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

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

USA-CZE III: the fans


I didn’t really know what to expect when I got to Gelsenkirchen on Monday afternoon, but what I found shocked and inspired me: the entire town center teeming with singing, drinking, exuberant US soccer fans. By way of background, I’ve long considered my affection for soccer to be kind of a rogue taste, and am used to being one of three people in a bar watching a game or the only person in my group of friends or workplace who’s into the sport. And I’ve long looked with envy on people whose nations go nuts for the World Cup, in contrast to the US where even the 2002 victory over Mexico in the Round of 16 made little dent in the cultural consciousness.

I’m not sure what the scene was like in France or Korea, but in G-town, the US fan presence looked like what I’d always imagined one would see from the big countries like Italy or Germany. The NYC fans I met at the train station in Frankfurt told me that the meetup spot for US fans was a place called the Hibernian pub, and by the time I got there at 1.30pm (for a 6pm game), the pub was full of supporters, who had spilled out into the town square in front of the Hibernian and were in full song, literally (see pic).

There were easily hundreds in the town square singing song after song, accompanied by photogs and news cameras. (US fans a news item? Apparently so.) We even had our own crazy eccentric figures: a couple full-on Uncle Sams w/big fake beards, a bunch of dudes in afro wigs dressed like the Harlem Globetrotters, and many, many Elvises (or is the plural Elvi?). And also to my surprise, the US presence in the town center definitely overbore the Czech one. There were plenty of Czechs there, but they didn’t make nearly the kind of impression in terms of noise, numbers, or style that the US fans did. It felt like a watershed moment to me; the day when America’s fans arrived on the world stage (too bad the same couldn’t be said of their team).

The only down note I’d attribute to US supporters relates in part to a group of fifteen or so skinhead England fans who staked out a spot in an outdoor pub terrace (replete with de rigeur Cross of St. George) and did the standard Brit-thug thing. (Shirts off to expose enormous beer guts, postures of langorous aggression to give off that “ready to fight anyone who looks at me cockeyed and is also smaller than me” vibe.) The closest American analog I can think of is motorcycle thugs (and not a cool James Dean “Rebel Without a Cause” biker, but rather a fat, mean Hell’s Angel whose hobbies include quaaludes and date rape). Of course, hools will be hools (and to be fair, these guys did not try to start any shit) but what got under my skin was that a couple really cute girls decked out in US regalia approached the England dudes to chat them up. Seeing the US girls with the fat thugs made me feel what it must be like to have a little sister when she goes through the standard late-teenage “date an edgy scumbag” phase. Yellow card to these American gals.

Of course, the way the US played in that game didn’t do our growing following any favors, and may have set the cause of soccer in this nation back a ways. It’s one thing to fly across the globe to see your great team win (Brazilians do this with regularity); it’s still appealing to shell out for international travel to see your hard-battling national team play well but go out with dignity to superior competition; but it’s really hard to think of a reason to pay that much money and go through that much trouble to see your team play poorly and lose badly.

The other problem is that most Americans approach the game with the prior that the US sucks, so it’s very very hard to convince people that our soccer team is any good, while the casual followers interpret even the slightest bump in the road as confirmation of our essential crappiness. Thus a bad WC will tend to drive away more fans than a good WC will draw in.

Finally, though, let me say this: the Czech fans were a class act all the way. Not one of them acted lame (by which I mean violent or particularly obnoxious) before the game when they were outnumbered by US fans and generally looking kind of dejected about it. On the contrary, I saw plenty of US and Czech fans taking pics together, disproving the notion that support for your national team and antipathy for its opponents are necessary correlates. And during and after the game, the Czechs were just, well, happy. They celebrated the goals, sang for their team, and took off. No one taunted US fans (that I saw, anyway) or tried to start a fight or broke windows in the town center. There may have been incidents, but from what I saw, they were by far the exception rather than the rule.

{Pic: US fans in full voice outside the Hibernian pub in Gelsenkirchen town center.}

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just want to say I really enjoyed your perspective on the experience and the CZE-USA game. You voiced a lot of my opinions (being the only guy of my friends/workplace into soccer, envying soccer-crazy nations, realizing how much harder this game made it to tell my non-US friends that they can take the US seriously as a soccer team, being OK with the US losing if they fought hard but being disgusted instead by their lack of effort, etc). I'll be looking for your next post--

Christian
Ft. Worth, TX

9:46 PM, June 13, 2006

 
Blogger brainsick said...

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3:30 AM, June 14, 2006

 
Anonymous Seamus said...

DF,

I've loved your posts so far. They're ratcheting up the anxiety level for me as I hop on a flight to Berlin tonight!

The yanks-abroad.com folks have an organized meet-up at O'Shea's Pub in Nuremberg for the Ghana match. My friends and I are going even if the match is meaningless, so maybe our paths will cross...

9:09 AM, June 14, 2006

 
Blogger DF said...

Thanks all for the comments. Seamus, did you ever get tickets to the Ghana game?

9:58 AM, June 14, 2006

 
Anonymous Seamus said...

No df, never got tickets. That's not a dterrent though. We're going to Nuremberg and we'll see what happens. Maybe the public viewing area will be good enough...

If it turns out that neither us or ghana will have anything to play for I'm sure the tickets will be plentiful. And I would like to see the match anyway..just to complete the experience. But I planned my trip not caring whether I actually get into a match or not....

1:16 PM, June 14, 2006

 

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