June 12, 2010
Seven-thirty in the morning and I’m draping red, white, and blue table roll over the balcony of one of Seattle’s more popular concert venues. The doors open at eight and we’re trying to get it looking festive, ready to go. The venue’s tattooed and bearded staff is preparing as well, grumpily preparing bottles of champagne and Bloody Mary mix after a late night. I’ve heard that some of the staff slept there after the concert the previous night, and they’ve brought in staff from other bars in the area. They’re capping admittance at 650, and that’s expected to fill easily.
It’s June 12 and the USA is about to play England in their opening game of the World Cup.
Here’s where, normally, the article would have something patronizing about US fans, or some wondering about whether “football” will ever become big in the USA, or talking about what a novelty this all is. But this is Seattle and none of this is surprising. Whatever the rest of the world thinks, and whatever the rest of the country thinks, of course this is happening here. We get 36,000+ for our league games, why wouldn’t we get excited about the World Cup?
There are about a hundred or so lined up outside the venue by the time the OK is given to open the doors. The food vendor has changed their mind about opening up, but no one his that worried. There is enough beer and liquor in the four bars to keep us occupied, and if we must eat, there’s enough around the area to do so. Mostly, though, we’re just buzzing with anticipation, excited for this game we’ve been anticipating for so long. This particular event has been long in planning by the Seattle chapter of the American Outlaws, a nationwide supporter’s group dedicated to the USMNT.
Supporter’s groups are part of the American fan experience just like they are everywhere else. Like everything American, they’re a hodgepodge of influences and experiences from all over the world. In Seattle for the Sounders there are South American drums and German-style chant leading, songs adapted from Greece and England, in other cities a bigger or lesser mix of elements from all the regions of the world. We try to see how everyone else is doing things and borrow what we think we can do and what we like. We hold ourselves up to the standards of the Europeans, based on what we see on message boards and chats with the visitors that don’t just assume we don’t know what we’re doing because we’re American. We’re constantly working to improve.
Just like in so many other cultural fields, Europe is a major source of validity. We want to do things like they do them over there, because that’s the right way, the authentic way. It’s certainly worth an argument whether the devotion towards European forms is a good or bad thing, whether we’re establishing our own culture or not, but what it boils down to is that we like it like this. If we wanted to support our teams like traditional American teams did, we wouldn’t do what we do now. We want to sing, to make tifo, to be part of a supporter’s group like they do over there. Besides, what is American anything but transformed versions of older forms and combinations that no one else would ever dream of doing? And like every other cultural form, eventually, surely, we’ll make it over in our own image.
The venue crowds, and the bouncers are turning people away 40 minutes before the 11:30 AM kickoff. I hear later that it’s at 671, a bit more than we were told were allowed. Accounts from all over the city say that bars in other neighborhoods are crowded like this, spilling over capacity in all the bars that were smart enough to have an early opening. I can’t imagine any bar with a TV not being open. This game is huge here.
Part of that, a good part, is England. While to those involved in supporter’s culture, continental Europe is king, to everyone else into soccer is focused on England. Even those of us who are involved in supporter’s culture have an Anglophilia that can’t be shaken, even as we talk about the terrible things EPL clubs do to their fans and how bloated they are. England has an allure to everyone, but they’re particularly prominent to Americans. A shared language and a “special relationship” between the two countries means that we’re closer to England than we are to anyone else in the tournament, and that unless we’re one of the few to have a parent from the old country (any old country), that’s how we got into the game. They are validity.
But we’re starting to believe in ourselves a little too, even here in Seattle, which has never embraced the overwhelming idea of America in the way other cities and regions have. Seattle is Seattle, and if it looks beyond that it’s just to its greater region, which is a trait shared throughout the Pacific Northwest. It’s a different attitude and atmosphere up here. Even beyond the soccer that’s evident. It carries into the soccer, but we’re coming around. We like being local and this is what we’ve got right now.
The game kicks off. Upstairs, downstairs, side bar, all is packed. The floor vibrates with USA chants and nerves. We groan, ashen-faced, as Gerrard scores early and cheer with every managed clearance. The place erupts as Dempsey’s shot trickles through Robert Green’s fingers.
When all is said and done, we’re drunken, exhausted, and happy. The crowd trickles away, blinking in the unfamiliar sunlight, flags fluttering. Some of us stay in clusters to chat strategy for the next games and the other games we’re excited to see. Throughout the city, bars look like this. Throughout the country, these scenes are replicated.
Be patronizing if you’d like.