The world's best sports fans

I’ve got the fever – I’ve got it bad.

There’s a fairly large football tournament going on in South Africa at the moment and, like a gigantic slice of sports-flavoured chocolate cake, I feel a deep need to consume every last ounce of it.

Hence, I’ve spent the last few mornings bleary-eyed, the din of vuvuzelas still ringing in my ears, cursing my decision to get out of my warm bed to watch – just off the top of my head – England and Australia play.

(I’m not the person most obsessed with the World Cup though – that title will go to the guys who put these clips together.)

It was the Dutch, though, that got me thinking. Actually, it was the Dutch fans, all dressed in orange, some looking like ‘60s flight attendants, others with fake pigtails, others with giant footballs on their heads. Boy, did they look like they were having fun.

We Australians like to think we’re great sports fans, and, lame attempts at supportive chants aside, it’s pretty close to the truth. But other countries do it better.

Here’s my list. If you happen to find yourself in any of these countries, do yourself a favour: don the local colours, get down to a game, and cheer.

8. Sweden
If you’ve been to the Australian Open tennis, you’ll understand. The Swedes, dressed to a man and woman in solid yellow and blue, always look like they’re having the time of their lives. If you’re bored, and it’s past day two – so all the Australians have been knocked out – go sit with them.

7. Argentina
The Argies are highly annoying when we’re playing against them, but highly great to be around when they’re playing anyone else. A football match in Argentina is something you’ll never forget – huge crowds of screaming, jumping, chanting, flag-waving, flare-lighting, firework-throwing nutters. And the game hasn’t even kicked off yet.

6. Japan
The Japanese are without doubt the most politely bonkers fans on Earth. Go to a baseball game, and you’ll see what I mean. The fans go nuts when their team is batting, chanting and singing players’ names – then, when their team goes out to field, they all quietly sit down and allow the other team’s fans to sing their songs. Oh, and the people selling beer bow to the row of seats before walking up each aisle.

5. The Netherlands
I’d like to be Dutch. I’d like to deck myself out in orange, and go cheer on a football team that actually has some chance to winning. They seem a happy, peaceful bunch too – you often do you hear about Dutch hooligans? And they’re mostly more exciting than Pim Verbeek.

4. Brazil
You can’t look at a group of Brazilian sports fans without thinking to yourself: “Damn I wish I was Brazilian.” They look like they’re having an absolute riot – something that might be aided by the fact their football team always seems to be winning. Still, throw in drums, trumpets, dancing and cheering, and I’m willing to pretend I’m one of them.

3. USA
We don’t have a lot to do with American sports fans, because we don’t have a lot to do with American sports. However, the Yanks’ one gift to sports fandom is a great one: tail-gating. What I once thought meant something people in Commodores do, is actually the act of getting together in the car park hours and hours before a game, frying up some meat, drinking some beers, and chewing the fat. We should all be doing it, although I’m sure there’s some sort of fun-killing law against it here.

2. India
The Indians get a prize for sheer lunacy – anyone who’s been to a cricket match in the sub-continent could tell you that. Not only do they want to yell and scream at the game, but they’re also interested in you, the travelling sports fan: who are you, what are you doing here, what does your father do for a living, why aren’t you married yet ... You know, the standard spectator fare. It’s endearing. And you don’t even have to get drunk.

1. England
Well, that had to win something, didn’t they? Much as it pains me to say it, the English, when they’re not whacking you with brass knuckles for wearing the wrong coloured shirt, really are great sports fans. And it’s all in the songs – they’re hilarious. Even the ones about us are funny. “We came with backpacks on, you with a ball and chain”, “Get your s--- stars off our flag”, “God save your Queen” etc. It’s hard to hate them when they’re having so much fun.

Which country do you think has the best sports fans? And as an aside, what’s up with Pim Verbeek’s hair?

My travel memoir, Five Ways to Carry a Goat, is in bookstores now – it’s the tale of my travels staying with you, the kindly readers of this blog. For more information, or to check out photos from the trip, head to my website. Otherwise, send topic suggestions/personal abuse to bengroundwater@gmail.com.

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