It is over. Spain has won the world cup. I am devastated. I did everything that I could. I placed ridiculous bets. I flew to England. I wore this year’s shirt. But I still lost. Maybe I shouldn’t take it so personally. Even if I had won who would have thanked me? Certainly not those overpaid Prima Donnas, prancing around in their Three Lions shirts. As the Queen would say, in her impeccable Latin accent, “MMX is an annus horribilis.” First the Vikings were beaten by New Orleans and now England barely gets past the group stage. Maybe it’s time for me to switch my allegiance. I’ve lived in Tampa for over 30 years and I left England in 1966. But could I really support the US team? What if they were playing against England? And what if they won? Who in this country would know about it? How would I celebrate?
There isn’t a person on this earth, except in Canada and the USA, who doesn’t wake up every morning and think, “How can the richest nation in history, a nation that invented the i-pad, a nation that can put a man on the moon, how can this nation not be able to put a decent football team onto the world stage?”
I said stage. I know that this is a site for actors and I’ve been told to keep my posts “relevant.” Was that “relevant” enough? I realize that most Americans, especially actors, don’t give two hoots about world football. But that’s the problem. We make a fuss about the “World” Series and the Super Bowl while the rest of the world laughs at us, and in our ignorance we are not even aware of it. Believe me they are laughing at us. I once heard a fellow say that he thought the USA women’s team could beat the men’s. Of course that’s not true, even though the women’s team have been a lot more successful, even winning the Women’s World Cup twice, and is ranked the top team in the world. Why not send the women, you might say. Well there is still a big physical difference between men and women. Think of it in American Football terms. Do you think that a team of the strongest young ladies could score a touchdown against even the Detroit Lions? Of course you don’t. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
So we need to make the men’s team better. We can’t keep spending billions of dollars on the military and fighting wars all over the globe only to have the rest of the world, not only not intimidated by us, but actually sniggering at us.
The men’s team will not get better until Americans start watching them. Just imagine if nobody wanted to see you act. You would probably rush your lines and try to get off the stage as fast as you could if the only people in the audience were family and friends. Well that’s how the US men’s team must feel. If I’m to support the US team I need your help. People look up to actors. You are leaders in not only fashion and style but also as advocates for worthy causes. If I am to become a fan of the US team you Americans will need to improve your fanaticism. I’ll need to educate you on the finer points of football in a way that is relevant to actors and then you can go and tell your friends.
Actually there is only one thing to learn about soccer. Singing. Fans, especially the English, sing and chant in perfect harmony.
There is something exhilarating about being in a large crowd singing in unison. It happens every week in British Football stadiums and, to a lesser extent, everywhere else football is played.
The English have always enjoyed a sing-a-long. They say that’s what got them through the wars. You’ve probably seen them singing at Wimbledon on a rainy day or at a Proms concert. Back in the twenties, when both football and popular songs were becoming commercially successful, club owners would hire a band for a pre-match sing-a-long. Supporters often latched onto one song and turned it into their anthem. West Ham United has “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” and Liverpool has “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. But that came much later.
So for years they went along singing before the game and cheering during it. They had rattles and bells and chants such as “hip hip hooray” and “Come On England”.
But it wasn’t until the 1962 world cup in Chile that the musical genius of Liverpool was awakened. Funnily enough that is the same time that The Beatles came onto the scene. That year Brazil won the cup and many of their supporters made the trip to Chile. Their fans chanted “Brazil Cha Cha Cha” and made a staccato clapping sound over the cha cha cha. In those days football was a working class sport. It was cheap to get into the stadium, especially on the terraces where there were no seats only the occasional safety barrier. Fans in the crowd pressed against each other and swayed together. It started at the first game of the new season “LIVER-POOL” then the staccato clap. Then it mushroomed. Soon the fans were singing the popular songs of the day and changing the lyrics. Each week there were different songs and different lyrics. The crowd had a mind of its own. When Gerry and The Pacemakers sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” before a game, it was adopted and now each home game begins with the crowd holding up their scarves and singing in full voice. Chelsea fans or Chelski, as they are sometimes called because of their Russian owner, had the “Celery Song” but it was banned recently. Football is no longer a working class sport and the old fans are being crowded out along with their stalks of celery, which have a phallic symbolism, and which they would throw onto the playing field after singing increasingly ribald verses of the song.
The songs are sung not only in support of the team but also to unnerve the opposing team and their fans. In 2008 the Irish government complained to the Scottish government after a Glasgow Rangers versus Glasgow Celtic match where “The Famine Song” was sung. The Rangers are supported mostly by Protestants and The Celtics by Catholics with Irish backgrounds. One of the lines in the song goes, “The Famine is over, why don’t you go home?” In Russia there was the strange case of the Easter match where the opposing fans chanted back and forth “He is Risen”, “Truly Risen”.
Of course when you get a large crowd waving emblems dedicated to a single goal and singing, you can expect a little fascism to creep in. I find it very disconcerting to watch Germans raising their arms but I think that it is worse in England. At the Olympics it is Great Britain but in international football it is England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales separately. Instead of the Union Jack the Cross of Saint George is flown which has also been co-opted by the BNP a far right political party. English songs have always been patriotic like “Land of Hope and Glory”, “A New Jerusalem” or inane like “Vindaloo”, “We’re Drinking Beer and Having a Laugh” or just amusing. This year I’ve noticed a sense of hope but also a reminder that the English have been disappointed so many times before.
So what do you think? Can you do it? Can you make this a soccer loving country so that I don’t have to fly to England to get my heart broken? Probably not…I wonder if Bret Favre will play next season….
This article was written for “BrainsofMinerva.com” a Los Angeles based website for actors.