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Our City: “Down With the Old World, Here’s to the New”

Watching the World Cup with a historian can be a really complicated affair, especially when it comes to deciding allegiances

Colombia v England: Round of 16 - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

In the run-up to the World Cup, genetics company 23andMe looked to capitalize on the scramble of soccer fans in the United States, searching for an alternative team to support. Most fans of the game here in the States have long formed bonds with second and third teams from around the world. While some fans here in the states have links to Latin American sides, many hyphenated Americans or those with just a loose sense of their ancestry have long supported old world teams like Italy, Spain, Germany, or Poland.

This is anecdotal of course, and plenty of soccer fans here support popular teams like Brazil and Argentina due to their historic talent or England due to the commercial success of the EPL in the States.

Despite being an admitted American soccer nationalist for both the national teams and the domestic leagues, I’ve always followed Welsh soccer with a passion and the English team with a passing interest. Wales because my great-grandfather immigrated from there and England because of some ties that stretch back to when my relatives immigrated to the newly founded colony of Rhode Island and some of my other ancestors were deported to the penal colony of Georgia for unknown crimes. My family has constructed a Welsh-American heritage which I eagerly engage with.

None of this is exceptional, I’m sure most of the American readers of this blog have similarly constructed personal narratives that explain their support for a foreign team, or maybe you just took advantage of the 23andMe World Cup feature.

I wouldn’t think much about this if it weren’t for the fact that I was writing a lecture about the run-up to the American Revolution while watching Colombia vs. England. Writing about the United States breaking away from England while watching the game. I realized that simultaneously hoping our former colonizers would triumph over our fellow formerly colonized, while writing a lecture on just why we had to create our permanent break, felt ironic.

Why wasn’t I supporting Colombia — a country with a similar narrative of independence and that had created a representative government instead of answering to a far-off king? Most of South America, and many countries in Africa and Asia, share a common experience in throwing off colonialism, and many have used the American Revolution’s language as inspiration for their own.

Through its nature, history always complicates any situation that you think it will simplify. This perspective of decolonization is undone by a more complex modern history. The United States reoriented itself after independence back towards Europe and began imperial ambitions of its own. The 1823 Monroe Doctrine was on the surface a policy that looked to stand in solidarity against European interest in the Americas. In reality it suggested that the United States could aggressively intervene in the Western Hemisphere. Combine this history with the proxy wars of the Cold War and aggressive global capitalism, the United States hasn’t been the good neighbor to fellow anti-colonialists we could have been.

It is that modern history that of course clouds most of the relationships within our hemisphere. While this might explain why I have more English flag emojis running across my timeline than Colombian, it has me reconsidering my orientations. I can’t see myself pulling a Landon Donovan and rooting for Mexico in the future, but perhaps it means I can give a more interested eye towards teams beyond my loosely based heritage.

Still, linking cultural bridges in difficult political times between the United States and Latin America and realizing how much we have historically in common makes me wonder if maybe soccer could be that bridge as it has been so many times in the past.