Keep Soccer Weird

Patrice Evra’s Instagram post highlighted how absurd soccer culture can– and should– be.

Austin, Texas has a reputation for being quirky. What that means, exactly, depends on who you talk to. But generally speaking, you could chalk it up to a distinct local character defined by liberal-ish social politics, active underground subcultures, a broad resistance to commercialization, and a thriving art scene.

How relevant that idea is today, in the age of migrating tech start-ups and SXSW and the same gentrification that’s spreading to urban communities across the country, also depends on who you ask. But it has enough cachet that the Keep Austin Weird movement is still, you know, A Thing.

There are similar Keep [City] Weird movements across the US; Portland, Oregon, most notably, but also Indianapolis and Louisville and a number of others. All pointing to a broad sense that creative types and off-beat spaces and, well, weirdos, are indelible components of the lifeblood of a city, and that heavy commercialization and gentrification acts as a sort of nullifying anti-matter to these elements.  

Soccer isn’t a city. You can’t put all fans of the sport in one place and expect it all to work out. Even the World Cup needs to spread out a little. But soccer fans are part of a greater community, with its own culture and customs and, if you will indulge me, quirks. Soccer fans are funny, and charming, and insufferable, and loud, but most of all we’re hospitable. Even when we have very little, we share what we have with each other.

We’re also, by and large, weird. We’re weird people who like weird things, and when we see other weird people we recognize them as our own.

Which brings me to Patrice Evra.

The 37-year-old France international, currently unsigned but best known for his eight years spent with Manchester United, posted this absolute gem on Instagram last week for Thanksgiving.

I’m not sure what exactly possessed Evra to take to social media and engage in a sultry burlesque performance with raw poultry, but honestly? I don’t care. It was delightful. It was absurd. It was, you know, weird.

My Twitter timeline mostly didn’t know what to make of it. One industry colleague noted they refused to watch the video because they thought it would stress them out. But mostly, it seemed to me like folks were taking it in good-natured fun.

Which is why I was a little surprised when the BBC reported on the backlash to Evra’s post. It became such an issue, evidently, that Evra was compelled to issue a public apology.

In fairness, the apology was also delightfully weird. (I would really love to meet these insatiable vegans crawling through his garden and consuming all plant matter in sight.) But his claim that people were wishing harm on him for the post— and I absolutely believe him when he says this— just strikes me as sad.

There’s so much awfulness in the world as it is. Even our little corner of it isn’t immune; soccer is being changed— some might say warped— by a double-whammy of hyper-commercialization and radical reactionary politics. I’m not a traditionalist, by any means, but I do believe that soccer can lose what makes it wonderful and meaningful if we don’t work to maintain it. We have to cultivate this sport and the culture around it. We have to care for it. We have to feed it and water it. And we need to give it room to express itself.

Between expanded World Cups, a European Super League, domestic league fixtures being played in far-off locales, and a host of economic and political shifts we can’t even conceive of yet, our sport will likely look very different 20 years from now. A lot of those changes will happen regardless of what we think about them. But culture is a thing we make together. We can decide what we’re about, and what we’re not. I believe soccer is better when there’s room for the different, for the unexpected, for the niche and the unrestrained and the radically inclusive. Soccer is better when it’s weird.

Soccer needs more Patrice Evras and more weird Instagram posts.

(Just, uh, be careful. Salmonella is no joke.)