The Evolution of What the World Cup Has Meant to Me

31 May 2010

South African fans carry a 'World Cup' trophy during a FIFA 2010 soccer World Cup warm up soccer match between South Africa and Colombia played at the Soccer City Stadium, Soweto, South Africa, 27 May 2010. (Credit Image: © EPA/ZUMApress.com)
1994: My first experience with the sport.
The location: Orlando Florida. The reason I was there: landing at the international airport heading to my dad’s house on a quasi-vacation/parents plan to move to the Sunshine State later in the year. Upon walking through the terminal to get our bags for the trip to Jacksonville, World Cup stuff was everywhere.
I’m 10 years old at this point. Every morning I woke up to the sports pages, so I thought I knew about all the sports that the world had to offer. Until that moment in my life, I didn’t even realize the sport existed. So being ten, having my small world view that a kid that age normally has, my first reaction was ‘what the hell is this sport of soccer and why the hell haven’t I heard anything about it until now…and why is this sport I have never heard of having an event in the United States?’ Yes, one could say that I had a lot to learn at that point.
As my dad’s place had cable, I watched what I could, and I have to be honest, if it wasn’t for the crowd being so energetic, I would have given up on the sport and moved on with life. However, the fans interest kept me watching and by the time it was time to fly back to Alaska, I had enough interest to keep watching…what I could. The only other match of the 1994 World Cup I saw once I returned to Alaska was the final between Brazil and Italy. In truth, it was a crap match on a narrow field. But the emotion of the penalty shootout has stuck with me to this day.

1998: My naive belief in American politics.
By the time the 1998 World Cup rolled around, I hadn’t watched much of the beautiful game. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, but when you still live under your parent’s roof, you live by their rules. One of my mom’s most adamant rules was a simple one ‘no cable tv…period end of discussion’. I got by barely on the little MLS that was on ABC.
It was also around this time that my interest in politics started to grow, and when I saw the US was grouped in with Iran and Yugoslavia, I breathed a little easier. My 14 year old mind went ‘Iran sucks and let’s face it; Yugoslavia is so unstable that the mighty USA should advance easily even after losing to Germany’. Oh the innocence of youth.
I remember the Germany game like it was yesterday in my mind. The 3-6-1 formation looked bad on the eyes, but for some strange reason kept us in the game. However two counter attacks proved our undoing, but after thinking that the worst was over, I got ready for the Iran match which ABC was hyping for reason even I didn’t understand. When Bill Clinton delivered a prepared statement to the crowd in France, I thought he had lost his mind. When the game got underway, I was floored. I never expected the US to play so badly and Iran were the worthy winners on the day. I cried for at least a day after this while the rest of the family thought a white padded room was where I ought to be. The game against Yugoslavia was just as bad, having read the post match report I just thought the squad quit.
The 1998 World Cup could provide the most humorous thing to me. One of my neighbors came over during the final. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon and he was already drunk as a skunk and had his customary beer in one hand and spit cup in another. He saw what I was watching and just went ‘you know I think they are all a bunch of ******* (the word has been censored simply for taste), but I will admit one thing, they sure can run’. The fact I got a Baker County redneck to watch at least 1 minute of the game was considered a result for me. At least it was something positive for me leaving a World Cup behind where I learned the world doesn’t exactly revolve around the United States.

2002: Trying to follow the game I had fallen in love with halfway across the globe.
By the time the 2002 World Cup rolled around, the game had overtaken my life. Thankfully having a job where I could get the internet made following the game a little easier. Granted it was only dial up, but for me, at least it was something.
That said, still following this competition was torture. Having a full time job, I woke up early every morning I could and just saw the results. Seeing that the United States had beaten Portugal gave me hope. Advancing out of the group stage had me joyous, when we beat Mexico in the round of 16, I celebrated at work for a long time.
However, the 2002 World Cup will be most remembered by me for what happened in the Quarterfinals. It was a Friday, and the city decided to opening up a part of downtown for the viewing. It was also the first time I remember listening to the local sports talk morning show talking about the World Cup. What was even funnier was hearing David Lamn, the host of that morning show, going absolutely mental when the US was denied a penalty late. It was the first time I thought the sport had a chance in this country, a chance I’m honestly still waiting to see fulfilled.

2006: The World Cup the fan boy in me went away.
Maybe it was over confidence, or the fact I just bought all the hype, but I thought the US squad going into the 2006 FIFA World Cup had a chance to at least equal the result from the 2002 World Cup. When they didn’t win the first game against the Czech’s, something in me finally had to give.
It was after that match that a lot of what I am today as a blogger was formed. It was when I realized that in order for the game to move forward in this country, people had to get brave in this country and start to openly criticize those who run the national team here. Granted, it seems like they don’t give a damn about what we have to say, and only care about the writers who are more fan boy and cheerleader than viewing the sport from a critical eye, but it was something I felt personally needed to be done. It also helped that not long afterwards, I met other people of link mind.
While I was at work listening to the Ghana game, I was not happy about how we were eliminated. But the memory that sticks out to me, other than the shambolic commentary by the lead play by play man during the competition, was listening to Argentina/Germany at work on BBC Five Live. Since Wimbledon was going on, they completely forgot to geo block the game and listening to the penalty shootout was something that put a smile on my face for the rest of the afternoon.

What will be different for me this time? Well for starters, it’s the first World Cup I’ll be putting my opinions out in the forefront from start to finish. It will also be the first time I don’t watch the competition as a fan, but instead do so from my now typical critical eye. But I think what will be different for me this time around will be the fact I will be doing something that four years ago I never thought I would be doing…writing on the sport I love during the sport’s biggest event, and having fun along the way.

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Johnathan Starling, the self proclaimed 'most brutally honest man on the net, dishes out his own unique brand of opinions, and analysis on the Premier League, Bundesliga, and all things US Soccer.

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