England for the non-English.
“There are many beautiful things about being an American fan of World Cup soccer—foremost among them is ignorance. The community in which you were raised did not gather around the television set every four years for a solid, breathless month. The U.S. has never won. You have not been indoctrinated into unwanted yet inescapable tribal allegiances by your soccer-crazed countrymen. You are an amateur, in the purest sense of the word. So when the World Cup comes around, you can pick whatever team you like best and root for them without shame or fear or reprisal—you can spend the month in paradise.”
-Sean Wilsey, The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup
This year, I feel like a traitor.
Four years ago, I didn’t. Because no one cared about soccer. No one cared about the world’s biggest game, so I could watch England stumble through the tournament like a toddler in new shoes in the relative comfort of my own home and know that I wasn’t performing some great act of terrorism, the black and white screen of our portable television reflecting a team allegiance, not a nation’s allegiance.
This year, though, it’s different.
This year, ESPN’s pushing World Cup ratings. Which means creating conflict. Which means overhyping matches that should be one-sided blow-outs in the name of promoting a rivalry that, really, for the most part, ended two centuries ago when the United States grew some balls and won a few wars.
Ask anyone. They think USA vs. England is a real match. They think the people who put USA’s odds of winning at 17% are just haters. HAY-TAHS, even.
They think this because the sports media is fighting hard to make World Cup soccer relevant. They’re duped by two examples of not-so-recent United States Brand™ upsets: the 1950 World Cup win over England and the 1980 Olympic hockey win over USSR. Two random occurrences, happening thirty years apart, and OH WOW, hey, this match is 30 years later too so there’s totally a correlation.
YOU GUYS. ONE OF THOSE ISN’T EVEN SOCCER.
So I know I’ll be rooting for England in silence. Not because I hate my country. Not because I hope the United States loses. Not because I am a bitter self-hating American that wants to champion contrarian irony.
No. It’s because I’ve followed England’s national team ever since a 2000 trip to England, because soccer is England’s sport, because I don’t believe in being tied to location when it comes to supporting sports teams, and because, really, there’s nothing forcing me NOT to support “the enemy.”
So I’m reminded of that quote above, from Sean Wilsey in the foreword of his wonderful collection, The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup. A quote I quoted and stuck to four years ago – one I used to justify my position, though, really, my position doesn’t deserve to be justified at all.
Go England. And Go United States.
But not until this match is over.