On my second trip to Europe this summer, I visited the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek in Munich. My hotel was just off of Ludwigstrasste, about a mile and a half from the library. I’ve been to Germany many times now, even living there for a year. I was used to sedate, polite, not-too-emotional, always-in-control people. Not too patriotic either. 

When my wife and I moved to Tübingen from Münster during my sabbatical several years ago, we had the privilege of living in university housing. I asked the landlord if it would be OK if I draped a flag on our balcony. He discouraged us from doing so. When I said, “not an American flag, but a German one,” he still discouraged us. It wasn’t forbidden of course, but it was frowned upon. I didn’t know if this was his peculiar attitude or was one shared by many of his countrymen. As the year went on, the sense I got was that Germans were not particularly patriotic. (I won’t go into the reasons why.)

But this trip was different. I flew to Germany during World Cup Soccer. At first, I landed at Heathrow Airport in London, just when the game between Britain and Germany was starting. I landed in Düsseldorf when the game was wrapping up. And for the first time, I noticed a rabid crowd in Germany. They beat England and moved on to the next round. And they were going berserk! A week later, I was in Munich. The crowds there were even more unrestrained than the ones in northwestern Germany.

While I was in Munich, Germany played Argentina in the semi-finals. I was in my hotel room, listening to the crowds in the surrounding apartments, as the game was going on. I could tell every time that Germany scored a goal: the din was supersonic. After a couple of hours of failing at getting a late afternoon nap, I finally went down out to get some dinner. I wasn’t prepared for what I would see. The main drag, Ludwigstrasse, was jam-packed with people. The street was blocked off in both directions as far as the eye could see. This would be at least a mile. The crowds were thicker than Bourbon Street on a Saturday night. Guys were peeing on walls in plain sight. Cops were everywhere but they were essentially just keep major crimes down. A guy stole a large German flag right in front of me. All I wanted to do was get a meal but all the cafes were overflowing—standing room only. There were several ad hoc beer stands, with long lines. No cars were on the street—it had been roped off. Tens of thousands of broken beer bottles littered the street. People draped themselves in German flags, old women painted their faces with Germany’s colors, shoes were painted the same way. Even the BMW Museum, north of downtown by a few klicks, got into the spirit of the event by offering free face painting of black, red, and gold. Patriotism was back!

I finally gave up trying to get a seat at a cafe and hopped on the U-Bahn to Marienplatz. In the subway there was a kid strung out on drugs; some paramedics were trying to revive him. When I got downtown, the crowds were loud and boisterous, but not as loud, boisterous, or packed as Ludwigstrasse. I was able to get a meal. By the time I returned, 11.40 PM, Ludwigstrasse was much more subdued. Street sweepers were busy cleaning up the beer bottles, and the crowd was dissipating. By midnight it was back to normal. Cars were on the street again. It was if nothing had happened. (Germany is, after all, the cleanest country in Europe.) Except for the occasional flash of bare breasts, the live peep shows, and Dixieland jazz, Bourbon Street has nothing on Ludwigstrasse during World Cup Soccer.

The next day, two other teams were playing soccer. All the outdoor cafes had plasma TVs on so that the crowds could enjoy the games. At least a third of all the customers were wearing the colors of the country they were cheering for. But they weren’t Brazilians, and probably few were Danish. The same people who had cheered for Germany the night before were now cheering for another country with equal fervor. Perhaps my opinion of German patriotism had been exaggerated.

World Cup Soccer is far more important to Europeans than the Super Bowl is to Americans. In fact, it’s far more important to just about any country in the world than the Super Bowl is to Americans. I have yet to see old ladies wear rams’ horns, or paint themselves in gold, black, and white. But when it comes to soccer, every demographic of society cheers for their home team—and other favorites—during the World Cup.

