By April 21, 2006 2 Comments Read More →

You Don’t Talk about <i>My</i> Country Like That

I started reading The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup last night, edited by Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey, and in the first paragraph of the introduction – the very first paragraph, as he begins his discussion of what he likes about the World Cup – Wilsey notes: “There are irritating fans: ‘USA! USA! USA!’ (Blessedly few.)”

Great, I thought, another Euro-jerk who’s going to take the typical potshots at Americans, who don’t understand the game, wear bad clothes, and are loud and fat.

Now, I am one of those people who feels that, when meeting people from foreign countries, I should apologize before I even give my name. Sort of, “Pleased to meet you, sorry about our foreign policy, we mean well, but we get it wrong a lot, I’m Keir Graff.” And I absolutely grant that we say “like” too much. But trash-talking my country is like trash-talking my mama: I can do it, but if you do it, them’s fighting words.

And what does Wilsey mean anyway when he says “blessedly few”? That blessedly few of the fans are irritating – or that, blessedly, few Americans are fans of soccer? I’m a fan, and I think it’s quite evident that Americans are becoming fans, too, and I sure don’t appreciate anyone who tries to cut us out of the world scene that American soccer fans would love to belong to.

Don’t even get me started on the fact that, while Americans are wont to chant “USA!”, soccer fans everywhere else are more likely to set fire to cars, shoot the players, rip up the seats and throw them onto the field, and crush each other to death against the cages that keep them from the field.

As I was getting myself all wound up, preparing to book a flight to the grimy industrial suburb of London where this Wilsey character was squatting in an abandoned tenement, spewing his ill-conceived vitriol across the Atlantic, I happened to glance at the fourth paragraph, where Wilsey notes that he is himself an American.


So I guess he can say it. Still, I’m going to be scrutinizing this book carefully for signs that Wilsey considers himself one of the soccer cognoscenti, like one of those indie-rock hipsters who discovered The Flaming Lips before anyone else had heard of them and who can barely bring himself to accept the fact that a whole bunch of people like them now. Sean Wilsey, I’m putting you on notice!

Just kidding. Actually, I think I like Wilsey. He sounds like a true enthusiast – well, an obsessive, but likable. How else do you describe a 32-year-old who purchases the entire 1970 World Cup on videotape from eBay and watches every game by himself? Either he’s indoctrinating himself or he truly can’t help it. I like that kind of passion, which makes me feel better about my passion for collecting odd things like foreign-language posters for movies about pool.

But never mind that. This weekend I look forward to wearing my Fluminense (a Rio de Janeiro team, don’t worry, you haven’t heard of them) jersey and reading some of the essays in The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup – contributors include Nick Hornby, Tim Parks, Robert Coover, Dave Eggers, and a bunch of other hipsters.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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