This Side of the Pond – June 14

By Sarah Pridgeon

The World Cup is about to begin and I, for one, am excited. I know soccer isn’t the sport that drives this nation, but the rest of the world will be glued to the television for the next month.

There’s something special about the World Cup; so much so that I have been arguing to my husband that it could do with more attention here in the States (his riposte is that he has already agreed with me thirty times, so could I please stop repeating myself and go make dinner).

If you’re an American Football fan or situated in the general vicinity of one, you already know how enthusiastic sports fans can be when it comes to the biggest games of the season. But there’s an important difference between the Superbowl and the World Cup.

Whether it’s Broncos or Raiders or one of the many other nicknames I haven’t gotten the hang of, supporters of one team are always opposed to supporters of the opposite team. That’s fine, it’s what sport is all about, but those temporary enemies are also your countrymen.

During the World Cup, every person in the nation is rooting for the same thing – even the ones who disagree that it should be called “the beautiful game” and would much rather be sunbathing. Even those who actively dislike soccer are more interested in their country’s team winning than the alternative.

The World Cup thus represents one of the only opportunities I can think of for everybody living under the same flag to agree on something. It doesn’t happen in social debates, it doesn’t happen in local decisions and it sure doesn’t happen in national politics, which means we are constantly reminded of our differences and seldom of the ties that still bind us.

My brother accuses me of being a fair-weather fan when it comes to soccer, which I can’t very well deny. I do support my team and watch them when I can figure out the time difference, and I also support my hometown underdogs as they continue to soar in the Premier League, but I don’t own a single football shirt and I don’t know any of the chants.

But when it comes to the national games, there I am with bells on. I glue myself to the sofa, scream at the television and harangue my poor brother if he happens to fail at predicting the result. There will be few things as important to me over the next month as seeing England stutter through to the finals.

Back in my homeland, World Cup season is even better. On match day, every pub will have the television on and be operating at standing room only as its patrons cheer together, hold their breath together and comfort one another’s tears if things go wrong (the birth of a child and a soccer match disaster being the traditionally acceptable moments for a man to cry in public).

For the 2010 World Cup, my old employers Amazon even sprang for pizza and beer for the 370 staff members in the building and turned on the televisions in the meeting rooms. The rules of normal life are broken for international soccer.

As a nation, we’ll laugh, we’ll screech, we’ll hug complete strangers when we win. We’ll walk the streets unsteadily, several beers later, voices joined in song if our team was victorious or sharing consoling glances if they were not.

For those 90 minutes, we are one people. It doesn’t matter which party you vote for; whether you agree with plans to knock down an old church to install a multi-storey parking lot; or where you fall on the question of social services.

The little and big differences that we contend with on a daily basis slip away. What matters is your country, represented in that moment by the booted feet of eleven men on a patch of bright green grass. It’s patriotism in its purest form, unfettered by any thought more complicated than, “I want my people to succeed”.

Soccer is apparently played in more than 200 countries by more than 250 million people, to give you some idea of how many of us are feeling both tense and hopeful right now. Over the last three years, a total of 32 teams have made it through the qualifiers and will compete for the trophy in a tournament of group games followed by the knockout rounds.

The USA team isn’t one of them, which rather takes the wind out of my argument, but I have come up with a solution. I shall take the liberty of preparing a number of St. George’s Cross posters for anyone who would like to support England instead.

We haven’t won this darned thing since 1966 and have a horrible habit of cocking things up in the quarter finals, even though football was our idea in the first place, so we could certainly do with the moral support. The English Premier League provides more players to the tournament than any other, but most of them are playing against us.

It’s great to have all that international talent during the main season, but not so much fun to be whipped by players who were trained on our very own soil. We also enjoy terrible luck, awful decisions and spur of the moment shocks, which means we’re seldom a dull team to watch.

It’s a shame I won’t have two teams to support, but I’m sure the Stars and Stripes will be back on the lineup for the next tournament and we can all enjoy the thrills of uncomplicated patriotism once again. Meanwhile, please feel free to come ask me for a flag and consider the 2018 World Cup your practice run.