Fans, Fanatics and Beyond

World Cup 2010 fever has begun in Africa and everyone’s flag colours are everywhere. My friends are posting their Hyundai sponsored Jerseys of their teams choice on their facebook pages, and it reminds me of that other giant sporting event from this year, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

I bought the red mittens, and a team Canada hockey jersey in support of my country when I was here. If you watched tv or walked around for five minutes anywhere remotely close to the downtown Vancouver area, you could see Canadian Pride everywhere. There were Canadian flags draped across shoulders, red mittens everywhere, red and white spandex wearers (I wish I hadn’t seen those) and hockey jerseys of both home and away. In the midst of all the Canadiana, there were flashes of other colours: the dark navy from some US supporters who drove up from Seattle and beyond, the blue white and red of the russians (especially since we were selling their stuff for the next winter olympics in Sochi) and the bright orange of the dutch. I think they were the craziest of all. It wasn’t just an orange piece of clothing, they were covered in orange head to toe, including orange spandex and orange clown wigs, and boy were they easy to spot.

The hockey fans were rowdier at the Olympics than they normally are as well. I think this is because so many fans from around the world brought their cowbells, their horns, everything just to make some noise for their team. They were missing that one main instrument from the World Cup 2010, the Vuvuzela. At the Germany-Finland hockey game, one guy sitting in front of us mentioned how proud he was that he swiped a metal tea kettle from a restaurant (he was progressively getting more drunk, two fisting it at every break) and banging the tea kettle as loud as he could. It was effective. It gave me the biggest migraine ever.

But of course these fans are nothing compared to soccer fans around the world. They have fake World Cups, they paint their faces, wear umpteen million pins and articles of clothing that support their team, and seem to be willing to fly wherever just to watch them play. Look at Brazil, Holland, Italian, Portugese fans and you’ll see it. Listen to amy game and you’ll hear the vuvuzela which sounds like a chain saw or swarm of bees. Forget the metal teapot – those will give you a headache that will take days to recover from.

At the olympics I bought some Canadian Paraphenalia. I’ve been contemplating getting a Germany Soccer jersey because that’s my World Cup team of choice. But I’ve been wondering why I should. I’ve always been a proud Canadian, my home and native land, so why would I buy a Germany soccer jersey just to pull out every four years for a soccer event? It has nothing to do with my love of soccer and how frequently I watch. (I played, refereed and love the sport completely.) I am definitely a fan , I follow and will route for the team. I guess that makes me a fan.

So what then makes the difference between a fan, and a fanatic – the religious zeal people show for their home team? Is a fan the person just watching the game, wearing the team jersey, or dressing up in head to toe team colours? Players can tell the support they have from the crowd, and home team advantage definitely helps. In a see of red and white those orange shirts were dead easy to spot. But, can the players tell the difference in the see of faces when the bright lights are on them that one fan is not only wearing the jersey and colours, but has their face painted, their wig on, their fake world cup trophy or anything else? I know from playing the sport that beyond the front bench in a stadium its difficult to see, especially with the bright lights on you. Everyone else is sort of in the dark dull roar of the background. Also, a player is supposed to be focusing on the game, not the crazy fans in the background.

So why does the fan dress up if the player can’t see him? For herself? For the television cameras or the big screen? That I can believe. The more outrageously you dress and behave (think of the North Korean player today who had the camera on him the entire anthem because he was so emotionally overwhelmed) the more your face will grace the tv cameras and big screen shots. But, is it about your team support? Or is it about you? Mr. Teapot supported neither Germany nor Finland at the Olympic hockey game, electing to wear a Team Canada Sydney Crosby jersey instead. As the night wore on, his cheers for Germany (Deutchland! Clap Clap! repeat) degenerated to “Tea-pot!” (clap, clap repeat) as his alcohold intake increased. He cared more about the fact that he was able to make more noise from his stolen metal teapot than anybody else in the arena. In other words, the experience became about him, and not about supporting a particular team at a particular sporting event. And is that the case with more overtly obsessive fans, the fanatics? I’m not sure. Is the fan the person without the jersey yelling support, the person with the jersey colours, the person waving the flag or the person in head to toe orange? Perhaps its too difficult to tell until you have someone yelling about a teapot or vuvuzela instead of about the game in front of them. How can you tell?

Well, now you know my team of choice, seconded only by South Africa much to the dismay of my British friends. Which World Cup Team do you support?