Thursday, February 07, 2008

Things I don't understand #10... fans.
"But, Jason," you're saying, "Aren't you a soccer fan? Didn't you go on a cross country road trip just to watch a US v. Mexico World Cup qualifier? Didn't you go to a World Cup? Don't you have season tickets to F.C. Dallas? Aren't you a soccer fan?" Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. But I don't understand why they get so nuts. I don't understand why sometimes I get so nuts. Not as nuts as others, but sorta nuts, yes. In case you didn't know, the U.S. men's national team played Mexico last night in a what is commonly referred to as an international friendly. The final was 2-2. Oddly, enough, this is one of the headlines that the "international friendly" produced: Two shot in Houston post-game soccer brawl. Yea soccer! We still need to work on that friendly part. I guess it's lucky that this was the first US/Mexico game within traveling distance in the last few years that I didn't attend.

The question is,"Why is this so prevalent in soccer?" Maybe it is because it's one the few sports where opposing fans always seem to be pressed together. Or should the question be,"Does soccer attract the hooligan or does soccer produce the hooligan." As one example we can use me. If you were to scour the archives of this blog you would find more than one instance where I somewhat uncharacteristically got my hooligan on. I think this is noteworthy because I would expect most people who know me to use the term easygoing to describe me. Yet, get me near a soccer game and these things seem to occur.

Me going all hooligan on you arse #1(My first U.S. v. Mexico game):
(From post on 7/26/05) The last time I was at the Cotton Bowl... Shockingly, 4/5 of the fans were not rooting for the home team. It was almost scary. I learned that day, that unlike the normal American fan, international soccer fans show up early and begin cheering and chanting even before they get to their seat. It was already deafening 20 minutes before kickoff. Though the U.S. dominated throughout, the first (and only) goal was not scored until very late in the game. Luckily, it was by the red, white and blue. There’s something very satisfying about watching your team disappoint over 30,000 people.

Another difference I learned that day is that Mexicans don’t quit cheering when the final whistle blows even if their team lost. Dancing, chanting, drums and horns. None of it abated. This was reason one that my hooliganism began to brew. As we attempted to exit—me and my ten gringo friends and 35,000 Mexicans—it became apparent that there was a problem. For reasons I can’t fully explain, the main thoroughfare from the south end of the Cotton Bowl to the main parking area was blocked. Thus smashing us all together and forcing us to actually re-enter the stadium to cut across to the other side. This was reason two.

The main reason (#3 for those scoring at home) was the Mexican fan about five feet from me who whistled repeatedly for the entire time (about 20-30 minutes). This grated seriously on my nerves. This was no normal whistle. It was loud. It was piercing. I was literally getting a headache. I gave the guy dirty looks, which he definitely saw, but no effect. Then my friends and I tried vocally encouraging him to stop. Nothing vulgar, no profanity, just "DUDE, STOP IT." When finally I had had enough, I resorted to "scoreboard" tactics. In between each of his whistle blasts I would chant, "Un a cero." That’s "one to zero" in Spanish (yes, I know my linguistic skills are impressive, try to focus) and also the score of the game we had all just witnessed. This, unfortunately, had little effect. Well, actually the whistles might have picked up a bit. So, I was forced to go to the nuclear option.

I feared somewhat that the other Mexican fans might turn on me if I tried it, but I was now in a fight and I’m a man dammit. I had to win. So a slight modification to my previous chant was made and the result was "Dos a cero." Yes, that’s right "two to nothing." I hoped my friends had my back, but since they didn’t join in on my previous chant, I wasn’t so sure. For those with the question marks forming above their heads, 2-0 was the score of U.S. defeat of Mexico in the 2002 world cup. "But," you might be saying, "That was in 2002 and the game you were at took place last year, 2004, what does that matter?" Well, I not completely sure, but as best I can tell, this was a particularly painful loss for them. Your most hated rival on the world stage in the world’s most important tournament that only occurs once every four years. Ok, maybe I do sorta understand. I guess it would be like some sorry San Francisco fan bringing up "The Catch". Bastards.

So anyway. I said it. "Dos a Cero". Actually, I kinda sung it. Well, at the first sound of this the whistling Mexican switched up his MO a bit, too. His response was to flip me the bird, and better yet, to punctuate the breaks in my chant with "F*** YOU!". After a couple a more rounds, I stopped and so did he. But more importantly, no whistling. The way I see it, the U.S. had two victories that day.

