Loyal followers of Fill the Steins, I have been living a lie. In 2002 I explained away the huge bags under my eyes from those late night matches as allergies. In 2006 I used the excuse of regular afternoon physical therapy appointments to sneak home and watch the games. In 2010 I tactfully assembled a subgroup of coworkers and used the term “off-site meetings” to cover-up my true intentions. For 2014 I couldn’t take it anymore, I couldn’t keep my passion a secret, I came out of the closet and realized it’s ok to like the World Cup.
It started several months ago when I pulled my soccer scarves out of storage and brought them into work. Hanging them on my office wall I raised more than a few eyebrows, most assuming I had poor fashion sense when selecting a winter scarf. It continued with submitting my leave notification three months in advance for an early departure on June 16th and all day off on June 26th. In the remarks block I simply listed “supporting America” which caused my supervisor to question my mental health. With the framework in place I decided to make the news public to my co-workers, something they had whispered about behind my back for years and had all but assumed to be true. So in the first week of June I made my way around the office and had the same frank discussion with different groups of co-workers; the World Cup is coming and you need to join me in the celebration.
To my shock and surprise, not only was I supported in my decision to go public about my love for the World Cup, but several of my co-workers came out as well saying they too had fallen in love with that “other sport.” So we rallied as a group, numbering in the single digits for the first match and then building up to dozens as the game against Germany approached. People who had never been into soccer before, some following it for American pride and others for pure interest in a sport they had only played as a child. I thought my luck in finding support for the World Cup may have been an isolated occurrence, but then social media caught fire for each of the first three World Cup matches for the United States followed by the numbers. Just under 25 million people watched the US face Portugal on Sunday evening, the largest audience ever for a soccer match shattering wishful estimates of 20 million by even the most die hard soccer reporters. That number equated to 1 in every 11 households in America tuning in for the match; more than the NBA Finals, the World Series, or the Stanley Cup Finals this past year.
So why now, why are people all of a sudden coming out and celebrating soccer? You could argue that it is patriotism, the fact that the group stage takes place between Flag Day and Independence Day always seemed ironic to me. You could argue that there isn’t much competition with the NBA and NHL over for the season and MLB just getting started. I would argue that it comes down to passion, a passion that is unmatched by any other professional sport. 30,000 people gathered in Chicago to watch the Ghana match; when was the last time that many people gathered to watch an NFL game on television in a park? The face painting, the superhero costumes, the scarves, and the chanting; it is a culture unique to soccer and that is why people are interested.
If you are still not convinced, check out my pre-tournament post on the best places in Maine to view the tournament and then get out there and enjoy it. Submit those leave slips and I will see you on Tuesday at 4pm where we will all be waving our flags with pride as we fill the steins!