Emotion and Obsession: The Passion of the Fans

Tom Goldman reports on the passionate and sometimes obsessive World Cup fans he's met, ranging from a young woman from Trinidad happy that her team is playing at all, to a British man who has bought insurance to cover the psychological trauma he may suffer if England loses.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Soccer's World Cup officially begins today, a chance for us to take a few minutes to talk about passion. You'll hear a lot about passion during the month long tournament: the passion of the players and the unbridled passion of the fans. Sure, some Americans paint their faces and holler at sporting events, but an entire country obsessed with a 90-minute match?

Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

In general, people from the island of Trinidad are known to be sunny and warm and accommodating. When I called Cherise Moe(ph) in her hometown of Diego Martin this week, she was sunny and warm, but busy at her hairdresser's.

(Soundbite of Cherise Moe's laughter)

Ms. CHERISE MOE (Radio News Editor, Trinidad and Tobago): Well, you know, I'm getting ready for Germany.

GOLDMAN: A couple of hours later, she had her special World Cup do, long braids, she said, which would mean less work on the hair, and more time cheering in Germany for her beloved Trinidad and Tobago. The Soca Warriors, as they're called, are playing in their first-ever World Cup.

Twenty-two-year old radio news editor, Cherise Moe, represents the most common form of World Cup passion; the kind where if you're lucky, like her, to win tickets in a contest, you drop everything and go. It's a passion of pure love, like the kind that permeated Trinidad and Tobago last November when the team qualified for the tournament.

Ms. MOE: People were ecstatic. They had their faces painted. And Soca Warriors - and the very next day, they had Soca Warriors go on tour of the island and they went to different schools. And it was just amazing. They were treated like heroes. I mean, rightly so, because they are doing us proud.

GOLDMAN: As the English players are doing for their island; albeit, a colder and cloudier one. All across that nation, flags are flying and cars are painted with the red and white cross of England. But 35 year old Paul Hucker(ph), a loan broker in Ipswich, knows that deep inside this passion, there's a gut-churning anxiety for a team that traditionally enters the World Cup, highly touted, and leaves way too soon.

Mr. PAUL HUCKER (Loan Broker, England): Is always something traumatic happens, whether it's by penalty shootouts, we go out, whether it's a last minute goal. Everyone goes into a state of depression because it's all over so quickly.

GOLDMAN: But this time, Paul Hucker is ready. He paid just over a hundred pounds for an insurance policy only an Englishman could love.

Mr. HUCKER: It's a policy that covers me against psychological trauma, occasioned by England's premature exit from the World Cup. So premature, I would class, as not winning it.

GOLDMAN: The trauma, he says, would have to be proved by a panel of medical experts. If is his depression is severe, the policy pays a million pounds. Hucker says he's a happily married father of three, and puts the odds of him winning a million at 10,000 to one. Lucky for Hucker, who'd rather England wins the World Cup, the team is given much better odds, seven to one.

But long before that might happen, there's a notable match scheduled for next Thursday in Nuremberg: England versus Trinidad and Tobago, what a clash of passions that will be.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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