I have heard Coach Kirk, our Revolution Director, more than once, trying to convey to parents how different soccer is in other countries, how deeply ingrained it is in their societies. I think he wants parents to understand that we have a deficit here, to better emphasize the importance of creating a home environment that encourages a soccer culture, as a way to compensate for the lack of a “nation-wide soccer fervor” in the United States. While I have seen that soccer craze first hand, it’s even hard for me to explain it. It’s almost irrational at times (as passions usually go), it pervades every aspect of society… it’s seen, heard, and felt intensely.
But let’s start from the beginning to give some context. I was born in Argentina, in a town the size of Flagstaff called Villa María, in the province of Córdoba, back when rotary dial phones were the norm, and the best hydration was from a garden hose. If you know nothing about Argentina and do a quick google search, you will probably learn that the country is known for our high-quality beef, our mate culture (you may have seen my family drinking that strange thing on the sidelines), a love for tango, gauchos (our cowboys), and an extreme passion for soccer. I do love asados (Argentine-style barbecues including grotesque amounts of meat), and I can’t live without my mate! But, as proud as I am of my heritage, I have to admit that I can’t dance tango, I can’t ride a horse, and I didn’t grow up in a soccer family!!!
Regardless of what a poor representation of a “true” Argentine I am, I can still attest that the country is as passionate for fútbol as passionate can be. Argentines breathe soccer! Of course, everyone has heard of legends like Maradona and Messi, and maybe even some can recognize a few of the other countless “demigods” who have worn the albiceleste (white and blue) jersey of the National Team, like Kempes, Aimar, Batistuta, Tévez, Agüero, Di María, Dybala (Santi will kill me if I don’t include him), and so many more! But that is soccer in the big spheres of power, the top of the pyramid. What a foreigner may struggle to picture, however, is the everyday images and subtle daily experiences that reflect how soccer is intertwined in our lives. In any regular day, most likely you will see a boy kicking the ball to the store while running errands for his mom, an improvised pick-up game in any open space available, posters and altars of Diego or Messi, murals depicting soccer scenes... real, simple, everyday fútbol snapshots.
As I mentioned, we were not a soccer family, but at the same time, we could not escape it. Behind the house where I grew up, there is an elementary school. As in most schools, as soon as the bell rings marking the start of recess, kids gather in the school yard to start kicking a ball. Many of those balls would end up in our yard, and those little rascals had the guts to interrupt the sacred hours of siesta to ask if we could return the lost souls. My dad was never happy about that (siesta is truly sacred), but those memories make me smile now. Many of those balls were not even real soccer balls, but rather this cloth contraption made from old socks and rags, the famous “pelota de trapo” that so many poor kids grew up playing with. There is no need for fancy equipment, any shoe (or sometimes no shoes), a goal marked with rocks, and a dusty field will do!
I first felt temporarily possessed by “the passion” in the 1986 FIFA World Cup, the one that witnessed the (in)famous “Hand of God” and what many consider the “Goal of the Century” by Maradona in the quarter-final against England. Those goals meant so much for my country. As Eduardo Galeano put it, in that game against England “Maradona avenged the wound to his country’s pride inflicted in the Falklands War.” Just as with so many big historical events, any Argentine can tell exactly where they were when Maradona scored his second goal against England, dribbling past five opponents before shooting the ball into the back of the net! (I can hear Steven saying: “Can you imagine taking a bathroom break right when that goal happened?!!” I guess those do remember exactly where they were too!)
Soccer is intermixed in our history, in our politics, in our idiosyncrasy… fútbol is hope for the kids from the shanty towns that dream of becoming the next Messi, it’s the leveling field where there is no First and Third World, and the weak can be the strong; it’s identity, it’s a dose of happiness in times of hardships, it’s family, it’s shared moments…
After that first World Cup (for me), many more came, and the passion got temporarily renewed… You just can’t help it if you live in Argentina! Every time the national team plays, there is a ghost town effect: everything stops. Schools either allow kids to go back home or to a bar to watch the game, or they show the game at school because they know that otherwise they would have 100% absenteeism that day! You see executives in fancy suits carrying gigantic TVs to show the game in their offices, as they know nobody would go to work otherwise. The victories are celebrated big, and the defeats are mourned deeply.
But as much as I felt the passion during World Cups, I still was not a “soccer person.” Fast forward to the new century: I marry an American (Steven) and have twin boys (Santi and Dante). One of them (Santi) develops early on an unusual passion for the beautiful game, the other one (Dante) just plays a couple of seasons of Micro and calls it quits as he is more interested in picking bugs from the grass in the middle of a game than in the actual sport. A few years later, looking for options to engage Santi in more soccer, we learn about Revolution and decide to give it a try. He loves it and is happy. Over a year later, Dante feels ready to try this soccer thing again and joins too. When he is asked what changed for him, his answer is “Revolution!”.
Now into our second season with the club, my temporary passion for soccer that was only stirred every 4 years by the FIFA World Cup has flourished into a full-blown enjoyment, in big part thanks to my kids playing for Revolution. Now I find myself asking “Are there any other of those soccer documentaries we could watch?,” I follow soccer players on social media, we organize other family activities around being able to watch certain games on TV, we trip on soccer balls in the house and in the yard all the time and don’t mind it (most of the time), we have a messed up wall that is the “practice wall” and I am (sort of) OK with it, and one of my favorite things has become to watch my kids play soccer. I may still miss every offsides, even when I understand the theory of it, and that may never change… sorry coaches. So, if you hear someone celebrating a goal that is not a goal, yes, that’s probably me!
For those families new to the sports, with the World Cup coming up, that may be a great opportunity to open up to fall in love with the game and create for our kids that home soccer culture that Kirk talks about. And if you need a team to follow, put on the albiceleste with me and cheer for Argentina! There may be a celebratory asado on us if we win! ¡¡Vamos Argentina!!