I’m Front Page News!

Beth and I attended a birthday party/bbq recently and I happen to meet a guy who works at the National, Abu Dhabi’s English language newspaper. He called me a week or so later and asked if I’d be interested in talking with him about the World Cup for a series the paper was writing.

Of course I jumped at the chance. We talked for at least 30-45 minutes on the phone one evening and a couple days later they sent a photographer out to NYU for a photo shoot. They had me jumping around like a lunatic in the school’s Welcome Center pretending to cheer.

You can read the article online here, but I’ve copied it here as well:

USA! USA! USA!

USA! USA! USA!

In the third of an eight-part series leading up to the World Cup finals in South Africa, The National brings you the story of the UAE residents whose daily lives will be transformed when the world’s biggest sporting tournament kicks off on Friday. As they prepare to cheer on their respective teams, we document the story behind their arrival in the Emirates, their expectations of how their team will fare, and what led them to follow the beautiful game. Matthew Chung reports.

USA
Victor Lindsay played a lot of soccer, as Americans call the game, in his youth but had little interest in watching matches, whether in the World Cup or English Premier League, until 1994, when a friend introduced him to a computer game.

Championship Manager, a football management simulation, gave him an early introduction to some of the world’s best teams and players. His addiction to the game coincided with the 1994 World Cup being hosted in the United States, and soon Mr Lindsay was hooked.

“That kind of got me addicted to soccer in general,” said Mr Lindsay, 28, a Texan, who moved to Abu Dhabi from New York. “Later, in college in 2000, I started playing again obsessively in my dorm room and I became a really big fan of Everton.

“I liked them when I was young and Everton wasn’t the best team,” said the part-time member of staff at New York University Abu Dhabi. “In American football, basketball, whatever, I cheered for good teams but not the best, like the Texas Longhorns, so I knew what it was like to support a team that could win on any given week but never win a trophy.”

Mr Lindsay has since lived in London and travelled to Liverpool to watch Everton play at their home ground, Goodison Park. His knowledge of the US national team is strong.

 Mr Lindsay’s story of becoming a fan of the “beautiful game” may sound odd to people from Europe or South America who grew up with the sport.

But in America, where highlights from Major League Soccer matches are aired at the end of one-hour sports shows and it is not considered a mainstream sport, following the game was more of a conscious choice, he said.

That is likewise true of Matt Cole, 52, who grew up in Texas, moved to Los Angeles and now works for a division of Adnoc while living in Abu Dhabi. Mr Cole started following the World Cup in 1990 more because his then-wife, a Brazilian, was a passionate fan. Now he supports the US first, then Brazil. It was his 16-year-old daughter, Giulia, who was the big fan in his family, he said.

Though the game’s popularity is steadily growing, Mr Lindsay believes that until America can develop a league with the prestige of the European Champions League, it will not have the popularity of mainstream sports like American football.

“Until America can break this threshold of international competition, it will always be a second-tier sport for us,” he said. “It is less dependent on the players and more on the marketing of the sport.”

Ben Whitfield, from Washington, said it was “not a problem that is limited to just soccer, but any other sport not in the mainstream in the US has a very difficult time succeeding”.

“So much money is put in to the other ones,” he said. “As a kid, if you look at how much am I going to make if I make the NBA or how much will I make for DC United, you clearly choose to play basketball.”

In recent years, the national team has done its part to raise the game’s profile, appearing in every World Cup finals since 1990 and reaching the quarter-finals in 2002.

The team is ranked 14th in the world by governing body Fifa, and were runners-up in last summer’s Confederations Cup, which is contested every four years by the winners of each of the six Fifa confederation championships, along with the hosts and the winner of the previous World Cup.

The US shocked Spain in the semi-finals in South Africa, and were two-nil up against Brazil before losing 3-2. 

For US fans in the Emirates, being drawn with England adds extra spice to the first round of matches. Mr Whitfield, in his 30s, expects some healthy banter this week in the lead-up to the match.

He calls himself a “typical American soccer fan” who watches the game only every four years. Still, he says he is ready to engage his English colleagues at the security firm for which he works in Abu Dhabi.

“I will probably make a few comments but I would much rather the US team do my talking for me,” he said.

“England is good fun,” said Mr Lindsay, who plans to watch every match with his British friend, Jay Raja.

“You can always poke fun at them. They invented the sport and they are really not that good at it on an international level. Uruguay has won more World Cups than England.”

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