Soccer Watching: Late-night confessions of a World Cup junkie

June 27, 2002 — In a current television commercial, the main character ends up flat on his back in the middle of a crowded sidewalk. He is motionless.

Another man takes the guy’s arm and sees that he’s wearing a bracelet, kind of like a medical I.D. tag. He flips it over and finds the image of a soccer ball.

“It’s all right,” the man announces to the growing crowd. “He just needs some football.”

Lately, I can relate. I’ve been leading a double-life: journalist by day, junkie by night. I’ve been a World Cup fan in America.

It’s been a lonely, nocturnal existence. Japan and South Korea are the tournament hosts this year. And while you are reading this story today, it is probably already tomorrow in Tokyo.

Game times in Georgia have been 2:30 a.m., 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. Not exactly prime time.

But I’ve tried to stay up, or wake up, for many of them. During daylight hours, I walk around like a zombie, my eyes glazed over like soccer balls.

I know there are others out there like me. Friends of mine in New York, and even Atlanta, tell me about late-night and early-morning trips to bars for World Cup watching. Throngs of fans have gathered to watch matches at Major League Soccer stadiums throughout the country. And despite their early-morning starts, the games are drawing a record amount of viewers on television.

But in Gainesville, I often feel like I’m going at this all alone. Bars close before game time. And if they didn’t, I doubt crowds would gather for the games, anyway. Gainesville is the Poultry Capital of the World. I’m not sure where the soccer capital is, but I have a feeling it’s a long way from here.

Tuesday in South Korea, millions and millions of soccer fans took to the streets to watch their countrymen play. I watch matches in my living room, joined only by a bottle of beer and a box of Golden Grahams. At halftime, I step onto my porch — and get serenaded by a chorus of crickets.

I thought about turning my house into an after-hours speak-easy for local soccer fans. But I couldn’t figure out how to advertise it without getting arrested. Maybe I’ll start a self-help group to help those afflicted deal with their World Cup addictions.

There are sure to be some withdrawal symptoms after Sunday morning’s championship match between Brazil and Germany.

It’s nice to know, though, that there are others who have it worse than me. Franklin McIntosh, director of the Lanier Soccer Association, has not missed a match. That means since May 31, he’s seen 62.

“To me, it’s something very special,” said McIntosh, 38, a former professional soccer player originally from football-friendly West Bromwich, England. “But I’m extremely tired right now. It only happens once every four years, so I like to experience it live.”

Often, McIntosh would watch the matches straight through the morning — from 2:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. — and then head off to work, not to return home again until after 10 p.m. Then it’s a quick nap before another night tuned in to ESPN.

“It just depends on how good the middle (5 a.m.) game is,” explained McIntosh. “If the middle game is a real good game, I will watch it. If it’s not, I will tape it and watch it later on in the evening. I’ll watch the 2:30 game, go take a quick nap, and get up for the 7:30 game.”

For most matches, McIntosh, like me, watched alone at home. But when England played, he headed down to the Rose & Crown pub in Buckhead.

“They stayed open extra late,” McIntosh said. “The atmosphere was just unreal. But it only happened for England.”

I have a confession to make. I’ve been a bad, bad American. Last Friday, I stayed up to watch the quarterfinal match between England and Brazil. After England was eliminated, I went to bed at 4:30 a.m. … and set my alarm to sound 2.5 hours later.

I needed to be up in time for the U.S.-Germany match at 7:30 a.m. This was a history-making match and there was no way I was going to miss it. The Americans hadn’t been in the final eight since 1930. They have never made it to a final four.

Now, one of the perks of my profession is that I rarely have to wake up to an alarm. A sports writer’s workday starts late, and ends much later. So sleeping in is not a problem.

Perhaps, then, my lack of practice in clock-programming explains why on Friday I set my alarm for 7 p.m. instead of 7 a.m. Perhaps it explains why I slept through the entire dadgum match.

The U.S. lost 1-0, but that didn’t ease my pain. Now I must wait — at least four more years — to watch the Americans play in the World Cup again.

Maybe in 2006 I won’t feel like such a loner. Maybe this year’s U.S. run has brought some more fans into the World Cup fold.

Last Friday, after I finally woke up, I was pleased to find soccer a topic of discussion on the basketball courts at the Family Life Center. That hadn’t happened before. It hasn’t happened since, either. And likely won’t for at least four more years.

But I’m still talking about the World Cup. I was talking about it Tuesday morning after I watched Germany defeat South Korea. I was talking about it Wednesday morning after I watched Brazil take down Turkey.

And now, I know at least one other person whom I can talk about it with. But even McIntosh is growing weary late in this late-night World Cup.

“I still had a good time watching the matches, but it just seemed more of a job to get up and watch the games,” McIntosh said. “I am so tired right now, it’s unbelievable. I don’t want the Cup to end, but at the same time, I’m ready for it to end.”

Just two more matches to go, Franklin.

I’ll be up for both of them. Right now, though, I need a nap.

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