Football Diplomacy ...

For those of you who've noticed, I wear a lot of football (soccer) shirts. I started my little fetish almost 20 years ago when I was sick of just getting a t-shirt or some other little souvenir from the places we travel. Instead, I buy a shirt from the local team. To me, they look better than t-shirts and they're a lot more comfortable over 3 seasons. It also helps me engage in what I call Football Diplomacy. I'll explain.

Football is played all over the world, almost a universal sport and people who love football are not afraid to give their opinion about the game or a particular club or country. This is particularly true in places where alcoholic beverages are served, which I frequent as often as I can in my travels.

Inhibitions down, total strangers will come up to me and start talking about the game, or why they don't like the club or the guy whose name is on the back. Most are knowledgeable of the nuances of the game and I've had some wonderful, hours' long conversations with people I'd never seen before or have again. Language is no barrier, and a few words along with hand and foot gestures gets the point across.

I've also met great friends by what started out as a conversation over the football shirt I was wearing. I still remember how a couple of them started.

My friend Darko who was a bartender aboard Queen Mary 2 at the time and I sat down with a Manchester United shirt on:

"I hate Man U," he said. "I hate Alex Ferguson (the manager at the time). You're an American, what do you know about football?"

Or my friend Terry from Wales when I was wearing a Wayne Rooney England shirt:

"You like Wayne Rooney; do you, boyo? What, you like rubbing his bald little head?"

You can see why they're my friends. Heh ...

In closing I'll say, like diplomacy, the wrong shirt can get you in a lot of trouble. I wore a Fiorentina (Florence, Italy) shirt through Fumicino Rome Airport and was heckled from the front door until I got to the gate by every old Italian guy in the place. I was waiting for them to reenact the crucifixion of Christ, and I was grateful they thought me a poor replacement for Jesus. And I would never, ever wear an Ajax (Amsterdam) shirt in Rotterdam. Stuff I think about before I pack. The one shirt you can get away with in almost every country is a Lionel Messi shirt from Barcelona (I have 2 for tight situations) because he's just that good. I don't see the tradition ending anytime soon.

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