Swiss fans at a Public Viewing event in Zürich
Growing up, I had never been a huge fan of watching sports—now that's an understatement—I rarely ever watched sports. In a way, it made me unintentionally anti-social in middle school and early high school. I had always wanted to befriend people, but when nearly every single conversation turned to football, basketball, or baseball, it was extremely difficult to do so. I had no idea what athletes or teams people were talking about, nor did I frankly care. Though I've never said this out loud, more often than not, conversations went like this: “ummmm…”, *tries to switch topic* “ummm…” *fails to switch topic, then goes to sit alone at a lunch table.* You might say I was a nerd; I had great grades and such, but even then I didn’t partake in typical "nerdy" activities. I stopped playing video games after middle school, never got into anime or manga, didn’t watch many sci-fi movies, so I didn’t have much in common with the "nerdy" table either. From 9th to10th grade, I felt like an absolute nobody, and couldn’t relate to or be friends with anyone.
Now, more inquisitive people might ask why I hadn't watched or played sports and video games—did my parents strictly manage my screen-time, and was I really such a weakling who couldn’t throw or kick a ball? Well, the latter might be a half-truth: I could throw or kick a ball, but not in a coordinated manner, which takes hard work and practice. I also didn’t want to invest in an activity I didn’t genuinely enjoy. I was really just trying to be myself as someone who had no care for sports or video games. My parents wanted me to play sports and my little brother wanted me to play video games with him, but in the end, they were a no for me (my family also respected my decision not to do either).
"Well, then what did you enjoy in your free time?"
I found my passion in surfing, snowboarding, and mountain biking. I dabbled in breakdancing, parkour, and skateboarding, as well. I was able to prioritize my educational life, so in between homework sessions, I would drive to the beach or mountains—my free time was being lived to the fullest!
Any surfer would see I'm not barreled, so this isn't too extraordinary of a photo (though one taken 0.5 seconds afterward might have been). Most people wouldn't know what I mean by this, which is exactly how I felt when a conversation about football came up.
"Wow, extreme sports! Okay, then you must have been a cool person?"
Wrong. Everyone thinks extreme sports are cool, but they’re kind of niche. On Yokota Airbase, in the very flat Kanto Plain, 3 hours from Mountains, 3 hours from good waves, it seemed there was absolutely no one else who actually surfed, snowboarded, mountain biked (past the beginner level, at least). I wasn't living in Hawaii or the Alps, so I kind of needed to adapt to normal American high school life. There was no one to share my family’s secret surf spot with or have an hour-long conversation about the controversy surrounding hydrofoils or artificial waves. No one cared, just like I didn’t care about football or Fortnite. Eventually, I didn’t even try to talk about anything extreme sports-related because the person I was talking to would say “okay, that’s cool," and then immediately change the conversation. After the person I was talking to found out we didn’t have anything in common, they’d walk away to their friends. I decided to focused on school and pretended I was a surfer and snowboarder and a lot of other things were a secret. If no one cared to hear, then I wouldn't tell them. I embraced the "nobody" persona and felt like a Clark Kent of sorts. I was at least doing well in school and made a few friends who liked talking about interesting history and politics and some Christians whom I could talk about my religion with.
I also learned that "being yourself" doesn’t necessarily mean only caring about your own interests and not listening to things others care about. A large part of moving as military brats is learning to adapt to new cultures. My excuse of sports not being my thing was an invalid reason for why I couldn't have a good conversation about sports. When I moved to Germany, I took the time to learn the language; otherwise, I wouldn't have had a conversation with anyone outside my family. I still am an extreme sports enthusiast and have very little skill in regular sports, but differently from before, have more respect towards sports enthusiasts (and video games as well, but we're going to focus on sports for this article). I decided to start following at least one popular sports league—to try and learn the language everyone else seemed to be speaking. If invited to go play said sport (casually, not as part of an actual club haha) I'll make a good effort to run along and try to help my team as long as they're kind and don't treat me as an outcast for my less than average performance.
