Friday, September 30, 2011

Real Men Like Real Football

There is this myth in this country that never ceases to amaze me. It is widely believed that Americans do not like soccer (football is the correct term, but I will call it soccer here for practical purposes). Anyone who still believes that has never been to Rio Tinto stadium, where games are routinely packed with 20,000 screaming fans. The impulse to deny soccer its rightful place in this country stems from the American tradition of xenophobia. Yet, those who are able to get past the “foreignness” of soccer invariably fall in love with it. And why not? It is a—no, the—beautiful game. It is a game full of passion and full of energy. It is a game in which fans are center stage.

Some people complain that it is a low scoring game and call this boring, but anyone who has been to a professional game will see the low scoring aspect of the game as a huge positive. Yes, there are few goals in most games, but when the goal comes, there nothing more beautiful, or if you are receiving it, more painful. Either way, it means a great deal. One goal can make an entire stadium erupt with joy or bring sadness to the stands.

In victory, the fans share in the team’s happiness. In defeat, there is collective mourning. And win or lose, fans are part of the team in a way that no other sport allows them to be. That is why soccer, more than any other sport, favors the home team. The energy in the stadium is transferred to the field in the form of chanting, singing, and screaming that never stops. Soccer fans are in a very real sense a huge part of a team’s success.

Every time I show up for a soccer match, it feels like the first time. Each time the players come out, and I pull my scarf over my head to show my allegiance, I feel like I am part of something bigger than myself. Every time I scream at the referee or try to intimidate the opposing team, I feel like I am contributing to my team’s success. It seems silly—until you experience that rush.

There is nothing like it, except maybe being on the pitch. Soccer is growing at an incredible rate in America. Major League Soccer teams are no longer a joke. They are competing—and winning—against elite international teams. And people are starting to realize just how amazing the sport is, and just how much fun being a soccer fan can be. It is not the passive, wishy-washy fandom of “football” or basketball. Soccer fans are engaged, passionate, and loyal like no other subset of fans. It is time we pay a little attention to the world’s game, and make it our own. And let the record show that I was a soccer fan before it was cool to be a soccer fan!


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