Let me set the stage. It was the summer of 2002, there was a World Cup going on in South Korea and Japan. I was stationed in Wurzburg, Germany (with the U.S. Army), and I couldn’t have cared less about the most popular athletic tournament on earth.
In fact I remember hearing that the United States would play South Korea, and if the U.S. won all the posts in South Korea would be “locked down” to avoid incident. (Basically all the Americans would have to stay on base so we wouldn’t get loud and crazy, say something stupid, and provoke an incident). We were coming back from a range day where we had been qualifying with our rifles. We were riding in the back of a troop transport when a German pulled up behind us at a stop light and held up a piece of paper saying Korea 1-USA 1.
I can remember remarking “Thanks, but we don’t really care.” Some of the people around me laughed. Later when we made it out of the group stage, one of my Sergeants asked me if I was going to watch the USA vs Mexico match. I asked him if we even had a chance. He replied that we had beaten Mexico for the 1st time in a long while earlier that year. I didn’t watch that game, but the U.S. did win, and our team was rewarded by facing Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals, the first time Americans were advancing this deep in the World Cup since 1930.
There are a surprising amount of soccer fans in the US Army. The US-Germany match was shown in our office on the day of the game. I sat and watched my first soccer game from start to finish. (I wish I could find a full video of this game. I can find the highlights of the game on youtube here.)
Before the game kicked off we were told that if the U.S.won, the base would be locked down. So I went into the game almost cheering for Germany. I didn’t want to be locked down. In this game I saw the U.S. National Team scare the Germans and the Teutonic Titans were glad to get a win, in a game that many had predicted would end 3-0 or 4-0 in Germany’s favor.
It ended 1-0, but many Germans told me that night that they thought Germany had gotten lucky. If the US would have won they would have gone on to play South Korea in the semi-finals of the World Cup. The South Koreans eventually got 4th place overall. So it’s not impossible to imagine that America could have played Brazil in the 2002 World Cup final.
During the U.S.-Germany match (at about the 89th minute of the game or the 5:20 mark on the video), the phone in our office rang. Because of the angle on the shot we all thought the U.S. had scored and we cheered loudly, right as someone answered the phone. The General on the other end was not pleased I was told later.
Germany went on to beat South Korea, and faced Brazil in the finals. Germany lost to the Brazilians but I saw Germans celebrating in the streets afterwards. German fans had not expected to play in the final and were happy to be there, even if winning their 4th title would have been better.
These events made me a fan of soccer, as well as a fan of the U.S. and German National Teams. Seeing an underdog U.S. side play on equal terms with one of the game’s greats was exciting. And seeing the losing German team’s fans still celebrate after the final defeat was unexpected, and amazing. These are the reasons I cheer for soccer to keep gaining popularity in America.
As to how I got to be a fan of Hannover 96 and St. Pauli, I choose Hannover 96 because originally because I have several friends in Hannover and they had just been promoted to the Bundesliga. And I always seen to end up picking underdogs. It wasn’t until earlier this season that I found out that I was born on the same day the team was founded.
I became a fan of St. Pauli in a very roundabout way. My step-father drinks St. Pauli beer, it’s a beer made by Beck’s specifically for importing into America. After mentioning it to a German friend of mine mentioned that St. Pauli was the red light district in Hamburg, and that they had a soccer team which had defeated Bayern Munich earlier in the year, but had been relegated. He then showed me the “Weltpokalsiegerbesieger” shirts. Explaining that it meant World Club Champion Defeaters. I decided to cheer for this team after learning all this.
My wife and I actually got to take a belated honeymoon in Germany and we took a day while in Hannover to watch the 3rd Matchday when Hannover took on Leverkusen. We weren’t able to get tickets for the match but instead watched the game at the Waterloo Biergarten, about 4/10ths of a mile from the AWD-Arena. It was a great game even if Hannover gave up a first half lead, and it had a great conclusion where the home team with ten men on the field held on for a tie.
Of course when it’s all said and done, win or lose, sports in general is more about the love of the game, the love of your teams, and company you have with you when you watch the game.
Kurt Duncan is an ex-American soldier, who learned to love soccer while stationed in Germany. He then came back home to bother all his friends and family on why they should support The Beautiful Game. He currently lives with his wife, and schnauzer in the suburbs of Saint Louis. Kurt Duncan also writes (with an assortment of his friends) for Geek Streak a blog dedicated to any and all things geek-culture related.
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