Whirled Cup
June 2006

I wrote about the first games of the Men's World Cup on my last travelogue. Here are my latest favorite World Cup 2006 tidbits:

Did you hear about the pair of English football (soccer) fans who couldn't find their car, even though they had carefully written down the street sign they parked near in Cologne: "Einbahnstrasse"?

Well, what about the American fan who wandered around Hanover, population 500,000, for more than six hours looking for his hotel? He couldn't remember his hotel's name nor its address. "The only thing he could remember was paying 10 euros for a taxi ride to the city center and that he went past a park and a Mercedes dealer." Police drove the guy up and down the streets of a Mercedes dealer near a park until he recognized his hotel just before dawn.

What about the best headline on Fark.com in a long time? "Munich police arrest 23 Brazilian people. No word on where they are going to keep that many people."

The World Cup continues to be the experience of a lifetime. I'm totally sold on it -- I'd absolutely be willing to travel to another country to experience the madness again, even if the USA wasn't in the tourney. Being raised a men's college basketball fan, and being from Kentucky, have made it easy to appreciate all this wonderful chaos. Expect a World Cup party or two at my house in four years, most definitely.

Even though it was the end I expected, even though the loud, festive Ghana fans surrounding me were incredibly gracious, Team USA's loss was hard. At the end, they were determined, they were persistent -- they just don't have the foot-and-pass poetry thing down. They play "soccer", instead of "the world's game." I think it's time for a new generation of hungry, scrappy American footballers really ready to earn international acclaim, who truly understand what the World Cup means, and who are ready to make the SUPREME EFFORT in every World Cup match, and who have a coach to mold and lead them, if we're going to get to South Africa 2010 -- and stay there longer than three games. And we need to get two or three players with incredible personalities who really capture the press's -- and, therefore, the public's -- attention, two or three guys that the USA falls in love with and decides they want to follow through the tourney. Ofcourse, we also need LETHAL strikers, and players that could crack the starting lineup for major local teams in Holland or England or Spain...

Ofcourse, we also need football songs. Sam's Army has lots of great suggestions. So start learning them NOW. We've got four years to get this stuff down.

And, finally, we need a cool nickname for Team USA. The Angola team members are the "Black Impalas," Australia have the "Socceroos", Costa Rica have "Los Ticos," Côte d'Ivoire have "The Elephants," England have "The Lions," France have "Les Bleus," and on and on and on. It's got to be a fun name, not just something typical like "Yanks." How about the "Yankee Dawgs"? Or the "Cayotes"? (the coyboy pronunciation of Coyote). Or the "Amis" (that's what Germans call Americans).

I watched the USA-Ghana game with my Hoosier friend Lis, with her five-month old baby "Squeak" in tow, at the Champs American sports bar in Cologne, since German TV didn't show the USA-Ghana game, nor did any of the big screens at the now *four* FIFA fan fests around the town. When we got there, an hour early, the bar was empty. By game time an hour later, we were surrounded by Africans, most of them from Ghana, and the place was packed. The other Americans were on the other side of the huge bar. We cheered and waved loudly at the USA's one goal (which, really, was their *only* goal of the tournament), but no way could we match the display of the Africans, who sang and danced and chanted and yelled for several minutes at their first goal, and then again at the second. (Squeak will be in therapy for years over the trauma). I had a yellow and red card which I used to show my displeasure at various moments in the game, and then they borrowed them a few times to make their own critical points. When Beasley came on the screen, I started shouting, "That's my cousin! That's my cousin!" So, every time he was shown after that, a couple of the Ghana fans would should, "That's her cousin! That's her cousin!" When the game ended, the fans for Ghana sang and danced right out of the bar and onto the street, waving flags and shirts. We followed quickly, and one of the fans ran up and hugged me and said, "Don't worry. We see you in South Africa in four years." Geesh, I hope so. As we walked to the car, I high-fived some Americans, and then some more Ghana folks. The rest of Cologne was a filled with red, white and green for the victorious Italians.

