Dispatches From the World Cup

Sympathy for the American Soccer Fan
Notes from different corners of the world.
June 12 2006 8:08 PM

Dispatches From the World Cup

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu (right). Click image to expand.
U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu (right)  

On the bus from the train station to the Glückaufkampfbahn, Gelsenkirchen's big crockpot of a stadium in which the U.S. team was about to make its World Cup debut, it took no more than five minutes for someone to ask the question on every American's mind. "Do you guys," one man said to a couple college-aged fellows in the aisle, "have any idea what's happening in the NBA Finals?"

First, a confession. It was my hope to attend Monday's U.S.-Czech Republic match and report back from there. I had even managed to wangle the promise of a reasonably priced ticket from a fellow American, whom I was to meet in Gelsenkirchen. Unfortunately, for reasons that are far too mundane to recount, the ticket did not materialize, and I instead watched a few miles away, at Fan Fest Gelsenkirchen, where ticketless fans massed beneath a Jumbotron and swilled beer in the hot evening sun.

Advertisement

Gelsenkirchen, incidentally, translates very roughly to "Church of Gnats." It was also once known as the "City of a Thousand Fires" because of its preponderance of smokestacks. It is a squat, drowsy little town—an odd place to stage one of the world's signature events. At Fan Fest, I met an American woman who has lived here for the better part of 25 years. I asked her to give me a U.S. analogue to Gelsenkirchen. She shook her head: Nothing compares. I dunno—maybe she's never been to Akron.

Anyone who watched Friday's opening ceremony—all that thigh-slapping and lederhosen—knows the World Cup is where stereotypes go for confirmation. Typecasting is more than tolerated here; it's actually embraced, with everyone glad to play the part of the loutish Brit, the dancing Brazilian, etc. So, it came as a bit of surprise, down there on the dusty grounds of Fan Fest, to find nary an ugly American, especially as the game spiraled into a dull Czech rout. The Americans, in fact, were exceptionally well-mannered, accepting the loss with a smile and a shrug and another round. There were several sweet scenes in which someone—not an American—would pat a U.S. fan's shoulder and assure him, "Two more games, two more games. It's early." No one seemed to pick up the implicit taunt. Toward the end of the night, at the Brauhaus Hibernia, near Gelsenkirchen's central train station, Czech and American fans went so far as to merge their chants. The resulting mash-up sounded something like: "Cheshi! USA! Cheshi! USA!"

Clearly, Americans have a long way to go. American soccer may indeed be a player on the international level, but its supporters have yet to adopt even the outward habits of soccer fandom. The wardrobe, for instance: Americans, for the most part, announce their allegiances not with a Landon Donovan jersey but (scanning the crowd in Gelsenkirchen) with an Atlanta Falcons shirt, a University of Wisconsin T-shirt, and a Greg Maddux jersey. Everyone dresses more or less like a Phi Delt.

More notably, the United States has yet to settle on a decent cheer. The English sing, "Eng-uh-land, Eng-uh-land, Eng-uh-land" to what sounds like the tune of, horrors, "Stars and Stripes Forever." The Czechs have several chants, some of them choreographed, all of them peppy, and all of them involving a great deal of bouncing. The Americans, alas, must content themselves with the artless grunt, "USA! USA! USA!," which sounds merely like a provocation. (I also heard, "Superpower, superpower, superpower." This was probably an ironic gesture, considering that when President Bush's face appeared on a TV screen in a bar near Gelsenkirchen's central train station, a bar that, incidentally, was filled with drunk Americans draped in U.S. flags, all hoarse from yelling "USA!," no one mustered a single cheer. There were, however, plenty of whistles.)

America's debut, in all, proved to be an exceedingly polite affair. I confess this came as a bit of a disappointment, having for years read of the ardor of the international fans. There was one moment, outside Fan Fest, that gave me hope, however. I heard what sounded like an argument between some American and German fans. But then they started hoisting their beers. They had evidently found common ground, and they began to chant together: "Nowitzki! Dallas Mavericks! Nowitzki!"

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 19 2014 6:22 PM Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.