Soccer is a Fine Future

[Fans in Minneapolis for last night's USA-Argentina Copa America match.]
Everyone, especially Bill McGuire, seems to know that soccer is trendy now. Breweries, bikes, and soccer form the Millennial trifecta, combining like witchcraft to summon the gods of digital change. Bow before your inner Portland!

But despite the cliché, despite years of watching world cups, despite the merciless defeat of the US Men by the feet of Lionel Messi, watching a soccer game in real life in Minneapolis in 2016 can provoke. Here are a few thoughts that bubbled up from the resilient gloom…

Reframing Patriotism

By far my least favorite chant is the simplest: “U-S-A! U-S-A!” Whenever I hear it, whoever I roam, it has always turned my stomach. The celebration of hegemony, the will to stupid. To chant this is to place one’s head inside a sun-warmed keg of Budweiser America (owned by a Belgian corporation). Its beat never fails to make me dumber.

["Best fans in America."]
Yet the “U-S-A!” chant in the hands of the American Outlaws soccer fan club seems innocuous, despite the fact that so many of the drunk young people decked out in American flag apparel epitomize white male privilege. (Seen in the wrong light, this is a fraternity nightmare.)

Somehow there’s something refreshing about an American patriotism that has been removed from the echo chamber solipsism of the NASCAR and NFL, and placed in a global context. Here the US national anthem, flag, and chant are simply one among hundreds of others, a chance for Argentina to kick our ass. Espirit de corps is a French term, after all.

Not that we should forget about American colonialism, military hegemony, or its Neoliberal agenda, but rather that here is a chance encounter where American might is placed on a level playing field. Here we are  not “Number One,” and never have been. (But for FIFA's bizarre system, I am told, we were never "Number Four" either.) Instead, soccer is played on the grave of American exceptionalism.

[See also my World Cup decision tree.]

Audience Participation

A fan-dom corollary is the singing itself. Never have I heard people sing the national anthem more unabashedly than at a US soccer screening. (The contrast between US and Canadian hockey fans illustrates this nicely.) How many places do you see men, in particular, singing in public? A Bieber concert? A birthday party?

Reading through old books, and Joyce’s Ulysses comes to mind, I imagine that Euro-American everyday life used to be full of singing. But in today’s America song has been absolutely abolished from our habits and rhythms. So much the worse!

Not here. In fact, the originary status of the American anthem as an 18th century drinking song comes to the fore in the room full of beer-addled US soccer fans. Here is our anthem's proper home, not an Olympic podium or military parade ground, but a crowded downtown bar.

Jingoism aside, it’s a refreshing change. At the beginning of his annual State Fair shows, Garrison Keillor always insisted that the audience stand and sing — actually sing — the national anthem. The national discourse should be participatory, he seems to proclaim, and not a passive spectacle. We should grip our country’s mythology, all the better to someday manipulate it. If democracy began with a song, would it not be poetry?

An Open America

[Leaders of the MSP American Outlaws chapter.]
Not to idealize soccer fans. Certainly there’s an endless list of social atrocities to which one can point. At least in Europe, soccer teams and their fans have long had a double-edged relationship with national identity. Think of Zidane playing for France, Ozil for Germany.

The US team is a similar hodge-podge dipped from the national stew, and so too with the fans. In fact, the Outlaws US soccer screening reminds me most of the “meet-up” event I attended a few months back at a bar only a block away. The room was full of dozens of people, half of whom were somehow international, meeting each other, mingling, playing ping-pong, chatting about what it was like to live in Minneapolis in 2016. Nothing particularly special, but in a reclusive Minnesotan culture that so often idolizes its stoic roots, a breath of fresh air and unfettered conversation.

Not that one can meet people during a the soccer match itself, but I’d hazard that no Minnesotan sports clubs are more accepting and open to newcomers from around the world than this one. (OK, maybe the Loring Park Shuffleboard Club…) At halftime, the two leaders of the American Outlaws welcomed everyone in the audience. They were cheerful despite the score, and at risk of the dramatic, their words seemed a balm to modern isolation.

"This isn't just about watching soccer together," the scarved man shouted. "This is a community. If you're new to town, we're all about that. We don't care how weird you are, so everyone have a good time."

The first time I ever watched a World Cup soccer match was in 2002. I was living in New York City, in a shabby part of Brooklyn before it was cool, and my brother was in town with a friend from his college dorm, a Korean international student. They invited me to come to Manhattan to watch the South Koreans play Italy.

We packed into a basement bar in Koreatown in the middle of the night, and somehow the South Koreans managed to win. A group of us, most wearing Korean red, poured out into the street. I remember holding a strangers' hands and dancing a circle dance while everyone sang some sort of Korean victory song.

How often does that happen?



David said...

That'd be Abe Opoti & Emily Peterson as the AOMSP Leadership. FYI the Dark Clouds will be at Target Field on Saturday for a MNUFC v Club Leon Friendly!

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