While the rest of the world trudges through what sounds like a particularly difficult group of films (and the accompanying downbeat reviews and negative Tweets) at the Cannes Film Festival, I have been spending my days enjoying my family, seeing friends and getting ready for the 2010 World Cup. Cinema aside, football (soccer) remains my great passion. A tale often told on this blog, but it bears repeating; I fell in love with the game in the wake of the 1994 World Cup and have never looked back. There should be no surprise, really, as the drama and intrigue surrounding the game of football and the drama and intrigue found in the art of film seem to attract a similar type of person, someone who looks beyond the narrow borders of the dominant culture and out into the world, searching for something that brings a sense of identity and inspiration, a connection that can only be forged in the great community of passionate supporters.
My commitment to football is serious; I spend hours every week following Liverpool in the English Premiere League, in their domestic Cup exploits and in their travels around Europe, and the NY Red Bulls here at home in the MLS. I run a fantasy league for fellow cinephiles (The NYC Premiership) that has been running since 2002 and I keep serious track of the transfer market, fingers crossed that my beleaguered Reds will somehow pull a rabbit out of the hat. The game is all consuming, setting the emotional tone for my days, week by week, win, lose or draw.
I am hopelessly addicted to the game, and while my passion for Liverpool will never be topped, my support of the United States Men’s National Team (henceforth known as The USMNT) is probably the most intense of any team in any sport I love. The reason? Every game is high stakes, every game is either about qualifying for a Tournament or playing in one, every game feels life or death. And while club teams have the match here or there that doesn’t mean much, The USMNT games, even the friendlies, carry the weight and expectations of a nation.
Team USA's Clint Dempsey
The relationship between being a cinephile and being a football supporter in the United States finds itself in the way that the two passions are perceived by others; in the USA, following football (and auteur cinema) makes you a bit of an outsider. This is not an affect; I don’t care what others think of my passions, I simply love what I love. That said, unlike cinema, where my heart wanders around the globe, searching for artists whose work speaks to me, international football turns my heart home, to my team, to the USA.
Among many people I know, it is fashionable to reject The USMNT in favor of some other, usually higher ranked international squad; factors for their support run from ethnic heritage (watching Italy vs USA in Brooklyn during the 2006 World Cup was particularly painful), to vacation fantasies (Argentina and Brazil are always popular) to politics (one friend rooting for Cuba vs the USA comes immediately to mind) all the way to which team has the most sexually desirable players (Spain and Italy, I’m looking at you... hubba hubba). So, it is like the cinema in a lot of ways (*ha*). But for all of the rah-rahing that Americans will be doing in support of other nations, there is a sense of apology and retreat in the act, a sense that somehow, your own country’s team isn’t worthy of your love. And while nationalism is noxious, try telling that to a bar full of football fans who only want to look down their noses at you and imply negative traits about “the national character” from the ups and downs of your football team. When the USA plays, there is no time for apologies, only the hope that we can prove ourselves worthy all over again.
And so, for all of the handwringing about the America’s role in the world and our national identity, sometimes, in spite of domestic politics and foreign policy, you have to love home. I do it all the time at the movies-- there are hundreds of American films that I love, dozens each year. And the same goes for The USMNT; after watching this team grow and develop over the years from a scrappy group of amateurs into a polished and dangerous team of professionals brimming with talent and confidence, I can honestly say that I am incredibly proud to be a supporter of Team USA. They are my team, they represent me on the world stage and, more often than not, they work incredibly hard to do the country proud in the face of an international community who show them no respect. But even the underdog role is changing; after a great run in 2002 (and a disastrous 2006), The USMNT has put together a string of gritty performances that have proven the quality of the team. None more so than last summer, in South Africa, when we shocked the world...
So, as we get ready ready for the 2010 World Cup, I am going to spend some time writing about the tournament, about the USMNT, and I plan on previewing some of the favorites to bring home the Cup. I promise to drop the cinema talk once we get started, but that said, it is hard for me to separate my passions into convenient containers when they mingle so freely in my head. Memories are memories, love is love; why bother drawing any more lines? Leave that to the know-nothings and the nay-sayers; I’ll take the community of football any day.
Up Next: Previewing Team USA