Disassociated Thoughts on Association Football

25 Jun

Mmmm.....tasty

His shoulder broke my tooth!

First, I hate the fact that for the next few weeks when I reference my love of football, I have to qualify it with, “I mean, you know, American Football.” I then get someone who tells me that football, meaning soccer, is so much better than American Football, to which I disagree, to which he points out that American Football is waaaaay too violent, to which I say, yeah but at least our injuries are real and not some fake crybaby crap. Then he gets indignant, and I say, hey, let’s agree to disagree, and he doesn’t. Then he bites me, probably. Soccer is the only sport I know of whose fans are like missionaries and if you don’t like their damned game, you’re going to hell.

Not that I really have anything against soccer. It’s just not my thing. Heck, up until a few years ago I didn’t give a shit about hockey, but then the team from my hometown got good, and I felt it imperative to jump on that bandwagon. Some would call me a fair weather fan, but I always perform my due diligence: I’m not just a hanger on who will root blindly for a team. I watch as much as possible and try to learn the rules, learn the players, understand the game like I do with baseball and football. I will never be a fan of hockey like I am of those other sports. And I doubt very much I will ever care about soccer outside of four years when I get to chant USA!USA!USA!. Frankly, I don’t care who wins the World Cup. I know it’s not going to be the country I live in, so I guess, I dunno…Chile? The Dutch? Costa Fucking Rica?

Finding a rooting interest may seem paramount when one is new to a sport. Why else would I watch this except for the chance to feel good that my team won? Actually, there are plenty of people who watch games where they have no rooting interest; they just want to watch a good game. One does not have to care about either team to enjoy the Heat play the Spurs, the Dodgers play the Giants, or the Bears destroy a bunch of inbred cheese eaters. In some ways not having a rooting interest can be beneficial: I can watch the game for simple love of the game, for the beauty of it, and not have my heart potentially broken because my team choked yet again.

Soccer fans during the World Cup are an odd bunch. There are the diehard ones who hate those of us who watch once every four years. They are quick to correct our lingo (“It’s a draw my dear fellow, not a tie.”), and quicker to denounce us as mere hangers-on. Of course, the only fan more annoying than the one who chants USA!USA!USA! every four years (me), are Americans who consciously root against their own country. “We’ve got everything, why don’t we let someone else have something.” “We invaded most of these countries, so why should I root for us. We’re the bad guys.” (Actually, that was probably England.)

These are odd philosophies, similar to someone living in the Bronx who actively roots against the Yankees because they’ve won too much.  Rooting against a team (which I have done in the past, and will do in the future, so I’m not blameless here) displays a pent-up hostility and need for release that the impossible victory of one’s own team cannot bring.

With the World Cup, if one does not have a team to actively cheer on, the choice is often left up to politics, or worse, stupid politics.

Besides simply rooting against a country because she done you wrong, I’ve heard odd rationales for why people cheer on certain teams: the country with the darkest skinned players, the lowest GDP, the most accessibility to abortion, the most accessibility to gay marriage, the hottest players, etc. Some only root for the teams that have an actual shot at winning because they want to always be on the side of victory. Others desire an underdog to prove that not everything in the world is rigged. And some just like the pretty colors. But every team has their fair share of good and bad reasons to root for them.

I would love to be like my friends of Italian or Dutch heritage who root for those teams because that’s where their great-great grandparents lived. Unfortunately, the reason I live in America now is because the countries my ancestors called home tried/succeeded in killing/raping them.

The U.S., England, France, and Russia, have all historically idiosyncratic track records along that pesky Good-Evil spectrum. England owned most of the world. France fucked up much of Africa. Russia is…well, Russia. And the good ol’ U.S. of A. took whatever goodwill that the rest of the world bestowed upon it after 9/11 and shat it away in a couple of mindless desert wars. Also Vietnam. And slavery.

Most of my female friends are were rooting for either Spain or Italy because those men are apparently the hottest in the world. Well, now they have to root for teams that bite people.

I guess you could root for Germany, but that’s like betting against the table in craps: win or lose, no one is going to like you.

The Swiss are like the Germans, except they still have my people’s art.

Greece invented democracy but ruined economics, so that’s a nil-nil, I guess.

The Dutch have weed and hookers, so that’s cool.

Iran is the designated country that makes the other shitty countries look better.

That basically leaves all those Latin American places. I guess I can root for Colombia because that’s where the good shit comes from.

