Relax, Atlanta, and enjoy the World Cup
Atlanta has been famously (or perhaps infamously) been dubbed the “City Too Busy Too Hate.” The sentiment of that moniker, exemplified in no grander way than during the 1996 Summer Olympics, has stuck with us like an albatross ever since.
Now that leaders of Atlanta soccer community are working feverishly to bring the World Cup here in either 2018 and 2022, that famous boosterism is back, and is flexing its muscles as Africa’s first World Cup is set to begin on Friday.
In recent weeks and months, as Atlanta was included in the U.S. Soccer Federation’s formal World Cup bid, there have been plenty of pronouncements about the city’s viability as a venue, the purported economic impact of having a World Cup presence here, and what this might say about the strength soccer in Atlanta.
I’ve written plenty of those words myself, and probably will write many more before FIFA selects the host nations for the ’18 and ’22 World Cups.
But for the next month, while the present World Cup unfolds, I’m going to try and relax and not indulge in all of these speculations and machinations so breathlessly.
I would encourage Atlanta soccer fans to do the same.
I’m not trying to downplay the importance of making a good impression during this World Cup, and in the months leading up to FIFA’s decisions. But I think it’s just as vital for soccer-loving Atlantans not to engage in the all-too-serious posturing that happens with every “big” thing Atlanta undertakes.
We like to talk a lot about our ambitions and talk up our city to strangers incessantly. We possess an extreme propensity for striving, of trying to convince others of our worthiness. We’re so worried about what others think of us that we can’t enjoy what we’ve got at our disposal.
While I’m glad there are efforts to stage another international friendly at the Georgia Dome later this summer, and that a prominent sports owner in Atlanta has expressed interest in having a Major League Soccer team, Atlanta soccer aficionadoes know they’ve got a special community as it is.
They’ve been part of a vibrant and active soccer community even though Atlanta has struggled with the professional game, and as a hot spot for spectator soccer.
For the second summer in a row, there is no men’s professional soccer team in Atlanta, and for many summers before that, there’s been little to cheer. The Atlanta Beat is struggling to gain traction, both in the standings and with local fans, in its second life as a franchise.
When I think of the strength of the Atlanta soccer community, I think of the everyday hubbub that takes place in the youth associations and school teams, the ethnic leagues and the watering holes that unite fans like no other force.
Those pubs will be overflowing with World Cup fans, and — horror upon all horrors — some of them will be just a little too trendy for the rest of us. Or so we’re led to believe.
True soccer fans, especially in Atlanta, know they’ve never been trendy, probably because they’ve been dumped on for so long here in gridiron country. Talk show hosts, sportswriters and fans of other sports have made it part of their civic duty as good American mostly Southern males to explain themselves — loudly and viscerally — against what they are not.
True soccer fans, especially in Atlanta, don’t care who else is watching the World Cup games in their vicinity. They’re usually oblivious to them. As I recall from four years ago, the fans who nearly caused me to pass out during the England-Portugal match were not “hipsters,” but rather U.K. expats who live and breathe Ingerland, Ingerland.
When Wayne Rooney crunched a prone Ricardo Carvalho in a very tender place, they were so whipped into a frenzy that I barely was able to find my way out of an overheated, overcrowded pub. The parking lot was blocked, too, so I had to wait out the final whistle before I could flee.
“Trendy” fans might have added to the throngs, but they didn’t produce what amounted to a scene that made me feel, in 15-plus years of Atlanta soccer pub-hopping, a bit uncomfortable for the first time.
For the equally ill-tempered Holland-Portugal match that followed, I watched with fair-weather fans at a more low-key venue.
I can’t imagine what the hot pubs like that are going to be like on Saturday when England plays the U.S.
Luckily, there are plenty of choices to see games that way.
And there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the spectacle of that match and the rest of the World Cup that reflects the diversified Atlanta soccer community diehards know well. I can’t think of a better example than the Atlanta International Soccer Fest at Silverbacks Park, where many of the nations competing in South Africa will play for local bragging rights.
That’s one of the smartest ideas I’ve seen to build community around such an event, and it’s a testament to the tournament’s organizers and Atlanta’s international community.
Of course there will be plenty of places and venues to sign the petition in favor of the U.S. World Cup bid — more than 25,000 Atlantans have done that already.
But above all, just relax and enjoy what’s bound to be a terrific World Cup. No matter who you are.