“Soccer is so boring!” I must have heard a thousand derivatives of this statement since I moved to America, and by now I’ve learned to smile and simply acknowledge that sometimes it really can be exasperatingly laborious—especially for score-obsessed America. However, if I took a friend from Middle England and sat him down in front of a TV screen for a 1-0 baseball game, what are the chances he’d find that interesting? He doesn’t understand it, and therefore the likelihood is it would be extremely boring, just a bunch of dudes standing around with gloves on, swinging a stick sporadically.
I think this is a major hurdle for the average American sports fan: Soccer makes no sense to them—offside, the diving, the lack of scoring. I get it. I really do, and I’m not judging. But soccer—and particularly watching soccer—is about more than the game itself. It’s a lifestyle, an experience, the story for a Monday morning. The game is sort of secondary.
Follow this simple guide for just one World Cup game, and I guarantee at the very least, you’ll have a mediocre time.
With the World Cup’s Round of 16 beginning June 26, here are seven key factors that are essential when watching a big soccer game—hell, any soccer game.
Research: Pick the game you want to watch, do an Internet search (I recommend soccernet.com) and spend five minutes—just five minutes—learning about the history of the match, significance of the game, stars on either side and who the favorite is. You need a player to hate, a player to love and a team to cheer for.
Location: A generic sports book isn’t going to cut it. You need every screen showing soccer wherever you are, you need the volume in the place on high and you need to be surrounded by people who are there for that game. In Las Vegas, you’re not looking much farther than McMullan’s Irish Pub or the Crown & Anchor British Pub. The U.S. vs. England game was an exception because it was a first-round match involving two high-profile teams, so don’t be telling me that the atmosphere was great wherever you were. That game is not the norm. Trust me.
Timing: Don’t leave too late to get to a soccer bar. Half the event is the buildup—the conversations, the arguments, the drink specials, which brings us to …
Pre-game drinking and dialogue: I’m not saying you have to get wasted, but a cheeky beer and a random chinwag with someone who really loves soccer will really bring the game to life, especially with your prior research. The first time I really understood college football was when I got into a throwdown with a Florida Gators fan. It brought the game and my passion to life, and now I’m invested in every game they play—for them to lose of course!
First five minutes: Just watch the faces of the people you have just been talking to as they go from lambs to lions—in seconds. Get invested early or the game will slip away from you.
Halftime momentum: Halftime is key to keeping you invested in the game. Not that I’m advocating more drinking, but perhaps a trip to the bar, even for a lemonade, gives you a chance to engage fellow fans. Is the score representative of the action? Who was the best team in the first half? What needs to happen in the second half to help your team improve? Listen, learn and enjoy the passion. Imagine you getting the chance to explain to a clueless Latvian what just happened in the first half of a college football game. That’s how excited these soccer fans will be to engage you.
Aftermath: Don’t leave immediately! Stick around for at least 10 minutes and listen to the after-match conversations, which are always absolutely classic. “We should never have lost, we were cheated …” The travesty with soccer is, your team can truly be the best for almost the entire 90 minutes and still end up losing. Both the beauty and the cruelty of the world’s most popular sport. Now go out and enjoy the game!