Goallllll! Soccer scores with this fan

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Feature

World Cup soccer mania has hit my house.

Well, it has hit me, anyway. My husband hasn’t altered his daily routine and seems moderately interested in the sport that consumed so much of our lives when our children were younger.

On the other hand, I have been planning my days around the best World Cup soccer matches and have probably seen seven games in their entirety and a few more in pieces – and we aren’t even to the “Round of 16” yet!

My interest in the games has taken me a bit by surprise. I didn’t intend to care very much after both the U.S. and the Netherlands didn’t make the cut. I am not a Germany fan, and I like Brazil, but mainly because of Neymar, the team’s superstar forward.

Then little Iceland came along in their first World Cup appearance ever, so I had to cheer for them. Who wouldn’t, given the whole country has a population that is less than the population of Knox County?

So I watched a few more games. Then a few more. Suddenly, I was back in the 1990s, when the world stopped for soccer games. Soccer was the only thing that could temper my workaholic tendencies. My two boys played a combined seven years of high school soccer. I missed one game, and only because I had a wreck on my way to the stadium.

I will not debate the merits of soccer with those of you who don’t like it. Some of my dearest friends just shake their heads in confusion. Others rail against the utter boredom of a game that can continue for 90 minutes and end in a tie, with fans preferring that to penalty kicks, which are not much different from just flipping a coin. One friend calls it “kick ball,” but he’s an Alabama fan, so I am use to forgiving him his indiscretions.

I can sympathize with those who don’t like soccer. Most of the confusion comes, I believe, because it is called “football” everywhere except the U.S., so Americans think it should be like American football. It isn’t. Rugby is like American football. Soccer is more like hockey. And, like hockey, if you don’t understand it, you hate it.

If you do understand it, it’s a beautiful game to watch. That is what has pulled me back in and had me rearranging my schedule for games at 8, 10 and 2. I didn’t realize how much I had missed it.

One thing hasn’t changed, even on a World Cup stage. The field is still populated with 11 players who are innocent of every foul, and 11 players who are vying for an Academy Award anytime the referee is nearby.

If you aren’t a soccer fan, this World Cup won’t make you one. That’s okay. When you get ready to rail against the game, however, just remember this: Soccer ranks No. 1 in the world in number of fans with 3.5 billion. American football, which I also love, is ninth, with 4 million fans. Table tennis has 850 million…

So, play on!


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