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Americans Abroad

American players overseas usually have a following of U.S. expatriates.

By Christopher Courtney

These American expatriates in Germany recently gathered in Nuernberg to root for U.S. national team defender Steve Cherundolo who came to town as a member of visiting Hannover 96. Several also sampled a few beverages.
NUERNBERG, Germany (Saturday, March 31, 2001) -- All around Europe and elsewhere in the world, American professional soccer players, mostly young ones, ply their trade. Sometimes the news is good, but often the news is disappointing, especially when one of these players is struggling.

Where there are America soccer players abroad, invariably there are expatriate fans from the United States.

While games are available virtually every day and night on the numerous television stations, nothing beats the experience of attending the games. Recently, SoccerTimes followed a group of U.S. fans as they traveled to see and support Hannover 96 defender Steve Cherundolo.

These fans gathered at Finnegan’s Irish Pub in downtown Nuernburg several hours before every home match. Clad in the red and black, team colors of their beloved 1FC Nurnburg, the crowd sits around long wooden tables watching the Manchester United-Liverpool match on TV, downing pints of Guinness Stout and tall glasses of Hefe-Weizen beer.

The sounds of German and Irish-accented English ring throughout the pub, except at one particular table where an unmistakable mixture of American accents can be heard. This group of American fans came from all over Germany to witness Nuernburg, but also to catch a glimpse Cherundolo, a youngster who is regarded highly by U.S. coach Bruce Arena.

These American expatriates (notice, on right, the D.C. United cap) faced the dilemma of whether to root for the home side Nuernberg or American Steve Cherundolo who came to town with visiting Hannover 96.
Willie Ramos and his brother-in-law Udo came down on the train from Schweinfurt. Willis has been attending Nuernburg games since 1987 and, on this day, he passes out tickets for an upcoming Champions League match in Munich. Mack and Kim rode the rails up from Stuttgart while Keith, sporting a Nuernburg jersey, drove in from Vilseck, near the Czech border. This writer and wife Jene also traveled by train from their home in Wuerzburg.

Northern Arizona University exchange student Steve traveled all the way from Zittau on the Polish border. He has never seen a professional soccer game and hopes to this experience will add depth to his larger German studies.

The banter around the table is naturally centered on soccer and today’s game. The obligatory argument over the superiority of different leagues leads to some interesting one-liners and, of course, good-natured fun. Finally Harris, an English professor in Bamberg, and his roommate Shane, filter in to complete the group.

Like all good soccer fans who have tasted more than a few beers, the group packs into a streetcar for the three-stop ride to the stadium. Before the trolley doors even close, the singing begins and the Germans notice the Americans who boarded with them are not tourists, but fellow fans of the home team. In particular, the fans seem to be delighted by the company of Keith Richardson, certainly the only African-American on the train wearing a Nuernburg jersey, also proudly singing the team songs.

The Germans then ask the Americans to sing one of their favorite stadium songs and one of the group breaks into a loud rendition of "Anton from Tirol." Expecting to hear a strange American song in English, the German fans join in to sing one of the season’s most popular soccer hymns (at least in Bavaria, that is).

After battling the crowds on this cold rainy day, the American fans pile into the stadium and two rows of seats with glasses of gluhwein to keep them warm. Gluhwein is a red wine-based concoction served hot. On this day, many fans are keeping warm with gluhwein and loud, entusiastic singing. Flags are waving and smoke is spreading as the fans in the standing areas get worked up to a fever pitch. The stadium vibrates each time the home team scores and the booing of a referee’s bad call has the sound effect of a thunder clap.

Welcome to European soccer.

Cherundolo played the full 90 minutes in an exciting 4-2 loss for his visiting side in front of a crowd of 25,000. Hannover took an early lead in the 22nd minute on a goal from Carsten Linke which was answered one minute later on a tally from Andre Gomis.

Cherundolo stayed home on defense and did not venture forward, following coach Horst Ehrmantraut’s instructions. He played solidily in containing Sven Gunther, but never looked quite comfortable on the left side. Normally a right-sided player, Cherundolo tells us his coach believes his left foot is stronger so he is trying him on this new side.

Nuernburg took a 2-1 lead into halftime, but the game was tied at 2-2 in the 75th minute when Linke slotted another ball past keeper Andy Koepke.

Nuernburg’s Martin Driller gave his team the lead for good with an 80th minute strike into the roof of the net to make it 3-2. Polish midfielder Jacek Krzynowek added an insurance goal in the 84th minute for the final 4-2 count.

Even spurred by the cheers of "Steve Rocks!" from the small, but spirited group of Americans, Cherundolo tired in the final 10 minutes, after veteran Stefan Leitl was inserted in the 66th minute for Cherundolo’s mark, Sven Gunther.

The group of Americans, including newcomer Steve Elsner, are caught up in the excitement of the game, but also torn between cheering for the home side or the enemy’s Cherundolo.

After the match, Cherundolo greets the Americans. Emerging from behind a police protection line which included men armed with machine guns, Cherundolo chats with the group for about 25 minutes.

Willie Ramos and Keith Richardson had seen Cherundolo play at Nuernburg last season and asked him if he remembered their exhortations from a year ago. Of course, says Cherundolo who hands his game gloves as a souvenir to Kim Castillo, from the player’s hometown of San Diego. Cherundolo also signs her jeans -- a first-time experience, the amused defender admits -- since she has no paper for his autograph.

Jene offers to send Cherundolo Mexican food since it is so hard to find in Germany. Keith, who runs the English speaking Borussia Dortmund e-mail group, asks Cherundolo about his old Portland University teammate Conor Casey who has just signed with Dortmund. Cherundolo tells the group he was with his old friend at the signing and had dinner with the Casey family that night.

Cherundolo, displaying his fluent German, also spoke with a pair of Hannover fans who drove down for the game. Expatriate American Harris King, an English professor at Bamberg University, surmises that Cherundolo is not just a good soccer player but also a "very nice guy."

Goodbyes are exchanged and the Americans hit the rails for the journey home. Promises were made to meet again, perhaps at a game with Americans on both sides. Steve Elsner, the university student, left Germany for Arizona the next day wearing his Nuernburg jersey, another American hooked on the world’s game.

Christopher Courtney is an American living in Wuerzburg, Germany, where he follows the fortunes of American players in Europe. He can be contacted at yanksgermany@yahoo.com.

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