I remember playing soccer with my mom, dad and two siblings in our front yard. Our dad had made small wooden goals we used until we were bigger than the goals. I learned how to dribble, juggle and shoot in my front yard using those goals.
I keep on learning how fútbol for millions of people is a deep cultural experience, one that expresses rivalries and tensions going back ages.
I’ll be very honest here. I don’t cheer for the United States when they play. I’m indifferent toward a win. And if Colombia is playing the U.S., then I’m rooting for Los Cafeteros and not the Stars and Stripes.
If I grew up here and I attend a land-grant institution in the heart of Missouri it would make more sense if I were a U.S. fan. The more I’ve thought about it and the more I’ve read about it, I realize it’s because a part of me, whether consciously or unconsciously sympathizes more with the history of Latin America, America’s “backyard.”
Often times the victories Latin American countries score against the U.S. (especially Central American ones) isn’t just one of the underdogs. The underlying context is one of a smaller, less developed country defeating the United States; the country that has long dominated how things are run in the Western Hemisphere. (If you would like examples, I will direct you to a list of U.S.-backed coups and interventions in Latin America here.)
Much goes when these less developed nations play European powerhouses. It’s one of the few ways these developing countries beat the more developed.
This kind of political tension exists throughout the world.
A 2004 Time article reviews a book called “How Soccer Explains the World.”
Franklin Foer notes in his prologue, “During Franco’s rule, the clubs Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad were the only venues where Basque people could express their cultural pride without winding up in jail.”
Even today, when Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad or FC Barcelona play Real Madrid, there’s a deep expression of cultural pride. A win over Real Madrid, a team who was representative of Franco’s reign and power over other parts of Spain, is seen as championing the Basque or Catalan Cause.
Here’s something that might help contextualize these tensions: the rivalry between Missouri and Kansas stems from the Civil War, one being a free state and one being a slave state. And continues to this day, even if we don’t play Kansas anymore.
In part these tensions are passed down from generation to generation. I’ll use myself as an example. My parents hold skepticism toward the U.S.; my mother in particular on its foreign policy. When those conversations would come up as a kid, I only knew my parents perspective. I always wondered why none of my history classes ever really touched on the stories and histories my mother would tell me.