And what were the Togolese boys celebrating? It wasn’t nation. It was something to do with culture and race–that people like them—who spoke their language, and knew some of the same things they knew—were on television, for all the world to see. I’ve written before about what it is like to live in a small place. There is the sense that everything that matters is happening elsewhere. Just to be represented seems enough, even if it isn’t clear what’s being represented, or how.
I had to go through my Facebook timeline to recall exactly how it started, and perhaps appropriately enough, it was an old friend’s exuberant Kickstarter campaign that finally set me along a path I’d inexplicably but firmly resisted for years.
Phil West’s 10,000 Miles, 63 World Cup Matches, 1 Soccer Travelogue had popped up in my feed a few times, barely catching my attention because it involved Kickstarter and soccer, and I was taking a break from the former and had no interest in the latter. Then he sent me a direct appeal, and after hearing his exuberance for the seemingly crazy project, I was intrigued, influenced more than a little by his being one of the two main organizers of my all-time favorite National Poetry Slam experience (Austin, 1998), and one of a handful of former Poetry Slam, Inc. colleagues I’m still connected with.
“I know some of y’all are into soccer, so help my man Phil West out with his crazy Kickstarter and maybe I’ll finally find the hook that reels me into the game. No idea which country I’d represent for, though…”
That was my Facebook post on June 3, 2014, sharing his Kickstarter campaign after backing it myself. It closed successfully three days later, and seeds that had been planted several times over the years finally started to take root.
Fast forward a couple of weeks to Father’s Day and a surprise visit down to Rehoboth Beach, DE, we’re relaxing at the hotel, I turn on the TV and a World Cup game is on, Ivory Coast vs. Japan. What the hell, I think, and randomly decide to cheer for Ivory Coast because Africa, their uniforms (kits!) look better, and one of their players (Die Serey?) had an awesome mohawk. It was a fun game to watch, Ivory Coast ended up winning, and at that point I figured I’d watch another game or two if our paths crossed, rather than simply changing the channel as I’d often reflexively done in the past.
— louderARTS Project (@louderARTS) June 16, 2014
Two days later, USA vs. Ghana preempts our Monday night show at louderARTS, and a small crowd of about 25 people (including 5 cheering for Ghana) generated enough electricity in two hours to rival any NY Yankees World Series Championship. For the next four weeks, everywhere I turned was showing a World Cup game — bars, restaurants, delis — and not just the US games; The Brooklyneer was packed for the Argentina vs. Netherlands Semifinal that started at 3pm EDT on a Wednesday and the bartenders were prepared and kept busy, while keeping an eye on the game, too.
It was also all over my Twitter feed as I realized a number of people I knew from other walks of life, and from other countries, were huge soccer fans, not just of their own national teams, but of the game itself. It was even on my Xbox as Microsoft had two cool apps specifically tied to it: Destination Brazil, featuring live polls during matches that unlocked digital ephemera, and One Street United, an entertaining reality series focusing on street soccer and aspiring amateur players, both offering interactive experiences and a deeper connection to the sport and its global following.
I couldn’t escape the World Cup, and after that first Ivory Coast game, I really didn’t even try.
By the time the US bowed out in an agonizing loss to Belgium in the Round of 16, I took it as hard as any Mets or Jets playoff defeat, as if I’d been following them for years rather than weeks. I had truly come to believe that we could win! By the time Argentina lost its nail-biter to Germany, I was questioning what I ever saw in American football’s three-and-outs and relentless commercial breaks. Some of this feeling was definitely thanks to ESPN’s slick marketing and broadcasting packages, and some of it was thanks to sharing the experience via social media, with friends and strangers alike.
When it was all over, I wanted more, and people were more than happy to help me find it. From Major League Soccer and the Premier League, to a mind-boggling assortment of other leagues and cups in other countries, it feels like there’s always a soccer game going on somewhere, and a lot of it is surprisingly accessible.
Also published on Medium.