Being in England during the World Cup is interesting. It is a relatively minor sports event in the U.S., but, obviously, not here. A couple of days ago I pulled into a gas station in the Cotswolds to gas up our rental car. I pumped the gas and went inside the station to pay. There was a middle-aged guy at the cash register; he looked at the American Experiment quarter-zip I was wearing…
…and read, “American Experiment. Are you from America?” I said I was. He thumped the counter and said “Respect!” I had no idea what he was talking about but it was clearly a friendly gesture, so I responded, “Thanks!” And he did it again: thumped the counter and said “Respect!” I nodded in what I hoped was a sufficiently friendly manner and started out the door.
Then I realized what was going on. The United States soccer team, a long-shot underdog, had played the English team to a 0-0 draw the day before in what everyone regarded as a spirited performance. He was saying that the American team had won his respect.
It’s funny how excited people can get over a sporting event that ends 0-0. English fans in Qatar were disappointed with their team’s showing and booed when the game was over. This caused all-time English great Wayne Rooney to write an op-ed in London’s Sunday Times:
“I know England fans expect a lot, but sometimes in our football culture we can be stubborn about recognising the qualities of the opposition,” Rooney wrote in his Sunday Times column.
“This is definitely true when it comes to football in the USA. It is better than most people in England think. The standard of American players and American coaching is high and increasing in quality all the time.
“The USA are a good side with a good manager and they play with an exceptional energy which can make them difficult opponents for any team. Not to accept that is simply English prejudice. If England had just drawn with Denmark, fans would not be booing, would they?”
Evidently not. It is an interesting perspective on sports culture in another country, but the reaction of the guy I ran into, who respected a team that fought hard, is universal.