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!

Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa

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.

Children play soccer in the Dogon region of Mali

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.

 

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Comments
5 Responses to “The Real Football and Marginalized Children”
  1. Claire says:

    HOORAY!

    I grew up playing soccer. Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around soccer (my brother practicing with me, making friends on teams, learning how to share and compete well on teams, oranges at half time!, impressing Matthew when I was in 9th grade and made the final penalty kick in a regional competition, hehe, and so on).

    I attended a Fiorentina game while in Italy. I realized then (what I’d always known from watching, but had then experienced) that Americans have NO idea what being a “fan” means.

    My earliest vivid memories of cheering for world cup soccer( Go uS!) is the Atlanta WC. I know I watched before then, but I don’t remember. SO excited for this competition, and this topic!

  2. Claire says:

    And by Atlanta, I mean LA. Was just reading the new about Atlanta being on the list for future WCs.

  3. MICHAEL says:

    Yes! I almost never watch soccer but I’m excited. Lets watch the US this Saturday. Big game.

    I’m also really interested in seeing the North Koreans on Tuesday at 2:00.

  4. Darrell says:

    Excited about it, well I guess so. I get interested every time the World Cup comes around and of course the summer olympics, but not very much the rest of the time. I always want the American team to do well and when they go out I’m still interested but not as much. I have thoughts about the other teams; I had a bad experience there once so I hope they lose, or I had a good experience there once so I hope they win. By the way I saw DB in the stands scouting the American team the other day at a scrimmage or friendly as they call it, so if England is that concerned, maybe there’s a chance.

    Back to the human trafficing angle huh. Well as before we can’t stop civilization because of this problem. Until we are willing to try my solution to it, I will not be convinced of our sincerity. Besides, this is an excellent chance to get a lot of them together at once and roll up the entire lot. Good bye slavers.

    Always remember though, its not real football whatever you call it.

  5. katinka says:

    I love soccer too! Claire I definitely remember lots of oranges at halftime! Thank God for soccer moms and dads… I have so many good memories of playing and watching, whether World Cup or on rocky, gutter-lined, slanted streets of Honduras. Can’t wait for this one!

    My earliest World Cup memory was watching the US play Costa Rica in a qualifier before the ’94 (I think?) WC. I actually got to go to several Women’s World Cup games while they were in the States. Saw France play Russia in a warmup for the ’02 WC, which I was in Italy for and witnessed lots of crazy fans. Was in Spain for the Euro Cup two years ago when they won…arguably a more concentrated competition than the WC, because there are so many rivalries among European teams.

    This is the one time when I wish we had TV…

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