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.
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. (In truth, that war had other causes and the game was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.)
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 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? :)