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The World Cup is on and Soccer Fever is back in effect. I realized yesterday, while watching R Kelly perform at the opening ceremony in a golden chain mail coif, that I started this blog exactly four years ago during the last World Cup. Nobody really checked VERY FEEL back in those days, so in all likelihood you missed all the posts I made about that tournament, including my series of haiku dedicated to Japan’s ill-fated run. Anyway, here’s one of the posts for that time where I try to explain my late enrollment in the community of WC maniacs.

Originally posted on June 11 2006:

Blog Bonito

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I’m in Beijing now on various UNIT-related missions, but once I arrived I was knocked over by the enthusiasm for the World Cup here. China’s not in, of course, and maybe it’s considered a kind of warm-up for the Olympics, but damn this city is bang into some football right now. So, I’m gonna go with the flow… UNIT updates coming soon….

In honor of the 06 World Cup Finals, I offer my testament – Confessions of a Football Convert:

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Can I kick it?” – A Tribe Called Quest

Having been raised in the the US – the often-cited isolationist exception to football’s global conquest – I didn’t play or care much for the game growing up. I was a city kid and so played basketball. Soccer, as we call it, was a light-weight, slightly effeminate game played by spoiled, white suburbanites and immigrants (two groups that rarely break bread together – a crystal clear demonstration of football’s unifying qualities that went completely over my head…) During high school, every so often there’d be a few weeks of physical education dedicated to soccer, and we’d be brought outside to play. The teacher wouldn’t provide any advice on technique or even basic rules, we’d just be divided up and let loose. The result was always the same: a handful of kids from Central America or East Europe and maybe one or two from my hometown’s affluent East Side would dominate, carrying on as if they were in a pick-up match in an obstacle course. Those who generally didn’t enjoy sports would endure the 50-minute class with the same level of unobstructive disinterest that they brought to all other games. The rest, those who otherwise considered themselves athletes, would pre-empt their certain humiliation by aggressively underperforming until eventually the game deteriorated into a farcical exhibition of who could play the worst.

This is often the American way: if you aren’t good at something, belittle it. No doubt if Team USA disappoints this year, as I expect them to, you will see this reflexive disinterest acted out in pubs and on public squares across the world: over-loud discussions of more familiar USports interrupted occasionally by drunken croaks of “I don’t even really care about soccer anyway.” And I admit, I’ve been contributor to this ritual for most of my life.

My change of heart came during the last World Cup in 2002. I was living in co-host country Japan at the time, and, like most of my neighbors, succumbed to the virulent strain of “sakkaa feeba” that was going around. It was my first time abroad during a World Cup, first time as an active observer/participant in FIFA’s collective orgy of sport and hysteria. I watched compulsively, drank heavily, humiliated myself repeatedly in conversation with Asian and European colleagues, and a new love affair was born.

Still, the damage from my years of vehement indifference to football is done. I am now that saddest of creatures, a zealous spectator of a game which s/he cannot play. To this day I endure a suffocating dread when a wayward football rolls towards me in a park. Once, in Holland, I thought I’d save myself the embarrassment and toss the ball back to its owner – using my arms, as is the custom in my native country. I picked it up and delivered what is called among the basketball playing set a chest pass. The pace of the pass was brisk enough to establish that I wasn’t, in fact, a gimp, but unaggressive. Nevertheless, my target was caught completely off guard. The ball was coming at a height and trajectory rarely experienced by non-goalies, and lacking the use of his arms (figuratively, of course, from what I observed later that afternoon, he did in fact have two fully functioning arms), he was ill equipped to handle my well meaning toss. Head or chest, there was so little time to decide. In a panic, he attempted to use both, lunging comically in way to left his neck outstretched and exposed. The ball struck him square in the Adam’s apple, then skipped harmlessly away. He grabbed at his throat, coughing and weezing dramatically. I rushed over to apologize, but he paid me no mind. I asked him if he was okay, but his eyes were darting around the park – I guess in search of a passing referee who could serve the red card that my assault so clearly warranted… I fetched the ball, placed it silently near his feet and retreated.

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