my first experience with a high-level football game (soccer) came from being near stadiums in South America and Europe where matches were played. the noise levels from the crowds cheering and singing was infectious. I had never heard such crowds in the states at sporting events and said that one day, I will go see a match. that happened of all places in Malaysia. yes, it was in Malaysia where we watch a Swiss team play a Korean or Japanese team. I don’t think I was all that impressed with the game, but I did find the fans from each countries teams fun to watch and be around. a Swiss man somehow brought a gigantic cowbell to the match, while he was dressing in alpine garb sweating profusely from the heat and humidity with the climate. (disclaimer – there was an idea for this writing, but it went in its own, god knows where ramble on direction)
growing up, the game of soccer was one that simply would be like American football in the rest of the world. there were few fans and the sport was not organized like the bigger sports of baseball, football, and basketball. My best friend played soccer and while we got along fine, it was the odd rivalry and stupidity of the coaches arguing over who had better athletes that overshadowed the games. what I do know is last night I watched Spain and Portugal and the caliber of watching the professional teams in Europe makes the games in the USA seem like kids playing on a sandlot. you can see why so many kids globally want to grow up to be a soccer player. the other part is it is not a game heavy on barriers to entry. you have a ball, a field, some people and voila – you can have fun playing the game.
my appreciation for football happened when I would try to watch and understand the European and the fervor of the world cup. the main motivation was what seemed to be the oddity of cities being picked. FIFA was a bit like the Olympics in one always heard rumblings of not so kosher antics behind the scene. I guess everything changed when the Olympics became a piggy bank for the organization and professionals, more than an athletic event for pure amateurs. I don't really want to see a dream team picked from the top ranks of pro sports any more than I want to see a team brought up from nationalized sports machine and says, “we don’t pay them for sport, they are (insert some occupation)”
it wasn’t till I went to Switzerland that I was given a gig watching doors (you think I am kidding…all your experience and work around the planet means little when you go to another country, don’t speak the language, and has a climate of “you aren’t one of us, we haven’t known you for 23 years and have all your family DNA strands safely tucked in a vault in a mountain.” there is a proverb I do love, “the Swiss farmer doesn’t eat that which he doesn’t know.”
the same applies to people, intimacy, and the idea of you need fun or a different way to think to be sanctioned. it is very orderly, rigid, clean, neat, quiet….and if you go from a larger city, you probably have several amazing international cities, yet, you get outside of them and you can literally walk back to towns that resemble more a climate grew up in…the sleepy farm town village. there are a great charm and beauty of such places and they are great spaces to raise kids and a family – but if you are an inventor nerd…it is a bit of a clash of ways of thinking and doing.
how was that digression?
so with having traveled the world and doing a few thousand shows, building up licenses and brands, prototypes, r&d – you think I had enough skills to get some gigs in this area of Switzerland. it would not really matter if I had seven PhD’s I could not speak the language, much less understood the cultural aspects of immigration vs. expatism. I was paying for a language class which was simply all the refugee’s that the country took in. this was more educational for me with my classmates than was more “learn by rote, memorize, and regurgitate” old school teaching methods. I confess I learned more with babbel.com than I have in a series of classes where I am not sure if they were teaching high German or swiss indoctrination classes? the hard part is that Swiss German is a spoken or local dialect that sounds nothing like high German. it would be like me sending you to Omaha, Nebraska to speak fluent Arabic. it is not that it can’t be done, but there is an easier way.
my lucky break came with Elton John and a show he did there. there were some local men simply either felt sorry for me, or thought, “hey, he knows what he is doing.” and that show was a bit of fun, except I didn’t have to speak any German, rather talk to the band and crew with the “funny accent” of the way they spoke English. they asked, “want to work some football games?”
I did what they wanted, and I am sure this professional football team got a few laughs about the American guy with all the credentials simply wanting to work and do something while I was there in the country. so I get asked to come to show up at some game where perhaps I could watch a door or something. I think the idea was, “we don’t want the fans to get scared of feel intimidated by the Securitas uniformed folks in the stadium…we want a softer layer as they get to their seats.” so I show up, some guy with the management skills of a rock looks me up and down and says, “he is worthless to me, I only want people that speak Swiss German!” and he walks away and another guy comes over and says, “we have no need for you, do you want to watch a game?”
