For one glorious month starting June 9, employers from Seoul to Rio de Janeiro will grapple with distracted, tired but cheerful workers. Absenteeism will be rampant, and requests to “work from home” not uncommon. The stressors of daily life will fall second to subjects like the broken right foot of English star Wayne Rooney, the U.S.A.’s controversial No. 4 world ranking and the magical footwork of Brazil’s Ronaldinho. It will be a global celebration to behold at a time when the world needs to relax a little and celebrate something, anything.
But just who are these lunatics who will watch a soccer match between U.S.A. and Germany at 7 a.m. on a school day? Who cares about a game played in Hamburg between Davids like Ivory Coast and Goliaths like Argentina? Nashville certainly has a well-developed football culture, but what of its fútbol
Reving Yahya, 25, has witnessed first-hand the tremendous growth of soccer in Middle Tennessee. As assistant indoor soccer complex coordinator for Williamson County Parks and Recreation, Yahya says he has seen 50 to 100 percent growth in the past few years at the complex. “Our adult leagues are growing so fast that we can’t keep up with the demand,” he says. “We just don’t have the facilities. Anything after 4 p.m. at the current Williamson indoor facility is booked a year-and-a-half in advance. We’re fortunate to be getting a new indoor facility in Brentwood in 2007, but I think unless the local governments start expanding our facilities even further we won’t be able to keep up with demand in Middle Tennessee.”
Along with soccer’s rising community of supporters has come a rebuttal from the sport’s so-called “haters,” many of whom buckle at the phrase “the world’s most popular game.” Like calling someone “the most popular kid in school,” it makes people immediately want to wretch and hate them for being pretty and widely liked. In fact, as you read this, a little less than a month before World Cup 2006 begins in Germany, some American sportswriters, pundits and contrarian sports fans are watering at the mouth to begin bashing soccer, the world’s most, ahem, prevalent
game. The list of detractions is long and illogical: soccer is boring (see baseball before the playoffs); it causes brain damage (that’s the least of NASCAR’s worries); goals are too few and far between (OK, decent point); and you can’t use your hands, for crying out loud (funny, in foot
ball you rarely use your feet).
Why the animosity? Why all the ugliness over the so-called “Beautiful Game?”
An American named Franklin Foer wrote a book called How Soccer Explains the World,
perhaps an overly titled tome that draws a parallel between a hatred of soccer and a fear of globalization. There’s a fear, Foer argues, that America’s movement toward soccer means a movement toward “the U.S. junking its tradition to ‘get with the rest of the world’s program.’ ” It’s the idea that if we start cheering over a World Cup match with the same passion of a Monday Night Football game, we’re dumping our American-ness. That we might as well go ahead and hand over the keys to our ports and rename Wrigley Field for London’s famed football pitch Wembley Stadium.
No doubt, global patterns of immigration, communication and commerce have helped to nurture soccer in America. Reving Yahya also knows just how important soccer and the World Cup are to the immigrant community in Nashville. Born in Kurdistan, Yahya moved to Turkey from 1988 to 1992 during the first Gulf War. There, he lived in tents in a refugee camp where they played soccer with a ball made from tightly wrapped fabric. Yahya moved to Williamson County in 1992, thanks to Catholic Charities, and has been active in the soccer community ever since. “For a lot of immigrants,” Yahya says, “soccer is the first sport that they ever play, and so when they come here and they don’t have great access to it, they are really missing a large part of their life.” The World Cup, he says, gives members of the Kurdish population a reason to reconnect with each other more often than they typically would throughout the year. They gather for a game and a feast, share information about living in Nashville and about staying connected to soccer in Nashville. “Lots of the Kurds live between Thompson Lane and Bell Road, and they have no facilities nearby where they can play soccer. They have to drive 30-45 minutes to Williamson County. Unfortunately, the only time I see the local government involved with the Kurdish population is during the elections when they want our support. I don’t see a lot of outreach otherwise. I think providing better access to things like soccer would be one way to bridge that gap.”
Damien Bates, a predictably gregarious Irishman and soccer advocate, is the guy who organizes his friends, convinces a local pub to open up for a match and brings the sausage and eggs. “I am hardcore,” he says. “When Liverpool won the Champions League, my wife, who is American, couldn’t understand why I was crying. I’ve been to two World Cups to see Ireland and they were the dream of my life…well, aside from my wife and kids, of course,” Bates, 38, says nervously. “We just have that passion.” Bates says that a large part of the culture is about “ripping on one another. Any time you get guys together—especially Brits—it’s just part of the culture and all in good fun. Whereas certain supporters in England, the hooligans, might take it to the extreme, we do the next best thing, which is to rip on each other.” Bates would love to see Americans embrace the sport year-round and not just when the World Cup comes around every four years. “I think part of the problem is that we don’t do a good job here of intermingling with the Mexican leagues. If you could get just a portion of their passion rubbing off on Americans, it might change.”
Another person tapping into the Nashville soccer scene of ex-pats, immigrants and Americans alike is Quinn O’Sullivan, 31, owner of Dan McGuinness Irish Pub on Demonbreun Street. “We hope to be the World Cup headquarters this summer,” he says. “As much as I love St. Paddy’s Day, the World Cup is my favorite time of year. It’s where my heart really is. We’ll have the games on, lots of specials, and we plan to do it big.” It’s a gesture that comes naturally to the former standout goalkeeper at Cornell University and professional soccer player. O’Sullivan has a loyal soccer fan base that shows up year-round for English Premier League games and Champions League games. The pub is like an embassy on some game days. “There’s a real fever created when people from so many countries come together and lay their political issues aside. I think world leaders could learn a lot from these fans,” he says.
Sam Sanchez, owner of Sam’s in Hillsboro Village, also plans for his sports pub to be a World Cup destination. If the vibe is anything like four years ago when the U.S. played Germany—and a motley audience of all ages and professions filled the bar at 7 a.m.—it will be well worth stopping by for a Guinness before work. If you can’t get to a pub for the games, no problem: this summer, for the first time, all 64 World Cup games will be shown in high definition on ABC, ESPN and ESPN2. Nashville’s only Spanish-language television station, TeleFutura, broadcast channel 42, will also provide extensive live coverage.
Local highlights of the upcoming soccer season
Arena takes on The Coliseum
The U.S. men’s national soccer team brings a No. 4 world ranking to Nashville on Tuesday, May 23 when they take on Morocco at 6 p.m. at The Coliseum. The match-up will be the first game in Team U.S.A.’s “Send-Off Series” leading up to the World Cup and the first game since head coach Bruce Arena picked his final squad. For tickets, visit www.ussoccer.com
or call Ticketmaster at 255-9600.
Lady Blues debut this summer
The Women’s Premier Soccer League expands into Middle Tennessee when the Tennessee FC Lady Blues take the field with standout players from Vanderbilt, Belmont and the University of Tennessee. Rebekah McDowell, former All-American and All-ACC player for University of North Carolina, also joins the team, which is affiliated with Tennessee Fútbol Club and owned and managed by Rick Forsythe, CEO and president of Franklin-based TeamSportsOnline LLC. The Blues’ season kicks off May 21 under direction of head coach Chris Price. Home games will be played at Franklin Road Academy. For information and schedules, visit www.tennesseefc.com
Nashville Metros kick off 17th season
Head coach Obed Compean leads the Metros into the 2006 campaign hoping to improve on the 2005 season record of 9-1-6. The team will endeavor to avenge their season-opening loss to the Carolina Dynamo when the Dynamo come to Ezell Park on Saturday, May 20th, 7 p.m. For tickets and schedules, visit www.nashvillemetrossoccer.com
or call 832-5678.