Tuesday, June 7, 2011

USA v. Spain, In the Stands

The U.S. Men's National Team faced 2010 World Cup Champion Spain this past weekend at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The game was a disappointment for the United States, with Spain adroitly running circles around the U.S. team and winning 4-0. With 60, 000 in attendance, however, it was still a festive event. People like me have as much fun studying the crowd as the game.

The wearing of national flags is typical at international events, especially soccer and tennis. And I mean, literally, the wearing of a flag:

It's a powerful statement of national loyalty throughout the game, and, of course, comes in handy at moments of fervent cheering:

In terms of dress, I wish I had gotten more photos, but there were all kinds of costume inventions, which subtly invoked individuality underneath the usual symbolism of group loyalty. This gentleman, wearing a 1773 "Don't Tread on Me" flag, went one step beyond simple nationalism, for instance, to display a deeper sense of American history. (It would have worked better if the US Team was playing England, but no matter):

Much fan dress involved the display of one's head, which was, obviously, the one body part that could be seen by others in the stands.

I am quite interested in the ways in which any sports costume at the game seemed more appropriate than none. Before the game, everyone who bought a ticket received an email indicating that US Team supporters should wear red in recognition of U.S. Team's new red jersey design. Many fans, from the surrounding Boston area, in lieu of that, showed up in baseball and basketball jerseys. I saw other fans displaying their support for the Polish National Team or Manchester United. Clearly, there are always overlapping frames of action at any sporting event: one frame, in the stands, marks an ongoing game of team allegiance; the other frame, on the field, marks the day's game of soccer. The latter, of course, is what is sold and promoted, making me wonder: How odd would it be to promote the game of fandom, while leaving the game of soccer secondary?


The other thing that interested me was the etiquette of cheering. Cheering is actually a delicate social act--like any good performance, it requires timing and a keen sense of the crowd's mood. Cheering after a goal or particularly good play is appropriate, and it can last for a minute or two as the game resumes. In fact, the game and the stands have different rhythms, and their interplay is complex. There are times when someone can, during a lull in the game, shout out something witty or rousing and get a positive response. This is the mission of "The Fort," for example, a section of Gilette Stadium where organized team supporters sit, display large flags, and sing chants.

However, there was one person sitting in front of me who continually tried to get our section of seats (on the opposite side of the stadium from The Fort) to chant "U.S.A.!" He was largely unsuccessful, not only because the U.S. wasn't faring well but also because he refused to sit down when everyone else had, and, in general, he tried to rally us at inappropriate moments, when there was a tense moment on the field, or after we had already just cheered for several minutes.

The lesson, of course, is that rooting is as much a team action as playing on the field. Much like the inevitable "wave" that crops up halfway through American sporting events, the best cheering in a stadium requires attention to, and a revelation of, the social nature of the event, as well as the gargantuan scale of the place. One man in the stands can't do much, but groups of people, working together, can use the stadium itself as tool for rooting; blocks of seats moving together, erupting in a cheer, or lighting up a portion of the stadium with color, have quite an effect.

In all, a memorable event. It took hours to get out of the parking lots afterward, something that most fans took in stride as part of their participation. There is a whole post to be written about before and after-event tailgating, but I'll leave that for another time.

Oh, look--some players on the field.

No comments:

Post a Comment