***

As a good American, I have to profess my hatred of soccer, not because I don’t like it, but because I don’t get it. Not that I don’t understand the rules; the rules are easy, the love of the game is hard. When they speak of it like a religion, that is exactly how it comes across to me. I am often bemused by those filled with the spirit of whichever lord they pray to. I don’t have that spirit. I don’t know if I ever did. Once I believed, then I didn’t. Or I realized that I never had. I do understand that feeling of “religious frenzy” that some get when in commune with their god. I get it when I write, or watch a great movie, or a great ballgame.

I wrote about something similar last year. I had for years professed a tangible dislike for Doctor Who, not because it was bad, but because I didn’t understand it. I felt like I was not part of the one club to which I would like to have membership. The Doctor Who Club, however, was always pretty welcoming. No one has told me I am a bad fan because I am simply a new fan.

But sports is different, and soccer one of the most stark in its cool kid exclusivity. Just because I am relatively new to the sport, does not mean that others should dismiss me because my knowledge is not on par with theirs.

Sports fandom – like religion – does not follow the strict rules of how the world works. For instance, I am not at all a superstitious person, except when it comes to sports. I was at a baseball game once when the pitcher (it was Roger Clemens) had a no-hitter into the seventh inning. The guy behind me called someone and told him “turn on the Yankee game, Clemens has a no-hitter going.” I don’t care if you don’t believe in luck, fate, destiny, jinxes, or whatever, as a baseball fan you don’t use the phrase “no-hitter” while someone is throwing a no-hitter. I gave the guy a dirty look and he said, “It doesn’t matter what I say,” talking down to me like a rabid atheist would to a liberal Unitarian. One batter later, someone got a hit. During the Seventh Inning Stretch I stood and farted in the man’s general direction.

***

I was in a bar in Brooklyn watching the U.S. v. Portugal game. It was crazy. Crazy bad then crazy good then crazy better then crazy sad. I don’t see myself as a Nationalist. I don’t go “America! Fuck Yeah” except out of hipster irony. I can root for my Chicago teams and never feel a twinge of  “Well, I have issues with Chicago.” But I have had issues with America. Wars. Drones. Donald Trump. Creationism. The death penalty. I could go on. And on. And on. I love living here, but here is technically New York.

Things like “These colors don’t run,” the requisite “God Bless America” at baseball games, “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists,” the idea that any man or woman in uniform is an automatic Hero, and the sheer deluge of bullshit pro-America propaganda in the decade after 9/11 has made me want to retch. All those goddamned fucking flag pins. And if you didn’t wear one, guess what…you were with the terrorists. All of this was ugly profane Nationalism. I think most of us can love our country – to a greater or lesser degree – without being strong-armed into doing so by a noxious ad campaign.

That’s why, while I disagree, I actually understand those who can’t stomach rooting for America during the World Cup. It’s like comeuppance, that richest of just desserts, made with chocolate tears and marshmallow heartbreak.

But you know what? I want to win. I want America to win this. We won’t. Even our coach said we won’t. But I want to win as much as we can, because…well, because this is my country. This is where I live. And while I have plenty of issues with both our foreign and domestic policies, this is sports.

The World Cup lets us be Nationalistic in the best possible way. When I root for America it is completely disassociated from American politics and policy. All those crazy guys and gals decked up in red white and blue, or that guy in a Teddy Roosevelt get-up – normally that stuff rubs me the wrong way.

Speak softly and fuck the Germans.

Speak softly and fuck the Germans.

But not here. This is benign Nationalism. This isn’t war. No one is getting killed, only occasionally bitten. When this is all over, one country will have a giant party, and the rest of us can go home and mope for a few hours, but maybe we will feel a bit more connected with our country afterwards.

We can all root for America even if our individual visions of what America is or should be are vastly different. We can disagree on politics – you may be right wing and I may be left – but we agree on the game. We can all high-five and afterwards you can go back to your NRA and I can go back to my ACLU. It’s not that sports bridges a gap or that it makes us all equal. We have always been equal, and generally the bridges we need are not that long. In general, we have more in common than not, though to admit this would be like a draw in soccer – something acceptable to many, but stupidly refused by those who only desire to beat someone else.

This will be posted less than twenty-four hours before the U.S.-Germany match. Perhaps you are reading this and we are already out. Maybe you have turned off the Cup and are back to good old baseball, whose rules seem so very less complicated than soccer’s. But hopefully, you are reading this after the U.S. men have moved on to the knockout stage to face [probably Belgium, but boy would I love to play Russia], and are giddy about yet one more game. And, hey, anything’s possible, right? Just ask Costa Fucking Rica.

And besides, if there’s one thing America’s always been good at, it’s kicking some German ass.

 

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