Soccer….Family Style

Tied on the Field, But Not in the Stands
June 13, 2010, 1:55 pm
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The World Cup has started for the US, and we may have only racked up 1 point on the pitch, but in all things non-banner related, we dominated the supporters game, in and out of the stadium. Our group of supporters hired buses for 37 of us to travel together from Joburg to our game in Rustenburg. We planned a huge tailgate and left 7 hours before the game.

Travel delays and getting lost along the way, we ended up being near the stadium, but far from our meeting point and decided to abandon the bus tour and head to the stadium with Kaela, Brock, Prairie and Toole. We were really psyched for a huge tailgate, but traffic was horrible and the call of the stadium was too great.

We set up camp just outside the security perimeter. As you can see from photo stream, we do stand out in a crowd. We spent the next few hours singing, face painting, meeting fans, giving interviews to foreign press from all over the world, and take photos with fans from all over.

Americans were there in a huge variety of costumed patriotism. There were superheros, princesses, Revolutionary heros, and assorted random costumes. It was fantastic. Except for a few guys in Monty Python conqueror getups, the English fans really didn’t get more creative than a flag draped across their shoulders.

Then there came the chants and singing. I travel to games with the serious supporters. We stand and sing all game, and have a hard time sticking to the half dozen cheers everyone knows. You don’t want to provoke this group’s creativity…which is exactly what a few English seemed determined to do.

The stadium crowd was mixed up fans: English and US mixed up, the wisdom of which FIFA will have to explain to me. We mostly sorted into a group of Americans and sang and cheered our hearts out with our full repetoire of material: “There’s only one Ron Green” to “If it weren’t for USA, you’d be speaking German” to any number of songs about individual players. England fans earned a rendition of “You’ve only got 2 songs” and were generally far less impressive than I expected.

The best was on the way out, our group was getting heckled by an persistent, if not all that sober or smart Englishman. He made a few jokes about BP and George Bush, but was no match for us. Even his desperate “You know, all you are is shit” was met with joyful “You tied shit” chants and my favorite of the night “One – nil, and you f’d it up.”

I love that about the American fans. We’re funny and creative and entertaining. We are passionate about the game, and have been doing this for years together. I couldn’t ask for better travel mates. The official score may have been 1-1, but know that in the stands, the English hooligans of infamy had nothing on USMNT Ultras.

Referee Controversy
June 10, 2010, 5:49 pm
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When I heard about the baseball refereeing controversy last week (a referee made a questionable call and cost someone a perfect game) it reminded me of the scope of referee impact. Disclaimer: I’ve been a soccer referee since 1993, climbing as high as State Referee and NISOA college refereeing, and I’m married to a former US Soccer National Referee. So we are a pro referee household. My default position is that you have to play the game, with the referees included. When the US was eliminated by Germany in 2002 and there was a questionable handball, as a fan, I was upset, but realistically, you have to play through all those things to win.

In 1998, my husband and I were staying in a small French town visiting a friend when the American referee, Esse Baharmast, did his game, Brazil vs. Norway. My friend arranged for us to watch the game at her friend’s house, where they had cable.  We hardly spoke any French, but we were able to communicate that we were interested in the game because the referee was American.

We enjoyed watching the game with them until Esse called a late in the game penalty against Brazil, that looked from all angles highly questionable. At the time, Doug and I were both refereeing at high levels and both seeking advancement, so Esse Baharmest was a hero to us. I’d met him at youth tournaments and liked him. I couldn’t believe he would blow such a big call, but all televised camera angles looked awful.

Not only that, but that penalty was scored, and that changed the group outcome from Morocco advancing to the next game to them being eliminated. Now here’s where it’s important to really be smart about soccer while at the World Cup. Why would we have reason to be concerned sitting in a small town French living room watching the outcome of Brazil vs. Norway, impacting Morocco’s advancement? Because the Moroccan coach is French, and you better believe the French immediately put it together that our referee had just eliminated their coach. It was several extraordinarily uncomfortable moments before we could leave at the end of the game.

So lesson #1, pay attention to who’s on what team and who it’s impacting, so at least you’re aware as you wander into hostile territory. Lesson #2 is you have to play with the referees you’re dealt, and generally, they do a highly professional game. The next day, a smaller news organization came out with a previously unseen camera angle that showed that Esse had made the correct call. It was too late to keep him in the tournament and too late to alieviate the international tensions where we watched the game, but in the end, he did get it right.

Lesson #2: You have to play with the referees you’re dealt. It sometimes sucks, but if you can’t win with the referee you draw, that it may be a cheap loss, but it counts just the same as a fair loss.

