It’s right before the quarter-finals of the World Cup and I’m shaking my head while staring at the remaining teams. Most of the time, it’s pretty easy to be a sports fan. People I know generally root for their hometown teams past or present—sometimes both. Those are almost always long-term relationships that usually last a lifetime whether the team does well or, in the case of the hapless and hopeless, Chicago Cubs’ fans—need I say more?

World Cup soccer isn’t as simple. I’m a sports fan and where I do appreciate the beauty of play, I gotta root for someone. That’s the fun. When I’ve got no personal loyalty I usually find out who the underdog is and take its back. I just can’t imagine being neutral watching sports. I’ve never watched any game as a dispassionate observer.

This isn’t my first head shake since the tournament began. We’re talking country against country here, which trumps my underdog fallback policy. Most Americans who follow the Cup simply root for the US unless they had a different country of origin. Even then I’d guess most root for both. And while I love a whole lot of stuff about this country, it’s too difficult to tease out my nation’s team from the horror our government (both Republican and Democrat) has inflicted upon the Iraqis, Afghans, and every country against which it has waged outright and covert war since World War Two.

Yeah, I’m the same guy who has argued it’s okay to separate a person’s achievements from his or her personal life. Never had a problem enjoying Picasso paintings despite his misogyny. Or laughing out loud during Woody Allen films despite his controversial marriage. So why not do the same thing here?

Because I just couldn’t. I know the team had no hand in our ugly. But I still couldn’t stop cringing every time I heard the chant, “USA! USA! USA!

Since I was watching a lot of Cup games and gotta root, I began my quest to find a country in each match to support. And, while I have no doubt that Mexico’s corrupt government has committed egregious acts of injustice and violence, I’d just spent a terrific couple of weeks there (see my last two posts). Hypocritical perhaps, but that experience allowed me to inexplicably push their crimes out of my mind and cheer. I had a team. For a little while, anyway. Unfortunately they didn’t get out of the Round of 16, but I did and wasn’t done with the Cup.

So, as I write this, I’m left with the following teams to root for: Brazil, that spent billions to host the tournament while just out of sight from tourists there are people who live in shacks without running water and about 15% of the country’s deaths are due to transportation accidents, violence, or suicide.

Gonna pass on Brazil.

And so it goes. No full face public burkas in France despite a Social Democratic government. Germany, well, I have historical problems there. Argentina, whose government slaughtered 15,000 to 30,000 political dissidents including trade unionists, students, and journalists in its “Dirty War” (Guerra Sucia).

I don’t think so.

That leaves me Columbia, Netherlands, Belgium, and Costa Rica.

I could probably find historical or contemporary fault with each of these countries but I have a personal connection with one. My older son Matthew spent a high-school summer with a Costa Rican family learning Spanish. Plus, Costa Rica has no military. So, for the time being (at least until they play the Netherlands, the clear cut favorite) I have an underdog team to root for.

Ain’t I the lucky one?

Truth is, I’ve learned something important writing this. There was a guy, a regular customer in my father’s tavern, who had a jones for betting on horses. His method?  Spread The Racing Form on the bar in front of him, take a needle, close his eyes, and dot the day’s races with pinpricks. He’d note the horses he’d hit, go to the telephone booth and call his bookie. I could do the same with the world map and find that every country I touched would leave me feeling sick. Some more than others, but very few without some quease. Even the ones I’ve never heard of.

Maybe that USA chant isn’t as bad as I first thought.

“This may not be the best of all possible worlds, but to say that it is the worst is mere petulant nonsense.” Thomas Henry Huxley

14 thoughts on “WHAT’S A FAN TO DO?

  1. Hi Zach,
    Do I agree with your comments about the USA chant? You know I do! Also agree with your comments about Brazil.

    That said, I’m rooting for Brazil. Why? My little grandson–his dad is from Brazil. I’m very close to them both and we watch most games together either live or taped.

    My grandson likes to sing the Brazilian national anthem and if you told me ten years ago I’d know most of the words I would have thought you crazy. Any way the Dad isn’t happy with a lot in Brazil but I guess if he can overlook it for these events, I guess I can too. My family trumps my unpopular political beliefs at least in this situation.

    • Jed–I get it. And honestly, the conclusion I came to is it doesn’t really matter who anyone roots for. There’s a very good ESPN documentary series called Thirty on Thirty that recently described soccer in Columbia. Well worth looking for.

  2. As Spock would say, “That’s highly illogical”. Plus, it’s never a good idea to plumb the depths of one’s enjoyments, especially when it comes to sporting events. Exponentially so, when it comes to soccer. It can only get in the way.

