The World Cup – How to choose your new favorite football team
Every four years, millions upon millions of people will throw their support behind a well-crafted and meticulously-rehearsed entity, despite only possessing a light familiarity with the object of their allegiance. But enough about American presidential elections (I kid!) In 2006, my academic institution was located within a neighborhood with a high population of immigrants and refugees, aiding my first dive into the Cup. In addition, the good folks at ESPN.com hosted a day-by-day journal from Michael Davies, perhaps the most entertaining report of a sporting event outside of Chuck Klosterman’s blog from Super Bowl XL (Davies is back for 2010). With a few pubs serving as willing accomplices, waves of international students and hipsters poured into the local haunts to experience a sampling of how the rest of the world views this sport. If you think Kentucky vs. Louisville basketball games get rowdy, imagine the scene when
a) The World Cup matchup features Côte d’Ivoire vs Netherlands
b) The bar is PACKED with former residents of multiple African countries, basking in the unity of a common land of origin
c) Flags, chants, and beverages of grand delight are passed about the room
d) Netherlands, the opponent, is still remembered for their presence in the west African countries of Ghana and Angola
Never had the fates conspired to echo Dennis Hopper’s Velvet-y sentiments regarding that Dutch warhorse Heineken (although I did see a few Amstel Lights amongst the crowd). For the first time, I was all in. Bring me more football! I pledged to follow the British Premiership, La Liga, Serie A & B – hell, any pro league where the world’s best ran around and kicked a monochromatic spheroid.
Four years later, I regret to say that nothing of the sort occurred. I realized that my excitement for the Cup parallels most Americans view of the NCAA basketball tournament. It’s a fun place to visit, but I’m not quite ready to uproot my other passions to follow foreign leagues not aired on American network television. I like to pick a squad, follow them through their bracket (or “Group” as their called in the Cup), and join a group of strangers in screaming national anthems and downing their country’s beer. (As a Guinness fan, It makes me sad that Ireland has such a crappy football squad). Who cares if you could not name a player on either side? So here’s a guide to picking your new favorite country:
1. How’s about looking at the ground beneath your feet? In the United States, we are slowly gaining a deep appreciation for the World Cup. This event serves many purposes on this side of the pond:
a. Quadrennial geography lesson (the Olympiad, often dominated by a few countries, is limited in this capacity)
b. Opportunity to feel like legitimate underdogs for once
c. A barometer of football’s eventual ascendancy as the fifth major professional sport
In 2006, the United States gained major credibility by matching eventual champion Italy with some serious defensive prowess. America is back, and this could be our year, right? However, rooting for Uncle Sam carries the same cachet as cheering for Crest in the Toothpaste Cup. Might as well throw your hat behind some upstart republic, like England.
2. The team kit. Yeah, in football, the uniform is referred to as a “kit”, which makes me think of either homebrew or Knight Rider (cue Hasselfhoff saying “Das car ist spelled weeth two EYES!” in three, two, one…)” In 2006, the Netherlands’ kit featured numbers and names that were of a font that can only be described as “masking tape“, endearing themselves to 8-year-olds the world over. While the colors of Old Glory have inspired many impressive sports uniforms in the US (including the Chicago Cubs and Houston Texans), the World Cup allows us to view new colors and often garish combinations. After a few Belgian Trippels, Portugal vs Côte d’Ivoire becomes sublimely psychedelic.
3. Your own ancestry. For those with a background that points to one land, this is easy – but also boring. Besides, what if the homeland of your grandparents, is – dare I say it – not very good at football? A sizable majority of US residents can claim ancestry of multiple nations, allowing the selection of our ethnic origin, in addition to a football team. In my own family epoch, the peoples from England, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, and Cherokee Nation grab at least one-eighth of the ancestry pie. That’s three World Cup qualifiers right there that I can legitimately claim as my “background”. And what’s more American than choice?
4. That one time you were in [insert country here] and saw gear related to [insert country here]. This is always an effective method of choosing a fave squad, especially when that country features several superstars like France or Brazil.
5. That one time you walked into a care of [insert country here] and everyone was transfixed to a game featuring a player from [insert other country here]. This is my favorite – and most convoluted – reason to choose a team. While in Miami Beach, the missus and I walked into an Italian coffee shop, where most of the patrons were glued to a match between ACF Fiorentina and Cagliari Calcio. Several denizens of Matarello’s were cheering Fiorentina, while they donned the jersey of superstar forward Stevan Jovetic. Unfortunately, Jovetic’s country of Montenegro did not qualify for the Cup, so there goes another great story.