The Five Types of American Soccer Fans You’ll Meet in Brazil
More Americans have purchased tickets to the World Cup in Brazil than people from any other nation, save for the host country. But while they have traveled en masse to support the U.S. team, it’s obvious that most are still relative newcomers to soccer as a sport.
Having just spent time in Brazil — where I joined my fellow American supporters in airports, on planes, and at the stadium in Natal cheering on Team USA — I have made some basic observations about U.S. fans. Some have the uninformed enthusiasm of Eddie Murphy’s character in “Coming to America” when describing his first NFL game. Others strut around with a detached hipster vibe. All can be grouped into one of the following five categories:
The Seat Deserter: American sports culture does not always place the utmost emphasis on the actual game; sometimes, the sport ends up being a mere sideshow for “supporters” who show up to chat, walk around, munch on snacks and generally enjoy the ambiance of the event. But for most of the world, being at a sports event is not a thinly-veiled excuse to gorge oneself on nachos and beer. In Brazil, too many Americans soccer fans did not seem to understand that vacating your seat during the game is simply not part of international soccer culture. At the airport after the U.S.-Ghana match, I overheard an American say that he missed both of the goals in the second half because he was hunting around the stadium for food.
The Snob: The United States may not yet be a globally-ranked soccer team, but you either embrace fandom or you don’t. There’s something arrogant about wearing an Arsenal Football Club jersey and chatting everyone up about how much you love your London team while simultaneously claiming to support the U.S. team. Your knowledge of the English Premier League does not make you a better U.S. soccer fan, nor does your conscious effort to distance yourself from our less-established program. The Snob’s only positive quality is that he typically knows better than to stray from his seat during play.
The Over-Privileged College Student: School’s out for the summer, and our nation’s trust fund babies are flush with cash and hungry for novel experiences. Why pursue a valuable internship or summer job when you can spend the summer months recreating across the globe? Beginning in mid-June, the World Cup is the logical first stop on your extensive travel itinerary, whether or not you can name a single player on the U.S. soccer team, or even the capital of Brazil (hint: it’s not Rio). Plus, you can write off the trip’s expense to your parents as a “cultural experience.”
The ‘Big Event’-goer: You might use the phrase “bucket list” to justify your presence at the World Cup. I’m sure that, if pressed, you would also admit that attending the Olympics or the Super Bowl also top your bucket list. But just like the average spectator at the Olympic games, you go to experience the excitement without knowing much about the sport you are witnessing. You’ll probably bring home an entire suitcase filled with soccer paraphernalia to share with your kids and coworkers — at which point they’ll add the World Cup to their own bucket lists.
The Diehard: The American Outlaws, as they identify themselves, are the true U.S. soccer fans. The Outlaws usually sit in their own special section at games, cheering the loudest and leading the songs. They thoroughly understand the rules and nuances of the game, and they know the American players and their tendencies. Many diehards have put their entire lives on hold to follow the U.S. team through Brazil, hoping against hope that the American team will make a run through the knockout round.
At best, we can write off the vast majority of American soccer fans as quirky and naive. But they certainly don’t lack enthusiasm, be it for the game itself or for the mere experience of witnessing something that doesn’t occur every day. I look forward to watching the American fan base evolve along with the U.S. soccer team. At the very least, it should be entertaining.