While this will be my first World Cup, I’ve been to a lot of US soccer games over the past several years. It’s an unforgettable experience every time. It’s bright, loud and overwhelming to your senses. You lose your voice, usually end up injured, and afterwards you can’t figure out exactly where all of your money went.
Interestingly these are exactly the same things I’m thinking about when flying home from DragonCon every year. As it turns out, attending a soccer match (or tournament) and a geek convention actually have a lot in common.
The first thing you’d notice would be the costumes. Would you expect to see more Captain America t-shirts at a comic book convention or a US soccer game? It’s actually a toss-up. For every minute you might spend sewing the perfect video game character costume for a Con, a soccer fan somewhere in the world is trying to turn a flag into the perfect cape. And body painting skills come in handy at both, trust me.
There are also the (usually) good-natured arguments. I have spent hours in line for a panel arguing with my neighbors about which Batman movie is best. I have also spent hours sitting in a pub arguing about who the starting forward should be for the US or who would make the World Cup roster. These arguments are fun because ultimately you know that you all love the same thing. And if things happen to get out of hand…
Alcohol is another obvious common denominator. An offer of a beer solves just about any disagreement. Geeks love to drink. Soccer fans love to drink. And both groups like to drink even more when surrounded by others who feel the same way. Beer always tastes just a little bit better when you’re singing your favorite (and likely vulgar) soccer song or loudly quoting your favorite movie.
Once you wander outside of the bar, you may notice that you’ve become the center of attention. You can call them curious glances if you’re feeling generous, but whether you’re headed to a stadium or a convention hall you’re going to get some interested looks. Often they are more like gaping stares from locals who can’t believe you had the nerve to invade their city. Some of these stares are a direct result of the things we’ve already discussed, because let’s be honest, it’s hard to not look at a drunk(ish) person in a cape in 90+ degree weather. Odds are you’re being loud and clearly having more fun than anyone else on the street. It’s great, but it’s definitely attention grabbing.
Now as you might imagine, after a weekend or more of no sleep, unusual attire and liquid encouragement, there are going to be some unexplained injuries. No matter what I do or how responsible I try to be, I always seem to come back from a game or a Con with at least one rather intense bruise I can’t explain. Of course, sometimes there is an explanation that I’d just rather not share with the class.
But really, this last similarity is the best part by far. Both of these are places where people GET you. As we all know, a Con is the place where you don’t have to explain what your t-shirt means. You don’t have to justify why a solo Star Trek movie marathon is a perfectly valid way to spend a weekend, yes even if the weather is nice. Soccer is the same. As I’ve traveled the world over the past decade or so, soccer has been the common language. I may not always be able to successfully tell a cab driver where my hotel is or have any idea what I’m ordering for dinner, but saying “futbol” with my American accent has inevitably gotten me a free beer in just about every pub I’ve wandered into around the world.
So if you’re still planning to try and avoid all the soccer on your TV over the next month, I hope you might consider giving it a chance. Someday you might even find yourself at a game feeling more at home than you ever thought possible!