    Selectively applying your personal interpretation of history to the equation is an interesting approach. No better or worse than others I suppose.

    I haven’t watched any of the spectacle. I can’t pretend to care who wins. I can’t appreciate the interaction of the game with the talent on the field in these matches any more than that of the peewee players at the local park. The crowds do not move me. They actually make me sad.

    • Bill–I know a lot of my friends who can’t stand the game and I’m not a regular either. But somehow, every four years I’m drawn to it. Maybe because it is every four years. Not sure tho whether it’s my interpretation of history that drove the post as much as my conundrums.

  3. Isn’t it a law that in the absence of a favorite team you root for whichever side has the better uniforms?

    Seriously, though, I couldn’t help but root for the US in the World Cup. I’ve always thought we were new to the sport, but heard that the US has qualified for every World Cup since 1994. If that’s the case, then why does it seem we’ve never had much coverage of soccer until this year? Fun post.

    • Sherri–there is actually more coverage now then in the past. But part of the problem is our “professional” league isn’t. It’s really a minor league league. On the other hand, ten years ago “soccer mom” wasn’t in our vernacular.

  4. I detest sports nationalism, only sexism trumps that as I love rooting for sexy US gymnast and skaters, and soccer itself is poison to me. The World Cup is like the Olympics, a bunch of teams and players supported by dictators and thug nation’s.

    Here’s the real rub for me, the money. How much money, and other resourses, are wasted on this shit? They built stadiums for this useless crap! Do you know how many stadiums we have that are already underused in this world? Same thing for the Olympics!!

    • Don–While I don’t feel as strongly about the negative things you mention, I’m in basic agreement. Boston is trying to get the Olympics and I think it’s lunacy. Where we disagree is about the sport itself. Although I’m a baseball nut as you know, I do enjoy soccer better than hockey. And, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  5. Two of my lesser passions in life are (a.) watching paint dry, and (b.) soccer.

    Where did this silly game come from so suddenly? Why all the seemingly instant American madness about it? The only good things I can possibly think about soccer are soccer moms and I just deleted about roughly a paragraph about them lest I wind up on a few sexual deviant watch lists.

    One needs to remember George Carlin’s famous bit explaining the differences between baseball and football. The first was a mere summertime game of joy and happiness. The second was a highly militaristic mini-war fought on a grid. He never even mentioned soccer. It never registered on his radar. That’s how new soccer silliness is to America.

    Any city which attempts to get the Olympics is a city to move out of as quickly as possible. Your tax rates will skyrocket, poorer neighborhoods will be confiscated or bought at bandit prices for the construction of some Great Artist’s rendition of a futuristic-looking stadium which will be unworkable and impractical to the players and a future eyesore to everyone until it is torn down a few years later, again at staggering cost to the taxpayer. For players and fans, soccer is a great game–which could just as easily be played on a freshly-picked soybean field as in a gold-plated stadium. For all non-players and non-fans, it’s merely a dandy moneymaking opportunity with which to fleece the public.

    Sherri might want to reconsider picking the teams with the coolest-looking uniforms if there is no other clear favorite. It’s long been a joke in military circles that the army with the snappiest, best-tailored uniforms loses any war they fight. You have to admit, the Wehrmacht and SS were genuinely sharp-dressed men. The British, Russian, and American grunts opposing them looked like their uniforms were made from burlap potato sacks. Those we didn’t simply shoot were surrendering to us as quickly as possible at the end. There are zillions of photos of amazingly well-dressed Nazis handing their Lugars over to some dumpy-looking, muddy Tommy, Ivan, or G.I. Joe before being shoved behind the barbed wire of a POW camp, so that’s not a real good indicator of who’s going to come out on top.

    And didn’t some tin-horned dictator have most of his soccer team shot when they came home after losing abysmally? Saddam Hussein? Idi Amin? Or was it one of the fat little North Korean wackos? I forget who now, but it was hardly a fair way to welcome your team home.

    I say we replace soccer with that great Calvin and Hobbes sport, Clavinball. Make up the damned rules as you go along. Throw sticks, bricks, buckets of mop water, whatever you can lay your hands on. Trip your opponents, swing past them on ropes, dig pits for them to fall into. Every tree, bush, or swing set is a goal post if you can get to it, and a neighbor’s window is a TRIPLE goal.

    Now there’s a game I would watch!


    • Kent–You’ve become a curmudgeon. Hell, you don’t like baseball or even basketball Indiana’s state sport. Ah well. I think the game is fine but totally agree with you about hosting the Cup. A huge waste of money. As I mentioned to Don in another comment, Boston is trying to be a future host city. Madness, I tell you, madness!!!

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