July 15, 2010


A Soccer Story (Joe Posnanski, July 15th, 2010)

The point is, I learned these things, many of them when I was a kid. I didn’t know anything so baseball as an open world, full of discovery, full of stories, full of great characters, full of funny lines. It still can be, and I still hear about teams and players I knew nothing about. But it’s not the same … I know the main characters, and I know the biggest stories. The same is true for football, for basketball, for golf, for just about all of our games. This is what happens when you grow up a sports fan in America. It’s the biggest reason why I love our games.

But … I know almost nothing about soccer’s past. I know only a handful of names, know only a handful of stories. I know Pele’s father cried when Brazil lost the 1950 World Cup final, and Pele promised him that someday he would win the World Cup. I know a bit about how the New York Cosmos tried to make soccer popular by importing gigantic stars to the North American Soccer League. I know Beckham married a Spice Girl. I know how Nick Hornby fell in love with Arsenal. That about covers it.

So, soccer is an open world for me … coming to soccer at the World Cup really felt a bit like being a kid again. And at the World Cup in South Africa people (fans, journalists, strangers on the street) were thrilled to talk soccer, to teach a few basics, to educate an American who showed any curiosity at all. More than once, I heard Kansas City Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt try to explain why he loved soccer — Hunt is in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame and was for much of his life one of the leading forces in the effort to make the world’s sport more popular here. He told me that he went to the World Cup in 1966 and fell in love with the passion of the game. That was the word he always used — the word everybody tends to use about soccer. Passion. It’s everywhere at a soccer match. It’s on the field. It’s in the stands. It’s in the game reports. People just care SO much, and it’s a difficult thing for a soccer amateur to understand. But people always wanted to share it with me. And I realized when I was there that you don’t have to understand it to love it.

I also heard soccer stories … lots of soccer stories. About Total Football in Holland. About Garra in Uruguay. About Maradona in Argentina. About the importance of beauty in Brazil. About self loathing in England. About the German persistence. About artistry in Spain.

I also heard a story that I had never heard … one that I suppose is extremely famous in soccer communities, probably every bit as famous around the world as the 1958 NFL Championship or Carlton Fisk’s home run or the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team or Michael Jordan’s final shot against Utah is here at home. Someone mentioned it to me in passing while I was in South Africa, and I said something like “What’s that?” The shake of the head suggested that I was missing something EVERYBODY knows. There’s a good chance you’ve heard it already.

...a child can comprehend soccer in its entirety. (Which is a good bit of why it is ultimately so unsatisfactory for adults.)

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 15, 2010 5:41 PM
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