If you take a non-soccer fan to a professional soccer match, it won’t be long before he or she asks, “What’s with all the scarves?”
Whether it’s 35 degrees or 105 degrees outside, soccer fans all over the world show up for matches draped in the most neck-warming accessory of all. The history of scarves at soccer matches is long, and there’s no reason that they should be viewed differently than any other piece of team-focused apparel.
The scarf got its start as the must-have soccer accessory in pre-World War II England. This was an age in which sports fans everywhere dressed more as if they were going to church than to watch a game. Dark coats and hats were the norm for the men, who were most of the fans who went to soccer games.
Options for donning a team color were slim. Plus, as a wintertime sport, those Englishmen had a good reason to stay warm. The scarf, knitted by someone’s kindly grandmother, was the natural solution. With alternating bars of color, in the days before ubiquitous team-licensed merchandise, the scarf was practically the only way to indicate your support of one side or the other.
Fans found other uses, too. A group of fans, holding them up at the same moment, created a wall of color, similar to old-fashioned card-display sections at college football stadiums. Twirling them around one’s head was a natural celebratory expression. And there certainly were more than a few scarves that were used to hide the wearer’s face, in that age of hooligan behavior at soccer matches.
As textile manufacturers got in on the act, and clubs began to realize they could sell their own scarves at their own club shops, officially licensed scarves spread throughout the rest of Europe. For American soccer fans, the scarf — like the sport itself — felt like something different from what they’d seen from traditional American sports. Scarves became a part of soccer culture here, like singing and standing throughout the whole match.
It’s tempting to make fun of soccer fans for their consistent loyalty to an article of clothing that carries a distinct whiff of pretentious Euro-snobbery. But when you think about it, it’s hard to see how scarves differ from any other article of clothing that shows team support. Plenty of Twins fans who wouldn’t dream of departing for Target Field without donning a baseball cap, no matter whether the sun is out. People who would not bat an eye at a grown man wearing a tank top-style basketball jersey to a Timberwolves game — the most nonsensical sartorial choice of all — have no good reasons to make fun of soccer fans’ choice of neckwear.
The scarf doesn’t actually mean anything. It’s like any other team-supporting piece of clothing. It’s just one of those things that makes soccer feel like soccer.
• The legend of Christian Pulisic continues to grow. The 18-year-old scored both goals in the United States’ World Cup qualifying victory over Trinidad and Tobago and was by all accounts the standout performer. Postgame, he predicted the U.S. would defeat Mexico in Mexico City on Sunday. If he can fulfill that prediction, he might earn status as a living American legend before he’s even out of his teen years.
• No matter what happens in Mexico, the U.S. is on course for World Cup qualification. The team won’t be lower than fourth out of six in the CONCACAF standings. The top three qualify automatically, with fourth place going to a playoff. After this weekend, the U.S. has four winnable matches this fall. Only a true collapse would see the Americans fail to qualify.
• Manchester United released striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, mostly because an ACL tear in one of his knees will keep him out until at least next January. Ibrahimovic, the most confident man in the world, is on the wrong side of 35, yet he scored 28 goals in his one partial season in Manchester. If there’s any striker who deserves a look from elite teams in the world, it’s Zlatan.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
World Cup qualifying: England at Scotland, 11 a.m. Saturday, FS2. Some of the most memorable international soccer games come bundled with a geopolitical subtext, and there’s nothing quite like these intra-UK games. England’s visit north of the border may take on a bit more meaning. The Scottish badly need a victory to keep hopes alive of qualification, while England is cruising atop its group.
International friendly: U.S. women at Norway, 12:15 p.m. Sunday, Ch. 9. Visits to Sweden (a 1-0 victory on Thursday) and Norway this week are the first tests of the summer for the women’s national team. There’s something about this time of year that makes women’s soccer feel right. Given local temperatures this weekend, you won’t get much more summery than this.
World Cup qualifying: Wales at Serbia, 1:45 p.m. Sunday, FS2. Wales made the semifinals of last summer’s European Championship but so far has stumbled through World Cup qualification, drawing in four of its five matches. The Welsh and Gareth Bale badly need a road victory against Serbia, currently leading the group, to get back into the thick of the qualification picture.
World Cup qualifying: USA (men) at Mexico, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, FS1. This is the biggest rivalry in CONCACAF. The Americans have lost their past two against their neighbors, both of them painful losses featuring late Mexico goals. The best they have mustered in an away World Cup qualifier is a 0-0 draw. The U.S. is the underdog.