It was June 15, 1982.
My brother (then age 4) and I (then age 8) were up early that morning. We turned the dial on our old tv set (which received exactly 2 VHF stations and 3 UHF stations) looking for something interesting. One of those UHF stations broadcast everything in Spanish and on that particular morning we stumbled upon the Cameroon/Peru World Cup Group stage match.
I remember that my brother and I decided we’d root for Cameroon. Maybe we thought their uniforms were cooler. Maybe we just thought it sounded like a cool place. Cameroon. What a name.
In any event, we wanted them to win – bad. What transpired was a thrilling match, filled with loads of scoring chances. When Cameroon’s Roger Miller seemed to find the back of the net, the Spanish speaking announcer lost his mind and screamed from the top of his lungs, “Goooooooool!!!! GOOOOLLLLLL!!!!” only for the score to be disallowed (unjustifiably, we agreed) the match ended in 0-0 tie.
And I was hooked for life. Yes. My child-like obsession with the World Cup began with a nil-nil draw. For some reason, that morning, that match, it made me realize that the world is so diverse, and that I wanted to see as much of it as I could.
Every World Cup brings me back to that realization.
Seven World Cups have passed since then. I think my love for this event grows with each World Cup. And I still have an affinity for watching the games in Spanish. Let’s face it, American announcers are horrible when it comes to soccer. Anyway…
Perhaps my fanaticism is tied to my growing love for geography, that the world is a place filled with different countries, different cultures, different traditions, different foods, different wines. And the come one, come all parties that the World Cup inspires! Be ye religious, atheistic, herbivorous, omnivorous, conservative, liberal, rich or poor, nothing brings people together like watching two nations compete by chasing a ball, on a level playing field, of grass.
My fellow Americans were admittedly late to this party. But now I think it’s established that, while many people here in the US are still indifferent to the World Cup, there are an increasing number of us who love this event every four years. We’ll root for our nation with wild fervor and perhaps an unhealthy dose of delusional optimism. We’ll root for other nations based on our heritage or by some other criteria.
It’s all just fun as hell.
And I think it’s good for increasing numbers of Americans to be thinking more “internationally.” Who cares if it revolves around a sporting event? Considering all the serious global problems we all now face together, I’m glad the World Cup is now back to remind some of us of our common humanity.
Now, if we’d just take the time to learn more about each other, to try to revel in each other’s differences, to face and solve our shared problems together (as us World Cup fans, perhaps in a slightly less-than-sober state, will do every four years) maybe we’d all feel like champions in the end, and not like child-like, gawking observers of a nil-nil draw.