By Michael Kahn
NATAL Brazil (Reuters) – Americans are starting to get a little rowdy at the World Cup in Brazil and that’s just dandy for fans whose devotion highlights a growing football culture in a nation slow to embrace the world’s most popular game.
Whether they call it football or soccer, U.S. supporters reveling in Monday’s 2-1 win against Ghana are helping foster the kind of tribal and community ties that make the sport, and especially the World Cup, an indispensable event for many nations across the globe.
Guy Cross, an American born to an English father, has long supported the U.S. national team but said in the early days going to a game was a frustrating experience for someone used to a livelier atmosphere.
“I remember France in 1998 and sitting in the stands where people didn’t know any songs,” said Cross. “They couldn’t even sing Yankee Doodle Dandy.
“But it’s definitely evolved over the last 20 years. The support is more intense and broader and people are more knowledgeable about the game.”
Ahead of the U.S. opening match against Ghana in Natal, face-painted and flag-waving fans gathered at a local pizzeria near the stadium.
The dress code ranged from traditional team kit to super-hero chic to creative uses of an American flag as hundreds of boisterous fans balanced their beers and took turns batting a beach ball around a large hall.
Jordan Armstrong, 32, ready for the game dressed as the Duff Beer man from the Simpson’s, said he sees a growing commitment from U.S. supporters who have adopted traditions from home and abroad to fuel a burgeoning soccer culture.
“This wasn’t given to us as fandom by our parents,” he said. “Hopefully we are the generation that can pass this on.
“Other countries have a century plus history of football culture. We have something like 15 years.”
The increasing passion of U.S. fans has mirrored growth of the game at home, where it competes for attention with the established sports of American Football, ice hockey and basketball.
More than 13 million Americans play soccer while Major League Soccer (MLS) stadiums average around 18,000 supporters for each game — more than the professional leagues of many traditional footballing nations.
Many Americans are also now as dedicated as their foreign counterparts, flying across the globe to follow their team from qualification games to the World Cup as did Korey Donahoo who attended six of the 10 U.S. matches on the road to Brazil.
The 31-year-old founder of the American Outlaws supporters group, which with around 20,000 members is one of the U.S. soccer team’s biggest, said a real culture is evolving as American aficionados adopt chants and traditions from other countries and sports.
“Just like America it’s a melting pot of different things,” Donahoo said.
“We jump around in our section at national games like students do at a university basketball game and we have things like drums in South American countries and chants from European countries.”
Supporters agree that what defines U.S. soccer culture is a positive attitude both toward the team and for fellow and opposing fans.
When Ghana equalized against the United States in their World Cup opener, American supporters continued to roar their support and chanted “We believe, we believe, we believe, we will win” until the whistle blew to end the game.
(Editing by Iain Rogers)