secret obsessions is the chronicle of Atlas Obscura where we ask wonderful people to take us down a rabbit hole. This edition features the American singer-songwriter Noah Kahanas told to the deputy editor Sarah Durn.
I played soccer My all the life. I played competitively from the age of seven until I graduated from high school. Most of the time, however, I just remember being bad at it. I remember I was playing for the brown or blue team, and we were the worst team. I always wanted to be part of the black team. The black team was really good and I was never allowed there.
My neighbors came from England and had a summer house next to a property we had in Strafford, Vermont. So we hung out with them in the summers and new year’s eve. There were three brothers and they were loud Brits, all very athletic. I also had three siblings. So I remember, when I was very young, we all played football together. Someone always ended up crying or fighting – one of his brothers beat another, or one of my brothers beat me, or I beat my little brother. And they like Chelsea. They actually lived next door to Frank Lampard in England, who was one of the greatest players in Chelsea and probably in the history of English football. He hasn’t had as much success as a manager, including a short stint at Chelsea this year, but he was amazing back then.
So I wanted to participate and also be a Chelsea fan. I had no connection with England. I had never been to London. I happened to be next door to big Chelsea Blues fans. So I started watching the game.
Now when I get into something, I get super, crazy obsessed with it. I used to watch games with my mum, so she became great at Chelsea too, because she liked Lampard. The Chelsea team that we started looking at was this vintage team, 2009, 2010. Back then, it was one of the best teams in the world. They were always in competition for the titles and for the Champions League (the European title) and the Golden Boot (awarded to the best player each year).
Champions League matches were on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 2:45 p.m., and I would still be at school. So my mom called me sick on Wednesdays and picked 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 would be so angry at the referee or at a missing player, or at an opposing player for foul, that we would be like screaming and swearing on TV. We would almost British accents when we swore. It was just a fun thing my mom and I could do together. We sat there, eating 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 mother hell. But watching Chelsea together, we were on common ground. We could be excited and upset together – it was a great thing for our relationship.
At the time, I was incredibly lost and emotionally, mentally and socially isolated. I really hated college, the way I felt, the way I looked, the way I dressed. My nose was massive back then, much bigger than my face. I had gold and black braces and I looked like a pirate. I was so anxious that I thought I needed to feel safe, and watching Chelsea was the only time I felt completely safe and free to express myself. Chelsea took me out of my head. It became something outside of our little universe in New Hampshire that my mother and I could bond.
At that time, my mother and I were writing for a magazine called Chelsea in America. It was basically a blog/magazine about the club; we did these match recaps together. I wrote, she edited.
Back then, my love for the game was so much a part of who I was. If Chelsea lost, I walked around depressed all day. I couldn’t sleep at night. I couldn’t hang out with anyone. I was just sitting in my room. I think I even cried a few times.
Probably the biggest game my mum and I watched together was the Champions League semi-final second leg in 2012. It was literally something out of a movie. We were so bad that year, but not as bad as in 2023. And to win the league, we would play against the biggest and best teams in the world. It was also the last era of those 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 were the best team in the world back then, maybe one of the best teams ever. And I remember watching that game and there was a player that my mom and I loved, Fernando Torres, but he was really struggling to score all year. Finally, he scored that late goal against Barcelona to take us to the Champions League final. I remember saying, “Oh my god. It’s been the greatest year of my life with Chelsea in the Champions League final. It’s a fairy tale.
Then comes the final, against another of the best teams in the world, Bayern Munich. So my mom and I had some friends at my house in Hanover, New Hampshire. It was so intense. My mother, my little brother and I all had our swimsuits; I think we bought shirts for the game. And we were absolutely hammered by Bayern Munich. But Chelsea continued to have those incredible saves and lucky circumstances that kept the game scoreless. Finally, in the final minutes, Bayern Munich scored. I remember my mother and I were so depressed. I couldn’t believe we were going to lose.
We had one last chance. Chelsea’s Didier Drogba had one last chance to keep the game in extra time. It was his last game for Chelsea; he was a legend and was going to leave after the year. Then Drogba scored and we went crazy. I run outside screaming. I break cups on the floor. I’m crying. My mom and I were so happy. It was just one of the best days of my life. They then won the match in a penalty shootout, and I felt like everything was going to be okay in my life because that football team won on the other side of the world. I love how simple it was. It’s never that simple, but that day, it was.
I still don’t miss a Chelsea game. Just the other day I woke up at 6am for one. But the team has gone through many changes since 2012. This year has been difficult for the team and the fans, but we will see what happens next year with a new group of players and a new coach. My mother had much less patience for all of this and moved on.
But when Chelsea went to the Champions League final again a few years ago, my mother, my little brother and I got together. We made nachos. We drank a few beers. We put on our swimsuits. I gave a scarf to my mother. And we all celebrated their victory, like it was 2012 all over again. In some ways, watching Chelsea has always been about spending time with other people and being part of something bigger than me.
Growing up playing football and rooting for Chelsea, there’s always that incredibly competitive streak in me. It’s something that I brought to my business and to my music. But I’m trying to rewire that a bit in my head. Life is not a competition and music is not a competition. It’s really just something that should be fulfilling and make you happy. And I’m also trying to incorporate that into rooting for Chelsea. If they lose, it shouldn’t ruin my day.
I watch football. I have supported this team for a long time. I continued to encourage them. It brought me closer to my family and friends and created moments that I will never forget. Not just for goals, saves or trophies, but for the look on my mum’s face. It may be victory.
Noah Kahan is the folk singer-songwriter of “Stick Season”, “False Confidence” and “Hurt Somebody”. His songs have seen billions of streams. His last album, Stick Seasonwas released on October 14, 2022.