Monday, June 23, 2014

My Love Affair With Soccer/Football (the real one)!

This pizza menu that has English Premiership teams as
the names of the pizza made my day( please note
Manchester United is the most expensive and
probably the best, rightfully so)
Anybody who knows me well , knows that I have two great loves in my life, Dance and Soccer/Football. To avoid confusion, in this post I am choosing to call it soccer instead of football. I am a  huge huge soccer fan( not to be understated), and I love the game like it’s my job! I like to think I am too much of a “lady” to actually be a fanatic, but when my friend retells the story of how she thought I was going to fight this one Romanian guy at a bar, I think I am bordering on fanaticism a bit, perhaps. The 2010 South Africa Soccer World Cup is still one of my best vacations ever! I think my goal in life is to be rich enough that I can take a whole month off during soccer world cup years and sit in VIPs of every game there! I am kidding, I actually have other dreams and ambitions, like you know, saving the world and stuff, but probably just so people can play soccer and I can enjoy it! I had never taken the time to reflect on my whole soccer fanaticism thing until this summer when I found myself hustling each day to watch the Brazil Soccer World Cup, at odd hours of the night in a foreign country!

my latest Manchester United Jersey
Soccer and I have a love affair that people I meet and none of my friends have ever been able to comprehend, “especially” for a girl! I try to be offended by this slightly sexist view of my soccer fanaticism, before I realize that I happen to be the only girl amongst a bunch of guys, waiting for my favorite sports bar in Chicago, Fado, to open at 7am,  so I can catch the first English Premiership game of the day. For my team, the red devils aka Manchester united, I have been known to brave a lot of things including the cold, sleep deprivation and hangovers!

Watching the World Cup in Addis, thats Ryan Giggs
commenting for SuperSport on there!
Who is he you say,
only one of the greatest footballers the English
have ever had and a proud red devil
 I was exposed to soccer at a very young age, being it’s the most popular sport in Africa. My family circumstances really led me down this path of no return. Being the last of 5 children in my family, by the time I grew up everyone was gone from the house. I only had my parents as my pseudo siblings, especially my father who I adored and loved everything that he loved, including soccer. With a house almost overrun by women( 5 women and 1 guy), he was only too happy for the company and a child he could treat like a boy. I remember first falling in love with the local team that he worshipped in our local league,  Dynamos “DeMbare.” My first live soccer game was one in which Dembare thrashed some menial team 5-0, and the euphoria in the air from the game had me hooked. This turned out to be my one and only live soccer game in Zimbabwe, because a few years later there was a stampede at the local stadium when an altercation between the police and some losing fans got out of control, and 13 people were killed. 2 of siblings were lucky to escape with their lives, but my mother forbade any of us from ever going to a live soccer game again.

 If you count my high school boyfriends up to now, I look like a serial dater, but that’s only having me as a girlfriend in high school was completely useless. I cared more about arguing out the game and placing bets on soccer games with a bunch of boys than about holding hands and whatever people did in high school! My relationships consequently lasted not more than 3 months each time, oh well, high school!

As you can see one of my favorite pastimes is
taking pictures
of myself in Manchester United jerseys
I then moved to the US and in my first few years I felt deathly deprived of soccer. Being an avid fan of the English Premiership, I found myself in the wrong time zone for all my games and in a country where nobody cared about my beloved sport. As the months and years went by, I felt like a piece of my world had been taken away from me. At that same time, I was also fighting being culturally changed by America. I woke up one morning and I had dreamt in English instead of my mother tongue and it terrified me! It became so important for to me to keep pieces of my old self intact, especially my love for soccer. Everybody in my dorm remembers my first college boyfriend, as Nancy’s football player, but I never once showed up for his games because I was determined to not be sucked into anything American. In fact, one of our biggest fights was over him ditching our plans for a superbowl party! Never mind that super bowl parties are now some of my favorite parties of the year and, I actually cried when the Bears lost to the Packers last season.

me at the 2010 Soccer World Cup
I have acclimatized to American sports, I even call soccer football now,  but my American friends still do not get my beautiful game at all. I was so glad to be in Africa this summer where people are as crazy about it as I am, and I do not have to explain to them the wonder behind 20 men chasing around a ball for 90 minutes. A true soccer fan knows it’s not just about what’s happening on the pitch(which in itself is pure magic, the skill, the intelligence in the strategies, everything),  but all what is transpiring with everyone else in the stadium or bar. Soccer is more than just a game. Soccer fans are some of the most emotionally attached sports fans out there, sometimes getting ugly to the tune of the shooting death of the Colombian player who scored an on-goal to get Colombia eliminated from the 1994 world cup. Outside of the ugliness, what the world cup brings every four years is a platform for millions of people across the world to identify with each other on a level that they never do otherwise. Those 90 minutes, that sometimes do not produce a goal, are a platform on which the world sets asides its differences and become one in the name of the beautiful game. A ceasefire was brokered in the civil war in Ivory Coast after their team qualified for the 2006 World cup and the country icon Didier Drogba begged the opposing sides to lay down their arms.  Soccer fans like to call the game a religion, and indeed the stadium is our church and in Sweden, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is their god!
King Ibrahimovic, the Swede who is
 one of the greatest footballers of this age!

Vuvuzelas all day!
Soccer is more than just a game for me too, for personal reasons. The physical distance between my family and I over the years, has also meant a chasm between the life my family lives and can comprehend in Zimbabwe to the one I have built for myself across the globe. It has become especially hard since I switched my career plans from the traditional physician track that I was on, to something that my parents are not even sure I am going to get a job with. After they had spent years telling everyone that I am a doctor in America, the meaning of this MPH/MBA business, and worse working in Africa, where I am supposed to have escaped completely eludes them. My parents used to hang onto every word I said on the phone to them, asking me to describe everything in detail so that they could somehow feel a part of my world but lately our conversations have been reduced to hearing the other’s voice, an finding out if the other is alive and in 5 minutes we are done, unless I bring up soccer.

You just need to ask my father if he watched the last game and it launches him into a full-on analysis of the game and the blunders that the referee made as well as how he could have strategized the game for our favorite team. I sit back and listen contently to his excited voice and I am taken back to 12 years ago when my dad and I would be on the edge of our seats yelling at the TV and my mum would in turn be yelling at us to just go into the TV and play the game ourselves! My family and I might have lost years and some emotional connection to each other but we still have soccer. Every soccer fan has a beautiful memory attached to the game in this way, that’s why soccer is called the beautiful game!

To lighten up the mood, here is John Oliver’s take on the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the issues in Brazil concerning it, but also a reflection on why soccer matters to the world!

                                    John Oliver’s rant about the World Cup

Lastly I am going to make a few calls regarding the World cup. My money is on the Dutch or the Germans taking this one! Brazil does not stand a chance! In addition a quick shoutout to my fellow red devils reading this and if you have the bad taste in life to bleed blue (Chelsea), our friendship is over before it even started!
All about the Dutch at the 2010 Soccer World Cup
Bleed red, through and through!

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