If you’re a casual soccer fan like myself, you may have encountered this person over the past three weeks:

“If you only tune in for the World Cup, you’re not a real futbol fan.”

Invariably, I hope your response was to ignore, and move on. There’s not much to do if someone thinks they hold dominion over fandom. It’s a silly thought.

It’s true that casual fans, like myself, only tune into soccer for the World Cup. More to the point, we come out of the woodwork in droves donning expensive, hastily purchased jerseys. We pack pubs to the brim and parrot common rhetoric. The handful of players whose name we recognize – the Wayne Rooney’s and Landon Donovan’s of EA sports fame – become gods in our eyes.

I can see how that could be annoying to a hardcore fan. We dilute the conversation at the bar. No real fan turns to another and asks, “what’s an offside trap?” Throughout the year, soccer fandom is a cozy house gathering. The World Cup, by that analogy, is a free kegger – everyone is really drunk and no one knows anyone.

The World Cup will always attract a global audience, and that includes us rubberneckers. If you’re a diehard, you’ll just have to accept that. It’s the same with any other great sporting spectacle, be it hockey, basketball, football, baseball – if it draws a crowd, we’ll tune in.

We’ll watch because professional sports is entertainment that doubles as social currency. The point of it is to be entertained. And hopefully, be enjoyed with company. If people are talking about it, we want to join the conversation. We might not be entirely interested in the chatter itself, but we’re very interested in chatting. It’s a way to connect and escape loneliness.

That’s the real value of pro sports – it’s a distraction. It’s a campfire at which people of similar interests can convene. A like-colored shirt can band otherwise strangers as brothers, if only for a game. It has the power to bridge the sometimes tenuous gap between father and son. Why do you think it’s branded as a religion?

To that point, the World Cup is the Mecca of sports. There’s nothing else like it. Fans in the streets. Pints are consumed. Flags of every color hang proudly from the hoods of cars. An abrasive whirr of vuvuzelas and car horns permanently underscores the sound of a city..

Don’t let anyone take that away from you. Enjoy the finals and cheer to your heart’s content, even if you barely know what’s going on.

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