Soccer….Family Style

Slovenia Supporters…great times in Ljubljana!
November 16, 2011, 9:31 pm
Filed under: FIFA, International Soccer, Supporter Culture, US Soccer

With one of the Slovenia Supporter organizers

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.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
December 3, 2010, 4:35 am
Filed under: FIFA, International Soccer, US Soccer

You probably think this is going to be a rant about bribes in FIFA. Wrong. Made you look. Sucker!

This is about 22 year old Tanya. It’s about a girl who was driving home from the 1994 World Cup in Chicago, talking non-stop to her boyfriend about the amazing experience they’d just had and the pact they made. It was a pact to go to every World Cup, no matter where it was. We would let soccer show us the world. Places we’d never thinking of going to for fun, but places that would teach us about who we are.

In 1994, I was just starting to grasp what moving to Iowa from northern New Jersey had done for me. When you live somewhere totally different from your home environment, it changes the way you see yourself and the world around you. You realize what you took for granted as “what everyone does” and you learn about the things that really do connect us as people. That goes for travel too.

It was terrifying to go to Korea in 2002. I was four and a half months pregnant with my first child and had a head full of what ifs. What if we need medical attention and can’t communicate what we need? What if there’s a crush at the stadium? What if I eat something I’m not supposed to because I not only don’t speak the language, I can’t even sound out the characters? It was really scary.

South Africa had other worries. Would they be ready in time? How bad is the security? Will we be safe? On the streets? In the stadiums? Should we bring our kids and worry about them in questionably secure areas, or leave them in the states and worry that we will never see them again?

I’m not going to say that I’m not nervous, or even dreading going to Qatar. But I am going to say that there’s been several universal themes through all 5 cups I’ve witnessed.

  • No host wants fans to have a bad experience.
  • FIFA won’t let the tournament go on if there are serious security concerns.
  • People are more the same around the world than they are different.
  • For the most part, the differences are beautiful.
  • The good will outweigh the bad.

So we’ll see. I’ve watched the Qatar presentation to FIFA. They make some provocative promises. Soccer stadiums getting built modularly and then torn down post tournament, so they can be packed and shipped to a developing nation is pretty cool. The industrial designer in me really wants to see that. Stadiums going out into the world is a good thing, if they can pull it off.

This is it. Qatar is what I wanted. I wanted to see parts of the world that I would never consider going to without a World Cup there. So I’ll give Qatar a chance. I’ll step out of my comfort zone and go to the Middle East and watch some soccer in 2022. 22 year old Tanya would be appalled if I didn’t.

Go USA Bid!
December 2, 2010, 3:37 am
Filed under: FIFA, US Soccer | Tags: , ,

I hadn’t really paid too much attention to the bidding process until today. I have a store to run and kids to raise. And I figured it was a done deal…who could turn down the financial benefits of the US hosting the World Cup? I can’t say I was too happy about it. I go to the World Cup to see the world, not a bunch of stadiums I already go to. I was grumbling about how lame it would be…traveling around in a rented RV or something.

Then today people started talking about Qatar possibly having the votes, and my US Soccer pride kicked in as fast as you can say “Do they even serve alcohol in Qatar?” FIFA, are we really going to say, in the age of global warming, that it’s OK to air condition entire fields and fan viewing areas? A World Cup in the middle of a dry dessert….OK, it’s funny to say that now, but trust me, no one actually wants to do that. And I know this is on a personal note, but Qatar hosting means I’ll hear years of Brock Kwiatkowsky calling it “Cutter.” You’ll have to trust me, FIFA. The answer to the Qatar question is “seek happiness elsewhere.”

The US should host the World Cup. I am a soccer fan because the cup was here in 1994. I had been to one game in 1993 and then slammed right into the 1994 World Cup games in Chicago. I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen, and I never wanted to miss another World Cup, and so far, I haven’t. I pray that in the next 12 years, America figures out that soccer is the greatest sport in the world, and we won’t need hosting to convert the masses, but just in case…let the US host and I’ll gladly spend all summer converting ordinary Americans into Ultra Fans.

We have huge stadiums that will sell out. We have the hotels. Not the “Love Hotels” like in Korea…real hotels in every price range. And we have lots and lots of people who want to see World Cup soccer. Remember South Africa? I was looking forward to a nice, intimate group of Americans, but noooo….we were the second highest attended national after South Africa. Those people and many, many more will flood stadiums across the US.

It will be epic. Americans will embrace soccer wholeheartedly. Brad Janovich will no longer be so misunderstood. US Soccer will have to institute a ticketing ranking system to ensure that the people who have followed them all over the world for the previous 28 years will be guaranteed tickets (you guys taking notes on this?) In short, it will be what we soccer fans have waited for, soccer hitting the tipping point in America’s mainstream.

So now, six and a half hours from the decision. I’m going to try (finally) to get some sleep. But I’ll have dreams of Sepp Blatter announcing “and in 2022, the FIFA World Cup goes to……the United States of America. GO USA BID.

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