During this World Cup, I keep reading that Americans have embraced soccer, turned ourselves into a country of World Cup crazies. Still, I think of our young soccer stars dashing to practice between violin rehearsal and chess club. Soccer, in my mind, is an upper-middle class sport played by kids with high IQs who need to demonstrate a level of athletic prowess, “well roundedness”, on their Ivy League applications.
It isn’t a sport played as a pickup game on a forgotten, dusty field in the wrong part of town with teams created from whatever ragtag players show up.
I watched a replay of the end of the Argentina versus Switzerland match from earlier this week. Grown men on the streets of Buenos Aires cried like babies when their team finally found the back of the net as time expired. The entire crowd simultaneously grabbed their hair and shook their brains loose.
Years ago, we arrived in Rome starving and exhausted after a long trip. We plopped down at a table in a deserted dining room. Five minutes passed. Then ten. Still alone, we began to wonder if the person who closed up forgot to lock the front door, dim the lights and switch off “O Sole Mio”.
Just as we were about to leave, a waiter poked his head around the swinging kitchen door and motioned for us to come in. The cook and waitstaff huddled around a small TV watching the end of Italy’s World Cup match. Only once time expired did we return to the table to begin our meal. I imagined the panic when they heard us enter, “Mama Mia, who can eat at a time like this?!”
Some of our favorite travel memories involve European vacations and international soccer events.
In the wee village of Courtmacsherry, Ireland, the town pub opened just past dawn so locals could gather to cheer their team to a rare first round victory. In the middle of the night, we were awakened just off Trafalgar Square by screaming fans and blaring horns in what seemed to be a reenactment of the end of World War II but was just a good English team winning, as expected, in the early rounds. In 2008, two fans, both draped in their team colors with matching wigs – one Dutch the other French, stood and embraced in the back of a horse drawn carriage to the delight of fans swarming the streets of Vienna.
Now, we live in Budapest. Hungary doesn’t have a team qualified for the trip to Brazil. Yet in every restaurant, ruin pub and square in town, television screens have been erected to carry the games.
A few nights ago, Pat walked over near the US embassy during the match between the United States and Belgium. Here is the scene from Szabadsag Ter.
In a recent ESPN poll, 60% of Americans do not believe the US will win a World Cup “in their lifetime”. Let’s put these doubts to the side. It’s not just about winning.
Will we continue to watch the games when we no longer have a dog in the fight? Will we ever call the sport by its internationally recognized name? Will grown men cry and drop to their knees in the street when we advance past the group of 16?
I think we must – because that, America, is futbol.
Categories: Insiders Budapest