Monday, September 29, 2008

Soccer -- my brother loves it!

Growing up, I used to watch my brother John play soccer and I thought it was pretty boring. Cleats running in a blur chasing after a black and white ball. Slamming it with the inside of the shoe to another blur of feet or at a white net on one end of the large, grassy field. But then he used all that kicking to snag a high school football kicking record...56-yard field goal that still stands today. Super cool to see in person. I started to rethink soccer.

Then in school I met a goalie. A big guy who guards the net as dozens of players stampede toward him in those cleats. They all have one goal: smashing the black and white ball completely through him. It's his job to stand in front of the goal like the Secret Service, taking one for the big guy except in this case the welts aren't typically life-threatening. Just hearing him talk about playing soccer made me rethink it. He ate, slept, thought, and breathed the sport -- passion could be heard in every word. Sounded a lot like my brother. The excitement from both mirrored SEC football in the south and as contagious as that is, I didn't stand a chance.

Then I had an opportunity that evidently was something soccer/futbol hooligans would kill for. I lived in Germany during the 2006 World Cup. When the US played Italy in Kaiserslautern, it was a mad house. I high-tailed it to Switzerland. In the cutest little guesthouse in the Alps - a place that you can only reach by rail - I was having dinner next to a couple from the UK. When they found out that my server was from Italy, it was like Alabama was playing Auburn. The teasing, taunting and relentless ribbing lasted the entire meal.

Later I walked down the main street where all the pubs were snuggled in between mountain wear stores, I could hear shouts pouring out into the streets. Goaaaal! Brazil was playing and losing to an African team. Sounded like Tuscaloosa. That same crazed-Saturday-in-the-South-gotta-tailgate-and-eat-BBQ could be felt from every pore of that sleepy little village. I can smell the burning fall leaves now (the ultimate fall, football, parade smell). It was intoxicating and I couldn't help it. I got into it.

Now I've decided to take a little vacation to one of the soccer/futbol capitals of the world - Italy. I love Italy but I've never been to Venice and have always regretted that I didn't make it when I lived there. On the way, I'll pop in to see my brother and I know I'll be watching soccer. The village will break out its spring team and they'll go to town. I'll watch as John gives me the players' stats and his own recruiter-like opinion about whether they are any good or not. The competition among the players alone will be worth going to see. Maybe that goalie could have held his own.

Either way, the pub will put on a spread. Soccer jerseys will be worn by babies in strollers, old men with pipes and canes, and girlfriends to show player ownership. It won't be BBQ but brauts and beer. And the shouts will reverberate off the trees and windmills. What a party and I can't wait!

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