Football, Football, Soccer

Being a soccer fan in America can be difficult approximately three years and eleven months out of every four.* On the other hand, being a soccer fan while living abroad is great for eleven months out of the year, with the last month spared for some much needed rest.** Since my arrival, I have adopted FC Seoul as my favorite K-league team, and have actually become emotionally invested in their wins and losses. Coming to EV has only deepened my soccer obsession, as I am now surrounded by other teachers who care about the sport far more than I do.

In the last two months I have: started playing soccer again, joined a fantasy league, attended multiple FC Seoul matches, attended a Korean national team World Cup Qualifier, and joined a local rec team.

Like this, only more Asian and less talented.

I joined the rec team about two weeks ago, though to what ends? I am not yet entirely sure. We’ve been playing with these Korean guys about once a week, and I guess they decided to start a team. They asked several of us foreigners, myself included, to join. So far they seem to be more concerned about looking good than actually playing games. We have some great looking uniforms–rip-offs of Liverpool’s brilliant all-red kits–and they made sure that taking a team photo would be a top priority.

However, when we pressed them about actually playing games or whether we would be in some sort of league, there was either an epic break-down in communication or the thought hadn’t actually crossed their minds. I’m sure we’ll get around to the finer details at some point.

I skipped practice on Friday night to attend the Korea-Lebannon World Cup qualifier. This was the first national team match I had been able to attend, because all of their previous ones had either been out of town or on weeknights, which was a problem with my last job.

A Packed House in Goyang Stadium

Historically, Korea is one  of the strongest sides from Asia; in 2002, they made it further than any other Asian side–a fourth place finish–while co-hosting the World Cup. Conversely, their competition for the night, Lebanon, is not remotely in the same ballpark, even if they were, in fact, playing in the same ballpark. According to the latest FIFA World Rankings, Korea entered the match 33rd in the world. And Lebanon? a paltry 160th. Despite the unbalanced sides, the faithful packed the house, selling out the 40,000 seat stadium.

I know it was sold out, because I was kindly turned away by a polite Korean at the ticket booth. The equally polite and friendly scalper was also certain of this fact, and kindly charged us double the price for the ticket. This was clearly a different animal than the anemic K-league matches. Even on busy nights FC Seoul plays in a largely cavernous World Cup Stadium.

The faithful, celebrating.

Regardless, it was money well spent. The atmosphere was electric, and it was a perfect night to watch the game among a sea of red-clad, patriotic Koreans. Lebanon put up a good fight, trailing only 2-0 up until the 65th minute. Unfortunately for them, the train derailed in the 66th minute, with two goals for the boys in red in as many minutes of play. And Korea wasn’t finished yet, adding another two goals before the final whistle for a final score of 6-0. It could have been worse, as Korea looked sloppy and careless for wide stretches of play. All things considered, I’m sure Korea is happy with the result and the successful kick-off to their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.

On the other side of the globe, Saturday marked the beginning of another type of football, the one we more commonly associate with the word back in America. This season is more special than the last, with the unveiling of my website Tennessee fans and those less persuaded by the color orange alike should check it out and “like” the fan page on facebook.

Shameless self-promotion aside, this is always a very special time of year. Hope springs eternal when your team is undefeated. But as great as it is to be a fan of the World Game while abroad, it is equally difficult to be a fan of American football. One of the great joys of being a fan is the ability to celebrate the triumphs and mourn the losses with your fellow supporters. Sure, I’ll be excited when I’m watching a Tennessee game and they score a touchdown, but I won’t be “jumping-for-joy-hugging-a-stranger” happy. Instead, I’ll just have to enjoy from a distance, and support the local teams with as much gusto as I would my own. Or as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young once sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”

*Then people will be interested so long as the U.S. is still playing in the World Cup, and then pretend that they were not interested shortly thereafter. 

**Albeit rest with a constant eye out for any exciting news on the upcoming season.

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