wherein DF travels to Deutschland for the 2006 world cup to follow the US men's national soccer team

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

US fans suck, reports The Guardian (UK)

BERLIN—This just in: supporters of the USMNT are drunken boors who are as ignorant about soccer as they are jingoistic in their political beliefs, reports British paper The Guardian.

You can all go home, now, guys. You’ve been found out. Star editorialist Marina Hyde of the Guardian is onto you and she’s brave enough to say so in print a day after the fact. In her startling expose, Over-excited, Overweight, and Over Here, Hyde points out that—in sharp contrast to the classiness of other soccer fans—the US brigade contains individuals who like to drink booze, carry a few extra pounds, and (when subject to pointed questioning at the hands of incisive writers such as herself) may utter vaguely nationalistic observations. Let’s take the devastating accusations one by one:

First, we’re all a bunch of drunken sots who like a rowdy good time, wear crazy costumes, and support their team with a fervor that can be off-putting to those who don’t share the enthusiasm. Well, Marina, you’ve got us on this one. It’s just that well, this characterization could describe pretty much any group of supporters for any team in the World Cup—most notably the folks who follow the Guardian’s own national side. (I’d say more about the irony that a writer for an English paper is calling out other fans as drunk and obnoxious but don’t want to belabor the obvious.)

Second, we’re all ignorant about soccer. Hyde supports this powerful accusation by pointing out that Americans say “zero” instead of “nil,” and refer to defense as “D.” Yes, it’s true—Marina Hyde has revealed that we have our own variant of soccer terminology. Oh, but it’s worse: we’re all ignorant of global politics, too! While this is certainly a commonplace stereotype, Hyde amply supports that it reflects reality by finding a US fan who mistakenly asserted that Dubai is in Africa. That’s brave reporting: discovering that a drunken sports fan lacks immediate recall of world geography. Can I get a line to the folks who give out the Pulitzer? This lady’s a cinch.

Third, and most crushing of all, Hyde smokes out US fans for what they are: Bush-loving, militaristic jingoists who uncritically accept the administration’s policies. Hyde points out that one supporter said that “[A] Kurdish taxi driver in Berlin . . . rated the president very highly.” “Rated him highly”, eh? Interesting phrasing—not the kind of language that an American would use, but kind of British-sounding, really. I’m just saying...

Anyway, now I’ve got to break character here for a sec to make a serious point: as far as I’ve seen, every single US fan at the World Cup has put politics behind them. Most of the people I know here are big administration critics (self included) rather than supporters, but for the most part I don’t have any sense of the general political tenor of US fans because we’ve put politics behind us—wisely. If you want to bring politics into the mix, you find yourself in an infinite regression. Can’t root for England, thanks to their centuries of bloodthirsty colonial aggression. Italy? Repressive fascists were on the wrong side of WWII. Serbia didn’t exactly have a great 1990s. Germany? I won’t even go there.

Back to Marina Hyde’s incisive reporting, though. When I read stuff like this, I’m often reminded of a sportswriter friend who observed in 2002 that a huge part of the lukewarm reception of the US national team’s success derived from resentment that America was becoming part of one of the last few major world arenas where it’s historically been absent. Now it appears that the analogue is happening with respect to the USMNT fan following. In other words, there’s a party going on and lots of people—e.g., Marina Hyde—doesn’t want the US to be there. The resentment is clear in the egregious double standards applied to each teams: witness the outpouring of affection for T&T by neutrals, by contrast (though to be fair the neutrals in Fritz-Walter-Stadion on Saturday night ended up pulling for the US after seeing how they played).

And here’s why articles like Marina Hyde’s make the world a worse place: the World Cup, and soccer more generally, provide a venue in which people can put aside their differences of belief and opinion and recognize instead one thing they all have in common. Every single US fan I know who came over here for the Cup did it because they love the game of soccer and want to be part of its quadrennial global celebration. Some Americans may be xenophobic isolationists who want no participation in the world community, but the fans who follow the USMNT aren’t (as Marina Hyde’s obvious lack of success in finding any truly threatening political comments from fans illustrates)—otherwise they wouldn’t be here. When you try to marginalize a group of people who are making a gesture that connotes global unity, you’re helping to build the kind of international resentment that events like the World Cup (however marginally) have the potential to defuse.

Now in the end, this is after all an editorial that’s meant to be entertaining, and Hyde’s shtick is crystal clear (cold, condescending Englishwoman stares down her nose at boorish Americans—which you have to admit is a very original take). And to be fair, this is entertaining. I for one had a hard time putting the article down, if only because I found myself increasingly impressed at the audacious absurdity of each subsequent observation. But in the end, it’s not intended to be taken that seriously and shouldn’t be.

So I think we can all agree that this is really just a stitch up. It’s not exactly difficult to find a bunch of drunk soccer fans acting crazy—that is, after all, what drunk soccer fans do. But the real opinion expressed here isn’t about US fan support, it’s about Marina Hyde. Marina Hyde doesn’t like America, doesn’t like our fans, doesn’t like the idea that we’re actually a presence at this World Cup, and she would just like for us to leave. But at the end of the day, it would be more ballsy to just admit that instead of cobbling together selectively chosen quotes and observations in an unconvincing attempt to ridicule fans who have done much to enliven this cup (and haven’t created a single violent incident in the process—a marked contrast to the European supporters who Hyde fails to criticize in her piece).

So the thing is, Marina (who kind of looks like a British Anne Coulter *shudder*), we’re here and we’re staying, so get used to it. And perhaps a little more knowledge about and tolerance of the US fan support—and less reliance on tired stereotypes and simpleminded mockery—would make the transition go a little more smoothly for all you who find us so terribly distasteful.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Soccer Dad said...

