Today, the US play Germany in a very high-stakes group match. This means that many US Americans will be watching a ‘soccer game’ for the first time in four years. Or if they’re really, really die-hard fans, maybe it will be the third match they’ve watched since the last World Cup.
For many of these sudden football fans, it’s an exciting event, and they will want to talk about the matches on social media or with their real-life friends, but, knowing very little about the players or teams involved, many will resort to uninformed stereotypes about the countries involved, or absolutely tasteless geopolitical/historical ‘jokes.’
I think I could make a fairly compelling case that I’m a bit more serious about the sport than the vast majority of people watching ESPN today: I was living in London for much of the US’ World Cup qualifying run, so I would stay up until 2am ON A WEEKNIGHT to watch the US take on, for example, Antigua and Barbuda. At my local pub in London, I once had to tell a Brit claiming to be a Liverpool supporter who the club’s current manager was. I mean, I went to an African Cup of Nations qualifying match in Uganda — not even the Cup itself, just a qualifier! — even though the US embassy was telling everyone to stay away because Al-Shabaab was going to bomb the stadium.
So I can appreciate that the World Cup isn’t just a once-every-four-years event. It’s the culmination of several years of qualifiers, international friendlies, the trajectories of individual players and their clubs in multiple domestic leagues, hours of speculation and agonising, and second-guessing of managers that all comes to a head every four years.
Now, I’ll admit that I laugh just as heartily as anyone else when Americans (and especially American announcers) make a mess of trying to talk about football. But, I’m refusing to be a snob during this World Cup. I’m not going to chide anyone who says ‘points’ when they really mean ‘goals.’ I won’t call out — on Facebook, Twitter or real-life — anyone who tries to sound like they know what they’re talking about but who quite plainly does not. Heck, I might even use the word ‘soccer’ if I think it will confuse someone less.
Why? Because I think it can only be good when otherwise uninterested parties take an interest in the beautiful game, even if only for one month (again, provided they don’t say anything during that period that provokes an international incident).
After all, the current steady rise in football fandom in the US can be traced directly back to the 1994 World Cup, which gave a first taste of high-level international football to a country who probably thought Romário was a nickname for Roberto Baggio.
Thank goodness there weren’t enough pretentious football fans in US at that time to condescend to a generation that was being exposed to the game for the first time. Otherwise, who knows if everything that’s happened in the last 20 years — the creation and subsequent rise of the MLS, the emergence of US-Mexico as one of the great rivalries in international football, the many US players who’ve had a chance to play in the top leagues in Europe — would have been forestalled.
And maybe part of it is that whole “do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Because, you know what? In February, I was watching bobsledding, and curling and something called Nordic Combined. I have no idea what they do in the years between Olympics; do those same people keep competing every winter? All year round?
Thankfully, no one castigates me — or as far as I can tell, anyone else — for this flippant and fleeting fandom. So neither shall I judge you when you’re no longer interested in real football come September.