Lately, the soccer world around me has had enough ups and down that a good beer is exactly what I need to enjoy it all and ride it out. Aside from kid stuff, I can say that much of the fun started with finding out too late that San Francisco had a professional team over the summer of this year up through watching a USWNT match in person last weekend. And sure, that Germany-England match Tuesday, but the biggest excitement there may have been the fashion show of the new 2018 World Cup kits with the funky font since it was a friendly and more so just getting another run in before winter hibernation.
I was out with coworkers this week for lunch. And a beer, because a beer at lunch often makes me happier to return to work after. The Germany-France friendly was on. It was already 0-1 France when we were seated before halftime and as much as I tried to stay involved in the conversations I still kept looking up every time some fast motion would catch my eye.
Finally, in the 56′, Mesut Özil drove a pass forward to Timo Werner, who, despite what looked like a stumbling step to gather himself, was able to smoothly jab the ball between the lunging keepers legs for a goal. I looked up in time to see Ozil send the pass, but when the goal was scored my fist punched the air just like Werner’s in celebration.
My coworker across from me asked, “Oh, you like soccer?”
My other coworker, who had actually been to the World Cup in South Africa and has talked at length with me about it, chuckled a bit.
I know exactly when I really became a huge fan of soccer. World Cup 1998 when I was working at a wholesale bakery. Before that time, soccer was just something I knew existed from playing briefly as a kid and a good friend in high school who was the only female on the team as well as an all-girl club team. My cousin would remind me of it when the World Cup was hosted here and how good Ronaldo was (the original one). But I lived basketball all through high school and college. No other sport existed. And when I was finally done playing basketball and out of college, I had time for another sport to settle in.
At this bakery, I had started a couple months before the cup, but worked in the office and didn’t know many people beyond the office and some drivers. So when the cup came, and the radios in every corner of the building was playing it in Spanish and English, I really got to see everyone’s personalities. Only two people in the office cared, and the one who understood the sport supported the US while the other backed Italy only because he was Italian and not because he followed the sport. The 2nd-in-command baker was English — enough said there. Many of the other bakers were Mexican or from other Latin or South American countries. The night manager was Jamaican, who made it that year. The driving team had people from Mexico, Norway and Germany. And even the head of packing and sorting was from Saudi Arabia, who was as stoic as could be but would still follow the matches. Everyone would cheer or jeer when goals were scored. I had no idea what was happening, but everyone was having so much fun. One driver, Ralf, had the great story of how much he loved watching Germany beat Mexico at home with his Mexican girlfriend. He knew I was part German and asked why I didn’t watch and support. So I had a beer and settled in on the 4th of July to watch Germany…get crushed by Croatia. And no, I never thought about supporting the US team. They were long gone by the time I started to follow.
However, the US was back in it for 2002 in Japan and Korea. And they made it to the quarters…where they lost to Germany. Maybe it’s because I am my mom’s child, and she very much was someone that liked to take the opposing side in sports matches just to talk trash, but I was all in for Germany, even as they lost in the finals to Brazil.
In 2006, I was working for a job where I traveled to conferences, and was on Las Vegas for a week of the cup. It was pretty awesome waking up early to head to a trade show floor and seeing Iranian backers with flags and even a painted face sitting the sports book watching the match. It was for an Israeli company and it was fun for all of us teaching the one person in our marketing department that didn’t understand any of it all about it. And Germany hosted and went far with a team I didn’t realize until much later was a terribly flawed team and Die Mannschaft und alles deutsche Fußball was undergoing a reboot. As I really started to dig in right after that cup (and more time at home with kids) is when it became part of me.
I don’t really follow the leagues, only slightly following Bundesliga. I don’t support any club teams, I really just follow the cups so I don’t end up spending too much of my time and liver on soccer. Since there are so many national tournaments, I still get to keep this as my part time sport after basketball. And yes, I have even learned to follow and tolerate the USMNT, even if my emotions are not really invested in them.