Be Safe, Fellow Travelers
June 2, 2010, 11:39 pm
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I’ve always written about my travels and adventures WITH my children. In my work life, I own a children’s store and blog about my adventures as a parent. My plan for Soccer….Family Style was to write about traveling with my kids. My 7-1/2 year old has a dozen caps, and at the age of 3-1/2 led a German double decker train car in the “Everywhere we go” chant. My 2-1/2 year old sees a flag and starts soccer chants without prompting. They’re great little fans and I love going to games with them.

But even I have to draw the line somewhere. When we realized that just to fly them to South Africa would cost $3700, we had to accept that this trip would be better suited for second honeymoon than family adventure. Thanks to Verizon and Skype we should be able to keep in touch with the kids as they party it up with an extended Grandparents visit.

In the back of my mind, I was a little relieved to not have to worry about their safety. When we were planning to bring them, I had people at my store advising my to write on them in permanent marker with our contact information in case they were kidnapped. But it was hard to take comfort in that since my previous experience has been that the World Cup is typically a very safe place to be. There’s security everywhere, the hosts are excited and helpful, and people are typically in good spirits.

Then I read a story of a mother in South Africa who fought off a child abductor who tried to snatch her child out of her car through a smashed window. I had heard that you should be very careful to always travel with windows up and keep valuables off the seat and out of view, but how are you supposed to extend that to your children? We have two kids…they can’t both sit in the middle.

I would love to have our kids with us. They have a different way of looking at the world that makes sharing soccer with them a pleasure, but in this case, I think they will have more fun getting spoiled by grandparents and we will have more fun knowing we only have to keep track of two grown ups. And we’ll save that $3700 to go visit Germany next summer for the Women’s World Cup.

Meet us….
May 31, 2010, 7:21 pm
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Some of our friends in Kaiserslautern, Germany after US vs. Italy

What I’ve Learned About Traveling to the World Cup
May 31, 2010, 3:47 pm
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I’ve spent the last 16 years of my life following the US Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT). As we prepare to travel to our 5th Men’s World Cup in South Africa, my husband and I have been comparing notes on what we’ve learned from our travels. Here’s a summary:

1994: The USA World Cup

This was the World Cup that started it all: where we decided we never wanted to miss a World Cup ever again. We were pretty new, but we picked up a few ideas here:

* Go with the most fun people you can find, or meet fun people while you’re there. You’ll have more fun with other fun people. Go early and look for the supporters tailgate. Introduce yourself to the people around you. Have fun.

*Get a hotel room. Our first game we could have had so much more fun if we’d sprung for a hotel room and stayed for the after party. Half the fun is the party afterward.

1998: The France Coupe de Monde

*Don’t wear face paint. OK, I’m just kidding. It’s just that the one time we wore face paint, we got mugged and had our tickets stolen. So really what I’m saying is, you’re allowed to be as superstitious as you want. If you feel like you have to wear the exact same thing the same way to every game, you go right ahead. Just as long as I don’t have to face paint again.

*It’s the world cup, even if thing go horribly wrong, they can still end up pretty great. Best story of the tournament followed getting mugged. We met these crazy police officers who got us into the super secret police headquarters at the stadium (PS don’t pick your nose in the stadium…they’re watching you). We had a far better time because we got mugged and were able to keep a positive attitude. No matter what, keep your head up and look for your next adventure.
*Book hotels in advance, even if you don’t think you’ll stay. Our last night in France, we’d planned on leaving our luggage at the train station in a locker, and then taking the train back to Paris that night. Only problem: the lockers were closed because of the security risk. It took 4 hours to find a hotel that wasn’t booked!

2002: Korea World Cup

*When giving quotes outside the stadium to foreign press, do it with a straight face. It’s the World Cup, crazy stuff can happen. Figo was the #1 FIFA player in the world. Who would have guessed Jeff Agoos would score more goals than Figo?
*The further away the world cup, the more psycho the fans. Yes, it’s expensive to travel halfway around the world. But the people who do are the best in the world. Get ready to make friends for life.
*Respect the local culture, until you just need to cross the street, then your expanding their horizons. Experience the local culture. Try new foods. Be respectful. But when there’s one traffic cop and 100+ fans and the road is closed, it’s OK to cross against the light, even if doing so is completely NOT Korean.

2006: Germany Weltmeisterschaft

*I am truly sorry if you wanted tickets and couldn’t get them, but we brought our 3-1/2 year old daughter and FIFA makes you buy a ticket from all children. Even a 3 year old can and did sleep through at least half of every game.
*The barter system is a beautiful thing. We tried to get US vs Italy tickets every way we could. In the end, we traded 2 of our Germany vs. Ecuador for 2 US vs. Italy tickets with a German who was as thrilled as we were with the trade.

Tune in starting June 12th for the lessons of 2010: South Africa.

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