The following Saturday, we decked out in homemade Germany gear and decided to schlep to Cologne again for the Germany-Sweden game at an official FIFA FanFest. I had originally thought we should get there two hours before game time, but then decided to relax, get there when we get there, blah blah -- by the time we got there, an hour before the game, every FIFA FanFest was closed, except for one across the Rhine, which can hold 30,000 fans, and the streets were packed with fans wondering where to go. After walking -- even running -- at times, and making a highly-illegal road and train-track crossing, we got to the massive viewing space, complete with two huge screens, and miracle of miracles, we got in. Getting a beer -- THAT proved almost impossible... great game, great fans, and a really good time. Afterwards, we had a big laugh at the cars daring to try to drive through the swarms of fans -- it was an absolute sea of gold, red and black. I high-fived an American girl wearing her American flag as a cape -- most fans wear their home country colors, usually flags as capes, no matter who is playing, but not Americans, as we are constantly warned by the State Department web site to keep a low profile, particularly in crowds; I didn't wear any red, white and blue because I had some trouble at a train station days earlier, after the Ghana-USA game, for the first time ever, per being an American -- but that story will be on my own blog. Cologne was packed with happy fans, mostly Germans but peppered here and there with fans from many other countries. The police were very low-key -- there, but never in riot gear, always looking relaxed, and happy to be approached by fans with questions. The train back was filled with fans -- in fact, if you aren't into the World Cup here, you really stick out amid the vast majority of people who are.

For the Germany-Argentina game, we went to the local volunteer firehouse, and took Albi. One of the guys had set up the game on a huge screen and beamer, so we had an excellent view. Albi had a nice, wide area all to herself, so anyone jumping up and down didn't spook her -- but after Germany's first goal, she laid there, waiting for everyone to sit back down, and then went from person to person, wanting to be reassured that she was loved. As usual, I was a lot more animated than Stefan who didn't really move, other than to get more beer, until Germany won. I used my red and yellow cards again -- always a crowd pleaser. And I cursed alot in Spanish, so that the Argentina team could understand how much I hated them (they play dirty, and they do that silly "oh, I'm sooooo hurt!!!" act all the freakin' time; and I had some neighbors from Argentina in California who reminded me on more than one occassion that Buster and Wiley were "keeler dogs." Please.). When the game was over (and Argentina showed what incredibly poor LOSERS they are), a group of guys ran out of the garage and into a car, then took off, honking and flag-waving. We could hear honks and cheers throughout the city within 60 seconds of the game ending. Later, we walked over to downtown and watched cars tentively drive through a gauntlet of crazed fans, who chose some cars for shock-absorber tests. We went to an Italian restaurant -- our favorite -- that has a big outdoor eating area during the summer, and Albi laid patiently on the ground while we ate and watched the street celebrations in the tiny town continue.

It's going to be hard to top this tournament -- the games have all been at least interesting, and Germany has done an INCREDIBLE job as host, being as festive and welcoming as a country can be (yes, Germans are being festive outside of Carnival -- incredible), as well as having a top-notch mass-transit system and loads of information for foreigners to help them get whatever services or help they need. I can't see the enthusiasm waning here even if Germany gets knocked out before the final, as many people here are pulling for other countries in addition to Germany, as the many, many flags from other countries on display in homes everywhere attest to.

I have to admit: I sooooo wanted Spain to win it all -- it had a really good chance, and has never won. And there really needs to be a brand new winner in the World Cup. But Spain just didn't even really show up for the game against France. At least Brazil AND Argentina are OUT!! Wahoo!!

I'll refrain from making my list of the cutest footballers, as I'm not sure of all of their names...

I have lots of pictures posted on my YahooGroup -- you must be a member to view them, and you must be a friend or family member to be a member.

And, yes, I know: football (soccer) still ranks below televised poker tournaments in the USA. hat same poll revealed that 56 percent of Americans did not even know that the 2006 World Cup was taking place in Germany (I'd say that percentage of actual USA citizens not knowing where the World Cup is even higher, and that the percentage of citizens who don't know where Germany *is* would have been the same). Football (soccer) just is not part of the culture in a country that prides itself on isolationism from the rest of the world. And a lot of hostile comments by people on television with no understanding of the game isn't helping.

For me, the three most boring "sports" to watch on TV, no question: golf, American football (which an English character on "Buffy" correctly noted, "I just think it's rather odd that a nation that prides itself on its virility should feel compelled to strap on forty pounds of protective gear just in order to play rugby.") and bowling. Anyone who says watching football (soccer) is boring and doesn't *also* call the aforementioned three "sports" even MORE boring is delusional .

By the way -- the Women's World Cup will be in 2007, in China. Took me more than 15 minutes to find information about it online, so please, everyone, link to the site on your web site or blog and let's get the numbers up.


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