Soccer fans in the US fail the 'Tebbit Test': David Usborne finds national loyalties confused among the hyphenated Americans at Florida's Citrus Bowl

'AY-YAY-yay-yay-yay-yay.' Another chance missed by Mexico. Elianza cannot stand it. But by the second half, her team is well in command, and it is for the Irish supporter beside her to express his anguish. 'We're in trouble. We're in trouble,' he repeats over and over as if he were in an aircraft that had just lost both engines and a wing. 'Now we're in serious trouble.'

It's Mexico v Ireland in the first round group matches of the World Cup. In Row J, Section 107 of the Citrus Bowl in Florida, we have a fairly even mix of supporters. Although green is the favoured colour for fans of both sides, there is no confusing the team loyalties. Making assumptions about actual nationality is more dangerous.

Elianza - who cries when Mexico first scores - is American and lives in nearby Boca Raton. The Irish fan is Chuck from Pensacola, Florida. He is an American, too. They are here because of family lineage. Chuck, a doctor, admits to being a bit sketchy about his stock, but is certain there is some emerald blood there somewhere.

For Elianza, the link is more obvious. Born and raised in Peru, she came to the United States 20 years ago and immediately took up citizenship. For proof that her heart remains Latin, look at her plans for the coming week. From here she will drive to Chicago to support Bolivia against Spain, then it's over to Detroit and a Brazil game.

Now for the ''Tebbit Test', as devised by the former British Conservative Party chairman. Four years ago, Norman Tebbit suggested - first in an interview with an American newspaper - that immigrants who held on to their old national loyalties were a threat to British society. One way to find them out, he said, was to watch which team they supported during a Test match. 'Where you have a clash of history, a clash of religion, a clash of race, then it's all too easy for there to be an actual clash of violence,' he said.

It would be scary indeed to apply such a model here on Row J. Elianza would fail outright. Only when asked whom she would support in the event of Mexico meeting the US in the final does she partially redeem herself. 'Oh that would be so hard. I would have to be torn, you know.' She pauses before committing herself. 'I think probably the USA.'

Further along the row sits Roberto, a Mexican-American from Miami. Asked the same question, he complains: 'That's impossible. No, no, really that's impossible. But well, yes, of course, we'd have to go for the USA.'

Every hyphenated American I talked to admitted to divided loyalties. Blacks are inclined towards Brazil or Argentina, or the underdogs from Africa. That, anyway, was the consensus outside R J's Grocery and Meat Store a few blocks from the Citrus Bowl, where a group of young black men were gathered after the game.

Watching as Irish and Mexican fans streamed past on their way to the bars of Orlando's so-called 'Historic District' to celebrate or mourn, they grudgingly admitted to having watched the match on someone's television set. 'I like the Nigerian team,' says Correy Dixon, 20, who works in a dry cleaners. 'I think we'll watch them again.'

So far, there is no sign that the World Cup in America is likely to trigger the kind of unrest envisioned by Mr Tebbit. And until now, not even that much-feared European export, soccer hooliganism, has shown itself. But it may be that, behind this country's still manifest ambivalence about the game of soccer, there does lurk a fear about what it may do to a society made up entirely of recent immigrants, and which is already feeling the strain of racial and social fissures.

President Clinton's National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake, seemed to hint at this fear during a breakfast with European and Latin- American correspondents in Washington last Wednesday. Asked about the tournament, he said, lightheartedly: 'I think the success of the World Cup is a threat to the American way of life.'

Mr Lake, who returned quickly to more serious themes - Korea and Haiti - did not elaborate. But here in the stadium, there are myriad explanations from Americans who enjoy soccer, as to why, in spite of efforts to set up a national league from next year, it may always be a poor cousin to the country's big four sports: baseball, American football, ice hockey and basketball.

Davis Blum, a former professional soccer player who has travelled up from Fort Lauderdale, volunteers the 'nationalism' explanation. 'It is because this is about nationality that Americans are uncomfortable,' he says. 'America has to have its own world of sport. It very rarely ventures into the wide world of sporting events, hardly ever.'

With the exception of displays of American jingoism at the Olympic Games every four years, especially in Los Angeles in 1984, Mr Blum's observation seems apposite. They call the annual baseball competition that leads to the crowning of the best team from the US and Canada the 'World Series'. And although American football has gradually become a world export, the zenith of competition for American followers is the Superbowl, an entirely domestic event.

George Vecsey, a sports writer with the New York Times, thinks anxiety about the tribalism of soccer is at the heart of the US ambivalence towards soccer. 'This nationality stuff makes us nervous,' he concluded in a recent column. 'It smacks of armies and barbed wire and terse orders in foreign languages. Many people in the United States - and Canada, too - believe that our ancestors came here to get away from all that tribal stuff. We root for teams called Bulls and Blue Jays, maybe state teams like the Arkansas Razorbacks or the Michigan Wolverines.'

Now Americans are being asked to support a national team. Ironically, it is made up mostly of so-called 'passport Americans', players who can claim US citizenship but who otherwise live and play soccer in countries across Europe and South America. In a sense it is not really a national team at all. (By that reckoning, nor is the Irish side.) Even their coach is from the former Yugoslavia and has the difficult name of Bora Milutinovic. But by winning 2-1 against Colombia in Pasadena on Wednesday and almost assuring itself a second-round place, the side may have given a historic boost to its own chances of winning national affection and support for US soccer generally.

LOS ANGELES - Violence hit the World Cup for the first time in the US when soccer fans celebrating the Mexican win threw rocks and bottles at police in California, Reuter reports. 'The situation was very severe,' Huntington Park police Sergeant Tom Wesiles said. 'It was out of control. Our officers were taking rocks and bottles for one and a half hours.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Recruitment Genius: PA

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A PA is required to join a leading provider of...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness