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World Cup Fever in Panama City

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Written by Matt   
Thursday, 15 June 2006 17:36
I met a guy the other day in an elevator who introduced himself as soon as he caught eye of the English written on my t-shirt. He wore a dirty John Deer tank top and a Corona hat with mesh on the back. “Clete's the name, treat ” he said to me with a giant smile that revealed a severe shortage in teeth. His name caught me a bit off guard. Clete. I thought for a second and rifled through all the names that I used to write down—the names that I wished my parents had chosen for me. I wanted to come up with one to call my own, that could top Clete.
“I'm Saffron,” I replied. “Nice to meet you.”
“Them there people go wild for that dang game,” Clete heehawed—the people he was referring to being Panamanians and the game being the first of World Cup 2006. The more I think about it, Clete's eloquent statement is about as accurate as they come.

Whether you like it or not, soccer is the most popular sport in the world. Yes, the game where people in knee-highs try to kick a little ball into a net is considered entertainment in many countries, among them, Panama.

I've come to believe that Panamanians will take any excuse, even if entirely groundless, to avoid the responsibilities of life: the responsibilities of work and school. For that game that Clete was talking about, that 11 AM battle between the tournament's hosts Germany and our northern neighbors Costa Rica, fans of all shapes and sizes seized the opportunity and called in sick.

I am probably the most knowledgeable soccer person I know (pretty much a soccer wiz kid), and in my opinion the Panamanian soccer fans are extremely well-versed. The local favorites tend to be teams like Argentina, Brazil and Spain however there were a few surprises out there—see tall Croat painted head-to-toe in country colors, passed out on park bench outside my apartment. Almost every bar, restaurant, store has a TV (or at least a radio) going and just walking down the street you can tell if a goal is scored by a loud, seemingly rehearsed roar coming from open apartment windows. Everyone has a spare game schedule in their back pocket so there's really no excuse for missing a match.

Of course, bars open early—like 7 AM early. So along with the celebration or depression that is expected from national sporting events, comes the alcohol factor. The drunk revelers who never made that high school soccer team. It's really a pretty fantastic atmosphere though, for a soccer lover like me. Here, I am not the outcast that I was at home—the guy who everyone would make fun of because he'd rather watch a Champions League match than go out and be social. No. Here, everyone's a loser like that and being in the majority makes me cool. It's comforting.

I'm assuming that the intensity of the tournament will only escalate as the games get better and so did Clete.
“Them finals is next month. That'll be one helluva dogfight.”
“Yea,” I threw in there. “Those dogs are gonna be a fightin'.” I didn't know why I said this part because it sounded overly-witty, almost rehearsed. He would think poorly of me.

Clete was eating pistachio nuts out of a plastic bag and offered me one. “Sure,” I obliged—grabbing, by accident, probably the most stubborn pistachio of the group, a shell that was clamped tightly shut with only a tiny crack near the hinge. The ugly duckling of pistachio nuts. I gnawed at it a bit—not wanting to embarrass myself in front of Clete. Not wanting to leave an image of me in his mind as that guy Saffron from the elevator who couldn't open the pistachio nut.

Clete's floor had arrived and he was getting ready to step out. “Nice to meet ya Saffron,” he said. “Good luck with your team in the World's Cup.”
Before I had a chance to correct him and then say goodbye, Clete was gone. The ride to the thirteenth floor brought various blows to the shell, but still no success. With a last failed crack of the shell, I spit the unborn pistachio into my hand. The doors opened and I dropped it down the elevator shaft. That was one helluva dogfight I thought to myself. One helluva dogfight.

Some great places to watch games: Bennigans on Balboa Ave on the water, El Pavo Real (the ´british pub´), Veneto Casino Sports Bar area (especially good for Brazil and Argentina games), Bolas Sports Bar in El Dorado
Comments (1)Add Comment
written by Phil McDonald , December 08, 2007
Made me laugh - thanks
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Last Updated on Monday, 11 August 2008 23:19