I was thinking, “wtf?” kept my cool and said, “sorry man, I don’t know anything about football, really have no interest in the sport, and am new to your country and came here to work.”
that is when the man that I did work for with the Elton John show saw what was happening and asked the other guy, “what is going on?” the man who epitomized the reason why the writer mark twain came up with his famous quote about travel dismissed him and me and he said, “so I am free to take him? he does good work.”
that is how I got to guard locker rooms for professional football in Switzerland. it was a hoot. I was the one person in the group that knew nothing about the sport, really wasn't a fan of it, and I watched much like the time playing and then working around entertainment and sport with acts, the NFL, NBA – what I was seeing was a watered down version of operations at a high level. so yes, I started asking a lot of questions when watching the doors. it gave me a unique opportunity to a) do something in the country b) try to assimilate and understand how to use the trains, navigate, and fit in c) attempt to speak language. I mean, it was that simple. I was a duck out of water – knew one person and their family – had a suitcase and voila…”welcome to Switzerland!”
forgive me if I seem to be making a joke or sarcastic about what I am writing, as it was many times painful to go into the country. my journey is nothing like my classmates who had really no choice but to flee wherever they were on the planet, but If you are not Swiss, despite how polite the Swiss culture is – you are an outsider until …(I am still trying to understand how many years that takes to assimilate?) so the lesson of humility and getting your ass kicked while not much fun – was invaluable for me growing and learning about cultures. my weakness is that I will call a spade a spade, a heart a heart….that is a bit too direct for many.
but the football? that was a treat to learn about. the athletes were remarkable in that they are more like long distance runners that have scary foot-eye coordination and agility. I say the same think about the NFL, on tv, they look nothing like, nor do you see the speed of the game unless you are on the field. watching professional soccer with one world class team FC Basil, was a treat. it was part athleticism meeting a sort of free-form artistic poetry. you threw in the bad acting with the idea of fouls and people glancing each other producing such violent reactions of players writing on the ground in seeming life ending agony.
“what happened to him? is he going to die?”
“it was a frightful collision, his pinkie glanced the other guy's thumb."
while there are bad injuries with sprains, knees, ankles and broken legs, it certainly is nothing like you saw with the frequencies of American football with human intentionally running into each other.
I also learned about rabies in humans with the fans, and I think in Switzerland, you probably have the most polite fans in the world. it is like Japan…it is a cultural thing where most of the time people behave rather well. you don’t have as much of the disease of ego and I-am-so-special-itis that you see in the states. you do, but it is called false-humility-itis of which I don’t have enough time to chat about that here. so there is a group of fans that are I guess the boosters who go and put on a small show behind the home teams stands. they can do intricate pre-game shows with graphics, lob all sorts of fireworks and flares before a game and actually cover the stadium in a cloud of smoke like a Uriah Heep concert in the 1970’s.
there was one team FC Basil. which is probably the best team in Switzerland that travels with a group of lads that were built more like NFL lineman to act as buffer between their team and wherever they traveled to. it is ironic to remember this is the same team that has their own train that they travel with that liked lobbing empty bottles at the train station, of which the police did tell us “move back” what I didn’t understand was “drunken idiot fans from the other team, who are probably well respected members of society and like most swiss don’t have any financial cares in the world about where their next meal will come from…they will soon be coming past and they think it is fun to lob projectiles at the train stations.” my god, I still remember the look on the older grandmas face when she almost got beaned on the trains platform and the glass shattered all round her. you didn’t need words to tell what she was thinking. a little ole grandma…what did she do?
maybe that is what I think of the fans. I see it more in the USA where ridiculous behavior is something that is somehow accepted today. just because you bought a ticket, does not give you the right to act a fool. you are not part of the team, you are not playing the game – you can yell, scream and root all you want – have a good time. but the ticket does not give you some right to act an idiot. with football, you have the passionate fans that somehow are part of the “fan club” and a football game is somehow a license for some people to drink way too much and act stupid.
have I really talked about the sport much? not really, I am sorry about that. there was an idea of how I learned about football. I have to thank my boss at FC St. Gallen for explaining the strategy, tactics and rules of the game to me. he was a nice guy. it was odd to see the difference between a professional USA and even major college locker room versus the pro level in Switzerland. I thought it would be nicer.
the executive staff with sports is very much the same in Europe and the USA. giant egos and people all playing some game to get to the top of the food chain. it was nice to sit and watch the culture working. I had already been there and done that in my life, so the irony of watching a door was rather interesting from a cultural difference standpoint.
oh, the referees were interesting. they were the best dressed travel group I have ever seen. I joked they would walk in looking like wearing fashion designer suits and resembling a boy band of sorts. I wish I had a body type to wear suits like that – nice euro-sleep garments. I guess you call that a footballer body type. tall, thin, not tiny, but not muscular – able to run for a few hours and has agility and some speed too. I was a linebacker, so basically I look and looked like a muscular frog. if you put me into the footballers euro-sleek garments. I would look like a circus clown with a fat ass sticking out.
