Sunday, June 13, 2010

Life as a Soccer Missionary

I've been trying really hard over the past couple of weeks to get into a rhythm of working on classwork and blogging. Considering I'm in a class that shrinks a semester's worth of work into four weeks, my work is cut out for me. What makes things worse is the fact that the World Cup is this summer, and that means that for hours at a time a significant portion of my focus is on the match at hand... even if it's between teams like Paraguay and Switzerland. The quadrennial festival of football is truly a sight to behold, and the prospect of watching three matches a day for almost two weeks straight is true delight for a football supporter like me.

However, living in a semi-rural part of the United States means it is often quite a lonely exercise. Soccer and I have been joined at the hip since an early age through both playing the game and being a spectator. My younger years were pretty much dire, but our local public broadcasting station played ancient reruns from the brilliant series Soccer Made in Germany got me well in touch with my German ancestry, so when my teammates were busy trying to pick daisies out of the midfield, I was busy trying to be south Louisiana's own Karl-Heinz Rummenigge... and usually failing miserably because I was even shorter than he was. The growth of the spectator side of the sport in the 1990s allowed me to finally follow my teams in Holland (PSV Eindhoven), Germany (Hamburger SV), and England (Arsenal) from my home over satellite television. However, like a lot of things in my life, it was merely tolerated by my parents mainly because they wanted to be nice to me and didn't (really) want me to be seen talking to myself, even if it was about the majesty of Dennis Bergkamp.

Fast forward well over a decade, and with a good-paying job and spare time, following the game now is really easy--just like spending lots of money on it. I'm currently investing in some World Cup scarves and a couple of posters to go in my classroom to accompany my Arsenal scarf so when people walk in they will know for sure which sport I follow--as if the PSV Eindhoven polos, soccer books from Europe, and German men's national team lanyard my ID hangs off of isn't any indication, that is. When my students ask what I watched this weekend, I'd pull out the English Premier League highlights online and show them the best goals of the week, much to their consternation.

On Saturday I headed over to Lafayette to watch the England-USA match at a local eatery. I was astounded to see the place packed to the gills with folks wearing kits from over 20 countries and a good 10 club sides. With nowhere else to sit, I plopped down at the bar between an Englishman and a loud-mouth American that knew nothing about the game despite claiming to have played high school soccer for four years. When the US scored off of Robert Green's horiffic error, the place exploded with cheers, including myself in a rare case of openly cheering when watching a sporting event. When it was over, I left satisfied in a good time, but wondering where all of these supporters came from, because whereas I wear my club allegiances pretty openly, I can count the number of non-rec soccer kits I've seen in the area, apart from the Mexicans and their innumerable Chivas and Club America kits. There was that one guy I saw wearing an Aston Villa shirt with Gabriel Agbonlahor on the back, but apart from that, I'm all alone.

It's weird, but in some ways I'm just one of an ever-growing number of soccer missionaries preaching the good news of the beautiful game to this nation of uncultured savages. Of course, I say that with my tongue firmly in cheek, but there is something that, despite the ever-growing status of the game in the American sports scene, makes Americans scoff and act a smidge hostile. Despite the scenes across the country like I experienced on Saturday, people frowned at the fact the England-USA match ended in a draw, much less the fact that there was celebration for a draw, and typical complaints about a lack of scoring, and a general "lack of action", and whined that they were going to have to put up with this nonsense for a month. Of course, some people have found the secret lair where I get my marching orders, and blamed this all on the liberal media, which I find most amusing considering where I stand when it comes to politics.

I don't think I'm too offencive of a missionary. I mean, compared to some of the American football shrines some of my colleagues have, my scarves and books are small time. When the New Orleans Saints were on their Super Bowl run, the mad dash to get on the bandwagon was startling, as was the garish amount of black and gold everyone wore, not to mention the kitsch people plastered on their walls, windows, and sides of their automobiles. I think best of all, I don't sit there and constantly carp about why football games on TV last over 3 hours, referees never call basic penalties in basketball on star players, not to mention the fact that cheating and our national pastime have quite the symbiotic relationship. Oops.

Regardless, I think a big frustration in my soccer-watching life is that, apart from being the only one around here that follows it like I do, is that a lot of US sports fans don't want to give me the same consideration that I give them. I'm not expecting them to quote Jonathan Wilson of the Guardian and Inverting the Pyramid fame, or comment on the game like folks on Zonal Marking, at least they could attempt to wrap their heads around facts like you might not need constant scoring to have an exciting game, sometimes it's OK to not have a winner if the result of the game isn't life or death, or even getting kicked in the shin still hurts a lot... even if you jump right back up after rolling around on the ground for a couple of minutes. Well, a man can dream, eh?

Until next time.

1 comment:

Matt @ The Church of No People said...

Balancing work with blogging is always a struggle for me. I don't have any soccer in my blood to deal with though. But it's still tough. I always try to get the blog done with before evening so I actually have some free time to myself.