Sunday, July 11, 2010

World Cup and Nostalgia

I grew up loving soccer. Before I knew who Pele was, I knew Pele was a legendary "king of football". Soccer was the favorite national pastime. Rich-poor, tall-short, fat-thin, kids played it everywhere. We yelled, cried, laughed at the whims of our teams' misses and hits. We were under the spell of soccer magic. Watching a game was playing one. Being a soccer fan was being a soccer player. World Cup was a month long fiesta.

When I moved to the U.S., I wondered what happened to the magic of soccer. Nobody, except the very new immigrants, cared for it. To my greatest disappointment, Americans did not share that worldwide passion and, and, in fact, insisted on not calling it "football". So every World Cup series, nostalgia suffocated me. I turned to Univision to watch the Copa Mundial de FIFA and to be delighted by the announcer's passionate shriek of "gooooooooal". Like in the past, I yelled-cried-laughed mostly alone. But I knew I was sharing the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat with millions around the world. Every World Cup presented an opportunity to revisit my childhood memories of Paolo Rossi's team that had Italy celebrate for weeks, Michel Platini's moves that had my friends emulate them, and Diego Maradona's "Hand of God goal" that had us talking for days...

This World Cup, I was resigned to do the same. I was excited that FIFA selected for the first time an African nation as its host. I expected the minimum coverage from the American media as usual. After all, I have come to accept that soccer is not an American pastime. To my delight, I found out I was slightly off. This year, I was pleasantly surprised at the level of American media coverage. I even felt some American soccer romance budding. Americans are starting to embrace the real "football". I can now be nostalgic in English. Welcome to the World Cup fiesta, America!