Soccer….Family Style

USMNT vs Slovenia: My Adventures in Ljubljana!
November 16, 2011, 9:30 pm
Filed under: FIFA, International Soccer, Supporter Culture, US Soccer

Let me preface by saying that I did NOT want to come to Slovenia. There was a rumor that the US would play Germany on this date, and I was all about going to Germany: I have friends there, I speak the language, and I love watching Germany play almost as much as I enjoy watching the US. So when Slovenia was announce, I was pretty upset. I almost decided against making the trip entirely: I don’t speak Slovenian, I’d only heard of the country because they were in our group in the 2010 World Cup, and who knew how they felt about that experience. But after grumbling for a few days, and realizing that I could still see my German family friends after Slovenia, I decided to continue with my dream trip of Eurotour 2011 planning.

I arrived at 2 AM on game day, and felt lucky to find a pizza stand open who called a taxi to my hotel for me. I checked in and slept until 15 minutes before breakfast closed. I spent the mid day checking out the city of Ljubljana with two other American fans, and headed to the stadium bar around 3:30. Our first stop in the stadium neighborhood was to pick up tickets. I’ve been to enough games to know that if you haven’t seen a bunch of Americans walking around, we’re probably going to be a small crowd at the game, but I had no idea how small our contingent was until we got the the visitors ticket booth. I walked up, and as I was fishing my passport out of my back pocket to show ID to pick up will call, I said “Hi, my name’s Tanya.” And before I could get my passport out, she handed me an envelope with my name on it. When you can get tickets with a first name and no ID, it’s going to be a VERY small crowd.

We headed to the All Star Bar, and on the way, found the Slovenia Supporters selling scarves which I had to buy, and fell in love with when I saw the top read “Majhna in ponosna – little and proud.” How could I not fall in love with Slovenia? I talked with the guy selling them, who turned out to be a leader of the supporters for Slovenia. We had a good time chatting, and as I was leaving, he gave me a really nice Slovenian flag. All I can say is “you had me at “majhna in ponosna.”

We had five Americans at the All Star Bar, and several Slovenians that looked confused to find us there. The stadiums in Europe are all alcohol free (yeah…take a moment to let that sink in, AO nation) and it was unbelievably cold and damp, so I quickly switched from cold beer to Kuhalo Vino, a hot spiced wine that was going down real easy. We compared notes on travel, and came up with my favorite phrase of the night. When people speaking foreign languages without the listener understanding, the listener just nods and says, “What you say is very interesting.” It was a well used phrase for the night.

We headed to the stadium, wondering if our section would even fill a row. Would they have riot gear cops around a single row? If 7000 Slovenians got pissed, exactly what were we going to do about it? When we got to our seats, we were about 2/3 the way up the lower deck, almost in the corner.I was happy to see several serious looking riot geared up police behind our section. We got the AO Des Moines banner hung in our corner, and then went down to the front row of where the US boys were warming up. We were SO close to the field, it was really great. The intimacy of a women’s game, but with the men’s team. It reminded me of the old days, when you could run into players anywhere, before anyone knew about soccer in the US. We realized that it was minutes before the walk out, and no one had kicked us out yet. I ran up to the old seats and grabbed our stuff, updating the only other Americans (a couple from Austria) that we were permanently relocating and they were welcome to join us.

I’ve never been prouder to belt out our national anthem than I was at that game. It was so patriotic to be there, with my four new friends, cheering on our boys. And when we scored, what seemed like immediately, it took a moment to realize that, although the stadium was pin-drop silent, we had scored! We went nuts, and there was the deafening roar of five people cheering. It was completely unreal and fantastic all at once. The field was veiled in fog, so thick that we couldn’t see the far side benches from our front row vantage point. It was an amazing night, on an amazing field, with a great host. The Slovenians got some chants going, and they had a great coordinated fan group in the end zone. Their supporters got call and respond chants going with the other fans in the stadium, and created a great atmosphere. They were great sports being down or tied, and were great sports shaking hands with us post game leaving the stadium and back at the bar.

Of course I’m glad that the US is playing better, and happy that the Klinsman plan seems to be coming together (I told you all to stop worrying). I was glad to catch Boca’s 100th cap… I remember when he was a new guy on the team… they grow up so fast! But there’s something really special about going to the “rare” games. I like being part of the tiny little group of supporters, cheering against all odds. I love all US Soccer matches, but I will always have a special (WARM, finally) place in my heart for Slovenia.

1 Comment so far
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The stadiums in Europe are all alcohol free

Sorry that’s wrong. You can get alcohol in every Bundesliga stadium.

Comment by Bernhard K.

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