Soccer: the common denominator (?)

The way I see it, there’s practically a cultural expectation to love soccer. I’ll spare you the long intro this time, I hate it. The game itself is meh. I’d rather watch ice hockey, since it’s fast(er) paced and quite frankly, more fun. My mother’s actually a huge soccer fan, so when she’s around, we usually end up watching some sort of game. My mother lived in her passport country during her formative years and a huge chunk of her adult life, so this might not affect her as much as it does me, or else I’m way too sensitive for my own good. Either way, she doesn’t see the nationalism in it as much as I do.

That’s what’s always bothered me about soccer. The devotion to one’s team is admirable, I think there’s a lot to be said for someone displaying that kind of loyalty. But there’s the darker side of it, the nationalist pride, the superior satisfaction when your team wins, and the gut-wrenching disappointment when you lose, yet again. Because it’s always “us,” even if you didn’t play. I once witnessed a German neo-Nazi practically break down in tears when Germany lost to Spain several years back, affirming to himself that, “we can still win bronze.” That “we” really never sat comfortably with me on any level. Again, I get that people unite behind a common cause, and that common cause does not necessarily have to be a concert. The usually cliche of team sports equating war comes to mind, and I swear I’d be willing to stand behind that theory a hundred percent. And I’d also be willing to bet that I lived in cultures that took ball games way more seriously than was good for anyone involved (on the field itself or in the stands) in several last lives, since I’m a big believer in what in some languages is termed, the wanderings of the soul.

I’ve always wondered about that, why – ever since I could remember – I’ve loathed soccer with a pathological hatred. Technically, I should love it, since it’s international enough to be played in several of the places I’ve lived in. But the nationalist sentiment expressed by too many fans, is exactly what puts me off. I get that for many it’s a way out, you don’t even have to be that poor to see the benefits of a potential soccer career. Bottom line, it’s scary. Watching the fans supporting their team is scary. I was walking by the Olympic Stadium on the day of a qualifying game between Finland and Hungary last year. The Hungarian fans in their black shirts and shorn heads did nothing to reassure me. I wasn’t sure which would be worse, them attacking me for not looking 100% Hungarian, or pulling me into their midst to ensure I was with my own people, or whatever similar justification they’d come up with. It’s funny – and very sad – how the fans of a team, who are meant to be there for support, sometimes manage to do the exact opposite.

Which may or may not explain why I tend to root for the underdog team, the team that either has no chance or has made its way to the top defying all odds. Their fans are usually nicer, too. Probably due to recovering from the shock of how far their team has come.

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