Now, I am a slow learner. I don’t connect the dots too quickly. So, pardon me if you already knew this. But it suddenly dawned on me, while I was in Munich, that one of the easiest ways to make inroads into a foreign culture is to know soccer. Missionaries should devote quite a bit of time to knowing about the national team of the country where they will be ministering. It’s an immediate conversation starter. And it shows that we are involved in the lives of the citizens, in the things that are important to them. I would strongly recommend that missionaries learn the names of all the national soccer players, and learn their stats, too. Know what city they are from, what position they play, how they are regarded in their homeland. Missionaries have a tough job just getting accepted in a foreign land (much like anyone from another state moving to Maine!). Knowing soccer, and becoming a genuine soccer fan, is a great way to open doors. And if they can get a hold of a TV, they should invite their neighbors over to watch the games. The next time the World Cup rolls around, I plan to do a little homework, since I don’t know what countries I’ll be in. Wherever it is, I’ll know soccer.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    16 replies to "World Cup Soccer, World Missions (Dan Wallace)"

    • Jeremy

      Don’t forget you can also watch soccer just because it’s an amazing sport to watch. Although, I may have to use the missions excuse next time my wife wants me to do something during a Saturday morning soccer match 🙂

    • steve moore

      Welcome to The Beautiful Game. Feel free to ping me offline if you have questions about the game, players, which teams to root for, etc. ;^)


    • Rick

      Good post.

      I live in work in Spain, and everyone thinks American’s don’t know squat about soccer. Thankfully I love soccer and am kind of a nut about it, and it certainly opens doors. In Europe, people are generally skeptical about Americans. We show up in their country looking like we are going to mow their lawns, talking loudly, and complaining about their food. Also, we like to invade countries. Whether this is reality or not, this is how most Europeans view Americans. Showing them we know about soccer and even their teams is a big way to blasting away their stereotypes, especially with respects to missions and the gospel.

      Incidentally, soccer is extremely popular in the USA also. Just not among white folk 40 and over. In a city like Dallas (see also Houston, Chicago, NY, LA, well any city with a sizeable immigrant population), it is probably the second most popular sport. Dallas is about 50% Mexican-American, and you can bet that most of them have a team in Mexico that they cheer for, and while they might root for the Cowboys, whenever Mexican club teams come to play an exhibition in Dallas, or LA, or Houston, they regularly fill football stadiums. Which, is in fact, why more and more Mexican club teams and even the Mexican national team play games in the USA. A lot of Americans who are not familiar with soccer or who are not from a soccer culture don’t know this, but soccer is probably the 2nd or 3rd most popular (and growing) sport in the USA (general viewership).

      Knowing soccer is basically good for doing ministry anywhere.

    • phil_style

      Well, well, well, I was also in Munich for the Argentina game. You’re right, football (spoccer) is one of the few valid excuses for outrageous displays of patriotism in D-land.. Howevever, one must not forget that parochialism is alive and well in Germany. This month you’ll see plenty of pro-bavarian culture on display throughout Munich. It’s almost as though germans have tacitly agreed all the times during the eyar when it’s appropriate to be patriotic, parochial etc.. 😉

    • Wesley Walker

      When I moved to rural California a large portion of the congregation were Nascar fans. The first thing that I felt I needed to do to better connect with them was learn NASCAR. So I watched races, read websites, and picked a favorite driver to follow. It was amazing how much good was done through it. It opened up doors to be in their homes (to watch races) and when I started using illustrations from NASCAR people seemed to get the spiritual truths better.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • rusty leonard

      Rent the movie “Invictus” it is a great demonstration of the power of soccer to unite people.


    • Michael L


      As a Belgian living in Dallas, I’d love to have lunch and chat about it. There’s a couple of other avenues, depending on the country.

      Here’s three sports examples outside of soccer
      * Cycling. Especially during the large events. Familiarize yourself with them, there’s a ton more than the Tour de France. Then learn who people like Merckx, Hinault, Moser, Indurain, etc.. were.
      * Ice skating. Especially in the Netherlands and even more so if there’s even a remote chance of an 11-city-tour event.
      * Ice hockey. Especially in Sweden or Finland. And even more so when they play each other. Their rivalry is unmatched !

      Outside of sports, it’s food and drink:
      * Drink. Be it beer in Belgium or Germany. Wine in France, Italy, Spain. It’s an inherent part of the culture. We never had prohibition and in many countries legal drinking age is 16 for beer and wine.
      * Food. Yes we eat weird stuff. Deal with it 😉 We don’t die eating it, neither will you ! You just don’t ask what you’re eating before hand 😉 I would caution though about street vendors in Asia and/or Africa. I’ve had some not so pleasant day after experiences. But in Europe, you’re usually safe.

