Vermonter abroad -- The World Cup and The Spirit of ‘76
I have lived in soccer crazy Europe for over eight years, so I feel comfortable about giving World Cup soccer advice. If you go out to watch a World Cup soccer match, you need to be aware, adapt to your surroundings, and make sure not stand out in the crowd.
It sounds like that should go without saying, but remember this -- a World Cup match usually has more on the line -- especially now in the ‘knock out’ phase. At this stage, there are no "we’ll-get-’em-next-year" condolences to ease the pain of a loss. World Cup 2018 in Russia is a long, long way off.
Also, unlike many hotly contested sport rivalries in North America, these matches take on a national dimension. In this context, public, and even some private viewings, have the potential to get chippy. Two mostly nonfiction anecdotes in my World Cup soccer-viewing career come to mind to illustrate this.
The first one occurred just recently during the Germany versus United States (USMNT) soccer match. At a private viewing party with families from Canada, Germany, India, and the U.S., national allegiances coupled with familial bonds contributed to an exciting, yet civil viewing. No one imagined shouting invectives or using disparaging language about their opponent’s nationality with the progeny of international couples running around in different colored jerseys.
Although USMNT lost, of course, 1-0, I will fondly remember enjoying the company, lighthearted banter, and quick post-lost recovery. My team lost, but I was a good sport about it. Okay, Portugal’s win over Ghana to insure our place in the next round helped, too.
The whole experience was akin to a Red Sox loss against the Yankees during a family reunion in New York. Now, imagine watching the Red Sox play the Yankees in an Irish bar in Montreal. The location itself spells trouble.
With alcohol flowing cheaply, you could imagine both sets of fans aggressively trying to assert themselves in this common, foreign space. That wasn’t too far off from my experience during the World Cup of 2010.
This time though, it was England versus the USMNT in an Irish bar in Germany, and instead of my Red Sox baseball cap square on my head, the flag of my hometown, The Spirit of 76, was draped tightly around my shoulders.
The Spirit of 76’s revolutionary symbolism, with white and red stripes and a star coated 76 in the canton, was, of course, not lost for one moment on the English. And while I certainly fit into the setting of Union Jacks and more standard looking American flags, the majority of the disapproving glares seemed to volley my way.
Who knows how chippy it could have gotten had the USMNT pulled off the upset that day or if England had embarrassed the Yanks? The trash talk, testosterone level, and poorly sung national anthems could have caused trouble had there not been a 1-1 tie. In Europe, people don’t tend to tweet their woes or displace their frustration on Facebook after a loss in a bar.
In fact, if one isn’t careful to mind ones Ps and Qs in the waning moments of a lost match, it can even get a bit hostile. Inebriated words can quite possibly lead to being instant messaged with another fan’s fist in your face. Especially in the knock out phase! Fortunately, this time, nothing serious escalated. The worst thing I remembered was a snarky remark made by an Englishmen loud enough to be overheard (intentionally): "There’s only one thing worse than being British, mate -- NOT being British!’’ Upon reflection, I realized I probably brought some of the disapprobation upon myself. Walking around draped in The Spirit of 76 will single you out.
Dave Donlon lives and works near Frankfurt am Main, Germany. He was born and raised in Bennington.
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