Thursday, July 15, 2010

The World Cup Runneth Over

JT is a huge sports fan, so it’s no surprise that he’s taken to football/soccer, keeping tabs on our own Cambridge United, following the premiership league in England, and, of course, watching the World Cup. I’m less of a sports fan, but I certainly appreciate that in Europe, football is a universal language – far more so than in the US.

This year, the World Cup has provided the opportunity for us to get together with friends old and new, experience the national pride that the tournament brings out, and talk to others, even when we don’t have a common language. The first big match in our house was England vs. USA. We had an evenly matched audience – three Brits and three Americans. It was a great crowd, and the 1-1 result meant the Americans were hugely happy at the comeback draw, and the Brits were already lamenting their failure!

The next game we hosted was England’s next game, England vs. Algeria. We used it as an excuse to invite our neighbors over, whom we’ve been meaning to have over for far too long, and who are, it turns out, huge football fans. Emily and I used the game as an excuse to plan a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern dinner feast.

We were in London when the U.S. played Algeria. The only problem was that England played Slovenia at the exact same time – we knew we’d be hard pressed to find a pub showing the U.S. game. Long ago I joined the London Meetup group, and it turned out they had found a pub to show the US game on the big screen, the England game on a small screen to the side. About 150 Americans – and 6 Algerians – crammed into the pub at 3 p.m. on a weekday to watch 89 minutes of tense football – and then completely let loose when the US scored the game-winning – and team-advancing – goal.

US vs Algeria from dceditors on Vimeo.

Over the following weeks, we’d hear cheers from local houses and pubs from the various groups watching the games. You’d see people walking around town wearing their team/country’s colors or jersey.

We headed to Turin, Italy, last week for a work conference and while strolling in town the first day we found a piazza where they were showing the Brazil/Holland game on a big screen in the town square. The Dutch won, which meant the Netherlands won would be playing three days later in the semifinal. One of our work colleagues is Dutch and was keen to watch the game, so of course we were happy to oblige—accompanied by a 5-course outdoor dinner in the same piazza as we watched the big screen.

The next day was the Germany-Spain semifinal. We were traveling from Turin to Nice, France, and made it to our apartment there just as the game was about to start but decided to dash out to grab a few groceries first. While JT picked out cereal and beer, I gathered my items at the checkout, looked at my watch, and made a face. The man behind the counter looked at me quizzically and I tapped my watch and said, “futbol.” “Ah, football,” he says, and proudly reaches over to a tiny iPhone sized screen and clicks it on. There on a three-inch screen was the football game: No way he was going to let work cause him to miss a game.

We arrived back in England just before the World Cup final started, and it was a given that the taxi driver would turn the game on the radio – he did. When we got to our house, we raced in and popped on the DVR on so we could unpack and take care of a few chores before sitting down to watch the rest of the game. That meant we were watching it on a delay. So, when we heard loud cheers from throughout the neighborhood, we knew a goal had been scored, but we didn’t know which team.

We tried not to listen too closely, or think too hard about whether our neighborhood is more Spanish or Dutch. Since we had been gone for about 10 days, we had missed the summer transition from the Cambridge University students to the summer foreign-language students; the college closest to us hosts hundreds of students from Spain who come to Cambridge each summer to learn/practice English. As I wandered around town the next day, I encountered several clumps of the students, wearing Spain’s red and gold and even carrying their national flag. They may be in town to learn English, but for that day, they spoke the international language of football.


Emily DeVoto, Ph.D., said...

OMG, those kebabs... Oh sorry, was there a game on?

Martin said...

That game you saw in Turin was actually Holland-Uruguay... but of course you were distracted by the food and wine!