How the World Cup Turns Even Non Sports Nerds Into Foam-Fingered Face-Painted Bar-Trashing Maniacs


GateHouse — You win, soccer!

I learned something in the World Cup in 2010: Turns out that if you furnish a scorching last-minute sudden-death winning goal, and add the subtle, unrelenting pressure of most of my friends and all of Twitter, I turn into a dynamic, perspiring World Cup fan! At least for a few days, or weeks, or years, or however long this thing goes on. I haven’t the foggiest idea.

But that’s OK, because I’m still new to this soccer thing, this severe, rash-fueled case of World Cup fever that makes me want to occasionally punch random strangers in the throat. But I confess to being baffled by my sudden enthusiasm, and by “enthusiasm” I mean “the fleeting brush of elevated interest I feel because everybody else is watching it and I’m a unrepentant meerkat who wants to know what the group is talking about.” Because, like all of America, and despite what the more self-satisfied portions of America might claim on Facebook, I don’t generally pay the remotest smidge of attention to soccer unless a soccer game is interrupted by a camel invasion, Alison Brie photo shoot or velociraptor attack, and even in the case of the latter I’d probably just watch the highlights (“Just look at the way those raptors are using cooperative hunting to distract the American goalkeepers, right before slicing them to pieces with their sharp, slashing claws! Amazing, isn’t it, Jim?” And then the camera would cut to Jim, and we would see that Jim has just been sliced to pieces by velociraptors. I am pretty sure it’s paragraphs like this that made me not get the callback about that ESPN job.).

Yet evidence shows that the World Cup, for whatever reason, transmogrifies people — even and especially non-sports people — into foam-fingered, painted-fat-bellied maniacs. It holds some shape of broad-yet-niche brand appeal that makes it perfectly accessible to those who scoff at sports nerds most of the time, including, most notably, my youthful hip friend in Brooklyn who routinely confuses major sports in entertaining fashion (“You mean LeBron James the quarterback, right?”) but who, in 2010, was en-stooled in a pub someplace in his small city tweeting things like “ALGERIA, YOU GOT NOTHING,” although I suspect that might have something to do with his being en-stooled in a pub at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday.

(True fact: Also in 2010, a second non-sports friend named Ben from North Carolina IM’d the phrase “Holy crap, Algeria almost scored on us!” It’s important to note here that this entirely separate person once inferred that the Chicago Cubs were a professional basketball organization, which is hilarious, as there’s nothing remotely professional about the Chicago Cubs. Moreover, Ben’s even MORE non-sporting friend interrupted HIS OWN simultaneous IM rant about George Lucas to  exclaim “Holy crap!” about a near-goal, because apparently people in North Carolina exclaim, “Holy crap” a lot. But really, what kind of person gets equally agitated by both soccer and George Lucas? These people are RENAISSANCE MEN.)

Whether thanks to old-fashioned pancake-hour tipsiness or not, there is something about this global experience that brings people together, unites them, from behind the safe anonymous wall of their anti-reflective laptop screens. “Goal disallowed for offside,” Ben IM’d again. “Whatever that is.” And elsewhere, “C’MOOONNNNNNNNNN” tweets Brooklyn Guy, who I’m pretty sure doesn’t know how many points a field goal counts for in football.


Related, sort of

• Slovakia 1, U.S. 0! Get used to this flag, World Cup suckas


And yet I fully support soccer’s takeover of Twitter and especially Facebook, as it provides an occasional break from my relentless Hiding of all things Candy Crush and updates about when the children of people I knew in high school catch colds. This is mostly because I can’t watch at work, because “reporters” are “working” or some such nonsense, and I can’t watch at home, as that would interrupt valuable time needed to revisit “Toy Story” on DVD, repeatedly, oh so very repeatedly. So I have come up with a rather ingenious plan for keeping up with the action: I watch the games only via social media. It’s like my own Social Media Soccer Matrix. I’m kind of awesome, I know.

It’s surprisingly effective, though. Last time, according only to my social media, I learned that Slovenia was apparently dressed like Charlie Brown, and the USA sucked. Then they didn’t suck, then they sucked a little less. But when they came back, whenever there’s a positive development, my various news feeds explode with enthusiasm, which is awesome, because that means I can watch soccer without the discomfort of actually watching soccer! (Also more importantly, I may be able to win my work pool, in which I’ve drawn the USA and Germany. If everything goes in my favor, I can win nearly sixty dollars! Whenever this thing is over.)





About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

2 responses to “How the World Cup Turns Even Non Sports Nerds Into Foam-Fingered Face-Painted Bar-Trashing Maniacs

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