Updated Thu, Jul 19, 2012 1:38 pm
One sport that continuously doesn’t receive attention is soccer. Americans are more obsessed with touchdowns and three-pointers than to ever care much about a game that millions of its own kids play.
Across the world, however, that is not the case. Soccer, or futbol, is the most watched sport around the globe. In 2010 for instance, 2.2 billion people tuned in to the FIFA World Cup final that was between Spain and the Netherlands in South Africa. When you compare that to this year’s Super Bowl, which had 111.3 million viewers, it’s not much of a contest.
While the World Cup may remain soccer’s most important international competition, the UEFA’s Euro Cup is also considered one of the game’s greatest tournaments and is held every four years. The tournament pits 16 European nations in the same format as the FIFA World Cup and the competition lasts for close to four weeks.
I was fortunate enough to be in Germany for the tournament’s playoff and I decided to go to a public viewing to get the feel of watching a match in a foreign country. There were public viewings around the country, but the one I went to in Leipzig probably had about 1,000 people crammed into one street. Germany played Greece, which had major political tension behind it because of the recent Euro crisis.
The atmosphere at the viewing was electric.
If you’ve watched the World Cup before, you still would have no idea how crazy the country gets behind these matches until you’re actually surrounded by it. There were people of all ages and sizes. I saw someone as young as probably four on the shoulders of their dad and there was someone there who looked to be in their early 80’s. It was similar to a college football student section, to be honest.
There were street vendors surrounding the viewing, mostly serving either bratwurst or beer and it was relatively cheap. There were also bars that surrounded both sides of the viewing area, with every one of them setting up TV’s outside, so no matter where you stood, you’d have a good view of the game. The main TV was on a stage at the front, where they also had a commentator to update fans on the action during the game.
Before the game even started, people were going nuts. They projected a game of FIFA (the video game) between the Germans and Greeks and when Greece scored first, someone actually threw a brat at the TV! This, by the way, was about an hour before the game. It wasn’t like people just tuned it out either; half of the crowd seriously paid full attention to a video game, acting like it was close to the real thing.
One of the coolest parts about the game was the opening ceremony, where both teams walk onto the field and then sing their respective national anthems. I must have seen at least 25-30 flags waving in the air and everyone sang the anthem. I’m sure there are areas of the states where watching a U.S. soccer match or Olympic event where this happens, but to date, I haven’t ever seen it. There’s never been a time where I see everyone singing the anthem. We stand, take our hats off, and show respect for it, but that’s pretty much it. Germany rallies around futbol, as well as many other European countries.
The first goal didn’t come till the 39th minute, but when it did, you would have thought you were on Court St. when Ohio beat Georgetown. Like a time bomb just waiting to explode, the place when absolutely insane. I had some random fan just hug me and yell something before getting high fived by about six other people. They also do this cool thing after every goal, where the commentator says the first name of goal scorer and the crowd responds with his last name. They also do the exact thing you see at Penn State games with the “Thank You!” then “You’re Welcome!”.
Another reason for going to the public viewing was to work on a story for the local radio station in Leipzig, Mephisto 97.6, to find out why so many fans come to see the game in this atmosphere. I had one of the Mephisto students (Patrick) help with translating my questions so that the fans could understand what I was trying to ask. The younger fans were easy to communicate with, because they knew English, but I had to rely on Patrick much more with the older men and women, as they spoke only German. Thankfully, Patrick was already good at interviewing and so it made reporting on the match relatively stress free. Another student from OU, Jacob Betzner, also helped with the story and we each gave our reactions to certain moments in the game, as well as capture the natural sound present.
Greece scored 10 minutes after the half, but the crowd seemed more nervous when it was 0-0 than 1-1. It was almost as if they knew a goal would come, and it did just six minutes later. As loud as I thought it was for the first goal, this one was about 5x that. You could hear cannons blasting through the city and there was confetti thrown into the crowd by the people on stage.
Germany cruised to an easy 4-2 win after and the scene on the streets was like one after a Steeler playoff victory downtown. What was funny was that the German student I watched the game with told me that the city would be completely silent if the Germans had lost, but instead, the pubs were jam packed with fans celebrating. It wasn’t as if they had won the Super Bowl but the mood was obviously ecstatic.
Unfortunately, Germany’s Euro Cup run ended this past week when they fell to Italy 2-0 in the semi-finals. The streets quickly dispersed after the loss and it was clear that everyone just wanted to go home out of disappointment.
All in all, however, it was an eye-opening experience. A German student told me that in 2006, when Germany hosted the World Cup and the team surprised most by making the semi-finals, you started seeing German flags flown everywhere. That didn’t happen before. Germany has been unified for only 23 years and it didn’t really have an identity. But the one thing that brought the country together was futbol, and it does so with every Euro and World Cup.
- C.J. Buskey