Purple shirts and politics

Finding Florence

Kelly Laffey
November 13, 2008

It's long been known that soccer, appreciated all over the world for its display of agility and athleticism, does not enjoy a high status in U.S. sports. Someone once explained this phenomenon to me in a very simple manner. Unlike the rest of the world, Americans are perturbed by the fact that games can end in a tie; we want a decisive victory. Still, as an avid sports fan and as an avid fan of immersing myself in Italian culture, I knew that I had to view the sport in all of its European glory.


Walking into Old Stove pub on Wednesday night to watch the Viola battle Bayern Monaco, I noticed the quietness as the Fiorentina fans, only a few of whom were wearing team colors, sat deep in concentration, eyes fixed on the screen. I cautiously picked my way through the labyrinth of seats, afraid to disturb anyone's meditative state. As I approached the bar, seriously contemplating whether the word ‘pub' is akin to ‘football' in that both enjoy a different meaning on either side of the Atlantic, I quietly asked the bartender why everyone was so quiet. Apparently, Italian fans are afraid that any outbursts will destroy the aura of the event, and no one wants to be responsible for causing a Fiorentina loss.


I grabbed a seat, the bright purple color of my shirt a beacon of foreignness in the sea of black and brown leather. In time, I understood that the attentiveness (and occasional chorus of cheers and boos), indicates deep team loyalty. As I began to sense the energy and excitement, I found myself intensely focusing on the television, too.


It may be part of the game-watching ritual to praise and curse the players under one's breath. At least that's what the guy sitting behind me was doing. I kept turning back to ask him what certain words meant and, ever courteous, he answered my questions.


After the game, he asked me in Italian what I thought about the U.S. election and I was amazed, as always, about how much of an influence American politics has on the rest of the world. Everyone has an opinion to contribute. Yet unlike every other European with whom I'd had this discussion, my new friend supported John McCain. We had an entire conversation, in a mix of Italian and hand gestures, about why he thought Obama would not lead the United States in the direction that it needs to go, and this political discussion with an Italian ‘Republican' showed me another facet of modern Italian life.


By the way, my theory on soccer's unpopularity in the U.S, was proved wrong. As the Fiorentina fans left the bar, shaking their heads and mumbling in frustration I realized that no one likes a game to end in a draw.




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