Secret Obsessions is Atlas Obscura’s column where we ask wondrous people to take us down a rabbit hole. This edition features American singer-songwriter Noah Kahan, as told to Associate Editor Sarah Durn.
I’ve been playing soccer my whole life. I played competitively from when I was seven years old until I graduated high school. Mostly, though, I just remember being bad at it. I remember I played for the brown or blue team, and we were the worst team. I always wanted to be on the black team. The black team was really good and I was never allowed on it.
My neighbors were from England and had a summer house next to some property we had in Strafford, Vermont. So we would hang out with them in the summers and on New Year’s Eve. There were three brothers and they were boisterous British guys, all super into sports. I had three siblings, too. So I remember, when I was really young, we all played soccer together. Someone always ended up crying or fighting—one of their brothers would beat up another, or one of my brothers would beat me up, or I’d beat my little brother up. And they loved Chelsea. They actually lived next to Frank Lampard back in England, who was one of the greatest players in Chelsea and probably English soccer history. He hasn’t had as much success as a manager—including a short stint with Chelsea this year—but he was incredible back in the day.
So I wanted to join in and be a fan of Chelsea, too. I didn’t have any connection to England. I’d never been to London. I just happened to be the neighbor of some huge Chelsea Blues fans. So I started to watch the game.
Now when I get into something, I get super, crazy obsessed with it. I would watch games with my mom, so she got super into Chelsea, too, because she loved Lampard. The Chelsea team we started watching was this vintage, 2009, 2010 team. At the time, they were one of the best teams in the world. They were always in competition for the titles and for the Champions League (the Europe-wide title) and the Golden Boot (given to the best player each year).
Champions League games were on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 2:45 p.m., and I’d still be in school. So my mom would call me out sick on Wednesdays and pick me up to make sure I didn’t miss the game. She was so cool: The rule was that during Chelsea games I was allowed to swear. We’d get so upset at the referee or at a player for missing, or an opposing player for fouling, that we would just be like screaming and swearing at the TV. We’d kind of almost do British accents when we were swearing. It was just a funny thing my mom and I could do together. We sat there, eating oven-baked nachos, watching Chelsea, screaming at the TV. In middle school, I was an obnoxious class clown, you know? And I’m sure I gave my mom hell. But watching Chelsea together we were on common ground. We could get excited and upset together—it was a big thing for our relationship.
At the time, I was incredibly lost and emotionally, mentally, and socially isolated. I truly hated middle school, the way I felt, the way I looked, the way I dressed. My nose was massive at the time, way bigger than my face. I had gold and black braces and looked like a pirate. I was so insecure that I think I needed to feel safe, and watching Chelsea was the only time I ever felt completely safe and free to express myself. Chelsea got me out of my head. It became something outside of our little universe in New Hampshire that my mom and I could bond over.
At that time, my mom and I actually wrote for a magazine called Chelsea in America. It was basically a blog/magazine about the club; we did these recaps of the matches together. I wrote, she edited.
Back then, my love for the game was so much a part of my identity. If Chelsea lost, I walked around depressed all day. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. I wouldn’t be able to hang out with anybody. I would just sit in my room. I think I even cried a few times.
The biggest game my mom and I watched together was probably the second leg of the Champions League semifinal in 2012. It was literally something out of a movie. We were so bad that year—though not as bad as 2023. And to win the league, we’d be playing against the biggest and best teams in the world. It was also the last era of these vintage players that I fell in love with when I first started watching. We were like, “There’s no way we’re gonna beat Barcelona.” Barcelona was the best team in the world at the time—maybe one of the best teams ever. And I remember watching that game and there was a player my mom and I loved, Fernando Torres, but he was having a really hard time scoring all year. Finally, he scored this late-game goal against Barcelona to bring us to the Champions League final. I remember being like, “Oh my god. This is the biggest year of my life with Chelsea in the Champions League final. It’s a fairy tale.”
Next was the final, against another one of the world’s best teams, Bayern Munich. So my mom and I had a couple of friends over at my house in Hanover, New Hampshire. It was so intense. My mom, my little brother, and I all had our jerseys on; I think we bought jerseys for the game. And we were getting absolutely hammered by Bayern Munich. But Chelsea kept having these incredible saves and lucky circumstances that kept the match scoreless. Eventually, in the final minutes, Bayern Munich scored. I remember my mom and I just got so depressed. I couldn’t believe that we were going to lose.
We had one final chance. Chelsea’s Didier Drogba had one last opportunity to keep the game going into overtime. It was his final game for Chelsea; he was a legend and going to leave after the year. Then Drogba scored and we just went crazy. I’m running around outside screaming. I’m smashing cups on the ground. I’m crying. My mom and I were so happy. It was just one of the best days of my life. They went on to win the game in a penalty shootout, and it felt like everything in my life was going to be okay because this soccer team won half a world away. I love how simple it was. It’s never so simple anymore, but that day it was.
I still never miss a Chelsea match. Just the other day, I woke up at 6 a.m. for one. But the team’s gone through a lot of changes since 2012. This year was rough on the team and fans, but we’ll see what happens next year with a new raft of players and a new coach. My mom’s had much less patience for it all and has moved on.
But when Chelsea went to the Champions League final again a couple of years ago, my mom, my little brother, and I got together. We made nachos. We drank some beers. We wore our jerseys. I gave my mom a scarf. And we all celebrated when they won, just like it was 2012 again. In some ways, watching Chelsea was always really about spending time with other people, and about being part of something bigger than myself.
Growing up playing soccer and rooting for Chelsea, there’s still this incredibly competitive streak in me. It’s something I’ve carried into my business and my music. But I’m trying to rewire that in my head a bit. Life isn’t a competition and music isn’t a competition. It’s really just something that should be fulfilling and make you happy. And I’m trying to take that into rooting for Chelsea, too. If they lose, it doesn’t have to ruin my day.
I watch soccer. I’ve supported this team for a long time. I’ve continued to cheer them on. It’s brought me closer to my family and friends and made moments that I’ll never forget. Not just for the goals or saves or trophies, but for the look on my mom’s face. Maybe that’s the victory.
Noah Kahan is the folk singer-songwriter of “Stick Season,” “False Confidence,” and “Hurt Somebody.” His songs have seen billions of streams. Noah’s newest album, Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever), was released on June 9, 2023.