My Hooligan ways #2 (US v. Italy, World Cup '06):
(From post on October 3, 2006)As I said before, there is nothing like cheering for your native land, especially when you're in a different country on the world's biggest stage. I was a lunatic. Jumping up and down like a fool. The chanting and singing by US supporters never stopped. News reports claimed that it was a pro-American crowd in attendance that night, but I can tell you first hand we were outnumbered 2 or 3-to-1 by Italians. Even when Italy scored, it seemed we stopped long enough to take a breath and started right up again. It was just odd that the atmosphere was controlled by Americans while the Italians could do nothing but sit on their hands and try to figure out what was wrong.

When the US scored to tie the game, I'm not sure I've ever been happier, ever. It's odd how emotionally involved one can get at a game. But I was in, baby, all in. And when that ball hit the back of the net (right in front of me, by the way) I went nuts. Jumping, high-fiving strangers from 5 rows away (one of the odd advantages of being tall) ,waving my flag in the I just didn't care...good stuff. I should also mention at this point that the seats we were in were on a aisle. And by aisle I mean a 18 inch-wide space between the seats for some steps. On the other side of this "aisle" is where the US section ended and the Italian section began. Lucky me. This arrangement of fan juxtaposition provided some interesting opportunities. For instance, around the 60 minute, when the US had been playing a man down for the half and yet were still controlling play and taking most of the offensive chances, it gave me occasion to witness some 50 year-oldish Italian who no doubt knew more about soccer 30 years ago than I ever would curse his team and hang his head in defeat. From this vantage I was also able to see if Italian chicks are really that hot. I could have done that, but I didn't. Finally, it allowed me one-on-one interfacing with my Italian counterparts. (Possible Hooliganism Warning here) The interface in question came after yet another Italian player hit the ground in an attempt to draw a card from the referee, commonly referred to in the sport as diving. This resulted in a ,shall we say, a negative reaction from US supporters and possibly even some of the players. I rose to voice my displeasure. At the same moment, a fan from the country that looks like a boot rose and turned around to debate us, I guess. Our eyes met, he frowned and shook his head to let us know we had no idea what we were talking about. Usually I would try to avoid confrontation. I thought about that fact that his fellow countrymen greatly out numbered me and my countrymen and that they were much more familiar with fascism. But I did not go quietly into that good night, I never broke the stare. I rose my hands above my head and placed them on top of each other, like a Olympian on the high dive. I then jump and simulated such a dive, not once, not twice, but three times. He then gave me the look of man who just figured out who had shot his beloved hound and nodded and smiled as if to say," I see you, and you will pay for your iniquity." I nodded and smiled in reply as if to say," I wanted to be seen and relish the opportunity to altercate with you on this or any other subject." And that was that.

Soccer and me #3 - This I have never posted about before. I should have, but well, I know...suck. But everything's better now, right? Anyway, this event occurred during a FC Dallas game against our heated rival, the Houston Dynamo. On September 30th as I sat in my usual seat on row #1 very near the visiting team's bench, I witnessed one of the worst things I ever seen on a soccer pitch. After the whistle blew following a free kick where Dallas narrowly missed scoring, I saw Houston player, Ricardo Clark, kick (yes, kick) Dallas player, Carlos Ruiz, in the ribs as he lay on the ground, face down. Did I mention I could also hear the contact above the crowd. Needless to say, I was inflamed. But more confused than anything. Ricardo Clark while known as a bit of a hack was not thought of as a hot head. Even so, I turned my attention to the Houston bench where one Brian Ching just happened to have just seated himself after coming off minutes earlier and notified him, politely of course, that I didn't appreciate his teammate's choice of actions. He informed me (Yes, that's right I'm now having a conversation with a member of both the US national team and the opposition) that Ruiz must have done something to warrant such a heinous attack. We then paused to watch the replay on the jumbotron. Replays show that the normal soccer stuff happened pre-ribkick, just bumping, tugging, grabbing and the like. Even so, and despite the fact that short of being punched right-square in the nether regions would a full-out kick to a defenseless player on the ground ever be justified, Ching turns back to me and says, "See, he deserved it." To say I exploded might approach accuracy. I was livid. My voice reached new and exciting levels. My blood boiled. After about 5 minutes of back-and-forth, I finally got him to admit that kicking another player might not have been the best move. Yet even now, as I sit here typing this, the anger returns. Does this mean I need to give up soccer?

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