Friday, June 18, 2010

The Beautiful Game

Watch this video. I dare you not to be excited about the World Cup after you see this:

Are you singing this song yet? I'm sitting in a coffee house, and the sound is off on my computer, and I'm singing it. So you have to be.
I admit it. I'm not the biggest sports fanatic. I'm not even a mediocre sports fanatic. I'm not precisely a fair-weather-fan (much like my love of Coca-Cola, my "team" affiliation resembles more of a no-holds-barred radical, purposeful ignorance of the merits of other "teams"). In other words: I'm a Braves fan... but I haven't seen a full Braves' baseball game since... High School? However, I'm also a huge fan of emotional-affiliation, of giving in to the joy of the moment and screaming at the screen when there's a fumble on the play, or leaning left in my seat in hopes that the curling stone will also curve left, or jumping up and down in the chair so that a jockey and horse will ride just a little faster, or holding my breath during foul shots so that the sound of my breathing won't distract the player on the tv screen. This may explain my near-religious experiences when watching Friday Night Lights. I'm emotionally invested. Just ask my roommates, current and former.
So, I think Soccer - nay - Football, allows for the best of all worlds. Brash support of the US team, despite our baby-hood on the field and a discrepancy in talent when compared to the world's heavy-kickers that is comparable to the discrepancy in salary range for US Footballers compared to England's or Portugal's or Brazil's. All-out emotional exclamation at the pubs and heart-in-it, eyes-glued-to-the-telly, what-a-great-play adoration. Some other appealing qualities? Handsome, handsome men. Wearing Ralph Lauren designs. And costumes. Lots of costumes. Entire flights of stadium seating for National Super Heroes.
One of my Philly roommates recently came out to visit me in Colorado. She explained several important things during the US v. England game: 1) what "Off-Sides" means. Because I didn't know. 2) The minor upswing in popularity of games after the advent of HDTV, because the cameras have to be so damn far away in order to take in the action, that plain-old-tv makes the players look like little colored blobs prancing around. With HDTV, viewers can finally see what's going on. 3) Football is a working-man's game. It enlivens towns full of blue-collar workers; it isn't a blue-blood's game. ("Chesley, Manchester is like... Pittsburgh. Lots of steel and factories. And that's kind of it.") 4) Footballers on club teams in foreign countries make millions of dollars... whereas a player on Philly's new team makes about 14k.
The only thing I really could bring to the conversation was: "Hey, I went to High School with one of the US players. We were in the same grade. Yay, Ricardo!"
Then I happened upon the June Vanity Fair. Current football stars on the front. Classic football legends on the back. Inside, Annie Leibovitz does her epic-photography thing with a bunch of boys in their boxer briefs. And A.A.Gill writes one of the best Vanity Fair articles I've read in awhile- because he writes about the game as "a powerful link between multi-millionaire athletes and the man on the street," with a literary style that does the same, interjecting tongue-in-cheek observations, jibes, self-aware blanket statements, and brief anecdotes into a rich-but-quick overview of the game's history. And it's all illustrated by boys in their boxers... and Ronaldo's mom.
Gill writes, "It seems that football took to the world pitch at about the same time as the modern independent nation-state. After a flag, a national anthem, and a press release decrying Yankee imperialism, the next thing newly minted nations do is build a stadium and come up with a national grudge match. As a result, most countries see their football team as an expression of national solidarity. The British, with a contrarian savoir faire, use it as an excuse to dissolve the union and play as four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland." (long quote- I had to put the whole paragraph in. It's brilliant. Kudos, Gill, on being clever, insightful, and succinct, all at once. Not an easy task.)
He personifies the countries using the characteristics of their in-game technique. And then shares classic fan traditions. When the Dutch play Germany, fans chant, "Give us our bikes back," recalling the WWII retreat of German soldiers from Holland, when they stole bicycles to use as getaway transportation. As for the English, they still play The Great Escape theme, and sing (to the tune of Camptown Races), "Two World Wars and one World Cup, England, England." I stand in resolute support of any tradition that recalls the greats in the cast of The Great Escape; Coburn and Bronson, Attenborough and Garner, and the inimitable Steve McQueen....
So if you run across a Vanity Fair, pick it up and read the article. And try to catch a game sometime (preferably in a pub, or at least in the presence of someone schooled in the game... It's more fun when you have a personal translator...). Or just download "Wavin' the Flag," and enjoy a little catchy tunage that celebrates
The Beautiful Game.
photos: Children from the Toba Qom Ethnic Group play soccer on Indigenous Indian Culture Celebration Day, Screaming Woman, Aher Mendelsohn Fan Tribut, Soccer Boys by Flickr member Nattu, Annie Leibovitz Vanity Fair spread, image from Det Kempke, still from The Great Escape, Preparing for the World Cup in South Africa from

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