The Real Football and Marginalized Children
It is football time, my friends, and I am excited.
No I don’t mean the football with the big guys who beat each other up. I mean the football with the smaller guys who don’t touch anything – not even the ball.
I became a soccer fan during the ’02 World Cup, when a few friends and I tried to follow every game. I don’t remember much from those weeks except late night trips to Waffle House and feeling nauseous from sleep deprivation – so much fun!
And now the time has rolled around again, with the speed and unpredictability of a loose soccer ball. The World Cup is almost here!
When I lived in Spain, I took classes right by the stadium of Real Madrid. Some nights as I left class, I would have to work my way through an army of painted, marching Spaniards on their way to the next big game.
In Romania, I’ve played soccer in communist-era apartment building parking lots with some of the kids I was visiting.
The Madrid players were very rich, the Bucharest players very poor, but I’m pretty sure both teams showed the same passion.
In refugee camps and slum alleyways, children can pick up a game with almost no equipment and, for a moment, forget their troubles. It gives them exercise, play, and a chance to dream. When a ball passes the makeshift net of two shoes, a wall, maybe a couple of rocks, for an instant even the poorest child can be transported to a wonderful, distant place called Possibility.
Soccer has its downsides, too. The enormous stadiums cause displacement and homelessness, and the big events like the World Cup attract human trafficking and crime.
But while the problems with soccer are global issues that won’t be solved easily, the beauty of soccer is global as well: young and old, rich and poor, from almost every country and ethnic group, meeting on well-kept stadium fields and muddy dirt paths, for one shot at glory.