To mark the unveiling of BIR 2.0, I wanted to write something about soccer. Not a team, not a player, not a memorable moment, just soccer – the game itself. I’ve been trying to figure out how it’s become such a part of my life, especially when I paid it exactly zero attention between the ages of 7 and 19. I thought that maybe I was only able to appreciate its subtlety and nuance once I got older, but that’s a load of garbage since I had other serious interests that required a decent attention span before then, not to mention that millions of children around the world seem to enjoy the game just fine in spite of their youth.
Then I thought that my shrinking interest in other sports could be the key. My first love was college football, but it’s gotten harder and harder to stay invested when each year brings a pile of new scandals, more realignment tearing apart geographically-coherent conferences and century-old rivalries, and increasingly exasperated arguments from the NCAA trying to reassure the public of its “non-profit” status.
Maybe the growth of soccer in America and its expanded media coverage simply made it more mathematically probable that I would be exposed to it and fall in line with the billions around the world who are already under its spell. In the end, I don’t have a good answer, but it doesn’t really matter. Like making a new friend or falling in love, it just sorta happened, and the results are far more meaningful than the causes.
What I can explain is WHY I love the game, and what makes it so special. I love the constant motion and the players’ dependence on their own creativity and ideas rather than having plays sent in by coaches from the sidelines. I love when said creativity results in a moment that you’ve never seen before and will never see again.
I love the songs of the supporters and their visual displays.
When it comes to playing, I love how you must constantly process what you should be doing while trying to anticipate the actions of the other 21 people on the field. I also love that anyone can play and make a contribution to the team, whether they’re tall or short, lean or chubby, even if they only have ONE FREAKING LEG.
In the end, I suppose what I like most is taking part in what may be the closest thing there is to a human pastime. Religion and nationalism can also boast billions of followers, but for me, soccer links us in a special way. Whether I’m in the stands, chasing a ball across the field, or just plopped on the couch in front of the TV, my perceptions and emotions are similar to those that are experienced by people all over the world, often simultaneously.
Soccer alone will not end poverty or bring about world peace. It is, after all, simply a game. What it can do, in fact what it has already done, is create common ground between people from all walks of life in all different locations. In today’s world, perhaps nothing could be more valuable.