The U.S. announcers are horrible. They talk about everything but the game in front of them. They repeat the back-story endlessly. They assume the ending and look two games ahead. They talk about other shows to be on the next day or the next week.
When they do get to the game the result is always about someone’s mistake. They assume teams aren’t trying when they are. No one really wins, someone always blows it. The game is “still goaless” or, if a goal has been scored, it’s practically over, and they’re looking at the next match-up.
While I understand little Spanish I had to swtich to Univision, even during that wonderful France-Brazil match, where Zidane (above) turned back the clock for 90 minutes, where the whole French team took on the best team in the world, one of the greatest every put on the field, and beat them to nearly every ball, nothing certain until the final whistle.
There’s a British beer commercial on now, making fun of the Ameican announcers, but the satire doesn’t go far enough. Having watched games myself for many years, I can tell they don’t know the first thing.
So what’s the first thing?
Well, if you have a rooting interest any game is fascinating and nerve-racking. It’s the bottom of the 9th, two out from the first kick. When you get the goal you go crazy, and you stay crazy, until things settle down and the other team starts coming at you – they always do – and then it’s back to pins-and-needles, screaming and singing and hoping and worrying. Because at any moment – any moment – it can all come undone.
As a neutral, the game is something different. You can watch stinker after stinker after stinker, praying for one game, one half, where both teams really get after it, where magic happens. It can be a 4-3 goal-fest (those are always fun) or a 1-nil where every pass is challenged. It can even be a draw.
And magic can happen anywhere. It doesn’t have to be the World Cup. I remember a few years ago taking my daughter to a WUSA play-off game, the Atlanta Beat against San Diego. Atlanta fell behind early, and stayed behind, and my daughter Robin wanted to leave. Stick around, I said. You never know, it’s a funny old game. Then, in extra time, on the last kick of the game, the Beat scored, they tied it. “This is why you stay,” I screamed, and Robin screamed in return. Then, a few minutes into overtime, the Beat did it again. They won. We were both thrilled.
But that is far from the best game I’ve ever seen. Far from it.
Want to hear a story?
Then she got hurt. The doctors thought a knee ligament was torn. Turned out it wasn’t. But there were months of therapy. And the varsity, which had to take her because she was a senior, went on without her.
By the time she got back the JV season was nearly over. She was a scrub among freshmen and sophomores. All her game knowledge, all her competitiveness and skill, was wasted on this team. The other girls hardly cared. When they did care they didn’t play in the right places, they blew assignments and blamed Robin. It was horrible.
Her last game would be at home, against Paideia, a private school just a mile from our home, a school she could never get into, because of her dyslexia, and because her father was too proud to beg and scratch in endless fund-raisers for its constant building fund. Instead she would graduate from Grady, the public school, the city school, a mostly-black school (not that she noticed), a mostly-poor school (not that she cared).
The school was integrated, but even in integration there is segregation, lines that are seldom crossed. The football team is black. The soccer team is white. The dance class is also black, but Robin doesn’t care, she loves to dance, and that’s where she twisted the knee.
Anyway, I was working, and didn’t make it for the first half. By the time I could tear away from my desk and get over to Grady, the second half had started. The coach had put Robin in, put her in at her favorite position, at the center of defense.
Pro teams usually play four at the back, two on each side of the field. Amateurs usually align those four in a diamond formation, a stopper, two wings, and what I call "the top of the diamond.” He (or she) directs the others, comes out in defense first, and starts the counter attack.
So there was Robin, at the top of the diamond. Grady was ahead, barely, and Paidiea was attacking, hard. Yet every attack was met by a wall, It was met by Robin. They kicked it right into her, they ran hard right at her, they ran by her and she had to charge back to tackle the ball away. (Sorry to say these pictures are from a few years ago, Robin playing for her rec team.)
Her teammates were not there for her. She said later they spent the whole time complaining. They wanted to play man, she knew better but she’d be going, why listen to her.
So she did it alone. She would clear the ball away to nowhere, knowing it would be coming back, like a goalie fighting the other team alone, all alone.
When the coach took Robin out, a few minutes before the end, Paideia had nothing left. They knocked the ball around a while and the whistle blew. Grady won 2-0. Robin didn’t see it. She was on the bench, crying, exhausted, hurting, fighting for breath because her asthma had kicked in. She didn’t want to go to the post-game party, she didn’t want to see those girls who’d abandoned her, who didn’t play together, who didn’t understand the game, who didn’t want to, who hadn’t suffered for it, who didn’t love it.
And here’s the important lesson, the first thing you need to understand. This game, this kind of game, happens every day, at every level. But you’ve got to wait through a lot of crap to find it.
It’s the waiting for it that makes it beautiful