We American soccer fans know all about watching matches alone. On the west coast, we stumble through the cold pre-dawn darkness to our couches, desperate for coffee, slightly delirious, and droopy-eyed, just to catch the first broadcast match each Saturday. On the east coast, we trudge through quiet city streets, squinting at the sun, bleary-eyed, walking past only garbagemen and dog walkers to fill the pubs, where 7:45 AM is social interaction time for only the hardiest of souls. And we all know what it’s like to be stuck at work or school on a weekday afternoon for a Champions League or summer tournament match, dreaming of a long and liquid lunch but instead surreptitiously eyeing our phones, or carefully scanning a web page artfully tucked behind serious-looking spreadsheets.
But watching alone has its benefits; it allows us to follow the action more closely, to absorb more of the contest, to notice details we never would with the distractions of other people. I’ve been enjoying all of Euro 2012 alone until yesterday’s final Group D action, when I went to meet a friend at the Red Lion Tavern in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles.
The bar’s outdoor beer garden was mostly empty save for a few nervous, solitary, chain-smoking English fans. As my pal and I started to catch up, I could feel the glares of the English fans upon us. They were there to bore holes in the TV screen with their steely focus, not be distracted by our yapping. I understood their pain, they weren’t unjustified. Soccer demands a fan’s attention like no other sport. Look down for a moment to scratch your belly and you could miss the only goal.
American sports are perfectly designed to work around no end of distraction. Plenty of breaks in the action to hit the bathroom, grab a round of beers, dive face-first into a pile of saucy wings, bust your buddies’ beans, wink at the waitress, check your texts, update your facebook status, wait in line for the iPhone 5, collect on some bets, transfer funds, and write the great American novel, all without missing much. If anything, it’s weird to watch a baseball, American football, or basketball game by yourself, because what do you do during all those breaks without your friends around? Even in fast and furious sports like boxing and MMA, you can pause your conversation until the break between rounds.
Yesterday wasn’t the first time I incurred the wrath of passionate fans for talking too much during a match. I watched the 2006 England-Portugal World Cup quarter-final in the hot, crowded, but largely silent, back room of McSorley’s in New York’s East Village. I was talking to a friend on my right when the off-duty cook seated on my left poked me and asked “Do you like football?” Confused, I meekly replied, “Yeah,” to which she thundered, “Well then, shut the f**k up!”
Consequently, I prefer watching bigger matches alone from the comfort of my home so that I can concentrate on the game itself, but I can’t deny that being part of a euphoric crowd during a stone-cold classic is a unique joy.
What about you, which do you prefer, watching a match in peace and quiet or among a rambunctious crowd?