U.S. soccer fans soak up World Cup's electric feeling
June 14, 2006
GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany — Anyone still harboring the notion that soccer fanaticism of the highest order is not an American pastime couldn’t have been in screaming range of Gelsenkirchen, where the U.S. soccer team played its opening match of the 2006 World Cup on Monday.
Gathered there in the thousands, wearing the American flag in any way they could fasten, pin or paint it on themselves, were great hordes of vocal U.S. soccer fans reveling in the electric atmosphere of the planet’s biggest sporting event.
So feverish were the U.S. fans that they commandeered a marble pavilion in the game’s host city, where a man in a star-spangled Mexican wrestling mask led the pledge of allegiance for a crowd of Elvis impersonators, Uncle Sam look-alikes and a team of men dressed as the Harlem Globetrotters.
“U-S-A, U-S-A,” they chanted, sometimes deviating to yell taunts at the Czech Republic, the evening’s opponent, or mangle a version of “God Bless America.”
The most popular battle cry, however, was a simple shout of “America!” to which the crowd responded, “[EXPLETIVE] yeah!” in imitation of a song from the movie “Team America: World Police.”
For many in Germany this summer, this kind of scene will make up the heart of the World Cup experience — a woozy mix of warm beer and amplified patriotism exhibited at the gates of a major stadium.
But for the lucky ones with tickets, the pre-game pep rally is just a precursor for the screaming match to come.
In Gelsenkirchen, the buildup began well before the match, with fans from both teams migrating by streetcar to the stadium hours early to make sure they got to the stands on time.
Once there, access to the stadium was fast and simple. Fans simply scanned their tickets through a machine, then walked in unmolested.
Security at the stadium was stringent, however, with comprehensive pat-down checks before entry.
Inside the stadium, there was an air of almost palpable optimism, exhibited by folks like Bill Fetty, a U.S. soccer fan so dedicated to the team that he booked a flight and hotel for Germany before he even had a ticket, planning to come regardless of whether he could get in.
Luckily, Fetty made it through the lottery and got tickets with some fellow members of Sam’s Army, a vociferous unofficial fan club whose members follow the team with almost cult-like fervor.
Bolstered by men like Fetty and his fellow Army members, U.S. fans put up a fight against the louder and more numerous Czech Republic supporters, who often tried to drown out “U-S-A” chants with waves of piercing whistles.
But it was the Czech contingent that had more reason to cheer Monday, as their team plunked in three goals against a lackluster, and at times, disorganized squad from the U.S.
Even so, the outcome for many was secondary for many fans to the simple act of being immersed in the bedlam of a World Cup game.
“This is a dream of mine,” said one man of being at the game.