It's the World Cup - soccer's quadrennial international get-together. Hosted in Africa for the first time since its inception in 1930, it's America's least watched sporting event over which everyone else in the world is obsessing. People are getting up at ridiculous hours of the night to watch their country kick for the honor and the glory of getting out of the group round. Do not worry, Grasshopper. Elucidation is on its way.
First, I should establish my bona fides. I understand the basics of the game. I watched it, sometimes twice a day, for a decade and a half. I coached, until the 7 year olds asked me if I realized that everyone on the team could kick the ball better than I could. At that point I retired to the post of Team Mom, a position I relinquished reluctantly when the Little Cuter went off to college. The high schools in Marin thought they played pretty well, and the championship games usually involved a school or a player with whom one of us had a history, so I saw a fair amount of what passed for real soccer.
Watching these players on tv puts the lie to that theory, but that's fodder for a different post. Some things are unchanged - aiming is still crucial, as those who sat on the sidelines beside me heard me repeat often enough. It does no good to trap the ball and strike the ball if you don't also aim the ball.
There are yellow cards (for warnings) and red cards (for more egregious acts leading to an ousting from play) and refs. Of course, the refs in the World Cup are wearing headsets with microphones, not little black boxes on their belts as the NFL refs do. We can't hear their words, but someone must be listening. Or, perhaps, they are merely a fashion accessory?
Players still stop and shoot the ball with their heads. Our star midfielder's parents were often heard to remark "There go some more brain cells" after another amazing header. It couldn't have done much permanent damage - she's a medical student now - but I was always glad that the Little Cuter had other skills on the field.
The uniforms are as colorful as the pink and silver the Big Cuter's coach once tried to pass off as light red and metal to his co-ed team of 2nd graders. The fact that the best player on the team was a girl mitigated the humiliation somewhat. In just a few days of watching I've seen orange shoes and yellow shoes and a goalie named Green in a green outfit.
There is nothing to be said about that beyond relating the facts. In case you were unaware of the tradition, goalies can choose their own outfits; they do not have to match the color that their teammates are wearing. OK, I can't stand it.... does he have such issues remembering where his locker is that he must color-coordinate it to his name? The goalies are easily recognizable, and the USofA apparently has a very good one. Tim Howard jumps really really high and may just have some broken ribs after being kicked in the chest while blocking the ball. Somehow, I think he's going to play on Friday regardless of the pain. He's 31 years old and these events happen every 4 years..... I don't think he'll feel any better when he's 35, do you?
The pros are prone to acting fouls. There's lots of flopping on the ground, especially if the ref is right there to hear your moans and groans. Surprisingly, most of the players pop right back up if a foul isn't called. You don't see NFL or NBA players writhing for effect, but this is not an American game. Is there something to be deduced from this? I wonder. I'm reminded of the British chastising America for coming down so hard on BP because it is a British company. I'm sorry.... I don't care if they are British or Nebraskan... the Gulf is dying. Yet, the whinging* continues.
The broadcasters are less annoying than they might be; they sound smarter with a British accent. I don't know if they are good broadcasters, but at least I understand most of the words . It's much better than watching the Stanley Cup finals where the words were said, in English, but neither TBG nor I could make sense of what they were saying.
The fans are fabulous - Nelson Mandela tearing up, Bishop Tutu dancing, thousands gathered before outdoor jumbotrons. There is bizarre headgear - a woman was wearing a sculpture of New York City on her head - and the ubiquitous vuvuzela.
Somewhere between a mosquito buzzing and a boiler exploding, it sums up the experience for me. It's different, it's foreign, it's vaguely uncomfortable but the fans just love it. I may not have World Cup Fever, but I'm not minding it as background to my days.
*whinge Chiefly British To complain or protest, especially in an annoying or persistent manner.