A league of their own

Michael Moses

If you think fans in the Dawg Pound are crazy, you have not experienced crazy in the world of sports. If you think the NBA is the only league where amazing happens, you need to venture outside of the United States. Hell, if you think a walk-off home run in the bottom of 9th inning of the World Series is the greatest thrill in sports, you need to see a goal during a UEFA Champions League soccer match. Until then, no one in this world can sway my mind on who the greatest sports fans are, or what the greatest sport in the world is.

Even as an NFL die-hard, I can officially say that soccer puts football to absolute shame. I had an opportunity to witness a UEFA Champions League match between ACF Fiorentina (an Italian club) and Bayern Munich (a German club) as a journalist. It was considered the biggest match for ACF Fiorentina since they were in Champions League play in 2000. That night I walked away from the game as a futbol fan for the rest of my natural life.

Please tell me: During what NFL game do fans stand on their feet for the entire time? American fans sit in their comfy chairs with their cup holders, maybe even in their box suites, where they watch the game from a 50-inch HD TV.

Mind you they are at the game, yet they still would watch the action on a television set.

At what NFL stadium does the opposing team enter to a chorus of boos that can be heard miles away? I’m talking boos coming from grown men standing and screaming at the top of their lungs. Other than ACF Fiorentina’s first goal, this was the loudest sound I had ever heard at any sporting event. Bayern Munich entered the field an hour and a half before the match was even scheduled to start. Not to mention, a torrential downpour was occurring and Katrina-like winds were whipping garbage all around the stadium. With all of these issues at play, a fourth, a FOURTH of the stadium was still standing in their seats, ponchos on, booing at the top of their lungs. I cannot imagine what it would have been like if the stadium was packed to capacity.

The only way I could begin to describe the atmosphere would be to imagine your biggest high school rivalry basketball game. It’s an enclosed arena, so the sound is deafening. Take the two opposing student sections — the kids with their chests painted, the kids who do the theme nights and dress up as businessmen, construction workers or whatever else deems them as crazy and funny. These are usually the ones who start the unison chants and make fun of each other’s hometowns, players’ haircuts, or mothers. Now multiply that energy by 10, and imagine them all drunk or buzzed off Italian espresso. These high school fans are all over you, surrounding the stands. You turn to your left and a group of elderly men are chanting “FUNGOLO BAYERN!” (take a wild guess what that translates to). On the right, you have giant flags being waved. Behind those flags are angry fans that are standing, throwing hot dogs, beer cups at the people waving the flags because they can’t see the field.

Now if this doesn’t prove anything, I don’t know what will. Last time I checked, the opposing NFL fans were permitted to sit anywhere they wished to sit at the away stadiums, as long as they had the ticket to prove it. When it comes to soccer, that’s not the case. Opposing fans have their own blocked-off area of the stadium. To get here, you must get through heavy security and probably would have to be sporting your team’s colors (in this case, red and white for Bayern Munich). Security guards line the sides of the blocked-off section. They escort opposing fans to and from their seats. Now I know Pittsburgh-Cleveland has a “hated” rivalry. Sure, you might get a beer bottle thrown your way, but honestly, it’s not life or death in our little corner of the world. But here, nothing is promised. Fans do die, and that’s not a joke.

When it came time for the game to actually start, the reporter I was with looked at me and said, “Hope you have good memory.” By that he meant from this point on, the thought of taking notes was as good as dead. I’d transcend from journalist to fan. Damned if I didn’t.

In America, journalists are supposed to remain neutral. They’re not supposed to dawn their team’s colors, cheer when their hometown scores, or curse out the officials. Well, there’s a bunch of differences between good ol’ red, white and blue, and the red, white and green. This happens to be one of them.

I wasn’t able to focus on being a “journalist” for one minor minute. The BlackBerry was down, pen and paper aside. My eyes were focused on the field, and the curse words came out. Sure, I was yelling in English, but no one around me seemed to care. After Fiorentina’s second goal, the radio broadcaster to my left gave me a bear hug. I was jumping up and down and chanting. This was sports. This was life.

An exhilarating 11-minute span saw four total goals between the teams, including a highlight reel-esque top-corner shot from well beyond 20 meters by former Real Madrid star Arjen Robben. Robben’s shot was so spectacular that Enzo Baldini, the Bob Costas of Italy, claimed there was “no shame in not stopping that goal.”

When the Bayern Munich players would score, you’d hear one little section going crazy and the rest were either dead silent or screaming at their players for messing up. The opposing players would run over to their section, point to their fans, and dance. It was exactly like “FIFA 10.”

Sadly, all things in life have to come to an end. The game did, and so did Fiorentina’s hopes in advancing in the Champions League. They may have won the match 3-2, but lost the series because of the tiebreaker. Bayern Munich won the first match by a score of 2-1. The total amount of goals scored by each team was four, though Bayern Munich had two goals in the away stadium, as opposed to ACF Fiorentina’s one.

The atmosphere died quicker than a fish out of water. Some fans cried, some yelled. But overall, according to the press surrounding me, this was a phenomenal match played by both clubs. ACF Fiorentina is a very young team (Stevan Jovetic, who scored two goals, is just 20 years old) and inexperienced at the Champions League level. Bayern Munich was the more skilled, more experienced team. If it weren’t for Robben’s goal, the streets of Florence would have probably looked like those of New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

When it came time to sit down and actually begin writing about my experience, I was at complete writer’s block. I truly do not know how to express how amazing soccer is in Europe and how much it puts the NFL to shame. I was always the football player making fun of my soccer friends — calling them little girls, asking them why they didn’t play a man’s sport. Those words will never come out of my mouth again. Football is truly an American thing; there’s no other country to go against. Soccer is country versus country, region versus region. People literally live for this sport. Next time you see that saying “Soccer is life” on the back of some soccer mom’s shirt, know that the saying is true — just not in our part of the world.

Football might be America’s sport, but soccer is the world’s sport. Just like when it comes to other issues (such as health care, the metric system, and overall acceptance of other’s cultures to name a few), the United States needs to become worldlier.

If you ask me, adopting soccer is the easiest off of that list.

Michael Moses is a sophomore communications studies major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].