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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

July 8, 2014 at 8:02 AM

Joe’s World Cup journey: Finding fan diversity in the Bay Area

BY JOSEPH SIMS

Seattle native Joseph Sims, 21, will travel around the country during the World Cup in search of the heart and soul of soccer in the United States. Read about his journey in the Take 2 blog.

In San Francisco’s Bay Area, I got my first opportunity to watch an entire World Cup round, the quarterfinals, in one location. It was a nice experience, with sparse crowds at the Pyramid Brewery for the first game of the first day, Germany vs. France, but packed houses for every other match.

In particular, it was a lot of fun watching Netherlands vs. Costa Rica at Danny Coyle’s. I somehow ended up hitting it off with a large group of crazy guys (and a couple girls), all in their mid-to-late 20s. We joked, laughed and drank our way through the extremely tight game. When the Dutch subbed goalkeeper Tim Krul in the last minute (and every time he made a save in the penalty shootout), our little group filled the bar with a chant of “Krul! Krul! Krul!” In short, watching the games here was fantastic.

The day after the quarterfinals, I met Momo, a Bay Area native who has followed soccer for the last nine years. Since most of her soccer-watching friends were international students from college, Momo was able to give me unique insight on the interesting differences between the supporter cultures of  different nationalities in the diverse Bay Area.

Momo is of Japanese descent, with both of her parents born in Japan. She knows Japanese and Japanese-American supporter culture and has even watched games in Japan and organized a viewing party for the Samurai Blue’s first game of the World Cup against Cote d’Ivoire. Momo said Japanese fans tend to be reserved when watching their team play. She describes them as “well-mannered and quiet” with not much chanting and cheering for big events. Japanese fans are knowledgeable, however. Even though most of the people who attended the viewing party she set up weren’t “super soccer followers,” they still knew everyone on the Japanese team and made observations on some of the finer points of the game.

Despite Japan’s disappointing performance this World Cup, there was little negativity from their supporters. Momo told me Japanese culture values how you present yourself to others, so this precluded anyone from publicly disparaging the team. It also meant the team and the country’s FA were very apologetic over their performance, even releasing a press report to say they were sorry for letting the fans down. After Japan lost to Cote d’Ivoire, 2-1, many came up to thank Momo for putting it together, grateful that she was able to bring them together in love for country and sport.

With Korean fans, she says it is different story. When Momo first started getting into soccer in 2005, most of her international student soccer friends were Korean, so she observed them watching their team in multiple World Cups and joined them at a viewing party in 2010. Energy, chanting and yelling were accompanied by banging inflatable Thundersticks. Koreans also tend to be more open with their criticism of their team. She recalled a Korean fan greeting the team at the Inchon airport after a subpar performance by throwing toffee at them.

And then she came to the third nationality – Americans. While Momo emphasized the energy the Korean fans had, she said Americans “kick it up a notch.” Everything must be flashy. They cover their bodies in red, white and blue. For many, that includes face paint. Momo volunteered to do face painting for the USA-Portugal viewing party at Civic Park, and received several requests to paint an American flag on fans’ faces.

Americans know a lot about their team, but most lack Korean and Japanese fans’ knowledge of the game’s finer points, she said. This may be because of the increasing number of “bandwagoners” who just pay attention during the World Cup. But these fans are eager to learn about the game, constantly asking questions of Momo, me or anyone else who follows soccer. And she is struck by how optimistic Americans are. They never lose hope that their team can pull off the win, no matter the odds.

Joseph Sims, 21, graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla in May with a degree in politics.  The graduate of Roosevelt High School in Seattle has an obsession with soccer that has taken him all over the globe, from the World Cup in South Africa, to the Emirates Stadium in London, to the Sounders-Timbers rivalry right here in Seattle. Follow his journey around the country during the World Cup to find the heart and soul of soccer in the U.S. in the Take 2 blog.

Want to be a reader contributor to The Seattle Times’ Take 2 blog? Email your original, previously unpublished work or proposal to Sports Editor Don Shelton at dshelton@seattletimes.com or sports@seattletimes.com. Not all submissions can be published. Opinions expressed are those of authors, and The Times reserves the right to edit and publish any submissions online and/or in print.

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