For the Love of Soccer (in China)

Cannavaro (L) and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon watch play against. Egypt during their Confederations Cup soccer match at Ellis Park.
Italy, John's longtime favorite team in European football (photo from Muhammad Ghafari's Flickr stream)

For John and I, the arrival of the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship felt like Christmas in the summer. Ever since we returned from our vacation, we’ve bounded out of bed each morning with the excitement of children desperate to unwrap their holiday presents, and flicked on the TV to enjoy yet another soccer match. Half the fun, though, is watching the matches with my husband, who still remains a veritable walking Wikipedia of all things football after all his years of playing the game and enjoying it as a fan. It’s as if my love for John has translated into a love for the beautiful game he enjoys so much.

But it didn’t start out that way, as John reminded me of recently.

Eight years ago, Euro Cup 2004 was on, which meant yet another round of soccer matches every single day — or in China’s case, every night. After all, with the time difference, CCTV would broadcast the games well after midnight, with some games as late as 2:45am.

Back then, I didn’t even know that the Euro Cup existed. I wasn’t mentioning it weeks before it started, like this one, or pointing it out every time I saw a commercial or a reference to it at a bar on the street. Euro Cup had nothing to do with me in 2004 — at least, not until John started watching.

Now summer in Shanghai, if you’ve never experienced it, is the closest you’ll get to living inside a sauna around the clock. On top of this, the way China sets Beijing time means that, in the summer, the sun rises at an ungodly hour (often close to 4:30am). Back then in 2004, I either cranked on the stuffy air conditioning at night or simply sweated it out in little more than my underwear — and sometimes would wear a sleeping mask because the curtains still didn’t really block the sun’s rays in the morning. Not exactly your ideal destination for the ultimate summer rest.

It never took much to rouse me out of sleep during summers in Shanghai. In the case of that June 2004, deep in the Euro Cup, I suddenly awoke in the middle of the night to the hum of soccer fans and just audible play-by-play commentary for the match, as well as the light from a television opposite our bed. There sat John propped up against a pillow, as absorbed in the match as I should have been in dreams. I don’t really remember what I said to John, my soon-to-be husband (who I never realized would sacrifice his sleep for a good game), but I’m sure it involved a little profanity and also a reminder that I had to get up very early for work the next morning.

As I recall, he did this only one more time during that tournament before his guilt kicked in — the realization that I was the breadwinner for our household and deserved a little sleep, and that he could watch the matches on rebroadcast during the day.

I didn’t really learn to love soccer until we returned to the US — and the far-more relationship friendly viewing times for soccer matches, times that never fell into the midnight hours. Maybe the fact that we could watch together, without wrecking our sleep, made the game all the more beautiful for me. In fact, during the 2010 World Cup, I often woke him up for the matches and cheered even louder than him, especially when I watched Spain — a favorite country of mine — take the title.

John always likes to say soccer fans in China are really xīnkǔ (辛苦, have it hard) because of the time differences between soccer matches. Only the most tiěgǎn (铁杆, diehard) fans dare to awaken in the middle of the night to catch a live match during the World Cup or Euro Cup, like John. But now he even calls me a tiěgǎn soccer fan, so I can’t help but wonder — after we move to China, will I be the one waking him up over a late night match? 😉

How has your spouse’s love for a sport affected you and your relationship? Did you learn to love that sport more because of them?

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16 thoughts on “For the Love of Soccer (in China)

  • June 11, 2012 at 8:16 am
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    I totally don’t care about football but I’m polish so watching the first opening game this year was kind of duty for me 😉 And my boyfriend loves football so we watch it togeter now, even if it means that we have to stay up so late. Even the tsingtao beer is cheaper now in the local store and I dare to say that the discount is especially for me 😉 (since I’m the only foreigner living in this area and they know that I’m a Pole).

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  • June 11, 2012 at 8:55 am
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    It is nice to know that in a sense John inducted you into the crazy world of football or more precisely soccer. Because most Malaysians watch the EPL (English Premier League) most of us support England. I am no different. But England rarely perform well at the international level and I am getting fed up with them. So, I am switching my support to Spain who play beautiful football. They deserve to win this years’s Euro Cup, just as they deserved to win the last World Cup. Die-hard fans won’t mind sacrificing their sleep just to watch their heroes play. Looks like you may become a die-hard fan soon yourself Jocelyn, haha! But welcome!

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  • June 11, 2012 at 9:49 am
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    In all honesty I don’t care much for sports. By the way, welcome back 🙂 I’m sure that I and other group members have missed you.

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  • June 11, 2012 at 10:07 am
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    I was Americanized first (losing interest in football and gaining interest in baseball$oliveball). Then unAmericanized with no interest in sports at all.

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  • June 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm
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    I didn’t fall in love with soccer until I met my husband 7 years ago. I had to learn to love it because he’s Argie. Now I can’t get enough. So happy Argentina beat Brasil wahoooooo!!!

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  • June 11, 2012 at 6:37 pm
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    A bunch of my fellow grad students and I used to huddle together in the library during the day to watch the games during FIFA. Needless to say, we didn’t get much lab work done for a month!

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  • June 11, 2012 at 10:10 pm
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    I love to play soccer and like to watch soccer matches but will not give up work time or sleeping time just to watch the game. After all, it is just a game.

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  • June 12, 2012 at 4:57 am
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    wowoow,nice to know that,I’m crazy fan for football,and tiegan fan of deutschland,haha.wake up in the early morning is kinda hard for me,but it’s the cost.

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  • June 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm
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    Living in England, I feel as though I’ve been overexposed to football so I can take it or leave it – I do like to watch some major games though. I love it when the Olympics comes round and I can watch sports other than football/rugby.

    I picked Russia in the Euro 2012 sweepstake at work so I can support a team other than rubbish England this time round! As long as they get through the first round anyway… I’m keeping a close eye on them tonight.

    My boyfriend once said that China is a good country to live in because you can watch the EPL for free – doesn’t really cut it for me haha!

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  • June 12, 2012 at 4:15 pm
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    It’s funny, I grew up playing a lot of sports, but actually hate to sit and watch pretty much everything except for volleyball. My BF on the other hand is BIG into sports. College, national, international. While he’s not the sports or die type he does like to go to games and gets loud even when he’s watching stuff at home. His yelling at the screen is what bugs me the most. The only thing I’ve really sat and watched with him was The Superbowl and one or two college games before I get up and head to my computer to watch something on streaming.

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  • June 15, 2012 at 6:12 pm
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    I always preferred American football (collegiate over professional), but my wife being native Chinese likes her football (soccer). I took her to one of my alma-mata’s games and she commented it was like watching a group of guys running up and down the field trying to push one another down. I told her that her football looked like a bunch of kids running up and down the field playing keep away with the ball.

    That being said, I cannot conceive how a country of 2 billion people can’t 20 odd guys who are as good as the premier players in Europe. China should be a football player instead of a laughingstock.

    Reply
  • June 16, 2012 at 12:50 am
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    Unfortunately, where I live, most of the matches on the weekdays occur during work hours and regular cable TV doesn’t always show repeats at night.

    I’m thinking Germany will win the cup.

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  • July 1, 2012 at 9:16 am
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    THen your husband must be happy since Italy reached the finals!! 義大利加油!:))

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  • January 21, 2013 at 9:27 pm
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    The soccer fandom in China is enormous…. and ppl in Hong Kong also stay up to watch big games, they open restaurants late at night just to accomodate these fans. They’re so popular you have to phone ahead to reserve your seat and you absolutely must order food so the Cafe can gurantee the profit. Nonetheless the cafes are packed! Its even crazier in the Sports Pubs!

    Reply

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