A story inspired by an Olympique Lyonnais football game:
You can visit every corner of the world, you can talk with locals, and you can see what life is like in new places, but if you really want to be a part of life in these new places, go to a local football game. The fans don’t care if you are American, Polish, Mongolian, or Martian. If you are into the game and cheering for the right team, then you are a part of the family. At those games, being a fan is more important than anything else.
In the U.S., people don’t understand all the hype about soccer, but that is because there is no hype with soccer. Most soccer games don’t have much energy, the stadiums aren’t full, and frankly, it’s a bit underwhelming. It’s hard to understand why the rest of the world gets so excited about soccer, but that’s just it. The rest of the world isn’t excited about soccer, they are excited about football. The game is in constant motion, and there is always something to scream about (good or bad). American readers, please don’t misunderstand me. I love a good American football game. Few things compare to going to the Kibbie Dome, and wearing the same T-shirt as everyone else, and singing the Idaho fight song when we score (and of course all of this is even more fun if the Vandals happen to be winning), but I do have to admit that when the referees stop the clock – and the game – to figure out the foul that just occurred, the energy drops. But that never happens at a real football game. As long as the ball is moving (which is 98% of the time), there is something to yell about, and that is a really important part of sporting events.
The fans at football games get so into it, and it’s amazing to be a part of. Right behind us were four 7 or 8 year old boys who were having the absolute times of their lives. They all had the red and blue Olympique Lyonnais flag smeared down their faces. As if the bit of rain (actually a torrential downpour) could dampen their excitement. (Pun always intended). Every play spurred the biggest reaction from these boys. There was a point where OL had barely missed a goal, and one of the boys punched his buddy next to him, but the buddy didn’t even get mad. He totally understood that there was an intense energy buildup, and that it had no where to go except out with that punch. I kept thinking about how much fun these kids were having. I’m sure it was the highlight of their whole month, until the next game that is…
These kids aren’t crazy though. Everyone was acting the exact same way. If you want to be a real local, you have to act like the locals. You have to cheer when they cheer, yell at the ref when they yell at the ref, and be excited about the game. If you can do that, I guarantee that you will have 34,000 new best friends, and that’s a pretty great feeling.