One major criticism I hear of fans who come down with World Cup fever every four years is that they are bandwagoners; they’re only showing their enthusiasm because the increased coverage the World Cup receives, as opposed to club soccer or other international tournaments.
As a soccer fan, I say, “so what?” There’s no need to look at newer or more casual fans or the influx of fandom itself with disdain.
As with any party (and aren’t great sporting events just one widespread party?), the more the merrier.
It actually brings me great joy to see so many people showing such passion for a sport I thoroughly enjoy.
Plus, who I am to judge?
My reasons for beginning to follow soccer are about as dubious as they come, and I doubt I am the only one to have an inauspicious start regularly following soccer or any other sport.
So, it’s personal confession time.
My getting hooked on soccer had a great deal to do with hustling friends on video game wagers.
You read that correctly.
About 10 years ago, I liked to think I had a solid knowledge on the various aspects of culture, but my old Alvin High School buddy Kyle Perri definitely had me beat on two things: soccer and music.
So, in the summer of 2004, roughly two years before the next World Cup, Kyle was schooling me on some soccer when he gave me some information that just blew my mind.
He said a team to really look out for was the Ivory Coast.
The Ivory Coast? That tiny African nation? That can’t be right.
Kyle explained they had some really solid players and, most importantly, had the X-factor of having the best striker in the world at the time.
Being the restlessly curious type, I had to look further into this. It turned out some of these Ivorians were members of some of the top European club teams, and this striker by the name of Didier Drogba, who starred for English Premier League team Chelsea, was pretty amazing.
After that, I absolutely had to catch any Chelsea game whenever one was available, which then spread to curiosity about other club teams, their stars and their stars’ countries.
The rest is history, I was sucked in.
Best of all, I had a little piece of knowledge I could surprise my Texas Tech colleagues with when I returned to Lubbock for my junior year.
The FIFA video game franchise had always been a staple of the college dorm rooms and apartments during my time at Tech.
However, all my cohorts and I would always pick teams any casual fan would expect to be a winner — Brazil, England, Germany, United States, Mexico, etc.
So, I lured in challengers with my secret weapon.
The trap would be set with a statement from me along the lines of, “hey, the winner of this game buys lunch. I’ll tell you what, I’ll do you a favor and play as the Ivory Coast.”
It didn’t take too long for the scheme to get figured out, but for a good while I was eating well — and on the cheap. My secret weapon even helped create a couple new avid soccer fans; they couldn’t let me get the drop on them again, after all.
Thankfully, these days Mr. Perri is molding young minds for Alvin ISD instead of just teaching me about soccer and music.
However, if it weren’t for him — and a penchant for trickery — I would probably be no more than a so-called bandwagon fan, not that there’s anything wrong with that.