The World Cup, perhaps the largest sporting event in the world that America cares little about, is winding down. We’ve come far from the initial field of 32 down to the final four competitors. While it’s pretty from early on which teams really have it and which teams really don’t one of the things that’s always struck me is the way that people find themselves rooting for teams based on the most tenuous reasons.
Every four years my cheers kind of work like this. First, I start off rooting for Mexico. Next, I root for Japan if they’re in the tournament. Once both of those teams are out I get sort of desperate. Since 2012 I’ve been rooting for England in international tournaments because I studied abroad and I have a few English friends I can commiserate with. If England is out then I usually gravitate towards any Spanish speaking team. Then Belgium.
That sounds odd but hear me out. I root for Belgium because they were the only international team that gave me a chance. In a videogame of course. Somewhere around 2014 I was playing an annual edition of FIFA and after a highly successful run managing Chicago Fire I got an unusual offer. Belgium wanted me to coach the national team. Here I was, the plucky upstart manager of an American squad few in Europe had even heard of and I was getting an offer from a top 20 team. So now Belgium has become my 4thish backup team.
Because sports and sports fandoms are dumb.
There’s no good reason that anyone is a fan of any club, team, or organization. For most of us there’s really little other than tenuous familial history and geographical convenience. There is a certain magic to watching someone very good at something do it very well. It’s why my family watches the Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest. There’s also a kind of warm fuzzy we get when we’re able to get a secondhand high off of national pride but that’s just as silly as when I told a 12-year-old that Croatia wasn’t beating Russia because he wasn’t rooting for Croatia hard enough.
I love sports. I own jerseys, go to games, and desperately seek attention from the other writers at Unwinnable despite their annoyed yawns and fart noises. But I also accept that sports are silly and that fervent passions that get stirred up by them are empty expressions.
So of course, I’ll be watching the quarter final as quietly as I can. You should too. After the Super Bowl the World Cup is one of the best, most raw television programs you can watch. The storylines are constantly being rewritten. The actors are brilliant. Sometimes everything goes to plan and a giant like Brazil gets beat down 7-1. Sometimes everything goes horrifically wrong and a giant like Brazil gets stomped 7-1. At home.
If you’re a couch sitter like me, you owe it to yourself to find a tenuous reason to sport England, Belgium, Croatia, or France to win it all. And when half of them get defeated, you owe it to yourself to find an even more tenuous reason to switch alliances. The World Cup is only every four years and its some of the best television available.