32 Fans, 32 Countries is a look at the global reaches of the NFL. For this project we have attempted to interview 32 different fans of all 32 teams in 32 different countries all around the world (UK, Canada, and Mexico excluded). As readers will find, the paths to fandom are as varied as the cultures and customs of each country. Check back every day for a new profile. Next up: A Chargers fan in Belgium.
When Ben Toussaint of Brussels was approximately seven years old, he noticed a French television channel broadcasting an oddity of a sport called American football. He was intrigued. The intrigue increased when Toussaint starting learning the point system, referee hand signals, and the names and backstories of certain players, much of it on Super Bowl Sunday. The Super Bowl pregame in the U.S. is an all-day extravaganza with red carpets, musical acts and flowing fountains of prognostication, all with little puppies strutting on the side. In Belgium, at least at the time of Toussaint’s budding fandom, the French broadcasters would simply spend some time explaining the game of football to an almost newbie audience.
Once the basics of football seeped in for Toussaint, he went the route of many teenage boys with a natural interest in the game: he started playing Madden. Thus it was a combination of the former Raiders coach’s aura and a bit of happenstance that created Ben Toussaint, San Diego Chargers fan.
“Madden chose a team for me and I liked them because ‘LT21’ destroyed every defense,” he said.
Toussaint’s timing was spot on. The year was 2007 and the Chargers were as good as they’ve been in a decade. LT21, also known as LaDanian Tomlinson, was a touchdown machine, and Antonio Gates was still a young man. San Diego finished that season 11-5 and reached the AFC Championship, where they lost to the Patriots 21-12
It was a glorious season for Toussaint, despite having absolutely no connection to San Diego.
“It is a strange feeling to be fan of a franchise even though you have no link with the city whatsoever and you never really talk about it in real life because, well, the team is at the other end of the world,” Toussaint said. “I grew to love the team and the city seems to be amazing as well.
To enhance his rapidly growing fandom, Toussaint was blessed with life’s greatest commodity – time. He was in law school and had ample time to play on the Internet, gaining a deeper understanding of the rules and San Diego’s football history. Now as a practicing attorney, Toussaint has a busier daytime schedule, but has the breadth of knowledge where he can focus most of his attention on Bolts From The Blue, SB Nation’s main Chargers site.
Also being a legally minded fellow, Toussaint is quite fascinated by NFL contracts. “Salary cap, CBA, contracts and agents are words I really like to read in NFL articles,” he says.
Toussaint in front of the Cinquantenaire momument, which celebrates Belguim’s independence
But from a local community standpoint, Toussaint is lonely. He does have 5-6 friends who understand the NFL’s rules and makes his way to an American bar in Brussels on Sunday nights. Yet in some ways the NFL is less accessible than when Toussaint’s NFL journey began.
“In Belgium, it’s quite hard to follow the NFL on T.V. No channel will broadcast the games and few people have satellites,” he said.
Toussaint recently added ESPN America to his cable package in hopes that they would continue to broadcast games, but says the International channel no longer plans to do so in Belgium.
So for now Toussaint will have to settle for keeping a stool warm at the American bar and cheering on his Chargers, all while dreaming of some day riding a wave in sunny San Diego.