I feel like a dirty bandwagon jumper, but at least I’m a consistent one. I’ve been a raging, hard core, full on, balls out, cliche to the max soccer fan since 1994. Like most Americans, this statement is true for me only quadrennially, and then only for one month. I am an unabashed World Cup fan. The World Cup has easily surpassed the Summer Olympics in becoming my second-favorite quadrennial event, behind only presidential elections.
When I returned to Korea a few months back, I was well aware that my contract would coincide with the Cup. I couldn’t wait to watch the event overseas, particularly from a country that would be involved. I watched the Beijing Olympics from Seoul and was horribly disappointed. Nothing on Korean TV but the boring events that Korea excels at - archery, judo, tae-kwon-do, and badminton. When there were no live events that Korea was involved in to air, did any of the 3 Korean networks airing the games show a little basketball or beach volleyball? Of course not, they would all run endless replays of archery instead. I had my fears that Korean TV would only re-run Korean soccer matches when Korea wasn’t playing. My fears were unfounded. The Korean networks (well, network this time, SBS and SBS Sports) have done fantastically, airing every game live and in HD.
The second day of the World Cup featured Korea playing Greece at 8:30 pm local time, followed by a late night 3:30 a.m. USA-England grudge match. I went to Seoul’s Hyehwa neighborhood with some friends to catch the Korea game. Despite pouring down rain, a giant video screen towered over the street. Several thousand poncho-clad Koreans sat on the street watching every play. I’d never seen a Korean wearing a poncho or rain coat. Amazingly (and happily, especially for the disposable poncho salesmen) umbrellas were banned in the viewing area. Korea took an early 1-0 lead over Greece. The crowd as jubilant as they were soaked throughout the rest of the half. As the second half began, the rain let up but the Korean team didn’t, jumping ahead to 2-0, a veritable blowout in soccer. The game ended and the party started. My buddies and I took to the streets, high-fiving everybody, sharing beer with strangers, and getting hugs from random hot girls (actually, that one was just me). We may have been on national TV at some point. Later, there was a commotion and a circle of space opened up. A boxer dude emerged. It looked like there was going to be a fight. The boxer dude was ignored. Random dudes started break dancing in the circle instead. A car tried to make it’s way through the street. People lied down in front of it while the driver high-fived everyone around. Roman candles went off somewhere. It was that kind of party.
We hopped in a taxi and headed to Itaewon, and found a bar that was about 50-50 between American and English fans. The party kept going. By the time the US game started at 3:30, I hadn’t had a beer in half an hour and wouldn’t have another the rest of the night. USA tied England, of course. I was happy not to lose. The English guys there weren’t. We took the subway home. The 6 a.m. subway was packed like rush hour with Itaewon soccer revelers. I hadn’t seen that many white people on a subway since the time I went to Boston.
I had to work during the Korea-Argentina game. I didn’t actually have any work to do, I just had to stay at the office and watch the game on my laptop. The students were all devastated that they had to be in class, and the Korean teachers were all annoyed that they had to teach. The boss who made the call not to cancel class was nowhere to be found. He left work early to watch the game, of course. Korea got murdered 4-1 against Argentina, so watching the game at work ended up being a fine way to do it.
USA-Slovenia after working hours meant another trip to Itaewon. A fun scene, but nowhere near the scene USA-England had caused. The US was robbed, of course, but it wouldn’t matter as America beat Algeria a few days later and took the group in a game that I would end up watching at home, alone. Why watch a game alone? Staying out until 7 a.m. the night before tends to keep a man indoors.
Korea-Nigeria started at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, really better described as Tuesday night. As my friends were sitting this one out, I didn’t want to cross town on my own at such a ridiculous hour. Instead I went home - to NoBlock. I’d been neglecting NoBlock a bit as of late, and it was great to be back. It was great to be Jae-hak again.
Korea-Nigeria was action-packed. Nigeria took an unexpected early lead, but Korea pulled even before halftime. Both times were inches away from scoring several other times. Word came that Argentina was up. If Argentina won and Korea tied, Korea would advance to the sweet 16. Korea scored and went up. The bar went crazy. Free shots all around, just like after the first goal. I was polishing of a Long Island. It was 5 a.m. on a work night. Killer. Nigeria evened the score, but by this point Argentina was up an insurmountable 2-0. Korea only had to hold on. When it was all over, Korea did hold and advanced. It was light outside. I’d had 2 free shots and met 4 girls. Korea was in. NoBlock was on. Jae-hak was back.
I couldn’t be more excited about Saturday night’s elimination games without the Kansas basketball Jayhawks being involved. Korea vs Uruguay (hey, check out this country’s name) at 11 pm, USA-Ghana at 3:30. Should both teams win, my sports bigamy (thanks Sports Guy) will bite me in the ass for the first time. Like my buddy David noted, I’ll either be laughed at or killed, depending on who I cheer for. I never thought my sports bigamy would get me like this. I always thought it would be a Royals-Cubs World Series.
During every world cup, I always consider becoming a permanent soccer fan. It’s never actually stuck, but it always seems like a good idea. Soccer has a lot going for it. Games start exactly on time. During the first half, one can tell where the game is without seeing the came clock. If the game started at 3:30 and my watch says 4:10, then I know there’s 7 or 8 minutes until halftime. Games last two hours. With all the commercials, NFL games all slog on for 3 and a half hours these days, and baseball is even worse. Soccer action is non-stop. The scores are low and not a lot happens on paper, but the complexion of the game can change in seconds at any given time. Soccer lends itself to a creativity that really only exists in football and basketball. Watch some youtube clips of Messi. Dude is like the Barry Sanders of soccer.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have my problems with “the beautiful game.” I don’t care if Brits or speakers of Romance Languages refer to the game as “football,” but I get annoyed when other people do. I get annoyed when Brits or others say that football is a dumb name for the American game. Lots of countries - Australia, Ireland, and others call entirely different games football. I have no patience for Americans or Canadians that call soccer football. That’s just misusing your native tongue for the sake of douchebaggery. Why not also call trucks lories and cigarettes fags? Stoppage time and offside still makes no sense to me, but I admit that’s my own ignorance. The flopping absolutely grates me. In the Korea-Nigeria game, a Korean player was taken off the field in a stretcher. A goddamn stretcher. Two minutes later, he was back on the field. FIFA should clean this up. If you go down and stay down for longer than, say, 8 seconds, you have to sit out the rest of the half. Soccer is clearly a tough game, but the flopping makes it look a bit, shall we say, fay. Finally, and not there’s anything wrong with that, but dear god, the jersey exchange/players taking their shirts off for no good reason during the game thing. You know how Homer Simpson said that there’s two kinds of guys that wear Hawaiian shirts? I think the same can be said for guys that take their shirts off in public in non-pool/beach settings.
I want to be on board, soccer, I really do. I’ll even pick an English team (Liverpool, I kinda randomly picked them in my Euro days so I’ll stick with it) and follow them throughout the 16 month soccer season and the 29 tournaments they play each year that aren’t related to the regular season in any way. Take my suggestions to heart though, you gotta meet me halfway. If I can change, you can change.