Friday, April 29, 2011

The local love affair with Soccer

For Cape Verdeans, there is only one sport that truly excites the nation, and it is soccer. Not just any soccer, but soccer in the Portuguese leagues. Forget soccer from any other nation on the planet, if it is not Portuguese soccer, it's not worth following.

So, if you want to make a several dozen new friends, and "enemies", in the space of 90 minutes ... just go sit in a local bar when one of the soccer games is on. But, to truly appreciate what is going on you will need a little background to bring you up to speed.

It is quite understandable that Cape Verdeans should particularly enjoy Portuguese soccer. Cape Verde was a colony of Portugal and is still very connected to Portugal, economically, financially and socially. There are many Cape Verdean expats living in Portugal today. Yet, it's also funny, because even though 90% of Cape Verdeans living in Cape Verde have never set foot in Portugal, and even though many of the expats migrated to various countries across the globe, it is only Portuguese soccer that is revered.

Here's why. Sports are a way of escaping the challenges and drudgery of day-to-day living. I don't care where you're from or where you live, you can live vicariously through sports heroes. And for Cape Verdeans, the Portuguese soccer leagues were one of the first places that talented local soccer players started appearing. In a sense, these local sporting pioneers put Cape Verde on the sporting map. And this was especially true when some of the local soccer heroes made it onto the top teams in the Portuguese premier division.

This also explains why Cape Verdeans primarily show their allegiance to three Portuguese teams. In no particular order, LOL, they are Sporting, Benfica and Porto. They have become cultural icons in Cape Verde. And it's no coincidence that these teams are the ones that are perenially at the top of Portuguese soccer. And to express their love for these teams, you will see the team logos and flags everywhere and on everything.

And when these rival teams play matches against each other, life in Cape Verde is temporarily placed on hold for 90 minutes. And believe it or not, Cape Verdean women are ardent fans too. This is unlike women on any other part of the planet, except maybe for Brazil where soccer is a religion and each baby's DNA is tested at birth for presence of the Brazilian soccer gene. I would guess that Cape Verde runs a close second. So if you have been smitten by a Cape Verdean damsel and want to woo her, be sure to wear the colors of her favorite team. (Some one is actually going to believe my humor and try this).

Thankfully, games are broadcast at night or on weekends Cape Verde time. So if you are a fan of soccer yourself, or even if you have never been to a soccer match, do yourself a big favor and sit down among a group of Cape Verdeans during a Porto-Benfica-Sporting match up. If it happens to be a championship game, it will be 90 minutes plus an ensuing friendly "argument" that you won't soon forget. And regardless, you'll have made a few buddies for your effort.

Whatever you do, just don't go waving the wrong team flag or wearing the wrong team colors in the wrong neighborhood. Gotcha! I'm just kidding!

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