I knew the market for this book would be limited and thus make it extremely difficult to entice a publisher. Since the book is primarily about the 2013 season, I wanted to get it out as soon as I could before that season was a distant memory. I just didn't have the patience to wade through the submission rigmarole. Book publishing is changing so much; I figured I had nothing to lose by just diving in and publishing independently."
While he has a few ideas for more Soccer-related books "kicking around - pun intended," he says, Nipper, now a believer in the vitality of the MLS and F.C. Dallas, is pleased that he did what he did, when he did it, even if it means the book's meaning morphs over time.
"I like the time capsule aspect of it. If Major League Soccer and F.C. Dallas continue growing at this pace, the book could end up seeming pretty quaint."