Sports are ubiquitous in the American South. It’s on TV everywhere, all the time. And that’s particularly true in Birmingham, Alabama. We consistently rank at or near the top of ESPN’s ratings – and that’s for almost all sports, not just college football. It’s tough out there if you don’t like sports. You’re going to get left out of a lot of parties. So, I’ve learned over the years to gather just enough knowledge to not be bored silly whenever a sporting event is on the TV. (Except for NASCAR. I refuse to watch NASCAR. It’s just stupid. Sue me.) I was never good at actually playing sports. (Ok, to be fair, I was on the tennis team in high school. But they were desperate.) But I could always feign interest. And then, in my old age, I discovered soccer (Sorry, but I’m American. That’s what we call it.).
Soccer, unsurprisingly, is not on the list of most watched sports here in Alabama. You can expect people to make fun of you if you admit to watching it. And you can expect people to make serious fun of you if you admit to being hooked on an English soccer team, getting up at all manner of ridiculous hours on weekend mornings to watch them play. Your co-workers will buy you gag gifts related to said team for your birthday, to include a squad photo of your favourite player (which you will proceed to put up in your office, because, hey, you’re a good sport). You will become an oddity to your friends. Every time they see you, they will say, “So. How’s Arsenal doing these days?” And you will regale them with the exploits from the most recent match, and they will smile and nod, indulging you in your odd hobby. But sometimes, they actually do become interested. After all, enthusiasm can be infectious.
One of the things I’ve loved the most about becoming a ‘rabid’ soccer fan, is bringing people along with me for the ride. It started at my house, when my husband finally stopped making fun of me and started watching with me. It was at first a case of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”, but he’s now as big a fan of Arsenal as me. (Well, almost. I still think I win that contest.) I also have a co-worker who actively follows Arsenal now. Another who follows Chelsea. (I tried, really I did. I consider it my biggest failure to date.) And now, when people stop me in the hallway to ask about the weekend’s games, they often start with “I saw part of the Arsenal game on TV on Saturday.” Baby steps, people.
All this leads up to my experience with the World Cup this summer. I’m sitting here on Saturday afternoon, surrounded by a house that needs cleaning, laundry that needs doing, dishes that need washing. And I’m planted in front of the TV, watching the World Cup, as I have done almost every day for the last two weeks. If you asked my husband, he would tell you that it doesn’t take much to distract me from housework…Martha Stewart I am not. But almost everything in my life (except work, darn it) has taken a back seat to soccer in the last two weeks. I’ve been to a bar to watch an England game with 200 other people, to a barbecue restaurant to watch a US game with some friends from church, and, on Thursday to a long lunch with 11 co-workers to watch the US play Germany. Now, if I’m honest, I was more interested in Mesut and Lukas and Per than I was in Dempsey and Bradley and Zusi. But it was fun. Everybody was talking about it. Even my daughter watched it. And I know that it has as its roots the patriotic fervour that I normally despise (USA! USA!…please stop…). But I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m just a little excited at the prospect of even a percentage of these folks getting hooked on the game that I’ve come to love so much. Maybe I won’t get funny looks the next time I ask a bartender to turn the TV over to an Arsenal Champions League match on a Wednesday afternoon. Hell, maybe when I walk in, it’ll already be on.
Sorry, Skipper, but Tuesday I’m gonna be all “USA! USA!” when we play Belgium. I hope you’ll forgive me
This post is by alabamagooner ( @kmwood02 )