By MARK GRAY
Televised World Cup soccer is only one step more exciting than watching professional bowling. Hours of seeing grown men kick a ball (and ending up with neither team scoring) is as numbing as focusing on a piece of chalk. How many of us really care about whether Costa Rica beats Uruguay? (Some 88 percent of Americans can’t even find the two countries on a map!) Do we really feel proud if Ghana defeats the Ivory Coast?
Granted, soccer is a physical sport and I respect the endurance of the athletes. However, soccer lacks the statistical elements of baseball, the identifiable strategy of football, and the close-to-the court action of basketball and hockey. Soccer is the world’s most popular sport simply because there is little equipment to buy, making it easy for poorer nations to embrace.
One of the most miserable experiences of my life occurred when I was called as an “emergency coach” for a youth soccer match. The children didn’t know what they were doing (neither did their emergency coach), the parents knew only a trifle more than the children, but that didn’t stop them from shouting instructions from the sidelines. And the junior high school referees were wilting from the unseasonably hot weather.
When I grumble about having to attend children’s soccer matches, parents often nod in agreement. They sympathize, noting that “this too shall pass” as the children age. But it hasn’t passed; this summer my wife is watching Portugal play Belarus. I cannot tamp down my enthusiasm.
Let’s clear something up. Belarus does not even have a team in the 2014 World Cup. Secondly, I didn’t know of this deeply held animosity the hubby holds towards soccer and this once-every-four-year event. Usually we agree to disagree on the topic for our column. Sunday, as I was watching a spirited match between Switzerland and Ecuador, he unceremoniously walked into the room, dropped his completed column into my lap and stalked out.
Franklin Foer, author of “How Soccer Explains the World” wrote, “Soccer isn’t the same as Bach or Buddhism. But it is often more deeply felt than religion, and just as much a part of the community’s fabric, a repository of traditions.”
It could be argued that soccer makes a nation aware of their patriotism in ways that nothing else does. Not even the Olympics comes close. For sheer spectacle, nothing beats the World Cup.
I admit that like most from my generation, I came late to the soccer party. Years of watching my son play AYSO and high school soccer led me to appreciation.
My defining moment came during a trip to England with him during the summer of 1998, when the World Cup was being held in Paris. Every pub was filled with British fans and their love of the game spilled out into the streets. We couldn’t help but be caught up in the excitement.
It made me realize that soccer is more than just kicking a ball. It is watching a nation’s passion on a playing field Р all the hopes and dreams (and despair), the unifier.
Tim Vickery, a Brazilian-based soccer journalist stated that soccer is a “universal language that we speak with different accents.”
With all the turmoil in the world, one month of speaking the same language isn’t long enough.