One thing I love about soccer more than any other sport is the spectator rituals and patterns. Regular matches usually last no more than 2 hours. Halves are fairly reliable for their 45 minutes and a little extra for pee breaks and other predictable intermission activities. Pregaming really is pregaming, often with communal and other recreational activities taking place right at the entrance. Traffic patterns follow these time blocks. And there are very few pauses in the action for extraneous chatter or tasks to distract someone from watching the match and drinking a beer.
I’ve seen a San Jose Earthquakes game at Stanford Stadium, where there is no alcohol sold in the stadium. In many ways it was very surreal at before the game started as I felt like many of the people who were wandering around with me as I looked for better snacks for my kids were probably people looking for beer. At Avaya Stadium, the usual home of the Earthquakes, most people have it down, except for how they should line up, as lines just seem to jut out in odd directions. Everyone gets their drinks and snacks before the match and rush to drain and refill at half. If only they could fix their parking situation. It was actually great to see the USWNT there because I feel like it brought even more knowledgable fans to the stadium.
And here’s where my issue is with the team that I fully support, both as my local team and because it’s been an incredibly awesome year that I hope has a trick up its sleeve with more years to come, the San Francisco Deltas. I really am hoping that US Soccer eventually works out their issues and realizes that what the US needs most of all is more professional soccer that’s accessible to all areas and not soccer teams and leagues that fit into certain profiles of marketability — especially since we don’t really have a pyramid with promotion and relegation. I am completely confident in my love for the team, and torn about my dislike of the majority of “fans” in the stands.
For those that haven’t been following, the NASL was denied Division II status by US Soccer, fought the decision and lost. For now, all is up in the air and the Deltas were able to put aside all the financial difficulties of operating in San Francisco with a team in a sport most people in the US don’t care about and won the league championship. It was a tough go getting people to support a team and sport in the city. And by the end of the fall season, they cut prices dramatically and with the CEO’s good will and generosity of gifting fans with merchandise and discounted refreshments. Yelp and other local “tech” businesses minimally invested but with true sponsorship and no real TV revenue, it was a tough go.
But for medium soccer snobs like me, the sheer number of people in the stands who were indifferent to a soccer match happening in front of them (or really next to them, as most were there to socialize and let their kids roam free supervised by security staff and other more concerned and parental spectators). This was readily apparent by their pattern of activity from arrival until end of match. Cheering commenced only when a large enough of people cheered and they were not holding a beverage. They often arrived at least 10 minutes in and after unpacking their items would send their kids to find the flag to run around with while they went to stand in line for refreshments. They then shared their smuggled booze with each other childless couple or other friends with kids joined their group of 24 while ignoring a match was happening in favor of discussing their previous weekend activities and plans for the next day. All while wearing a lot of team branded winter wear.
The only thing I could say I had in common with them is that most of them would at least buy a beer to supplement their thermos of mulled wine or flask bottle to add to their hot coffees purchased from Philz or Blue Bottle. I was lucky that the Deltas put on very entertaining and hard fought matches that I was able to tune most of that out except for the beginnings of their arrivals or when I would have to yell at oblivious people to sit down when their greetings were completely indifferent to the sport being played behind them and people there to watch the match. Even weekday evening games were not immune as San Francisco parenting means kids have loosely defined guidelines to typical society norms.
In many ways, the Deltas and San Francisco are a perfect pair for a team and general group of citizens with the mindset of not following the norms and working hard to try to go against the mainstream. At least I got to enjoy a beer and watch it all play out.
And I would purchase that beer before a match or at the half. Or at the quad in front of the entrance before a match. Or through the wait staff or bartender while watching it on TV.
Beer and soccer are a good match.
And yes, I did return to my desk at work and checked to see if Germany came back to tie or win. 90+5′ goal. Whew. And yes, I know it was just a friendly, but that late goal deserves a beer.