There’s a good reason that I stopped watching soccer – I get way too invested in my teams. I became aware of this back in 2004, when the Euro Cup was held in Portugal. The stars seemed aligned for Portugal, they were the host nation, Nelly Furtado did an awesome theme song for the tournament, and it was meant to be a swan song for many of the so-called Golden Generation’s players. Except there was this runty underdog team from Greece. And see, Portugal was able to beat every single team that year except these unexpected blind-siders. So Greece took the title while white confetti (that should’ve red) rained down in Lisbon. The day after watching that final I woke up with a totally illogical depression that took *days* to shake. It was ridiculous, and ever since I have followed soccer from a remote, safe distance. I didn’t even follow the 2006 World Cup.
But see, this year the World Cup is literally happening on my doorstep and even escaping to Seattle during June and July (a coincidence) hasn’t stopped me from getting sucked in. I’ve been visiting the Fifa website everyday and watching all the highlights videos (since we don’t have TV here). I’ve even hung up a World Cup banner in my study here and decked out my desk with a shiny red vuvuzela. But, watching all my favoured teams fall by the wayside has reminded me why I’ve stayed away from the beautiful game all these years….
Bafana Bafana started out pretty well, and that first beautiful goal Tshabalala scored against Mexico was the first hint that I was in trouble, I was getting into soccer again. Then came that SA vs. Uruguay game. By a weird coincidence I went to the house of an Indian family to watch it. It happened like this: this guy that was at MSRI when I was there last year is now doing a PhD at the local university and we had connected on fb. He told me that his boss from MSRI, JJ, who now lives in Redmond, had invited him to watch the USA vs. England game at his house and that I should come. So I did and it was really fun, I took my vuvuzela along and taught their overwhelmingly enthused daughters how to “play” it and ate Indian snacks and pretended to be invested in the US beating England (what do you know, they drew!). Then while at that game I got to chatting with JJ’s wife, Chandana, who I had met once or twice in Bangalore actually. She was mortified that I had left SA right before the World Cup had started and very kindly told me that if I wanted to watch any other games during the coming week I should let her know and she would come fetch me and we could watch together at their house (on their huge screen / projector setup!). Turns out that she was watching all the games and all their family and friends nearby had an open invitation to stop by at any time to watch with her (their neighbour as a direct route to their house through a gate in their back yard for instance). I thought I must take advantage of her offer bcs the whole family was going to be gone after that week for a trip to the Himalayas or something. I was also thinking it would be good to make more friends that live close to us. So I picked the SA vs. Uruguay game which worked out great bcs that day also happened to be the last day of school here and her kids were going to be there so we made a whole plan to watch it together and order pizza etc. So Chandana came to fetch me and I thought “Yee, this is so much fun, making a new friends and going to watch soccer on a big screen and the game is going to be *awesome*”.
Then the game actually happened. It was horrible. First Forlan did his physics-defying free-kick (I’ve watched this guy in subsequent games and he has just mastered how to take a free kick in a way that it arches over every defender in the ball’s path and then nips into goal right at the top post of the net). Then, as I started to get the feeling we weren’t going to equalise, out of nowhere our amazing goalie got red carded!! For something that was TOTALLY not a foul!! Who red cards a goalie?! By this point I think was yelling a lot and the other ppl in the room were looking at me with some sympathy. Then Uruguay scored their (totally undeserved) penalty against us and I really thought it couldn’t get any worse. Then, during injury time, something even worse then our inevitable defeat happened: SA fans start to leave the stadium in droves. I felt pretty ashamed to be a Bafana Bafana supporter at that moment. Watching the stadium get emptier and emptier made me feel profoundly sad. But there was no time to be too sad because the final kick in the pants was being delivered- a third goal for Uruguay in the dying moments of the game. Out of all the games I could have chosen to watch with a bunch of strangers, this must be the worst; it did not bring out my socially acceptable side *sigh*.
I didn’t watch the SA vs. France game but I hear we played well and that makes me happy. I can’t help but speculate that we might have inched past Mexico in our group if that Uruguay match wasn’t such a disaster. With Bafana Bafana gone after the group stages I thought it was time to go back to supporting my “ancestral roots” and I made a special plan with AmyGeek to DVR the Spain vs. Portugal game. To make this work I had to stay off *all* internet for the whole day to make sure i didn’t find out the score. It was harder than it should be, no Facebook, no entertainment news – never realised how often I check these during the work day. But I managed and I had high hopes for Portugal – dangerous hopes, hopes reminiscent of those Euro 2004 hopes. Before that game they had not conceded any goals in the World Cup yet. And then they played terribly compared to Spain and lost off of one goal. And I couldn’t even be that mad because really, Spain played the better game.
After all that I thought “No, I’m not watching any more games, it just gets too upsetting!”. So on the day of the Ghana vs, Uruguay game I was innocently sitting at my desk not even paying attention to it. Then Jak comes online and tells me the the game is happening and starts giving me running updates from time to time. When he updated me with “Gooooooaaaaal from Ghana!!” that was it. I got so excited that I loaded a live matchcast and started following, getting sucked in once again, biting my nails and chatting to Jak about the game. When that awful diva Suarez batted away the dying seconds golden goal that belonged to Ghana, I was LIVID. And then when Ghana’s Gyan missed the resulting penalty I wanted to throw my laptop against the wall! Two days later, I am still trying to recover from my seething sense of injustice and ill-will towards Suarez and trying to remind myself that this is all just a game and it’s not cool to hate on a guy you don’t even know (even if he is a hand balling ass clown). I am officially neutral-ish for the rest of the World Cup – I am an ABU (Anyone But Uruguay) supporter (a phrase helpfully coined by SuperSarah). And I also think that from now on, that its a good idea for me to stay away from sports in general and soccer in particular.