For an alternate version of this blog with every instance of the word "Football" changed to read "Soccer," please click HERE.
Two things are inescapable in South America (and around the world): EDM and Football. And, much like the metric system, it's an accessible and universally-beloved sport that Americans refuse to embrace as they rename it "Soccer" and insist that the Super Bowl is more important than the World Cup. Which reached 3.2 billion people in 2014, AKA "Half the human population of Earth."
And while I've learned how to dance to EDM (the secret is that you wait for the bass to drop and then lose your goddamn mind), I've never managed to really build a love of football. Maybe it's because the act of even considering running around for 90 straight minutes sends my brain into a preemptive nap state.
In my life, I've probably watched two or three football games to completion.
Perhaps it's because I somehow avoided being enrolled in soccer as a kid because my childhood athleticism was more on the "chess club and participation ribbons at swim meets" side of the scale.
But it's probably because Canada is only slightly less dismissive of the sport than America: Not only do we call it soccer, we also invented our own version of American Football with a bigger playing field, a larger ball, and a slight chance of hiring The Rock.
In my life, I've probably watched two or three football games to completion. I've played half a game of FIFA before politely insisting we play Mario Kart instead. Most player names I know are from a fictional commercial in The Simpsons.
So when our group in Córdoba drew names from a hat to determine which diehard football fans would get to watch the Argentina vs. Bolivia World Cup qualifier match in the city, I was obviously one of the people lucky enough to go, instead of, for instance, a lifelong fan and follower of Lionel Messi.
(Who I successfully learned about after Googling "Leo Messy.")
So, for my last week in Córdoba, I went off with a group of friends to go root for the national team and watch the greatest living player in the sport do his thing. And my only problem was that I knew nothing about the sport, or the player, or the game.
HOW TO FAKE YOUR WAY THROUGH A FOOTBALL MATCH
Have Your Go-To Facts At The Ready
Like most con artists/sociopaths, I believe in the power of saying something with conviction and authority, especially if you have no idea what you're talking about. I had two phrases that got me through every question that was thrown at me about the evening's match: "They beat them 12-0 in the friendlies!" and "This one is a World Cup qualifier, so it really counts."
The key here is to never allow for follow-up questions. Do I know what a "friendly" is? Nope. Do I know how the World Cup qualifier system works? Hell no. But I knew those two lines, and I said them with confidence.
Apparently Football Chants Are A Thing
The depth of creative sports chanting in North America never exceeds the standard "LET'S GO [SPORTS TEAM], CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP," probably because anything more complex than that leads us into people-clapping-at-concerts territory. It's a bad scene. However, around the world, you have stadiums full of fans in the UK singing entire songs in unison, and customized contextual chants for any number of scenarios an Argentinian football fan could face.
So that's why I found Fan Chants, and may or may not have spent the duration of a shower singing football chants to myself in Spanish, just in case. Did I ever get a chance to use them? Nope. Because it turns out, it is hard to distinguish which of the Spanish chants you hastily shoved into your memory are being sung by a crowd of 60,000 people. Which brings us to the next point.
This Isn't A House Party -- Show Up Early
Our group arrived at the stadium roughly an hour before the match was about to start, and the stands were already at capacity. As were the aisles leading up to the stands, and the vantage points between the security stages at the edge of the stadium. I'm almost entirely sure the majority of people showed up hours ahead, because this is serious.
So unless you want to watch the game through the bars of a stadium's ground floor near a group of bemused security guards (and honestly, the view was pretty great), then you need to show up with time to spare.
The More Bootleg Merch You Buy, The More Of A Fan You Are
Argentina colours? Check. Jester hat? Double check. Gigantic scarf you will drop in a puddle that very night? Checkmate. I don't want to give anyone a single reason to doubt my complete and total football fan status by looking at me.
Leaving my Washington Generals jersey at home probably helped, too. But ultimately, this is all window dressing, because...
If You Know Nothing About Football, It Will Be Obvious When You Watch The Damn Game
Actual questions I asked others during the match:
- "Which one is Messi?"
- "Wait, why are they kicking that way? I thought they were kicking the other way."
- A five minute argument about why they water the field at halftime.
- "Oh, I thought the other guy was Messi."
- "This reminds me of the Quidditch World Cup!"
The beautiful game is wasted on me.
Mike Sholars is currently residing in Córdoba, Argentina as he travels the world for a year while working remotely for The Huffington Post Canada. Remotely Interesting is his weekly travel column. Follow @sholarsenic on Instagram and Twitter to be assaulted with his bad jokes and shaky photos.
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