The World’s Game: confessions from a former soccer hater

 

I had every reason to hate the game. In third grade, my gangly, scrawny legs could hardly run, let alone kick a soccer ball. It didn’t help that my coach was creepier than Christopher Walken and kind of looked like him, too.

148422

After a season of nightmares and athletic embarrassment, I hung up the soccer cleats and wholeheartedly devoted myself to the cool sports.My next ten years, I threw myself into the sports that Americans actually care about. I played the sports that they showed on TV more than once every four years, the ones that the pretty girl in your english class actually might show up to. For the rest of my childhood, if the ball wasn’t orange or brown, I wouldn’t touch it.

Soccer isn’t a real sport. You can’t even use your hands. The players just jog around. Real games don’t end in a tie. That’s not the REAL football. Nobody even gets tackled. Looking back, the rhetoric was questionable, but at the time, it was enough.

And who could blame me? It wasn’t like I was the only American hating on the world’s game. Sportscenter gives the world’s most popular game approximately 5 seconds of airtime in an average day. I can count on one hand the amount of MLS jerseys I’ve seen in my lifetime. On the first day of training camp, on high school football fields all across the the country, coaches deliver the universal line: “Well, boys, if you don’t want to work hard and earn your way onto this team, I’m sure the soccer team has some room for you.”

I’m not proud to say it, but I was a soccer hater.

Then Europe happened.

Soccer in the Netherlands is more than a game. A few blocks from our dorm, an entire neighborhood covers their houses with orange plastic and hangs soccer-ball streamers over the road. One year, they altered the street sign to say Oranjestraat and the police had to come remove it.  At the church I’ve been attending here, they somehow weave soccer metaphors or references into every single sermon. There seems to be an entire genre of music dedicated to the Dutch national soccer club, and they play this genre exclusively during the World Cup.

5T4A5987-001

On game day, fans pack the bars and restaurants like orange sardines. Sunday night, I threw on my old orange Ames high shirt and became one of those sardines. I was running a little late, so I had to fight and claw my way into the back of the bar to get a view of the HD projector screen brought in specifically for the World Cup. Orange streamers hung from every inch of the ceiling. Anxious fans murmured quietly. The dutch were tied with Mexico 0-0, and there was only one half left.

After Mexico’s forward lasered a shot into the upper 90 of the Dutch goal, you could’ve heard a pin drop in the crowded bar. No one ordered drinks. The 200 people in the bar went completely silent. I felt out of place, like I had stumbled into a funeral service for somebody that I didn’t know. I considered leaving, but I looked at the door and my exit route was blocked by tall, sad, angry, and slightly intoxicated Dutch people. Leaving wasn’t an option. I’d have to stick this one out.

Forty-five minutes later, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar sank a penalty shot to give the Dutch a 2-1 victory. Pandemonium broke out. Confetti poured out of the ceiling. A fog machine turned on. Disco lights filled the room. Mob mentality took over and the whole place started jumping. The floor started shaking when they turned on one of those weird Netherlands soccer songs. Everybody started hugging strangers and screaming along with the song in Dutch.

As with most major life decisions, the details are fuzzy on the exact moment when I switched over. Maybe it was the fog machine. Maybe it was the stranger-hugging. Perhaps it was more of a gradual process beginning with stepping foot on Netherlandish soil. I don’t know how it happened, but it did. I switched over from hating the sport of soccer to loving it.

I went from this:

soccer-boy

To this:

8404440913_f2126e4f56_z

So on the eve of the USA playing Belgium, I want to issue a challenge to my fellow Americans. Do some soul-searching. Are you a soccer hater? Did you have Christopher Walken-esque coach, too? Are you still letting the mainstream sports media and your former high school (American)football coach convince you that soccer isn’t cool?

If so, it’s time to let go. Do yourself a favor and watch some football this afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s get political

Since a good portion of my readership is in mourning, I will halfheartedly attempt to cheer y’all up. Hopefully, this will convince you that seceding or moving to Canada is not in your best interest. The one thing I think we can all agree on is that Election day brings out some phenomenal tweets. Something about deciding out leader just ensures that everyone make every one of those 130 characters count.

Funniest tweets of the night:

South Carolina Football Player: “I never got an offer to the electoral college, how good is their football team?”

Bumper Sticker: “A taxpayer voting for Barack Obama is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.”

Eric Metaxas: projecting that one hour from now it will be 9PM on the East Coast. Other time zones are still up for grabs.

BREAKING NEWS: Massive crowd of college students seen earlier fleeing towards Canada shifts direction and is heading straight for Colorado.

Nate Hilgenkamp(my roommate): Nate the Great in 2048. Starting the campaign tomorrow!

Name concealed: Maybe I don’t want to be married by the next election, my husband won’t have any money, #MRSdegree #ruined #noringbyspring

Well, that probably didn’t work. Sorry.

Politics reminds me of sports. There’s some people paying large amounts of money to sit up in bleachers, yell things at the players and feel like they are affecting the results. Sure, on third down, they might force the visiting team to burn a timeout but they are mainly just there. They are spectators. And then you’ve got most people watching the game at home, talking smack to their neighbor who likes a different team, posting about how awesome their team is on their facebook account, inexplicably trying to convince fans of the other team, through their superior logic, to jump on their bandwagon.

We approach politics in this country like it’s the NFL and it’s a shame. Because it isn’t. The difference is that we are the players. No, we’re not the Lebron Jameses or the Peyton Mannings. We aren’t calling all the shots. But we completely underestimate the power that each of us individually has to change our city, country, and world. And it is a travesty that most of us relegate ourselves to the stands, casually living our every day life as if we are powerless to impact the society we live in. There’s nothing wrong to going to the game and cheering for your team, but don’t forget that you can play too. Be the change. 

“He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself.” -CS Lewis

“Politics draws lines between people; in contrast, Jesus’ love cuts across those lines and dispenses grace…we must not let the rules of power displace the command to love.” -Phillip Yancey

Now let’s get into the word.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (emphasis added)

Galatians 5:22-26

 

I impulsively skipped studying for my philosophy test and drove to see these guys play in College Station. Worth it. These guys rock hard and speak truth.