As I was moving to Switzerland, I wisely chose to make a low-key effort to understand and respect soccer (which I might refer to as football accidentally later in this article just out of habit, sorry for the confusion), as it’s so popular in Europe. Luckily for me, Switzerland is more chill than, say, Germany. Most people don’t even watch national games like FC Basel vs. FC Zürich. The main soccer seasons are the UEFA Euro Cup and the FIFA World Cup, each every 4 years. In total, soccer season is only 1 month every 2 years compared to 4.5 months of NFL in the US every year, or a basically constant season of Bundesliga in Germany (August-May, 1-month winter pause). Having as bad of an attitude as I did about sports, I can hardly believe I am now a full-on Swiss soccer fan. The Euros have sadly ended, but from the almost tragic performance of the Swiss national team to their decisive comeback win against Turkey, the drawn-out David and Goliath fight against former Fifa World Cup Champion France secured Switzerland a spot in the quarterfinals. I came to the Euro Cup hangouts/public viewings to stay relevant and have fun with my friends from university and church and left feeling euphoric of Switzerland’s best performance in an international soccer league since 1954. I also played a few games of soccer with my friends, but just as a defender. I eventually went from accidentally touching the ball with my arms to standing in the way and unintentionally blocking a goal, to intentionally running with the enemy stürmer (not sure English words for soccer positions sorry), to trying to steal the ball for my team or at least make shooting a goal harder, so I’m learning.
Cheering on the Swiss Team!
Anyways, Switzerland’s national team did extremely well in Euros, but in the quarterfinals, it came down to a penalty shootout in Switzerland vs. Spain, similar to Switzerland’s previous game against France. It was all going well until Ruben Vargas missed the deciding shot. Everyone at the huge public viewing was frustrated and upset that we lost, but no one was angry at Vargas... His teammates all hugged him and seemed to be comforting him, even the fans in the stadium weren’t upset about the loss, so much as proud of the Swiss team for getting to the quarterfinals for the first time ever.
Bukayo Saka (white Jersey near the Italian goal) standing alone after his missed penalty, Italian team celebrating, (Blue jerseys) English team (white jerseys, right side) standing still in disbelief, only one of them (Kalvin Phillips) walking over to show their teammate some empathy, in stark contrast to how the Swiss handled defeat and comforted Ruben Vargas in the shot below (photo: SRF News, Switzerland). Also, at least the Swiss have good cheese (special edition "HOPP Schwiiz", or GO Switzerland!! cheese)
Why do I bring up the Swiss-Spain game? Well, I want to draw attention to how English fans should’ve reacted to their team’s loss in the Euro Final against Italy. Similar to Switzerland’s game against Spain, there was a draw-breaking penalty shootout, where the English national coach made the same mistake as the Swiss coach: sending younger, less experienced players to shoot the penalty goals. Bukayo Saka (19), Marcus Rashford (23), and Jadon Sancho (21) all missed their shots, but instead of compassionately trying to ease the pain from these defeated players, fans turned to racist insults and questioned their position on the English national team. Now, I think in general it is terrible to get that angry at defeated athletes—but to assume the source of their less-than-perfectness is their race—is groundless. What is wrong is not the fact that fans feel frustrated and upset, but that they are venting their anger by defaming athletes with racial slurs and hate speech. Racism is unacceptable and being a Soccer fan is no excuse. On the other hand, Ruben Vargas, a Swiss soccer player, is half Swiss and half Dominican, yet the Swiss public treated him 1) as the amazing soccer player he is who just had a bad day, and 2) A full Swiss citizen and countryman regardless of his ethnicity. English fans should learn to embrace their soccer team's diversity and realize that playing particularly well or poorly is not defined, by any means, by their race. They’re disgracing the English soccer fan and making a racist, intolerable name for themselves. Switzerland showed good sportsmanship, and that you can be proud of your team even if you aren't World/Euro champions.
I've not only become a Swiss soccer fan, but I've even found others who share my passion for extreme sports. Weirdly enough, guess how I met them? On a vacation to Egypt where we played soccer. Perhaps English fans can take somewhat similar steps to what I've just done and become slightly less fanatical fans—be more chill and accept a loss every now and then. The importance English fans have placed on the success of their team is dangerous; they've mentally elevated their team to gods, which they are not, and the English national team is made up of imperfect humans like anyone else who loses sometimes. I think finding a healthy balance is key, as I have done. Being yourself (me—not a superstar at conventional sports; them—crazy sports fans) does not excuse you for racist humiliating words, or antisocial no-words at all. I would like to correct the old saying"if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all" with "if you have nothing nice to say, change your perspective or attitude."
As military teens, this is especially true, as we are all sort of ambassadors of the US and our military. Whether that's changing the perspective of someone against the US military, or opening ourselves up to other cultures outside the US, we too, as military teens, hold an impact. I hope that we can learn from the mistakes of English soccer fans (not making a bad reputation of ourselves) and also from this article's takeaway—to not make a nobody of yourself. One final thought: bad reputation, or no reputation—which is worse?