by Nancy Bestor
As I write this story, the world is smack dab in the middle of perhaps its biggest and greatest international sporting event ever, the 2014 World Cup. For all you non-soccer people out there (or non-football people if you’re really in the know), this is the worldwide soccer event that happens just once every four years, and this year is being hosted by Brazil. We’re big soccer fans in our house (“we’re”, ha-ha) so soccer is on at all times in the front room, on a computer in the kitchen, and sometimes even on a computer in the living room too. Yes, it is on at least two viewing machines at the same time, apparently in case you walk out of one room and into another, because you wouldn’t want to miss ONE MINUTE OF IT.
I’ve been watching soccer since Bob and I started dating. I spent many, many Sundays sitting in the cold watching him play games all over the Bay Area. I traveled most weekends with him to away games, and was often the only fan of his recreational team. (You’re wondering if I was crazy right? I could admit to many things here, but the truth of the matter is, I really liked watching the games.) I don’t watch Bob’s games anymore, one reason being that he most often plays at 6am, and the other being that I now have other things that rank higher on my list (like reading a good book). But I do pay attention to the World Cup when it comes around. I like to root for all the underdogs and the United States, who coincidentally is an underdog in this event.
Over the years we’ve rooted along with our French friends for the French national team to win the World Cup, for Croatia (my mom’s homeland), for Costa Rica (because we met a kind Costa Rican soccer fan and hotel owner in their country many years ago), and, of course, for our home team. Bob fondly remembers the World Cup of 2002, which took place in Japan and South Korea. He got together with his soccer buddies in the middle of the night on several occasions to watch the games live. I, on the other hand, remember getting up in the middle of the night in 1981 to watch Prince Charles marry Diana Spencer. And we ended up getting together anyway.
The World Cup makes me think about the differences between the United States and other countries when it comes to sports. Bob was introduced to soccer when he was 10 years old. A boy at his school, whose father was born in Portugal, taught him how to play this “new game.” (The Portuguese father coincidentally happened to be the doctor who delivered yours truly, a fact Bob and I would learn after we met and married. Apparently our love was destined to be.) He and his friends began playing it at every recess and lunchtime, and Bob still plays today. Although soccer is much more popular in the US now than it was when Bob was a kid, I’m pretty sure soccer comes well behind football, baseball, and basketball, in our nation’s interests. Maybe even ice hockey too.
It’s lots of fun to travel to other countries while their teams participate in a big soccer event like the World Cup or the European Championships. When the national team is playing, things pretty much shut down as fans gather around televisions in public places to see a big goal, or the final minutes of a key game. We’ve been lucky enough to witness celebrations in France, Italy and England, with cars driving around honking their horns and people proudly hanging out their windows and balconies waving the national flag. There’s a national feeling of community during these moments, unlike any I’ve really experienced here in the US. Maybe it happened when the US national hockey team won the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics, but I wasn’t paying attention way back then.
I’m certain the United States national soccer team will continue to improve, as more and more little kids start playing soccer at age 3 and 4. Maybe one day we’ll get our chance to drive our cars through the streets, honking, chanting USA, USA, and proudly waving the American flag after our team wins the World Cup. Until that time, I’ll be rooting for the home team, but I’ll save my horn honking for when I’m trying to get my daughter’s attention in the high school parking lot.