Sunday, July 02, 2006

THE WORLD CUP -- 2006 July 1

Okay, take it from me on this page, that the French team is going to win the World Cup. They play with a superior level of artistry (in their 1-0 game against Brazil) that I haven’t seen in any of the semi-finalists. But, to win the Cup you also need luck. The penalty shootout between England and Portugal, decided at the last moment, seemed to be more like a game decided by flipping a coin.

So here am I, a guy who with no interest in sports, I mean zero, writing about the local religion – football. (In the US, it’s called soccer, but you all know what I mean). I realized the seriousness of the World Cup that afternoon when I couldn’t find my boss. He was in the conference room following the game on the large screen. I asked who he was rooting for, but didn’t receive a clear answer. Perhaps like religion, there’s a taboo against revealing beliefs or feelings that might prove controversial. Three days later, we had a tele-conference meeting. Some folk muttered that the meeting interfered with the game and that they might just skip the meeting. We struggled for an hour to get our conference equipment to work, and wondered if the football enthusiasts had sabotaged it so as to get us out of the football-viewing room.

So to last Friday when after a long and dry presentation on our company plan, my manager announced that we should take off at 3:30 pm and he would buy drinks for everyone at the local pub, so we could all watch the game. A German, he couldn’t miss the quarter final game of Germany vs Argentina (a penalty shootout sent Germany into the semi-finals). The pub was well it by sunlight coming through tall windows and furnished with ancient wooden tables. The barman drew the curtains for us. We huddled before the large screen but ended up watching and chatting at the same time. Between the action, I managed to finally chat with several colleagues, enough that we’d be more than faces in the hallway. After a beer all caution melted away and I found out where some had bet their money in the office pool. To heck with work. There would be plenty of time to generate profits for ExxonMobil, and defeat the approaching Spanish Armada.

Like never before I found myself drawn into the game, studying the players’ disciplined footwork and bodywork as if it were ballet. If I admitted this to the blokes, I’d be laughed out to the world’s ends. But put aside the dramatic sparring, sideways kicks at each other’s butts and faces, the yellow and red cards. Watch the French players manipulate the ball, send it effortlessly exactly where it needs to go, and you’ll see a dance, choreography improvised on the fly, physical movements executed with speed, precision and total control. It took years of training the body to reach the Level. What am I describing?

In my previous Scottish life I never liked football. The effects of a bout with polio lasted into my teens and made me un-physical, and un-sporting. Living in the States, I never understood Americam football rules or tried out the game. Besides, books were more interesting. Watching the World Cup is not going to make a sports follower out of me, but now I understand what the excitement is all about.

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