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The beautiful game

| Tuesday, September 9, 2014

On a Saturday morning in June, I sat watching football (or as Americans call it, soccer) with my father. He sat on the edge of our sofa while I perched concernedly next to him, avidly observing the flash of white jersey as players crossed back and forth, passing the comet-like ball between them in a show of mastery and skill unlike anything I had ever seen. It was one of the few moments I have ever seen my father fully enthralled in something, so I of course decided to interrupt with an endless stream of questions.

“Is he good?”

“Who, Gerrard? Yes, he’s good.”

“And is he good?”

“Lampard? Yes, he is also good.”

“And is the guy in the corner, does he play well?”

“Kitty, if they are on the England football squad, then you can safely assume they are good.”

A brief moment of silence passed over, as I continued to watch the game in front of me unfurl. And then,

“Is that one there, Crouch, is he any good?”

“No, he is not good.”

“Then, why is he on the team?”

This conversation, which was in itself entirely inane and incredibly silly, was the turning point at which I became a lifelong football fan. A relatively innocuous game (England won fairly easily) became one of my favorite memories of my father.

My English parents are not overly patriotic. They have their moments, such as when my father cheered and danced around the room when London beat out Paris for the 2012 Olympics or when my mother woke us all up at 4 a.m. to watch the Royal Wedding, although she herself said she didn’t really understand all the fanfare. However, there is something about the World Cup that makes even my relatively clueless-when-it-comes-to-sports mother engaged and even, dare I say it, a fan.

There is a strong tradition of World Cup madness in our household. One summer, I believe when I was 15 and my sister Claudia was 13, she and I watched nearly every game. Granted, we both were not working full time jobs in the summer, and, much to my parents chagrin, the TV seemed far more inviting than putting on gallons of suncream and sitting outside in the oppressive D.C. heat. It was just simply more inviting to sit in the house and watch other people race around in the oppressive heat in some other foreign country. I believe that my mother might have started her campaign against air conditioning in the house, simply because we spent so much time watching other people play sports and not doing it ourselves.

This summer was slightly different, but a routine slowly developed around the beautiful game. Working a 9 to 5 job meant that there were only certain games I could watch more than half of, and they all started towards the end of my shift.  As most of my friends and family know, there are very few things in life that I will actually shift myself to do; World Cup soccer matches happen to be one of them. I’d race home on the subway, forcing my way through the hoards of tired, angry people on their way home from work, keeping a keen ear out for any snippet of conversation even vaguely relating to soccer, whilst silently praying there would not be a delay on my 4 or 5 train. I would then pelt helter-skelter across the final few blocks to my house, knocking over old people and children in the process, although allowing myself a few moments to breathe outside our local Gristedes to listen to the Spanish radio station along with several of the workers.

My family all have various motives for our viewership. One of my sisters watches the players on the pitch and describes them as “on point” (which is always helped by the slow motion camera shots that appear every so often across the screen). My mother watches any sport with a certain amount of questions, and my other sister Claudia points out that “if it came down to a match between England and the U.S., she’d pick the U.S.,” much to the chagrin of my English parents and me. But it is a moment where my family of seven comes together, drinks tea and eats Cadbury’s chocolate to share in the beautiful game.

And if something stops my sisters and I from bickering for almost 90 minutes, then it truly deserves the title of the beautiful game.

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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