I am a terrible soccer player. That did not stop me however, from being on the girls’ team in high school, first JV, then Varsity, but should also be noted that age 15 not 5 is when I first really kicked a soccer ball with the intention of being part of a team. Once on my high school team, I went to all the practices, worked my butt off, ran stadium stairs, and only got limited game playing time. I am a very fast runner and am tall and athletic looking, so I guess the coach maybe thought that I should be a midfielder, going back and forth between offense and defense, but let’s be honest, it’s mostly an offensive position. I think if all had gone according to his plan I would have been arcing perfect crosses to the forwards who would heroically blast goals in the back upper corner of the net to the hollering cheers of our fans. Well, no. That did not happen. Not on passes from me anyhow.
In hindsight, where they should have put me and let me actually build some skills and confidence, is on defense. My sprinting would have been put to good use going after some speedy winger, or running down an errant but dangerous boot from the far side. Not to mention, I am tenaciously annoying and aggressive when someone else has a ball I want. Also, I’m not afraid to put a little body into it. But, no. I was shoved into the midfield where I withered from fear that I’d have to get my passes to the right spots and was tentative and not so effective and uttered the dreaded, meek, “I’m sorry!” across the field a lot. I felt a little better playing co-ed indoor during the winter; it was faster and all around more wild which meant if my pass went awry, it got noticed way less. My freshman year of college, I spent a semester of PE playing soccer with another co-ed group, and we had some good clean fun with a great coach. I loved that class, and might have been the only “A” I earned that semester. In the summers home from college, and actually right after college, I was talked into joining some local adult leagues by a good friend who was an excellent and collegiate player. At least as an official adult I could then honestly articulate my lack of skills to the prospective team, giving them fair warning of my inconsistent passing so that I’d be absolved prior to any game-losing mistakes I might think I had caused. I also learned to stop the on-field apologies and there was beer after.
Where I am not terrible when it comes to soccer, is my complete and total joy with the entire experience of the game. And it is funny to me, because I am not an obsessive about it, in fact, I always consider myself an awestruck rookie, which is maybe part of the reason I am so present in each facet of my soccer experiences both as an adolescent player and as a grown woman. I don’t know the esoteric facts about the English League system and its levels, but it fascinates me and could spend hours asking endless questions to one who does; I didn’t realize until recently that Italians are known to cheat (!) and somehow that is okay and expected; I love that women’s soccer in the US is just, if not at times as bad ass as the men’s; I am guilty of only knowing the most famous of world players and yes, oogling over David Beckham, but am always willing and ready to be educated on the unknowns; I am concerned by old school hooligans and past Colombian soccer-related assassinations; I love that everyone around the world has likely had a kick-about at some point in their lives and that we all are bonded by that; I have been in stadiums and bars and house parties for games and had as much fun watching the fans as the players. All of these things about the experience of the game transports me to a happiness that I could only compare to how I feel when I am out in nature or the few times I have been in love or when laughter is so intense you feel as if you might pass out from glee and lack of oxygen or flying dreams.
So now, the World Cup is back and I am in full-on soccer awe. I am constantly reading articles and blogs, clicking down rabbit holes of websites and wikis all about the tournament and players and team histories, trying to make sure I have figured out the correct start times for games and put into my Outlook, and now, preparing my bracket! What has me the most tickled though is reading Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch” for the first time. I am having that joy sharing his experience of the game (although he’d describe as mostly fraught and serious not joyful, because he is an obsessive) as yet another reason to believe for certain that happiness is real.
I have some soccer joy to share. I will post some of the stories during the World Cup.
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