I’m not going to lie; I am probably one of the least qualified people to speak on the topic of football (or soccer, as some would call it). I’ve never been an avid follower of the sport like my cousins. I’ve never had strong opinions on the Barcelona vs. Real Madrid debate like my die-hard Real Madrid supporter grandmother in a family of Barcelona supporters. I can barely name the different positions played on the field. That’s probably why I figured it would be an interesting challenge to write about a particular phenomenon for my next article: the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Ever since coming back to El Salvador for the summer, there’s not a place I can turn to without hearing or seeing things related to the World Cup. The radio pauses always give recaps of the matches played in the morning. There’s always a conversation going on about the latest games, upcoming matches, or predictions for end results. And some things just leave me confused at the correlation between the World Cup and whatever product is being advertised (what does yoghurt have to do with football?). Still, one thing remains clear to me: football has officially taken over.
That passion for the sport (or rather, the event) surrounds everything I see in El Salvador, which some might find odd considering the fact that the last time our nation made an appearance on the international FIFA stage was in Spain in 1982. Although we managed to score our first ever goal at the tournament during a match against Hungary, we still suffered one of the biggest defeats in FIFA history with a final score of 10-1. We didn’t win a single match in the qualifying group. We haven’t qualified since then.
But how can a tournament that we haven’t participated in since 1982 still have such a large significance to so many salvadorans in 2018? I think that there’s a lot of factors that contribute to this passion, some of which you might identify with if you’ve also found yourself getting carried away with the football madness as of late.
For one, there’s the classic supporters of the tournament itself and of the sport. Much like the hype for any other world tournament like tennis Grand Slams or the Olympics, there are people who love watching the World Cup due to passion for the sport and for a large event such as this one. Fans that work for months to fill out their FIFA sticker albums with all the players from all teams, fans who could give you the entire history of a particular country in all their past World Cup appearances, fans who watch every single match in whatever ways they can. There’s those who are fans of the major teams in the tournament, having chosen their favorites and supporting them throughout in hopes of them taking home yet another trophy. These supporters will always be present, no matter what.
Then there’s also football team supporters in other major leagues and cups, who follow the World Cup avidly to see how some of the best players in the world fare off playing with teams they don’t usually play with. This can also encompass casual fans of the sport, who recognize big names at the tournament like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar, among others. Most people have heard of these players at least once in their lives before, and the World Cup brings the perfect opportunity to watch them adapt to the different teams they play with and how their strategies may vary (or remain the same).
A particular factor this year, for me at least, has been the unconventionality of the World Cup so far, by which I mean how unpredictable matches have become. Like I previously stated, I’m not the best person to speak on this topic given my limited knowledge of the tournament, but I’m still aware enough of teams that are considered the “major contendants” to know that a match such as Mexico v Germany on the 17th of July took everyone by surprise. When looking at results alone for other matches, it’s easy to see that many teams expected to win have indeed managed to do so, but watching the matches as they aired provided the full picture of the efforts from both teams, as many matches have ended with last-minute (and even last-second) scores after having held ties for the majority of the match. It might be a little too soon to say, but the thrill of nothing being certain is definitely something that drew my attention to the World Cup this year.
I think that one of the biggest factors that contributes to the football obsession is the sense of community that the tournament brings to different people in many ways. I might not always enjoy watching the matches on my own, but I have a great time whenever I sit down with my family and we watch together. Due to the time zone difference, a few matches have had us waking up at 6am – something I can barely bring myself to do in most cases! And my family is not the only one – there’s countless of people around the country that tune in to Canal 4 (our official FIFA Broadcaster) at 8am sharp, and make an effort to watch every single match they can.
Then, of course, there’s the larger sense of community when it comes to the countries playing in the World Cup. My mom has always made a point of supporting all the Latino teams that play, claiming that they’re out there still representing us all. Colombia’s win over Poland, Uruguay’s win over Russia, and others have led to chanting in the streets, and cars driving around with flags of these teams flowing proudly behind them. It’s truly remarkable, if you ask me.
In other cases, such as with my other grandmother who has never been quite the football fan, it becomes a matter of conversation. My family in El Salvador can get quite caught up in the World Cup, with matches and standings, following every detail they can. Whenever we visit each other, it’s bound to come up at any point of our conversation. Knowing that is the case, my grandmother makes it a point to ask my aunt about the matches and the results for the day (even if she herself didn’t watch any), so that when we visit she’ll always have something to contribute to our discussion. Now that I’ve started working for the summer, I haven’t been able to continue watching the matches as I did when the tournament started, but I always make an effort to check up on match results by the time they’re all done, since I know all my co-workers will be talking about it during our lunch break and asking what the results for each match were. For people looking to become a part of this conversation, following the World Cup has become a part of their routine.
Of course, these aren’t all the factors that can help explain the phenomenon that is Football Fever in the times of the World Cup. Some of you might not relate to any of these at all and remain indifferent to the tournament as it unfolds, and that’s understandable as well. My sister still can’t understand how I caught the fever and why I’m suddenly interested in a sport that I’ve previously shown no interest for, and I’m not sure I can give her a solid explanation for it.
I think for me, it comes down to the experience I’ve had watching games with my parents and family. It’s the gleam in my mother’s eye as the underdog teams put up a fight against major ones. It’s the way my dad leaps up whenever a team gets close to scoring. It’s the way my grandma raises her arms in joy whenever any team scores, claiming that she “supports the team that wins”.
It can be fun to let yourself get swept up by football fever.
Credits: eurosport, programme-tv.net