I've watched plenty of World Cup in this Town
Why the World Cup matters to me, is something I have pondered for over a month as the big event drew nearer. This is my first World Cup since 1998 that I will not be in Europe for at least part of it. It was strange not watching yesterday's USA-Ghana match in a place with a huge screen and raucous fans. I have seen matches in bars in Connemara Ireland, and along the Mosel in Trier, Germany. I have watched on ferries to Sardinia, the streets of Tuscany, and alone, in a big empty apartment, after a train ride from Switzerland. No matter the locale, rarely does a match fail to create a goose-bump inducing moment.
The question posed on a major US sports talk show today was: Why should we(America) care if soccer is ever a major sport in this country? It was clear when listening to the hosts, that they believed it never will be a major sport in our country. I think otherwise, and not only do I believe it will one day be on par with our great American traditions, I think it must. To those of you who feel otherwise, and I am sure there are many, let me offer the following suggestion. Stand on a piazza and look out over a town, in a country with no powerful army, and abject unemployment, while the people fill the streets after an amazing win in world cup. Watch the elation and the solidarity overcome so many, with seemingly very little hope, and the answer becomes obvious. This sport is a unifying entity, and a vehicle for us all to share in our common humanity. Before the UN, NATO, and the G(pick a number of the week), there was Soccer, Futbol, Calcio,Fußball, فوتبال, 足球, サッカー, and футбол.
I am watching here this year, longing for the moments I likely took for granted. At the same time, I feel something moving under the talented feet of these talented ambassadors of nations. It feels something like hope, and close to acceptance. Soccer did not choose to become global because of World Cup, it was global, and therefore, World Cup happened. Kids, a ball (often a shabby piece of something formed from garbage and desire), and some semblance of end lines is all it takes to create a life above misery, in so many places around the globe. All our science, all our sports technology used for creating competitive advantage, pales in comparison to the want to play a game that is often the only joy or respite from a very difficult life. One of my favorite soccer terms is "the equalizer", and it is a lovely metaphor for the class bridge the sport has become. However, I do not watch the sport for charity, or because it's nice to see the poor kids sing in the church choir. I watch because I love to feel the hair stand on my arms when an occasional miracle finds the net. I watch because I know these matches are celebrations of our most common passions as human beings. The games are much like living, passing from place to place, setting up "chances" for the moments that make up the best of our days. I watch because I travel in my head to all those places I have watched, to all those people I have met, and to the absolute knowledge I am a better person for doing it.
I have already begun to wonder where I will be in 4 years when the cup goes to Russia. I have a pretty good idea that It will be somewhere with a TV, and people I do not know, caring about a match that for 90 minutes, is far bigger than all our joint woes. This is why the World Cup matters to me.