Thursday, June 28, 2012

Becoming a football fan

Well, in plainspeak it's actually soccer, but whatever, this is Europe.

For someone who genuinely finds sports generally uninteresting, this is actually quite a development. Up until my move to Finland I actually avoided sporting events. Like if someone offered me free tickets to see something live, sure I would go and see it, but other than that I would actually mostly do something else with my free time. There was the occasional Superbowl party or various other American football parties, but that was mostly so I could eat all of the amazing finger foods and drink booze with my friends, not for the sake of the sport.

So who could have predicted I would actually find myself loving a real sport? And watching it with actual fervor? Well, not this one (points at self).

It all started when my friend German K asked if I wanted to support her team at a local sports bar after the VIP Kiasma event. Since I didn't have anything else to do and I was feeling pretty fine, I said sure and met her there. Hilariously overdressed in my dressed-to-kill outfit, I was certainly out of place, but since I was spectacularly early I managed to snag us front row seats to the big screen there.

Then I immersed myself into the world of football. And boy, was it glorious.

First, as most people probably know or could easily suspect, Germany's football team happens to be one of the best teams, if not the best team, currently playing in the championships. I didn't know this beforehand, of course, so rooting for her team was just a given (since I was there to support her). But when your team is good and they're winning, man, that puts a whole new spin on things. I was used to rooting for the whatever team that did however.

Second, she was into it enough to bring one of those flag crayon/markers with her. Observe:

If you drag it hard enough across your skin, it makes little German flags. She had us paint one somewhere on our bodies for the start of the game and insisted we paint another one for every goal her team scored. Let's just say we were painted with flags by the end of the game.

I was hooked. The air in these sports bars, with so many fans who actually care is downright infectious. I knew I would be coming back. And coming back for subsequent games I definitely have. And will. Until this Sunday, in fact, when the finals are.

So, there are many things for me to share about this newfound love of football. All of them revolve around the bar that my friends and I also frequent in order to watch these matches (since few of us actually bother paying for live tv). Oddly this bar is called Elmo's, like the furry red creature that outsold every other toy that one year and had mothers clawing at each other like ravenous zombies. But I digress.

Here are the glorious things I've observed at said sports bar:

1. You must arrive proportionately earlier and earlier as the games get closer and closer to the finals.

When we first started watching the matches, it was just sort of the whatever games. It was not yet time for elimination or if it was it was still double elimination or something (little fuzzy on the rules, to be honest), so people were amped, but not that amped to make sure they saw the game on time. As the finals close in we've had to stake out our location far in advance to make sure we actually have enough space for our group (which has likewise been getting larger and larger).

Case in point: the semi-final between Spain and Portugal yesterday had us arriving at an hour and 15 minutes before the actual game was to start. We did in fact get the seats we wished from the previous time (which is in a private back room with comfy sofas and a nice big screen tv), but there was barely enough space with us and two other parties to fit our entire group:

2. Bar food is in fact, delicious, but it is also expensive.

Or at least in Finland it is. This particular sports bar has a really vast menu - waffle fries, chicken fingers, pizzas, hamburgers, salads, desserts's pretty extensive. However, any item on there will cost you around 9euros at least (like waffle fries), and more gourmet things (like hamburgers or salads) are around a whopping 12-15euros.

Lesson learned: order finger food. I made the mistake last night of ordering a chicken caesar salad because I really wanted one (good salads are really hard to come by's ridiculous) but the time spent cutting and eating my salad distracted me from watching the game and I eventually gave up in a huffed fury. I need my eyes for sports, not for eating! I set my plate down and resumed during half time.

This is why you order things like beloved nachos:

The nachos at this place are actually halfway decent. They're warm at least, and have something resembling nacho cheese on them (what it actually is, I'm not really's not actually cheese, in the normal sense of things). It does come with pickled jalapenos though, as well as chopped onions and the option of chicken, so I give it my grudging thumbs up. This is as close as Helsinki gets I think.

3. This is the one place, ever, on Earth, where you will find a queue for the men's bathrooms, but not the women's.

And this fact is simply glorious. I went during half time the first time I was there, expecting that I would need to elbow a Finn or two to make sure I could get back to my seat in time but when I got there...the bathroom was completely empty. I mean absolutely no one in the facility. Now as the finals approach this has become less true, but I've still only waited as the first person in line at worst. Pretty sure that as a woman I can't consider this actually standing in line. I actually hit men with the bathroom door on the way out. I won't lie: I do giggle to myself everytime this happens.

4. The Finnish commentary is well...Finnish.

This particular bar obviously caters to the Finnish crowd. This makes sense of course, because we are in Finland. This means, naturally, that the commentary is also in Finnish. Which very few (sometimes if any) of my group understand. This means we've taken to ignoring the commentary. I've come to understand that under normal circumstances the commentary is actually quite helpful, but having never experienced such a thing I'm going to pretend that commentary is for the weak - I can clearly understand what is happening in the game, even without the men telling me what is happening between such and such player (I can read their names...what else could they possibly be telling me?...okay, I know there's more).

But one of the funniest things about this is...the commentary is still very Finnish. Even if I can't understand what they are saying, you can still tell that it's very Finnish in nature. When goals occur, even if the bar isn't loud (which it usually is), you can't hear the announcers say anything. I'm pretty sure there would be a very polite and meek, "Goal." in Finnish. None of this long, drawn-out, passionate, "GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!!" business that we hear so much about from Mexican and/or Spanish commentary. I laugh to myself.

5. You always send someone as the envoy to the bar.

Should your group actually want something from the bar, whether it be food or drink, you send an envoy. One person to stand in the queue. Because to go as an individual would be foolish, not to mention time consuming. As games get closer to finals and time on the clocks gets further to the end, fewer envoys are sent out and orders get more massive. Sometimes envoys go in pairs just so there are enough hands to carry the order. Luckily food gets delivered to you, so that takes away some of the problem.

6. Making friends with the doorman gives you no special advantages (at least not yet).

The doorman has come to recognize our group, since we're there several times a week (every time there is a game on that we need to see - i.e. one of our friends' respective countries is playing or it's a semi-final/final). We're a pretty easily-recognizable bunch, being those weird foreigners, and he now knows us. However, despite our sweet talking and smiles, he still has yet to give us any sort of discount. I even made a joke about it to him last night and he just smiled and sort of snorted. Pretty sure bargaining doesn't exist here. Damn.

7. Pretty sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.

This is just my first sport love. What is next from here? Hockey? Curling? Cell phone throwing??? The possibilities are endless, but I definitely welcome them. Because if what I've seen from football is any indication of what loving sports is like, then I look forward to any future sports love. It seems to bring together people from all countries and eventually we're all rooting for the same team.


  1. Spanish commentators talk through the whole game, especially when Spain's playing. They say the most ridiculous stuff like "Spain's the best. Spain's going to be the Euro cup champion, champion of the world!!" and when Portugal missed their goals, there was a lot of "Bien!" haha

  2. I may be late in congratulating you, but welcome to the wide world of sports enthusiatics! We're a loud bunch with large hearts, spreading our sport love, except to whatever team/fans are going against us ;)

    Also, very happy that football (soccer) is your first love. As a fellow American, I appreciate the rarity of another fan!