DF - I think certain people are concerned that soccer might be catching on in the US in a way they never expected.

For years they have expected that soccer in the US would never be popular enough. It would always be a bottom feeder.

But now it's not. 1994 drew record crowds (at the time) in a nation everyone thought hated soccer. True, it wasn't some overnight revolution. But continued successes have brought soccer out more. The women winning, the 2002 surprises. Plus with millions of kids playing the sport, eventually it would filter up some.

As you've pointed out yourself and others have reported as well, Americans have made a real presence in Germany. Our fan contingent outweighed the Italians by some estimates.

That. Just. Doesn't. Happen.

Not with American fans. So your closing arguement is dead on. Certain portions of the European soccer establishment, and I believe it is a small but vocal minority, don't want us to like soccer. They fear if we do, we may cause subtle changes and nothign would turn their stomahcs than to have ANY AMerican twist on ANY part of soccer. The fact that we call it soccer is bad enough. The whole nil and D thing is hilarious. Who the hell cares if you say zero or nil - it's still a shutout.

Regardless of what happens, I think the US gained some respect for the match against Italy. Our team battled and it made people sit up and pay attention.

Hopefully people like Marina will continue to be the minority, an ever smaller one. Soccer may never be the #1 sport like it is overseas, but a growing number of fans treat it as such and that's something they're going to have to get used to.

8:53 AM, June 20, 2006

 
Blogger Matt Matros said...

There was a "jarring tone about" some US supporters! The horror!

Seriously, I wouldn't even say this was entertaining, simply because her attempt at humor missed the mark by so much. I mean come on, a bunch of quotes from drunk people? No one ever wants to listen to drunk people, let alone record their comments and print them as journalism

11:07 AM, June 20, 2006

 
Anonymous Tom said...

I really don't think the article was meant to be taken all that seriously. It seemed pretty light-hearted to me.

3:38 AM, June 21, 2006

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to bring politics into the mix, you find yourself in an infinite regression. Can’t root for England, thanks to their centuries of bloodthirsty colonial aggression. Italy? Repressive fascists were on the wrong side of WWII. Serbia didn’t exactly have a great 1990s. Germany? I won’t even go there.
Hey,

I'm an interested reader of your blog, with which I usually agree very much. But one thing about the cited statement: I think you are confusing politics and history here. And we can only hope that the current US politics don't become the history you just criticised about the other countries.

Other than that, I cannot say that I ever had negative experiences with US fans. Maybe the lady from the guardian should take a look at her own country before she complains about others.

Take care,

Oceana

6:23 AM, June 21, 2006

 
Blogger Pavel said...

That article was totally tongue-in-cheek, dude. At the World Cup, it is easy to make fun of fans going overboard on this fake kind of nationalism. For most people, this is the only time they can do things like that. And the U.S. fans, being a bit of a novelty at the World Cup are an easy (and fun) target.

9:59 AM, June 21, 2006

 
Anonymous Susan said...

DF,
I will join some of your other commenters and caution you not to take The Guardian piece too seriously. I have to say that I found it to be difficult to follow this advice myself when I briefly lived in London. They seem to delight in seeking out snide ways to poke fun at America. (I was certain that they had reporters stationed in NY full-time just to produce articles about our national weight problem. Maybe it's because the UK is running a fairly close second in this dimension)? Soccer Dad hit the nail on the head, I think. There is a fear that we don't "deserve" any football success and a simultaneous fear that it's only a matter of time before we achieve it. You are so right that this sort of thing really spoils the atmosphere for everyone. And why bash those Americans who do travel abroad for the xenophobic, isolationist tendencies of that segment of the population back home in the US? Soccer-loving international travelers aren't jingoistic by nature. Those who wish to blame all Americans for the current political situation (and this ought to be left out of the World Cup entirely), would do well to remember that the number of dissenters was close to half of the voting population.

Marina Hyde and others of her ilk are a lot more like their hooligan compatriots than they will ever admit to themselves.

11:12 AM, June 21, 2006

 
Blogger DF said...

All,

Thanks for your comments. For the record, OF COURSE the Guardian article was tongue in cheek (I explicitly acknowledge this). And, equally obvious (I thought), so was my response--the whole thing was a sarcastic riposte to a sarcastic article. If she can take the piss (as the Brits say), then so can I, right?

Oh, and let's also remember that merely because something's written in a facetious tone doesn't mean that it lacks a serious message. I think this writer really does have major distaste for the US and its fans, and saying that in a joking way doesn't make the opinion any less salient.

4:52 PM, June 21, 2006

 
Blogger Phutatorius said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:25 PM, June 21, 2006

 
Blogger DF said...

In particular, I thought I expressed pretty clearly that this article was not to be taken seriously when I wrote:

"in the end, it’s not intended to be taken that seriously and shouldn’t be."

5:41 PM, June 21, 2006

 
Blogger Phutatorius said...

Clipped from Slate earlier today:

"Ahh, England-Sweden. At last, my chance to see the thugs up close. A chance to sit among those brutish, ill-mannered, half-drunk, dyspeptic, football-mad zealots of such great renown. I speak, of course, of the British press."

The English press simply does not have the moral authority that it purports to exercise here.

I suppose if it's fair game to generalize about Yankee soccer fans, then by analogy it's no crime to lump The Guardian in with the likes of the News of the World.

Not that I'd be inclined to do that lumping, if not provoked. Bear in mind that I write this as a committed and avowed lover of all things English (DF will testify). But come on already . . .

5:43 PM, June 21, 2006

 

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