Dispatches from a Casual World Cup Observer: Minute of Your Time
Thread count – high
Commission – high
Hourly rates – high
a minute of your time? forget about it
The line above is from Parquet Courts’ “Master of My Craft,” the first song from their “formal” 2012 debut, Light Up Gold. The song is a smart ass take on why anyone in their position cannot be bothered by street teams trying to peddle political ideology or social change via flyers and “quick surveys.” I know what it’s like to be in their position. Four years ago, I was also stoned, starving and making my way down M Street in Georgetown as the know-it-all with a grand, post-grad scheme. On our way back to the student apartments, we were approached by a young woman who, like one of the antagonists from Parquet Courts’ ode to slackerism, was carrying a clipboard and a pile of paper. “Wanna know what’s sexy?” she asked, her question simultaneously rhetorical and seductive. “Politics,” she said, as she handed me an informational slip from a non-profit I didn’t care to remember. A trash can was nearby. “No,” I chuckled with my friends as I balled the piece of paper up and crammed it into the trash can sitting within earshot of the young woman and her fellow street teamers. This was the same summer that I also shrugged my shoulders with the same passive indifference at the USMNT’s loss to Ghana. “Well, at least we have more money than their country,” I said reductively and offensively as I walked away from the Black Stars’ celebration. I gave soccer all the thought and consideration that I gave the woman’s curbside elevator pitch about her organization’s efforts.
Four years later, I am the one holding the clipboard and passing out flyers for what has been one of the most remarkable events of 2014, the FIFA World Cup. I am part of those statistics that you have been reading about over the past few weeks that have been making Nielsen viewership history. I am part of the New America that has taken an interest in international soccer. After this is all over, I have even decided to carry this new found fandom toward following a professional team (depending on whether or not a certain team will solidify a deal with one of the most despised players in the world of soccer). Can I have a minute of your time to tell you why the 2014 FIFA World Cup helped make soccer sexy for me?
Through all of the years I have watched sports, soccer functioned only as a rec league tool for kids, like myself, who needed to get in shape. There were people I have grown up with who participated on the school system’s official teams long after I quit rec league. Those people also happened to be the biggest proponents of professional as well as international soccer. Yet, the minority of people who enjoyed soccer in my southeastern habitat were under the domineering influence of American football as the apex of sport. Soccer was a sport that was deemed to be for “sissies.” “Hang out with the ‘fruit booters’ if you don’t want to get hit,” I can recall one of my high school football coaches saying. It was, for years, an afterthought to me.
I can certainly remember watching the World Cup in 2006, as I’ve detailed through my dispatches, but at the time, it was just background noise, something that was a distraction, inviting me to watch it rather than go outside in the oppressive heat of South Carolina. It was something I never really took seriously, despite the fact that some of my good friends would wear jerseys from clubs like Chelsea and Manchester United. I thought it was an experience that only the teenagers raised in soccer could enjoy collectively. After all, I didn’t see what was so shocking about Zidane headbutting someone. It happened all the time in football.
By the time I got to college, the love for soccer among my peers multiplied. People were now wearing the jerseys of other English Premier League teams like Liverpool and Arsenal. There were also the top two La Liga powers in FC Barcelona and Real Madrid being sported. It seemed like almost everyone I went to school with had played soccer at some point in their lives and had taken to a favorite team. I missed the boat and continued to miss it into the summer of 2010.
I was afforded the opportunity of participating in a program that summer in which I would be taking two night classes at Georgetown University while interning at a think tank. It was one of the greatest summers of my life. I had never lived in a city that carried the magnitude of Washington, DC, nor had I ever been surrounded by students from not only different parts of the country, but around the world. This was the same summer that the World Cup would be hosted in South Africa. Every single day from the start of the tournament, people were fanatic about the USMNT, and with Embassy Row full of diplomats willing to break their peace with the US for one game, it was the perfect atmosphere. Looking back on this moment, it seems that the cosmos were aligning for me to start following soccer. Forget about it. At the most, I went from being a naysayer to just being completely indifferent to how people felt about the result of a match.
My indifference continued after college, despite the fact that I watched one of my friends nearly punch a hole through a neighbor’s wall when Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in the 2012 UEFA Champions League. It also rolled right along despite the fact that Manchester City stepped over its big brother and won the Premier League, also in 2012. These were all historic happenings that I just refused to feel any fervor towards until the World Cup qualifying matches started for the USMNT.
People were going bananas over the next two years for matches whose consequence I did not really understand until recently. There were matches against Mexico, Panama, Jamaica, Honduras and Costa Rica that people would just bowl over for, and I saw from a distance with curiosity. Once the World Cup came around, I started to poke and prod inside of this global event that contained the most qualified contenders. I started learning about Brazil’s tightfisted grip on the sport within South America, Germany’s recent reign of failed expectations, Mexico’s post-1986 misfires. It was a showcase of national strength as well as social implications.
I learned that many nations have used the victories of their national team for dubious political practices, while others used them to renew national identity. With international soccer, it’s more than just 90 minutes of chasing after a ball. It’s your life. You put it all on the line to win over the heart of your nation and to lift the spirits of your fellow countrymen. I know I am using simplistic, romanticized terms for this sport, but it’s an event that you don’t want to miss. Every play feels like it elicits a collective groan or celebration from around the country each time your team is playing. Even if you’re team is not playing, there is still plenty to see.
Take for example, Lionel Messi and his relationship with his home country of Argentina. He is someone who, by no fault of his own, is considered one of the best in the world, but back home, he is no Diego Maradona. Now, with one match to go, Messi can make history. On the other hand, you have Germany, who is battling years of coming up short by fine tuning themselves into an unyielding machine operated by players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was pissed that the crater they left in Brazil’s heart was not big enough.
The game itself is an unstoppable, grueling test of endurance with hardly any stops in time. The clock is always running – you’re always on notice. You cannot maintain possession for thirty minutes before you have to hike it or shoot it. There’s always someone who wants to steal the ball and make a fool out of you. There’s always someone charging down the pitch at you. If you go into extra time, you notice the stamina being zapped out of players, especially in Brazil where winter averages are in the mid-70s Fahrenheit.
It’s a sport that has its equal share of tacticians, sadists, masochists, bullies, punks and poets. It’s just as entertaining as any American football game I have witnessed in my lifetime, but it feels like more is at stake. Even at the professional level, the amount of regionalism and provincialism involved is somewhat akin to college football and the identity people share with the location of their rooting interest. Maybe that’s why I’m interested in this beautiful sport, with its heroes and heretics.
I’m sad to see the World Cup end, but I am excited because there is always another tournament ahead. A League Cup here, a Copa America there, a Champions League that away. Like I said, something is always at stake for these international players, who represent either their country or their club. It’s why I’m the newly converted casual fan, holding the clipboard and telling you to pay attention rather than telling a soccer fan on his soap box that Socrates died in the fucking gutter.