It’s no surprise that people as general behaviour try to find things in common to connect, to ease the interaction, to feed or fill the gaps. And we also know that sports is probably the most used ice breaker, having worked behind the bar for some years I know how many times I’ve used and abused it.
In England was always soccer, English league and nothing else, or maybe here and there some Spanish League. Guess why the Spanish league? Because two of the most hated/loved/missed soccer related sportsman were playing there: Ronaldo and Mourinho. They both grew to soccer there and Mourinho is already back, Ronaldo may also return, we’ll see.
Now that I’ve crossed the ocean, the American influence is clear and the most striking characteristic is the multi-sport approach. Almost every American, if not all, supports actively more than one main sport, football, baseball, basketball, hockey you name it. We Europeans, and South Europeans even worse, only see Soccer, full time and full focus on that damned sport. I also support other sports (tennis, basketball, athletics) but my heart only jumps with Soccer, no matter how much I try. And I’ve tried. (Soccerholics Anonymous)
Being closer to the American culture I decided to support one major American sport, and the decision was made with a trip to New York last year, I chose American Football and fate made my path cross with a traditional loser team: New York Jets. I learned the rules, bought a jersey, watched a live game and from then on I enjoy watching the games and support the Jets, even though most of the time is a disappointing outcome (I do have a lot of disappointing experience following my all time soccer club, Benfica). I have to confess this helped me a lot at work because the majority of my guests knew nothing of Soccer and plenty of Football. I frequently caused a good impression being able to discuss the game with them, of course to a certain degree. No, I don’t know the name of the 54 players of the team, not even all the QBs of the league teams, but I know the main issues and I follow the games.
Knowing about American Sports is mainly useful when dealing directly with Americans or Canadians, because when you are on the road, even in countries close to the U.S., nobody knows anything about that. If one looks at the continents: Europe is soccer, Central and South America is soccer, Africa is soccer, Asia I’m not sure yet, and the only continent out of Soccer is North America. This means that when travelling there is nothing, I mean nothing, that starts better a conversation than Soccer. Sara is always impressed how I quickly turn a difficult interaction into a friendly and disputed chat about last results of the leagues or the coming world cup in Brazil.
I am Portuguese, most of the people we’ve been meeting on the road don’t know where is our country, what we’ve done or what language we speak, but they all know Ronaldo. He may be hated by many, even in his homecountry so many Portuguese cheer for his failure, but nobody can deny he is a planetary phenomena, and probably the biggest Portuguese ambassador ever. I mean ever because 50 years ago there were no social networks or TVs that could so quickly spread a brand like today, so in terms of known brand I’m sure he is well beyond the makes of Eusebio and, more recently, Figo. Mourinho probably comes second now, even though he is not a player, but he is a great brand, full of controversy that leaves no one indifferent. Thanks to Ronaldo, I am traveling much more, I can easily start a conversation and I find his fans everywhere that appreciate when I tell them I’m also Portuguese. Even the ones that hate him sparkle a great conversation, I just need to be more diplomatic!
Soccer is clearly going to be part of our trip, and it started quite early, not just discussing it but actually playing it.
I suggested to the staff I’ve been working with in Monkey Bay to play a game between us, a friendly Belize vs. Rest of the World (resembling the Portugal vs Rest of the World I used to organise in London), where Portugal would play alongside with Guatemala and Western Africa. In the end not everyone could join but we still had great fun in our improvised field. The game finished with a narrow defeat and a friendly local beer afterwards to watch some world cup qualifiers on the TV. It’s interesting as there is no real rivalry in Central America, they all support each other when playing for the World Cup.
Later that week, some of the guys invited me to play a tournament in town, that they call marathon, which I had to say yes, couldn’t refuse a challenge like that. 🙂 When the weekend came we tried to organise our team and off we went to Belmopan, the capital city. With this soccer tournament I also realised that Portuguese are not the latest people at all because the Belizians have the Guiness Record of being late. I was told to be ready at 8.30am to be picked up as the games started at 10am. Oh well, my team played the first game of the tournament at 2pm. I was starving when we started to play. It was a “you loose, you’re out of the system” game, and our team, kindly called Portugal, lost the first game under a tropical rainstorm, a glorious match that ended with a fair defeat. We were so organised that, by the time the referee started the game, we still had only half of the team recruited, but that’s another story. Let’s just say that here in Belize one doesn’t plan that much, things will be sorted eventually.
In that same tournament, unlike our team, most of the other teams had a common kit to play, some had local sponsored shirts, others had white shirts mixed with Real Madrid shirts and there was a team that had a curious yellow jersey that for a very particular reason called my attention. For you Portuguese out there, the images say it all! Let me explain: I just happy to see that, for some awkward reason, my club Benfica was supporting soccer development in Central America!
On the weekend, we had a chance to watch live the biggest Belizian league derby: Belmopan Bandids vs. Police Football Club. So what’s better in Belize, being a criminal or a law enforcer? Apparently, these teams have shared the league wins recently and are the ones that attract more fans. The main stadium was small and didn’t have many standing places but watching the game was quite intense, as it is with any live act.
Fighting out the mosquitos was the hardest challenge but we still managed to watch and cheer for the outlaws, as one of the team player was Lincoln, the maintenance manager down at Monkey Bay where we are staying. There is no professional league in Belize, as the majority of the players have their day jobs and struggle to be able to train and play every week. The country has never been close to the World Cup and had recently qualified for the Gold Cup (regional cup of N. America and C. America), were they managed to score a goal against the USA, who once again won the tittle. That goal scored in a 1-4 defeat vs. USA was the biggest achievement ever of Belizian football. It’s a small populated country, where Football corruption associated with FIFA grants have hindered the development of this sport (last year change of the Football Association president should help, has it was a real house cleaning). It’s still a long way to go for the country to be able to compete properly on the World stage, like Costa Rica and Honduras do, but maybe this single goal sparkles the country to a brighter soccer future.