All paths lead to fútbol

Surrounded by Christmas presents including my first soccer ball. 1979.

My father played soccer before I was born. The dusty trophies on a shelf in the basement and a few faded sepia-tinted photographs were all I knew of it. I don’t remember my father ever watching soccer while I was growing up and though I was given a soccer ball for my first Christmas, the game was only played casually in our yard, just another ball that was part of our collection of toys, piled in a box along with cob-webbed baseball bats, tennis rackets, and flat basketballs.

It wasn’t until I started working at a little Italian restaurant that fútbol fever took over. The owner was from Italy, and as any good Italian should, he loved soccer, (“calcio” in Italian.) Business was often slow and he was infamous for working us hard, always reminding us in his thick accent, “If you can’t find something to do, I will find something for you. I am not paying you for nothing.” But during the World Cup, he allowed us to sit with him at the wobbly uneven-legged tables in the dinning room once in awhile to watch the games play on the little TV up in the corner, (though we had to re-fill ketchup bottles and salt shakers while we watched.) Sometimes he even forgot to complain that we were taking advantage of his generous “unlimited fountain drinks for employees” benefit.

It was during this time that I really fell in love with the game, and not just because it offered a momentary respite from scrubbing floor tiles with a toothbrush. The actual game itself is beautiful; there is beauty in the skill in which the men move the ball down the field, but also in the ball itself. Such a humble object, so humble that people have been known to create them out of trash in the most dire circumstances. There is beauty in the fact that the game is accessible to all, and that no matter our differences, for a brief time, it can bring the world together in a common love.

One of the few photos of his childhood. My husband and his father (lower right), with the team. 1978.

My husband’s love of fútbol is a very different story, (as is almost every story which directly compares our childhoods.) Growing up in El Salvador during a bloody civil war, with the sounds of helicopters and gunfire as background noise, he still ran out to kick the ball around with his friends. His father was the coach of a second division team, and my husband was the team mascot. Sometimes they would go to the crowded stadium to watch games, which could often times be dangerous as it was common for passionate, (and sometimes intoxicated) fans, to become violent. The Football War, (La guerra del fútbol), between El Salvador and Honduras happened before my husband’s time, but that just goes to show the passion they have for the game.

Though my husband has told me he wasn’t given toys as a child, and his Christmas present was usually a pair of shoes, (purposefully bought a few sizes too big so they would last), somehow he remembers having the official FIFA World Cup sticker albums. While I collected puffy, sparkly, and scratch-and-sniff stickers like most American children of the 1980’s, my husband collected stickers of futbolistas and it’s one of very few fond childhood memories he has.

So this year, as the 2010 World Cup in South Africa fast approaches, I encouraged my husband to buy the sticker album. He was at first reluctant, saying that there was no one to trade stickers with, but after I found out some friends would be buying the albums, he agreed. It didn’t take long for my husband’s enthusiasm to be re-ignited. When we bought the album at one of the local Latino markets, we bought a few of the sticker packets with it. The next day, he came home from work with more packets in hand, having stopped at the store on the way. Watching him open the packets and sort through them gives me a glimpse of the little boy he used to be.

We began brainwashing our niños at an early age. Our oldest son. 1998.

We also like sharing this experience with our boys. At first it was just to force our love of fútbol on them, but it turns out, the album provides a great opportunity for practicing Spanish. The pages are multi-lingual, listing the names of the countries and other vocabulary in a dozen or so languages.

As for the stickers, so far we’ve got three doubles. We’ve got an extra Sebastian Abreu (Uruguay/Sticker #86.), Maxi Rodriguez (Argentina/Sticker #117), and Hendry Thomas (Honduras/Sticker #612). Who wants to trade? :)

7 thoughts on “All paths lead to fútbol

  1. Me encanto.

    I guess we are one of those rare familias that has never really followed any sport ( not even my papa). But I do plan to have my chiquitines in soccer. My oldest starts in a couple of weeks . Let’s see if he likes it.

  2. My husband’s family is also one of those rare families that follow no sports, but my sisters played soccer and all my high school friends made up the girls varsity team, since freshman year on. I can’t play, running and laziness don’t mix, but I really enjoy the game and will watch random games anytime.

  3. My husband doesn’t have many pictures from childhood either. But the ones he does have are fun to look at. He loves futbol, too. Plays twice a week and comes home in the wee hours of the night. I could take it or leave it. I like to watch live games, but hate trying to find the tiny ball on the screen of our computer. The kids are growing to like it…but it looks like the natural is our one year old.

  4. Football (soccer) is one of those games that I think is brilliant in it’s universal appeal. Even a person like me (with very little love of sports) enjoyed playing it as a kid, and I enjoy watching my kids run around with a soccer ball too. There is something wholesome about that kind of excercise, isn’t there?

  5. We are all getting ready in our house for the world cup, we can’t wait!! I grew up in Mexico and down there futbol es rey!! I wasn’t trill about it when I was a child, but now I love it! my oldest son is crazy about it!! and my husband who usually doesn’t watch a lot of sports on tv (he prefer to play them :) is all excited! he keeps asking me, when the world cup starts? LOL

    Love your family pictures!! I already took a bunch of my son with his uniform and soccer balls, those pictures will be old family pictures one day!!

    Great idea about the cards album, I will check it out in my mercado latino, I’m sure my family will love it. I’ll let you know LOL

    Saludos y un abrazo grande para ti mi amiga!!

  6. No soccer in this family but HOCKEY? Oy! There’s hockey all over this bunch! Me? Notsomuch. TSN ruined my life. :o)

  7. I grew up with soccer and played it through most of middle and high school. I didnt know there were albums with the stickers. My wife is the one that gets into the sports more than I do these days but with the World Cup fast approaching, it is a different story.

    I liked the comments you made about your husband and the albums. It shows sides of people that is not normally seen. It shows how much you love him.

    That was it for now and I will be following you on twitter and read your blogs from now on. I love it!

    -Luis

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