Sunday, July 11, 2010

Football: One Fan’s Journey

This week’s Guest Poster is ML Awanohara, a recently repatriated expat who spent years living in Britain and Japan. She is now back in the The States, reflecting on her adventures in her blog, Seen the Elephant.

In this post, ML recounts her journey from football detractor to football fan. The full story can be found on her blog.

Why I Never Liked Football When I Lived in England

This is a tale in two parts. In Part I, I am living in football-mad England and rapidly developing an aversion to the sport, happy to squander a golden opportunity to see it played at a professional level.

It did not take me long to identify several things I didn't like about English football, not to mention football in general:

1) The game itself: the endless running up and down the pitch with hardly any scoring. I can't tell you how many times I got up to make a cup of tea, or dozed off, just as a goal was scored.

2) The fans: mostly male, many of them yobbos (at least that was the term in my day, I guess they are now called chavs?) prone to hooliganism.

3) The jingoistic tabloid coverage: particularly when it comes to England playing Germany. I had the misfortune of living in London when these arch-rivals competed in the semi-finals of the European finals at Wembley Stadium. The Daily Mirror ran a front-page headline "Achtung! Surrender!" over a photo of two England stars wearing World War II helmets. John F. Burns, the London bureau chief for the New York Times wrote that such name-calling can be classified as "rib-poking" and has provided catharsis for both nations over the years. Who am I to contradict Burns? He certainly knows English culture better than I do. I just keep thinking of the late historian Howard Zinn and what he said about harmless pride becoming an "arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves."

As an expat, I had a choice: to skim along the surface or go closer to the beating heart of this, my adopted culture. Encounters with people engaging in violent male bonding rituals didn't quite fit into the script.

Why I Changed My Mind About Football

In Part II of this tale, I have moved back to the United States and the 2010 World Cup is upon us. I find myself drawn to the game like never before. I can't pinpoint the precise moment when it happened — or why for that matter, especially as football still has all the same drawbacks I noted before.

But this may be a case where coming home again helps. Now that I'm living States side, I feel comfortable giving the sport a second look. Not only that, but I've come up three big reasons to "fan" it:

1) It's the World Cup, stupid: Living in England, I couldn't see the World Cup forest from the local English football club trees. But once you see the forest, there’s no turning back. Watching the world's best players compete, it's so much easier to see why it's The Beautiful Game, long celebrated for its poetry and magic.

2) It's a much-needed distraction: Where do I start: the economy, the oil spill, the war in Afghanistan, this week's unbearable heat. When the news is consistently rotten, there's nothing like a soaring soccer ball to lift the spirits, not to mention the vicarious pleasure of seeing a team, and a nation, carry off the trophy. And how thrilling that this time it will be a European team (the first time for a European team to win outside Europe) and one that has yet to drink from the cup. Cheers to that!

3) It's way better than the Olympics: If you’ve been there and done that and seen the elephant, then chances are you are a hybrid of nationalities, an ideal candidate for supporting international sporting events. The Olympics provides one such arena, but there is such a dizzying array of sports to follow, from curling to badminton. The World Cup, by contrast, is a singular occasion. There is no bigger stage, literally as well as figuratively, than the vast pitch on which the drama of the FIFA World Cup takes place.

You can visit ML Awanohara’s blog - Seen the Elephant - for more about her journey

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