      All these are avenues to get closer to the local people we are witnessing to. “When in Rome, do as Romans do” (or at least up to an extent)…


    • Michael L


      Not PC’s… but I’m sure you’d be willing to talk to anyone about “LOST” 😉

    • Susan

      CMP, this is just Dan’s first post in a series. The next will be, When in Germany, buy a BMW ….the ultimate bridge into German life and culture (supporting their economy!). 😉

    • Daniel B. Wallace

      CMP, no you don’t have to get a PC to witness in America; you just have to know about PCs and pretend to like them.

      Rick, Frisco (where I live) has a soccer stadium. They call it world class, but it only has seats for 21,000. Still, it’s pretty classy, if not world classy.

      Rusty, Invictus is about rugby, not soccer. Rugby is my favorite sport (to play, not to spectate). But it’s still an awesome movie and inspiring story.

      Michael L–great words of wisdom. Ice hockey is growing in Dallas because of the Stars. They also practice in Frisco. Many Finns on their team. It’s my boys’ favorite sport. As for drink, Americans–especially in the Bible belt, are light years behind on this. Prohibition was a wrong-headed movement, though it had its roots in the American Revolution (long story). What we need to recognize is that Americans, too, have cultural issues that are not the same as the world’s, nor even the world of the Bible. Christians need to rise above that. As for food, I agree. It’s rude to refuse food in a foreign country. I’ve had my share of Sea Urchin Surprise on Patmos!

      Susan, I used to be love everything BMW. But as I am aging (as of this last weekend, I’m now a grandpa!), I am finding that those first two letters are all important!

    • Susan

      BM? Were you changing diapers?

    • Rick


      The stadium in Dallas is nice, but certainly not world class, and FC Dallas is nice, but still a few steps back from being top notch soccer, but pro-soccer (specifically MLS) in the USA is still a growth sport and has only been around since 96 (after the death of the NASL in 84). But it is making strides.

      Most of the stadiums in Europe hold around 20,000. Its only the elite, super star teams in the big cities that have the really big stadiums.

      Probably the 2022 World Cup will in the USA (the 94 WC in the USA is still the most attended World Cup ever), and there is talk that the final will be held in the Cowboys new stadium, since it is very world class.

    • Susan

      I wanted to get around to saying that I think you have presented a great idea here, Dan. Although I am not much of an armchair sports fan myself, sports are an undeniably great point of contact for men, especially.
      I might even mention this thought to missionaries I know but I’m not sure if the countries they represent are big on soccer (Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam and Thailand?).

      As always, I like the way you think….always hoping to make inroads for the gospel. No one will ever accuse you of being an ivory tower scholar!
      Supporting you, and CSNTM (The Center for the Study of N.T. Manuscripts) is always a double mission! And I will tell everyone on this thread that when Dan travels the world photographing manuscripts he brings the gospel of Jesus Christ with him! I’m aware of many times when Dan has had opportunity to talk about Jesus with individuals he meets along the way. This is what being ‘missional’ is all about.

      Thanks be to God….and may the gospel go forward!

    • Susan

      A little side-note: I just noticed that the Pope also is called upon to dine on unusual relation-fording delicacies. During his recent visit to Scotland he was served “a very Scottish treat: a lunch of haggis — sheep heart, liver and lungs simmered in sheep stomach — at the home of Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien.
      The queen told Benedict that his visit reminded all Britons of their common Christian heritage and said she hoped relations between the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church would be deepened as a result.”

      Have you ever had that stuff, Dan?

    • nazaroo

      I can’t see Paul wrapping himself in a German flag, painting his face and hanging out in the downtown core trying to shout over drunken singing, milling crowds.

      Perhaps Paul on top of a large podium in the square, inscribed with “to the unknown God” would be an attraction at one end of the plaza, but somehow, I think a seasoned Paul would have learned from other riots.

      “He’s preaching against soccer, as frivolous!” “He’ll ruin the souvenir business in this town!” “Everyone knows soccer is supreme in our town: Please disperse in an orderly manner before the tear-gas arrives and we have to give an account of this disturbance before the courts!”

      I think somehow the Apostles would try for orderly meetings outside of town…


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