The Shirt Off My BackBy: Sean | May 4th, 2009
As an American soccer fan, you have a limited number of ways of expressing your love of the Beautiful Game and your allegiance to your favorite club. You can hang one of those little soccer ball-in-a-net-things from the rear view mirror in your car. You can decorate your office cubicle with lots and lots of soccer stuff, like Timber Jim Bobbleheads and “Get Fuzzy” comic strips that reference Hartlepool United FC and an old calendar page of a guy taking a free kick with the slogan “We All Have Dreams. Mine Is To Crush Yours.” (Your coworkers will likely not fully understand most of this stuff, but they’ll smile politely as they walk by nonetheless.) But mostly you will wear the jersey of your favorite club and you will stick out like a sore thumb at the mall…and yet still be invisible at the same time.
Wearing the colors of your club in America is–I would imagine, as my time overseas has been woefully limited–a much different experience than wearing it in other most other countries. Two fans passing each other on the street here in Beaverton, Oregon wearing rival shirts are less apt to break out in taunts or jeers. Come to think of it, I pass another person in a soccer shirt outside of a soccer match about three times a year and the novelty of seeing a familiar club crest on another person tends to outweigh any traditional rivalries. There will be a moment of recognition, a quick double take, and then a nod and a grin as two real football fans pass each other. Big clubs, Premiership clubs and the like, will occasionally merit a look from passersby. On a good day, you might earn a point and a quick “Oh, that’s the team that Ronaldo plays on.” I once wore a Fulham shirt to Fred Meyer and passed a guy in a Celtic shirt in the frozen food aisle. His eyes lit up when he recognized the badge and I got an enthusiastic thumb’s up and a “Hey, the footy!” to boot.
Your shirt is also a good tool to help identify the true football fans from the wannabes. After my daughter’s practice was over, we went to a sandwich shop for dinner and was pleasantly surprised to notice the cashier was also sporting a Red Devils shirt. After giving my order, I asked what he thought of the weekend’s tragic 1-4 loss to Liverpool. “Oh, did they play?” Um, yes. They play a lot of weekends. As we waited for our turkey sandwiches, I changed tact to fill the idle time. “Who is your favorite player right now?” The response: “I like Beckham.” I just didn’t have the heart to tell him he hadn’t been with the club for about five years.
I have also noticed that soccer tends to be one of the few sports where the more obscure or less widely known team is, the more attention the shirt merits from other fans. One of my daughter’s old camp coaches is a midfielder for Scottish Third Division team Stenhousemuir Warriors, so we support him by wearing his club’s shirt. On the street, the strange maroon strip hardly merits a second glance, but occasionally another football fan notices and asks about it. We happily recall the time her coach stayed at the house for a week and get an approving nod in reply. I don’t see people wearing minor league baseball or basketball shirts very often, if ever. Around here, I see the Mariners and the Blazers. That’s it.
Really, the only stick I get for the color of my shirt comes from my teammates and of course, it is all good-natured. Maybe it is something about the novelty of playing and following a sport that 90% of your neighbors don’t care at all about that knits us together, regardless of tribal loyalties. Like meeting another American/someone of your same nationality when you are traveling abroad, the association here seems to be more about the Big Picture positives (football fans) and less about the specifics (United vs. Arsenal). I think that’s kind of cool. I understand that it is not always like that in other places but I lack the experience to really comment on it, save for a few random observations on the ride to Wembley Stadium and the recollection of a twelve year old kid walking around the 17,000 s.f. United Megastore at Old Trafford in a Liverpool kit. Man, talk about your icy stares of death.
How about you, Weekend Warriors? Do you have any stories about getting a reaction–unfavorable or otherwise–based upon the color of your shirt? Get dissed in a foreign locale because you weren’t wearing the correct kit? Or perhaps you found another supporter in the unlikeliest of places. I’d love to hear your stories and anecdotes.
[Lastly, psuedo-apologies for the gimmicky connection between the post headline and the image of a woman wearing a soccer shirt. Work obligations kept me from writing for the last two weeks and I decided to take a cheap shot to recapture people's attention.]
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