It's hard for Americans to understand what the World Cup means to people all around the world. Sure, we care about who wins in the end, and enjoy watching the highlights of the day on SportsCenter. Those of us who are true sports fans might stay up until 4 AM on a given Saturday night to catch a particularly exciting game. But face it: America's experience in the Cup has been limited. And that limited experience results in a lack of what I would call a "World Cup Culture" in the US of A.
To the people of Germany, Brazil, England or Argentina, the World Cup is anything and everything. What happens on that soccer field will dictate the mood of the majority of folks of one of these countries for the forseeable future. They drape themselves in flags and facepaint, consume as many pints as possible during the pre-game warm up, and scream their asses off at the television set during the match.
Sure, one could argue that America instead has a baseball culture, or a football culture. After all, when the Red Sox won the world series, the city of Boston was surely more rowdy than Hamburg was last night upon Germany advancing to the second round of the Cup.
But here's the difference: when the Yankees win the World Series, Yankees fans go crazy. When the Patriots win the Super Bowl, Patriots fans go crazy. Those who are not fans of these teams but appreciate good sporting might also be found to have a grin on their face.
But when Germany advances in the World Cup, the whole country celebrates, rather than just a particular segment of the population. Because all of America's finest sports teams play in a domestic, rather than an international realm, we have nothing in our sporting world to compare the World Cup too. Furthermore, the nature of the victory celebrations in the US is different. For instance, it would be hard to find a Red Sox fan who didn't seize upon every opportunity available to him at enacting his revenge on the hated Yankees in some way or another. Usually, this takes the form of good natured shit talking, and less often, verbal insults and an occasional fight.
But when the Czechs tore us a new asshole three days ago, I didn't percieve that they felt a need to rub it in. Even though a bunch of steak heads in stars and stripes had just two hours before been drowning out all the Czech cheers with a rowdy chorus of "USA! USA!" Even though the leaders of our country have been trying to establish the moral superiority of the United States over Europe since the whole Weapons of Mass Destruction question came up. Even though at this point in time, our country is none around the world as a people who always need to get their way, and have no respect for other cultures.
Nope, the Czechs took all that with a grain of salt. The majority of their fans didn't say one word to the Americans hanging their heads between their legs. They celebrated with their friends, cracked open some beers, and relished in the evidence that their soccer team kicks major ass.
When Germany advanced last night, the people of Hamburg didn't try to push us away from them; they brought us into the celebration. They didn't seem to mind that we have just recently latched on to the World Cup bandwagon while they have slept, ate and breathed this shit for their entire lives. They instead saw it as an opportunity for Germans, and whoever else happened to be visiting Deutschland, to have the biggest party imaginable. The cops sat by and chatted amongst themselves while a bunch of drunken lunatics screamed, cheared and stumbled all over the place as broken glass filled the streets. I have no doubt that had the Poland fans decided to join into the fun, the Germans would have accepted them with open arms. As is, most of them seemed to vacate Hamburg upon their defeat, understandable considering how close that game was.
There is an important lesson for us American sports fans in observing the behavior of the Czechs or the Germans in celebrating their big victories: there is little need to celebrate at the expense of the losers. In other words, any one who has something big to celebrate should take it upon themselves to get as drunk as possible and cheer as loud as their lungs are capable of. What it is classless to do however is go around to fans of the losing team and tell them how much they suck.
The reason I'm going off on this tangent is because the conduct of these people who come from places with "World Cup Cultures" is so vastly different than the way I see many American sports fans behaving on a regular basis. How many times have you seen a Yankees fan and a Red Sox fan exchanging epithets at each other? When the Trojans lost to Texas in the Rose Bowl, I didn't hear much from USC alums and students about how great a game Texas played, and how much credit Vince Young deserved. The reaction instead was to point out how badly USC played, how overated Vince Young was, and of course, how backwards Texas was at a state and how much their football team truly sucked.
I think it's time that American sports fans get their act together. Sports are so much more enjoyable when the celebrations are positive ones that bring people together rather than separating the winners from the losers. In being in Germany during this crazy time, I have seen that the World Cup is not a Yankees Red Sox playoff matchup on a grand scale; rather, it is an opportunity for people of different cultures to come together and discuss the game of soccer over a round of beers. I've met people from all around the globe, many of whom come from countries who have stellar soccer teams and legacies. But never once has anyone told me that my team didn't belong in the Cup...rather, people have offered their condolenses for our loss against Czech Republic, and encouraged us Americans to be more hopeful against Italy on Saturday.
I will end this entry with one final thought: if over the next twenty years, the US becomes an elite soccer team, the drastic results will be felt by both United States and International sports fans. On the one hand, US fans could ruin the purity of the international game, as when soccer blows up those fans in our country who are pig-headed and negative will become part of the greater World Cup fan base. However, it is also possible that a more serious bid for the World Cup could cause those fans with shitty attitudes to see the error in their ways; after all, when nobody else is telling you how much your team sucks, you are less inclined to offer such an insult to others. The choice is up to the sports fans of America; only time will tell what the future holds for both American soccer and American sporting in general.
Alright, I'm off to drink another liter of delicious German beer.....