Why Soccer?

I spent much of this week reading and writing about various aspects of soccer and soccer fandom for a paper on soccer and nationalism. When I mentioned this to people who asked me, "Are you done with the semester yet? What paper do you still have to do?" I inevitably faced a bemused look and some question as to why the heck I was writing about soccer. And certainly, given that I primarily do literature, and Native American literature at that, with frequent excursions into postcolonial theory, the whole "soccer" connection didn't make a lot of sense on the surface. (Nor do I think I can draw any kind of believable connection to Native American literature here, though experience with writing statements of purpose proves that it may nevertheless be possible.) So, why soccer?

Well, for the long answer, read my paper. But the short answer? Because I damn well love the game.

I can't help it. I don't know why. I think it comes partly from my grandfather, whose devotion to his particular club, the 1. FC Köln, was so intense that it was difficult for him to look away during televised games, even if his only grandkids were leaving for America that very moment. He took me to a game once; I must've been 12 or so. I played soccer at home, so I knew the rules and all that, but this was a different creature. A huge stadium, fans all around, and everyone on their feet for pretty much the whole game. I don't remember very much about the game, though I know it was either shortly before or shortly after the 1982 World Cup, and the goalkeeper for Köln, Toni Schumacher (with his dark curly hair) was also the goalie of the German national team and quite a celebrity.

Picture of Toni Schumacher; link
Toni Schumacher, my one-time idol. Never mind the 'stache; he was sheer genius in the goal.

I was terribly excited that I got to see Toni Schumacher, live and in person, even though our seats weren't particularly close and the only reason I could tell him apart from the other guys at that distance was because his hair was a bit long and - probably more to the point - he was the one in the goal. But the real reason it was soFC Köln team logo - not a link exciting was because I was at an FC Köln game with my grandfather, and he was sharing one of his greatest loves with me.

But back to the U.S, well, it was hard to be a fan. I played soccer in elementary school, and really enjoyed the game, but opportunities to enjoy it outside the local Rec Department soccer fields were few and far between. Sure, I definitely got the encouragement at home - my dad, too, is a big soccer fan, so maybe it's a congenital thing. But I stopped playing soccer in junior high and high school, because we had no girls' soccer team, and I wasn't good enough to play on the boys' team. Sure, I was as good as some of the boys, but if you want to be the only girl on a boys' team, you'd damn well better be one of the best, because everyone's going to be watching you when you make a mistake. (Or so, at least, my seventh-grade mind assumed.)

I never played much after that, and didn't make a habit of following soccer, though I was always interested in and St. Pauli team logo - linkrelatively aware of the fate of the 1. FC Köln and, later, FC St. Pauli, my brother's favorite club (which had a reputation for antifascism as well as dedicated football). The World Cup 1994 coincided rather nicely with a severe illness that unfortunately made me lose my job but also allowed me to stay home all the time and watch Cup games, which to me was a great silver lining. I watched almost all the games (and almost all of them on Univision - U.S. English coverage is so crappy it's no wonder most Americans think the sport is boring), and then - though there was no causal relationship - I moved to Germany.

And after that, there was no turning back. I was a soccer fan, no doubt about it. I didn't have a TV, but by sheer luck I met someone who was also a fan of the FC Köln. Once he discovered we shared a love for the FC Köln, I had to come to his house to watch football with him and his friends. And so I did. (And they turned out to be great people and several are still close friends, but that's not the point here!) Every weekend during the season, on Saturdays or Sundays and sometimes both, we'd watch the football shows and games when they were televised. I followed the fate of my team, and I will admit that by the time they got sent down to the second league, I was such a devoted fan that I had tears in my eyes.

But when it comes down to it, as I wrote in my paper this week, I think that I love soccer because it's a beautiful sport. It's graceful, and it requires agility, strength, creativity and strategic thinking. (If you think it's boring, you haven't ever watched it on the right channel, or with the right people. Which, in the U.S., would be hardly surprising, since outside of Univision and BBC World, I've never heard a decent soccer commentator.) I don't think I'd go as far as Andres Cantor, the former Univision commentator who says soccer is erotic, but there are few things to compare to the exhileration of a completed pass or the agony of a post shot.

Every moment in a soccer game is potential genius, or potential agony - the half-field pass, flank, and goal, or the flubbed pass or post shot. When a team works together, it's sheer, fluid kismet. And when it doesn't... well, then it's probably the German national team.

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December 20, 2001

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