the players? I really don’t know any of them. there is a fascinating “team” mentality to all areas of Swiss life. people come up and shake your hand and you greet, yet, I have no clue who they are, nor do they really care who I am. call it part of some bigger organizational cycle or way of life? the players were cool. I thought they all were making millions a year, but In the Swiss league, not too many are at that level. I will confess there was far less ego with the players than I see than their American counterparts. the only area there was equality was the ego of the top management.
there was commonality in the groundskeepers and the training and support staff of the teams. it didn’t matter if it was the home or the visiting team, there was a simplicity of rapport and “can you get this done...I need this..where do I find that…” you had a few folks that were what I would call legalists in that they forgot that it is a dynamic live game, and not a static never changing way of life – but that was a tiny minority, not the majority. I still giggle in the class system of breaks and I think the crew food was the worst I have seen…you got a hotdog? or was it a bratwurst? it is funny, I went from traveling catering to a hot dog. to get a decent coffee my boss would procure actual coffee versus the instant stuff in the crew room.
that brings me to the media, and how I think a few folks in European media think they must in some way be “special.” I attribute this to the USA media and inside its own ecosystem not realizing they are ½ of the problem with the relationship with reporting news. I swear a few Swiss people grew up in the barn, were rude, and unable to understand, “hey I don't make the rule, no, you can’t just barge into the locker room.” I am sure a lot of the Swiss media went to management and complained. that is how it works there, it is not addressed to your face, but rather, behind your back…”so and so did this or that…” the Swiss don’t like confrontation or conflict so much. part of the cultural friction is if you are blunt and direct – it doesn’t go well in a world that has many small segmentations of the way things are done – yet, no rule book.
what does all this have to do with the sport of football? it all taught me to look beyond the human silliness of all the hype that goes around the sport, and watch the actual games and players and give credit and respect where it is do. these are talented athletes that are competing as a professionals. I truly had to marvel at some of the moments I got to see with the performance levels and things people did with a ball on a pitch.
what was interesting though, and what I so wish I could have had a camera and taken photos of, was what no one really sees when a player gets pulled, thrown out, injured, or makes a mistake that cost his team a game. what photos they would have made and there were only 1-2 people that got to see that anguish, anger, or frustrated upsetness with self in a team sport. it makes the heart of any athlete blend into one seeming river that is the love of competing and sport. the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. this moment was before the game ended and the media was allowed to come into the space. it was beautiful in that the pure rawness of the moment was allowed to happen. maybe it was relatable as I knew how the players felt from various times in my life.
when I saw that genuine heart and soul coming from the players, it was when I did take a moment to watch the game with a different set of eyes. when I could, I would watch them warm up and prepare to play a bit differently. with my old boss’s tutelage, the rules came into understanding and almost like watching polo ponies play…I watched the players do that athletic sort of ballet with a ball and their heads and feet. the pace of the game with the time, meant that a game was “about a few hours long…not much more, not much less.” and I became an admirer of football.
the quality and level of football inside the USA is not what it is on the global stage. it will come in time, much like you see globalization and mega organizations buying up things where the players will one day simply be robots. humans won’t have the skills, sense, speed or power to compete. it will be robotic everything as I guess humans could very well simply watch.
you can laugh. but look at all the movie releases with superhero this or that today. it is simply foreshadowing for the future when for that secular world, the robotic sports world will mean you don’t have to pay humans as much, you just make a bunch of robots and put a different color/name/brand upon it. when I spent a year in Sausalito working on what was the basis for the tech cave and you show…many nights my dinner mates were the guys doing the robot wars tv show.
I shudder to think what football will be like in 50 years…with robots. what will the fan experience be? or will it be deemed unsafe for mega stadiums to be filled, so a form of television or voxel 3d imaging will beam the game around some holodeck inside everyone’s living space where your virtual self-will congregate with other virtual people and it will be called a “social experience” yet the reality is that everyone is alone?
interesting times indeed. last night I did watch Spain vs Portugal, even though I knew the score. it had me say, “yeah, this is the top levels of football…the USA has a way to go.”
Iceland plays today and I think Argentina…Switzerland on Sunday. I think they play Brazil. my friends in Switzerland are Brazilian fans, so maybe I make a weighted wager for cups of coffee…I wonder how many goals they will give me as a handicap? wouldn’t it be cool if Iceland and Switzerland won?
not one clue what I blabbed on about…I think I am seeing that elderly grandmas face in my memory when the FC basil fan train blew by the station and they lobbed bottles for reasons I will never understand…especially in a country like Switzerland.