Looking back I was not a huge soccer fan by any means.  In 1998 I was part of my high school exchange with families in Germany.  We ended up touring Paris at the end of our 3-week stay in Germany for two days.  At the time I certainly noticed the FIFA World Cup was happening in Paris, but as a first time visitor, I just assumed the large crowds were part of the cities’ overall popularity.  I do remember seeing a soccer stadium from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

My overall reaction in 1998: Meh…

Fast forward to 2001 and I meet my future husband while playing basketball at open gym during college.  He played soccer in high school and is a big fan. After dating for about six months, he graduates and moves to Illinois to start working.  I fly to Tokyo for a summer internship program with the railway company. I write more about my time in Japan here and here.

Part of my internship, besides writing a marketing plan to increase ridership of foreign tourists, included assessing how easy it is for an English speaking passenger to ride the railroad.

My scrapbook page including a guide for the 2002 World Cup fans
My scrapbook page including a guide for the 2002 World Cup fans

As I wrote above, there were a lot of Football Guides for fans located at stations near stadiums.  We also learned the IMMENSE amount of preparation that Yokohama station underwent to make sure everything went smoothly for game days.  All station employees knew SOME English, so they could assist non-Japanese speaking riders too.  I’m pictured on the page above (see tall girl in the middle) when I helped teach station employees English for one morning.  I also worked in the station for a bit and was proud to help an English speaking tourist find his way.

Internship aside, the 2002 World Cup was split between Japan and Korea, so it had a different feel. Being in Tokyo I wasn’t too close (nor too far) from a stadium, but I didn’t have tickets to any games.  Japan didn’t host many public viewing sites (or if they did, I didn’t know about them in Tokyo), so my watching of games was limited to my tiny apartment. Wild and exciting, right?!

My overall reaction in 2002: Football (as the rest of the world calls it) is kind of cool

In March 2005 that same boyfriend from college drove across several states, so we could finally live in the same city, after having a long-distance relationship for a few years.  He proposed and I said YES!  We had a mini-moon right after our wedding in Wisconsin, and then went to Germany in June 2006 for our proper honeymoon, which included going to a World Cup game.

The World Cup was EVERYWHERE in Germany!

World Cup 2002 in Germany.  Murals painted on the ceiling of the train station, fans in the street.
World Cup 2002 in Germany. Zidane  & Ballack mural painted on the ceiling of the train station, fans in the street.

It was unlike anything I had seen before when in Tokyo or Paris.  I couldn’t help but get swept up in the excitement of the World Cup along with my husband (then just Mr. O.).

One of our favorite nights - watching Germany play at a public viewing in a outer-lying area of Stuttgart
One of our favorite nights – watching Germany play at a public viewing in a outer-lying area of Stuttgart – amazing beer and a win for Germany

Mr. O. had to request tickets even before he had proposed to me, so we were unsure which game we would even see.  It ended up being England versus Ecuador in the qualifying round. Here we are before the game:

Game Day - being photo-bombed by a English fan!
Game Day – being photo-bombed by a English fan! (and we kind of look like tourists here! I remember security took our extra camera batteries, telling us that they could be thrown and hurt someone – really?!)

We ended up sitting by some German fans, who were, like us, more neutral fans at the game.  The England fans were in full force with A LOT of cheers and flags decorating the stadium.

Mr. and Mrs. O. at the England - Ecuador Game in Stuttgart 2006 World Cup
Scenes from the England – Ecuador Game we went to in Stuttgart, 2006 World Cup

England ended up winning 1-0 on a penalty kick by David Beckham.  It was a pretty awesome, once-in-a-lifetime experience!

My overall reaction in 2006: World Cup Football IS awesome!

Though we haven’t been to other World Cup games since our honeymoon (and we certainly are NOT in Brazil), I am still a World Cup fan.  It IS always impressive to see teams and athletes competing at the top of their sport.  Being that it only happens every four years makes it all the more special.

I’ll be watching the USA play Germany with Daddy O. and our two kids (who will hopefully cooperate during the entire match). I’ll be cheering for USA of course, but have a soft spot in my heart for Germany, where I finally became a World Cup fan in 2006.

How do you feel about soccer and the World Cup?  Has your level of fan-dom changed over the years like mine did?