You don’t need to be a sportsperson to recall seeing vivid images of men and women wearing giant, crazy hats and flashy outfits, faces painted, smiles tattooed, flags wrapped around the body like blankets. These images travel the world like breaking news and win over the public’s eye every four years. They’re images of love, pride, summer adventures, and childhood dreams turn into reality.
The photos of soccer fans wearing their country’s colors at the World Cup are famous worldwide for two reasons: the emotion portrayed in the canvases, and the crazy stuff some fanatics do—or wear. But the thing is, it doesn’t have to be the World Cup, you don’t even need to be at a soccer stadium, for fans to go above and beyond to show they’re passionate to the bone about the most beautiful game.
As a young South American soccer fan, I’ve seen my fair share of crazy game day rituals—and to be completely honest, I’ve partaken in a few as well. South of the border, you might know, fútbol is our bread and butter. It’s more than a pastime, more than a passion—it’s a unifying fever, the aspect of daily life many look forward to the most. My childhood and adolescence were deeply marked by stadium trips, painted faces, colorful jerseys, viewing parties, soccer cook-offs and lots of weird, weird practices, all aimed to honor the game—needless to say, we very rarely enjoy a match sitting on the couch like normal human beings!
Here are some of the coolest, craziest and weirdest gameday rituals soccer fans often follow:
Dress to impress: The Jersey Ritual
It isn’t rare to see fans hold on to a particular ‘lucky’ jersey and wear it for every single game. But in my years as a soccer fan, I’ve seen people take the whole jersey ritual to a whole different level.
Once, a kid from my high school (and his dad!) showed up to the stadium wearing not one but three national team jerseys, one on top of the other. It was July under the Equatorial sunshine, probably 80F! Lucky jersey times three, right?
Another time, I had a friend arrive at a viewing party dressed as Colombian legend Carlos ‘El Pibe’ Valderrama. He was draped in Colombia’s outfit head to toes, wearing a jersey with ‘El Pibe’ written on the back, cleats and a wig!
Double or triple screen the beautiful game
If you enter the domains of a true fútbol lover during a game, you might find yourself surrounded by screens and gadgets like it’s Best Buy’s Memorial Day Sale. The thing is, when you follow a league or a tournament and games are being played simultaneously, something serious needs to be done to ensure you can catch most of the action. I remember my boyfriend and I watched the 2014 World Cup using our TV, two computers, an additional monitor… and an iPhone.
Skip the screen on penalty kicks (it’s bad luck and bad for your nerves)
I love watching penalties because of the thrill, because of the skill level some players show, and because they can easily turn into a Russian roulette sometimes. But when your team is playing, penalties can be so stressful. It’s a broad belief among soccer fans that looking at penalty kick live is bad luck. That’s why many viewers look away during this crucial moment and only realize what the outcome was when they notice the atmosphere around them (either boozy celebrations or heartfelt agony).
Clear your agenda wayyyyy in advance
The time and date of the big game is marked on our calendar months ahead ‘cause God forbid someone tries to make other plans for that day. Soccer season, especially during the final rounds of important tournament like the World Cup, can turn some people into anti-social hibernating bastards, but it’s okay because if you’re hanging out with the right crowd, they will want to socialize around the game and not try to pull you away from it, little Judases.
When in doubt, put nothing on your body, but soccer
When I was in high school, my dad and I used to host parties to watch important games at his apartment. We would invite both mine and his friends, buy lots of drinks and cook delicious food.
One of the things I remember the most about watching the 2006 World Cup there was that one of his friends did not eat or drink anything at all during the game (except for some chips during halftime). ‘He is purifying this body for the victory celebration,’ I thought. He then explained he was too nervous and anxious to eat. At first, I found it really odd, but a few years later, it happened to me. The Ecuadorian National Team was playing, they were one man down and losing 1-0. The adrenaline was kicking in and I couldn’t eat, drink or do anything. Concentrating on the game, and only the game, helped control the shock.
Celebrate like it’s the end of the world
When your team wins a championship, it’s quite an ecstasy booster, to say the least. But this major victory is not celebrated like others in life (let’s say a work promotion, graduation or an engagement). We don’t go out to dinner or take a vacation. We have other ways to outpour our uncontainable joy: solo-dancing over tables, yelling and singing, champagne-, or beer-, or wine-showers, bringing flowers to the airport when the team arrives from an international cup (been there, done that), etc.
Perhaps the weirdest victory celebration I’ve seen was back in Ecuador. There, the followers of LDU, a club team, go to a fountain on university campus where the club was founded and bathe there, rain or shine. Imagine hundreds and hundreds of families all drenched in fountain water of questionable origin, squished against one another, jerseys flying around and everything. Love doesn’t get any more real than that.
Some of you might be thinking, why put so much energy and effort into enjoying a soccer match, if you are not even at the stadium? Well, the reason is that we simply don’t have an alternative, it’s not something you can fight off. Let me explain what happens in the mind of a true fútbol aficionado: When the game of interest is on, you could say your Dr. Jekyll goes to rest and your Mr. Hyde takes the lead—a square-minded, soccer-devouring Mr. Hyde. Everything else in life loses importance, all we can talk about, and all we actually want to listen to, is soccer.
For me, this happens in two specific occasions: when Ecuador plays in the South American World Cup qualifiers and when the World Cup is going on. Other tournaments also matter to some extend. Okay, I can watch the Champions League, the EPL or La Liga and be fine, even get excited, but the World Cup is not just another soccer competition. The World Cup is life itself. (And if you don’t do well in the World Cup qualifiers, then you don’t get to go to the World Cup, so there’s that!)
We’re still a ways out from the 2022 World Cup, but next up is the Euro2020, which will take place in such cities as London, Munich and Rome! There will be madness, I promise, and there will be images of crazy fans doing memorable things, you can take my word for it!
If you want to find more information about Copa America in the United States, and learn where you can witness all of us super fanatics doing weird stuff, don’t forget to check out Wanderu’s special #SummerofSoccer 2016 section!