I have to admit, I really don’t care for sports much. But I do love anything that brings people together in camaraderie, celebration, and especially competition. So I was ecstatic to be in Europe for the World Cup. The experience has not disappointed.
In the US, the World Cup vibe is generally lackluster, mostly because the US usually doesn’t qualify or get very far, but also because the games are on at awful hours. Even if it was on in the evenings, a game might be playing in the background at a bar, but it wouldn’t be particularly important unless it was a famous team. Let’s face it… the majority of Americans don’t give a fuck whether Senegal or Iceland make it to the next round.
In Europe, on the other hand, life stops for the World Cup. Several times a day, bars and outdoor viewing areas get packed with eager fans from all over. At airports, everyone crowds around the closest TV completely transfixed – something I hadn’t personally seen since I happened to be flying on the day the Boston Marathon bombing occurred in 2013. (Sadly, the things that bring people together in the US are usually tragic.)
The most exciting thing is that everywhere you go, there are people rooting for their home country in the places where they currently live or where they’re vacationing. It’s one thing to watch Sweden play Germany from your couch or even in a bar full of casual American fans. But it’s quite another to watch with a bunch of rowdy Swedes and Germans for whom soccer is like a religion.
Despite the intense competition of it, there’s a lot of respect and solidarity. Having watched Colombia play England in the Czech Republic (along with a surprising number of Colombia fans), I saw one guy wrapped in a Colombian flag ask the guy at the next table who he was rooting for. His response was “Definitely not Colombia, but I have a friend from there.” Then they fist bumped and continued watching the game shoulder to shoulder. Regardless of your affiliation, people find common ground, at least in the fact that they love the World Cup.
It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 pm on a Tuesday, the plazas and beer gardens are full of people wearing their team’s colors and brandishing flags, scarves and other props. And every time someone scores, everyone bursts into cheers or groans and beer goes flying. It’s like watching the Super Bowl three times a day for a month.
And that’s just how we celebrated England’s win in Prague. In England, it was a whole other level of elation.
During the week I spent in Malta, I got to see a few games all around the country. It was exhilarating being surrounded by people insanely excited for England, which was technically Malta’s home team until they became an independent country. And when my team lost, other fans and I gave each other half disappointed looks around the streets of Valletta. Only half disappointed because although Germany wouldn’t be moving on this year, there are worse places to find that out than the beautiful island of Malta.
And you know… because we were already drunk.