By Josh Saunders
A soccer superfan has reveals incredible images of the most beautiful part of the last five World Cups… the fans.
Doug Zimmerman, 43, from Oakland, California, has spent hundreds of hours over 16 years photographing the ecstasy, heartbreak and exhilaration since 2002.
The photo-series captures the spirit of the World Cup through the elaborate and vividly coloured costumers of the fans, the musical instruments brought by each nation and the reactions.
Doug describes the games as a ‘month-long party’ that opens common ground for people to bond over, share culture and enjoy the beautiful game itself.
He intends to turns his photo-series into a book and is fundraising to produce the ‘One World, One Love: The Fans of the World Cup’.
Doug, a photojournalist, said: “I’ve always been fascinated by the passion of football fans.
“Sure, there is no World Cup without the action on the field, but it’s the intensity, devotion, and fanaticism of the fans that make the World Cup so special.
“Each country’s fans bring their own unique way of contributing to the event. Many fans have travelled from far away and met together on a neutral ground.
“It creates a most significant exchange of cross-cultural communication and understanding.
“The Brazilians bring their samba drums, the South African’s their Vuvuzelas, the British with their cheeky and inventive chants.
“To the Dutch with their overwhelming display of the color orange and frivolity, or the Koreans with their loud unifying chants.
“They are all different in how they express themselves for their singular passion for soccer.
“I feel that the story of how most fans experience the World Cup is largely untold.
“Headlines about soccer violence or hooliganism can grab our attention but the focus of my photo essay is to show that despite our differences, soccer brings us together.
“From my experiences at the World Cup I truly believe that it does.
Doug became enchanted by the ‘magic of the World Cup’ during 1994 games when watching Nigeria vs Italy in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Catching an overnight train to attend the event, he was overwhelmed by the ecstatic reaction of Italian fans after Roberto Baggio equalised in a game that would end 2-1.
He said: “As luck would have it my seat was right in the middle of a group of Nigeria fans behind the goal. It was even more fun when Nigeria took an early lead.
“The Screaming Eagles fans became increasingly excited as they nursed their advantage through most of the second half.
“Meanwhile, besides this one section, the stadium was full of Italy fans who were deadly silent with worry.
“Just when it appeared that Nigeria would pull off the upset, the legendary Italian striker Roberto Baggio broke through and tied the game up for Italy.
“What I experienced next was pure pandemonium. The stadium unfurled into an explosion of ecstasy.
“The fans were running up and down the stairs, unfurling flags and chanting ‘Italia! Italia! Italia!’ at the top of their lungs.
“I had never experience that much intensity at any sporting event ever.
“It was clear to me that being a soccer fan, especially at the World Cup, meant so much more than any other event. It was at that moment that I was hooked and I became a soccer fan.”
Doug went on assignment to photograph his first World Cup in 2002 for the games hosted by South Korea and Japan.
Initially intending to solely document the US fans, who would go onto reach the quarterfinals, his perspective quickly changed to follow supporters from all nations.
Doug said: “Everyone in their county [South Korea] supported the team. You could tell that the fan’s energy made the team achieve much more than the had any right to.
“It also opened up my eyes to how soccer, especially at the World Cup, brings people together leading to greater awareness and understanding.
“One minute you are talking to a guy from Ireland, and the next someone from Senegal, and the next a fan from South America, and then you are dancing in the streets with South Koreans.
“Attending the World Cup showed me how ‘American’ I was and how that had shaped my view of the world.
“Being a soccer fan opened up a pathway to learn more about people outside the country I live in.
“I think that is even a more important message to convey at a time when many countries and leaders are attempting to build walls between us.
“Soccer, especially for the fans who bring back their experiences from the World Cup, can help us break those barriers down instead.”
Doug believes the World Cup allows each host nation to introduce themselves and their culture to other nations.
In addition to changing perceptions and prior beliefs about the nation.
Doug said: “For Korea it was about being accepted as an important world power. For South Africa, it was showing the rest of the nations what Africa has to offer.
“For Russia, the World Cup is a stage to ‘correct’ misconceptions many may have about the country, especially in the west.
“The country is surprisingly open as are its people and have embraced fully the role as hosts and welcoming the World.
“Many individual Russians are proud to share their pride and opinions of their nation with all of the visitors at the World Cup.
“But besides all of these important storylines, the World Cup essentially is the largest month-long party for the fans, and everyone is Russia is invited to take part.
Some special moments he recalls include during the 2010 game between Serbia and Ghana, where the opposing team’s fans saved a Serbian fan from being ejected from the stadium.
They convinced a security guard that the Serbian fan was not causing trouble, highlighting how they both understood the passion they both shared for their teams.
Doug said: “It once again showed me how soccer fanatics mutual love for the beautiful game can open up a common ground that leads to a higher awareness and understanding.
“Another time, a fan from Ivory Coast had constructed a full body orange elephant suit to wear during their game against Brazil.
“It was quite cumbersome, and he even needed two friends to lead him in around in the outfit.
“For some reason when the Ivory Coast fans got inside the stadium, there was a mix-up with their tickets, and they ended up not being able to watch the game in the stands.
“This guy had spent months building this suit and was so excited to show his devotion to ‘Les Elephants’ but was stuck to not even being able to watch the game.
“Finally, resigned to the fact he wouldn’t be able to really support his team, he ended up taking off his elephant head and stood dejectedly.
“Different fans witnessed what happened and came up to him during the game to talk and shake his hand and tell him how sorry they were for him.
“It was sad but also beautiful in a way. They all understood how much effort he had made to be there and everyone respected it.”
Doug is fundraising $7,500 (GBP) to cover some of the costs to cover the Russian World Cup and to publish a book that will showcase the photographs he has taken over the last 16 years.
He hopes the series will show the beauty of the World Cup and how the spirit of the games can change the world.
Doug said: “With my photo essay I want to show that soccer (football), and in particular football fans, have the ability make the world into a better place.
“The process starts with the fans who attend the World Cup.
“I’ve experienced first-hand how being at the event has changed mine and other people’s view of the world in a positive way.”