The World Cup is over now--mazel tov, Germany (has a better phrase ever been written, I think not), and this casual soccer fan is a little sad. It was an enjoyable tournament to watch, and I don't remember ever seeing Americans get so into it. And Tim Howard. I mean TIM HOWARD, guys.
Now, I know how the majority of Americans feel about soccer. Not impressed. I've heard all the arguments:
- "It's too slow." But a nine-inning baseball game that stops every half inning is lightning fast.
- "There isn't enough scoring." OK, well Brazil lost 7-1. Yeah, I know that's remarkable and there really isn't a lot of scoring in soccer. But so what? I feel like the American desire for more points, more points, more points has some kind of underlying association with the American desire for bigger cars, bigger meals, bigger boobs.
- "It's too hard to understand." But (American) football isn't?
- And of course, as my dad so eloquently put it when I told him that all the USA needed to do to advance out of the group round was tie Germany, "Ties are un-American."
OK, look. The truth is, baseball is my first love. American football second. Yup, I am as American as apple pie (mmm, pie). This is mostly because I have rooting interests (Go O's! Go Ravens!) I couldn't give two shits about college sports (NYU's Violets compete mostly in Division III, if at all) or basketball, hockey, etc.
I'd like to tell you that I fell for soccer as a kid playing rec, but the truth is, I played one season in the fall before sixth grade, and at the very first practice, I got hit in the face with a soccer ball and sustained my first (and shockingly only, considering how klutzy I am) black eye. I begged my parents to let me quit but they didn't. And I'd love to tell you that they taught me a lesson about never giving up and never calling it quits, but they taught me a much more valuable lesson: "It's already paid for. You'll finish the season. Stop crying."
No, no. My love for soccer came later.
(Sidebar: I know everywhere else in the world, people call soccer "football" which makes infinitely more sense than calling our bastardized version of rugby "football," but because I am too lazy to keep typing "American football," here it is--soccer is soccer, American football is football, and European football is still soccer. A British friend once said to me, laughing, "How American are you?" Well, yes MATE, I AM American. 'MURRICA!)
After college, I worked at a small local sports paper for a while and I had the pleasure of covering the Baltimore Blast, our professional indoor soccer team. Indoor soccer is...well...not the purest form of soccer, but it's entertaining and I cultivated an appreciation for all forms of soccer. After that stint, I continued to cover it in a snarky blog and actually got paid like 5 cents per a bajillion clicks, thank you Baltimore Sun.
But even before my days getting paid to make fun of meathead athletes, my exposure to soccer was of the international variety. When I studied abroad as a sophomore in Florence, my friends and I went to see the home team take on AC Milan (which I didn't learn until later, was kind of a big deal and I probably saw a few players that day who went on to win the World Cup for Italy in 2006).
My overarching takeaway from the experience is that American fans have nothing on European soccer fans. Sure, we're (mostly) loyal to a fault and we've been known to do some crazy stuff, but it pales in comparison to European passion for soccer.
Like we think we're so intense when we paint our faces, beat our chests, and go nuts for the big game. This includes me and my week-long hangover after the Ravens won the Super Bowl two seasons ago. But the truth is, across the pond, they are fucking bananas, and we are pretty much amateur hour.
A sampling of my observations in Italy (where soccer is known as calcio, pronounced "cal-chee-o" because the "ci" makes a "ch" sound, kind of like how Italians horrifyingly pronounce my name "stah-chee"):
NO PYRO IS TOO BIG.
At Camden Yards on Friday nights, after the games, they'll have fireworks night, and they'll move everyone in danger of getting singed to safer seats. Not so in the Florence stadium. Light 'em up, baby! It's game day!
THE FANS WILL LITERALLY KILL EACH OTHER IF YOU LET THEM.
OK, I know that fan violence happens in the States too, but in Italy, they keep the opposing fans in a cage. A CAGE. I am not exaggerating, as you can see in the next photo. It's like a plexiglass-encased section of the stadium where the opposing fans sit so that fights don't break out. And if memory serves, they don't get to leave the stadium until everyone else has left too. You know why? BECAUSE THEY WILL KILL EACH OTHER. I mean, they were intense. The fans were banging at each other through the glass, "vaffanculo" this! And "cazzo" that! These people are out for blood. Show me an American stadium with a cage, and I'll rescind my assertion that American fans aren't as intense.
ITALIANS REALLY LIKE THE PEEN.
(Insert offensive cultural joke here.) I mean, I actually knew this without the soccer game because penises are freaking everywhere in Italy. That is something else--we Americans like to think we're so edgy and hardcore because like, you can say "bitch" on primetime and not have it censored, but holy shit are we prude. In London, there were boobs everywhere. In Italy, it was the penis. Penis postcards, penis keychains, penis pasta. Like the type of stuff you only find for bachelorette parties in the States, they're selling on every street corner in Italy. Which would make you think it's a good thing, but apparently it's not, because at the Florence/Milan game, I witnessed a Milan fan (from inside his cage of course) taunting the Florence fans with a giant blowup penis. I mean, we're talking a penis the size of Peter Dinklage, just waving around the whole game.
Unfortunately, Jen and I won't be able to make a Premier League game when we're in London next month so! Any stories? Have you witnessed any crazy sports fandom outside of the States?
On that note, enjoy the Colombian national soccer team salsaing when they score. Tell me, what tricks do the Yankees do?