Am I looking forward to the World Cup championship game between the Netherlands and Spain? And how! Did I ever think I'd be writing this? Not in a million years! Herewith, the second part of the unlikely tale of how I came to join the ranks of football fans the world over. As explained in Part I, Why I Never Liked Football Whilst Living in England, I never paid much attention to the sport despite nearly a decade of exposure; on the contrary, I developed an abhorrence for it.
In Part II of my tale, I have settled back in the United States, the 2010 World Cup is upon us, and I find myself uncharacteristically drawn to this high-profile game, like never before.
PART II: How I Came to Change My Mind About Football, or At Least the World Cup
all the same drawbacks I noted before: goals are few and far between, the fans are predominantly male, and jingoism reigns, particularly between the English and the Germans.
All I know is that my conversion took place as a result of my no longer seeing the elephant. Ironically, even though the UK is considered the cradle of the game (the English have been kicking balls competitively since at least 1314), it wasn't until I returned to living in the States that I felt comfortable giving the sport a chance. Though I have yet to make any fellow converts among my compatriots, I've got my pitch prepared (no pun intended). My top three reasons for fanning football are:
1) It's the World Cup, stupid. Living in England, I couldn't see the World Cup forest from the local English football club trees. But once you see the forest, there can be no turning back. Watching the very best players in the world compete, even a hardened skeptic like me begins to see why they call it The Beautiful Game. All that talk about poetry and magic, Spain's choreography and the marvels the Dutch team — it's not just drivel. (Of course, following the World Cup also represents a minimal commitment to the sport, since it happens just once in four years. It has yet to be seen whether I maintain my dedication to the sport during the interval.)
2) It's a much-needed distraction. Where do I start: the economy, the oil spill, the war in Afghanistan, the heat wave plaguing the East Coast. When the news is consistently rotten, there's nothing like a soaring soccer ball to lift the spirits, not to mention the vicarious pleasure of seeing a team, and a nation, carry off the trophy. And how thrilling for a European team to win outside Europe (a first!) and for that team to be taking its very first drink from the cup. Cheers and more cheers!
The FIFA World Cup, by contrast, is a singular occasion. There can be no bigger stage, literally as well as figuratively, than the vast pitch on which this ultimate sporting drama takes place.
The other day when I was watching one of the semifinal matches, and the TV cameras were taking an aerial shot of the pitch, I suddenly thought to myself, that's what it must be like to be an alien surveying the Planet Earth. (Thanks to the buzzing of the vuvuzela, it's not so far-fetched to imagine cruising along inside a flying saucer.)
And do you know, I believe that if I were an alien, I would find the World Cup more riveting than anything else than the planet has to offer — certainly more than the spectacle surrounding the basketball player LeBron James (my goodness, how parochial!) or the vision of Roger Federer bombing out of Wimbledon (tennis, now that's an acquired taste!). But this sport, it's something else: on the one hand, it's simple and basic (hey, anyone can kick a ball); on the other, it's extremely diverting. Did that bald guy just make a goal with his head? And how is it that some of these earthlings have developed the talent of using their feet as though they were hands — now that's something worth beaming home about!
Stay tuned for Part III, to appear in time for Brazil 2014, in which I will attempt to bend the case for football still more, stressing its potential for opening up intergalactic communication and fostering truly universal harmony.
Do I sound like a true convert?
Are there any more reasons I should have in my arsenal? (Hahaha, couldn't resist!)
Last but not least, Spain or Holland? The writer of this blog is pleased to join arms, as it were, with a distant cousin of the pachyderm, a cephalopod who goes by the name of Pulpo Paul, in declaring: Viva España! (If you don't believe me about the cousin thing, then I urge you to take a close look at the proboscis pictured above, which for all the world looks like an octopus's tentacle — it functions like one, too.)