Although at least seven McNally’s TV sets are tuned to the U.S. vs. Nigeria soccer match, a standing red-clad faction of the pub’s 55 patrons are clumped in a horseshoe around the corner set.
A U.S. player kicks the ball out of bounds. Patrick Finney, draped in an American flag from the bicentennial, puts his head in his hands. The Nigerians get a breakaway but don’t score. “Come on!” Finney and his fellow fans call out in unison.
After a terrific save by U.S. goalie Tim Howard, everyone in red starts singing to the tune of the Mary Poppins song “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”
“Tim Timminy, Tim Timminy, Tim Tim Ter-oo. We’ve got Tim Howard, and he says — you.” The fans, knowing kids might be around, gloss over the obscenity.
All this cheering was for the June 7 friendly match, a prequel to the World Cup. Finney and his group, AO COMO, — the Columbia chapter of the national soccer booster club, American Outlaws — came to warm up for the World Cup, too.
After moving to Columbia, Finney heard about McNally’s watch parties for Sporting Kansas City matches and joined forces with Jay Sparks, an Outlaw and bartender at McNally’s.
Finney says that for soccer fans, the World Cup combines the excitement of March Madness, the spectacle of the Super Bowl and the anticipation of the Olympics.
To local American Outlaws member Josh Blackman, the group shares patriotism and a love of soccer. Those two make for easy camaraderie during regular games and the World Cup.
“One of the most depressing days is the day after the World Cup ends,” Blackman says. “You have to wait three years and 11 months until (the next one). If you’re a soccer fan, you wait.”
World Cup 2014 goes to: Brazil
Memorable soccer moment: Having a penalty kick ricochet off one post and into the other post in overtime at a district finals high school match. His team lost.
Soccer connection: Coached the defense of a high school team in Memphis, Tenn., that finished second in the state in 2012.
Josh Blackman sometimes implements the Free Beer Movement to recruit soccer fans: If he spots someone at a bar who seems tentative about watching soccer, Blackman will buy that person a beer and share his passion for the game.
“Ultimately, soccer is a universal language,” Blackman says. That language works alongside patriotism to bond American Outlaws members together.
Blackman practices other traditions as a member of AO COMO. As a former goalie, he especially loves cheering “Tim Tim Ter-oo” for U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard. Marching into soccer stadiums after tailgating for professional matches is a core tradition, too.
“Obviously, we want to support the USA team, but American Outlaws really pushes the sport in general,” Blackman says.
A few weeks ago, Blackman added another tradition to the group’s repertoire: weekly pick-up soccer games. On Saturday mornings at 9:30, Blackman joins other members and a couple of MU professors and students on Stankowski Field to kick a ball around. And AO COMO attends MU women’s soccer matches to support the Tigers and foster interest in the sport.
World Cup 2014 goes to: He thinks predictions are bad mojo.
Uniform for World Cup viewing: A 1994 U.S. away jersey. (And he’ll either wear or carry his American flag, which his father bought for a bicentennial celebration.)
Level of fandom: He doesn’t have cable TV, except for a month or two every four years for the World Cup since 1994.
When he lived in rural Iowa, Patrick Finney would either watch matches alone in his living room or ask the local bar to change the channel for him.
“It was always pretty lonely in Iowa,” Finney says.
With the American Outlaws, Finney cheers on the men’s team with a 50-member chapter of fans as passionate as he is. He’s scheduled his vacation days with some U.S. matches. Other days, he’ll sequester himself from Facebook and the radio to avoid spoiling the games he’s recorded. After all, he’s waited four years for this event.
Attending the World Cup is a sort of endgame for Finney —“I will make it to the World Cup at some point; I’m sure of it,” he says — but it’s also more than just a goal. He says soccer is the common denominator for the mingling of cultures and people, and the World Cup is the largest time and place for international bonding.
It might sound cheesy, but Finney knows from experience. On a trip through several Middle Eastern countries in 1993, he kicked around with kids in the streets of Bethlehem. In Columbia, he played pick-up soccer with his Egyptian brother-in-law Hamdi Mahmoud and members of the Islamic Center at a picnic.
“It’s like a passport,” Finney says. “We may not be able to speak the same language, but maybe we can string together three passes and score a goal.”
World Cup 2014 goes to: the U.S., despite coach Jürgen Klinsmann’s predictions (alternate predictions: Germany or Spain).
Listens to: ESPN commentator Ian Darke, who calls the games and has a flair for words.
Memorable soccer moment: Landon Donovan’s goal to beat Algeria in the 2010 World Cup.
Being a soccer fan comes with its quirks, even for someone who isn’t normally superstitious. “As soon as we beat Portugal, I’m eating the same thing for breakfast (when we play) against Germany,” Kara Moran says.
She wasn’t always a fan. As an MU student in the early 2000s, Moran played in one intramural match for her sorority because the team was a player short. “I spent most of the time trying to stay out of the way,” she says.
Then, she studied in London and worked for MLB International during the 2002 World Cup. Because the games were broadcast in England in the mornings, her company would bring breakfast into the office, and she and her coworkers would blow off the first couple hours of work to watch the matches. That’s when she started caring about soccer.
Since then, she’s attended three U.S. matches.
The most recent was a World Cup qualifying match against Jamaica in October at Sporting Park in Kansas City. She marched into the stadium with 1,000 national American Outlaws from their tailgate. Singing along to the national anthem with more than 18,000 fans, Moran couldn’t help but cry.
“To just be surrounded by people singing and cheering and going bananas was amazing,” she says.
World Cup 2014 goes to: Brazil
Focuses on: Currently, Jozy Altidore, the U.S. forward who broke a scoring drought that lasted from Dec. 4 to the friendly match against Nigeria on June 7.
Memorable soccer moment: Starting in his first college game.
Texas native Matt Spainhour has been a soccer fan and player since preschool. His family went to his matches and caught professional ones on TV.
“We watched the Cowboys, the Longhorns and soccer matches,” Spainhour says.
When he was about 7, Spainhour and his family attended the Germany-South Korea match of the 1994 World Cup at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Germany fans surrounded his family in the stands. Spainhour says only college football game days come close to the crazed atmosphere at the match that day.
Spainhour’s father, Chris, came up from Texas and joined Spainhour and AO COMO in Kansas City for the U.S.-Jamaica qualifying match in October. “He still talks about (Kansas City) and wants to come up for the next one,” Spainhour says.
This month is going to revolve around the World Cup for Spainhour. Although most of the matches will be on during the daytime,
Spainhour has sacrificed his early mornings to watch World Cups in the past. “I’m not a fanatic, but I do have my certain obsessions,” Spainhour says.
Spainhour is lobbying for AO COMO to not limit its watch parties to U.S. matches. He’d love to watch with fans cheering on other countries. “For every other country but the U.S., (soccer) is a way of life,” Spainhour says. “(The World Cup) is what separates soccer from any other sport. It’s a religious experience.”