In a little over a month, the World will be all but entranced with a ritual that, every four years, absorbs a month in the life of millions of football fans everywhere. (Yes, you read football: soccer sounds like something that is played in socks; football is a universal game where, most of the time, the players hit a ball with their feet, wearing football shoes).
Everywhere, that is, except in the old United States.
Or such used to be the case. But the US is fast becoming a multiracial, multiethnic and multicultural society where around 35.4 million ‘Latinos’ thrive, many among them rabid football fans, as I am. Many of us will be glued to our TV set watching the incomparable drama of the World Cup this summer, while keeping an eye on the NBA finals and the slow moving baseball season (and I love baseball too, in fact, it was my first sport just as Spanish is my first language, but let us stipulate it is slow).
For the past 35 years of my life, I have lived estranged from the angst a football season produces, say, in Spain, in Argentina, in the UK, or in Brazil. When I arrived in Miami, back in 1979, there was only one weekly TV show where you could have a glimpse of what was going on in Latin American or European football, a two hour Saturday afternoon program put together by an enlightened Peruvian foot-ball fan, Tony Tirado, where you could catch week-old football games from foreign lands. Today, due to “the magic –an ever more expensive magic- of Cable-TV” I can follow the best football leagues with the same dedication their respective fans follow it back home.
Every single World Cup game this summer will be carried live to homes all over America, but still, there is something missing. And it is that “something” that I mean to try to convey to my many friends in the US that still look at the real football (no offense intended) as little more than a curiosity. Because I believe –foolishly, perhaps- that if ALL of us Americans manage to understand football, and the strong hold this one sport has over well over two thirds of humanity, such understanding will do wonders to our ability to better understand the world around US (and if there is something I fear on behalf of my American grand-children and the quality of life they will get to live, that fear is firmly imbedded in our country’s inability to understand the world around it and find its proper place in it).
Football is not just a sport where you win or loose, score or save, laugh or weep. Football, the way I see it, is a reflection about and upon life, human life, a tool for solid bonding among humans, among many other things. Which is what makes it, again, in my humble opinion, an imperative for Americans to pay more attention to it.
For the first time we have a Pope who is an avowed football fan. Whether you are a Catholic or not, a religious person or not, a sport fan or not, that little piece of information should make you aware that you need to pay more attention to football, that football is not as trivial as it may seem to be. And I am going to try to help you understand it, even to generate in you some enthusiasm for it.