It’s World Cup time again, and for those of you who don’t know (I’m looking at you, Americans), this is like the Olympics to the other 95% of the world. Soccer, or football, as it is rightly known, is sacred in many countries. Children play the sport in the streets as soon as they can walk, adults call in sick to work so they can watch the big games, the poor play to escape their destinies, and the rich play to celebrate theirs. It is a great equalizer: the commonality that binds together people from all over the world. Watching the World Cup is a beautiful act of humanity.
Unless you’re American.
I’m American, and while I’d love to claim all the romantic reasons for watching football, the truth is I’ll never really understand the hype. I have my own reasons for watching, and I’ll bet you’ll never guess what they are.
Americans don’t understand football. As evidenced by the fact that we created our own, less subtle version, where we can smash things and dance in the end zone. I am no exception to this rule. I am married to a British man and lived in the UK for years, but still I can’t watch a soccer match without something exciting to take my mind off the boredom, like knitting. I was pregnant with my first son during the last World Cup and I knitted more hats and booties than my kids could wear in ten lifetimes. I just don’t get football. Well, I don’t really understand American Football either, but right now when I say football I really mean soccer.
I mean, they play for 90+ minutes and only score once, if they’re lucky. That’s not sports: it’s dating. No thank you.
While living abroad, I witnessed many examples of fanatic football fandom that has led me to believe that to the rest of the world, football is more of a religion than it is a sport. I’ve seen altars erected for the purpose of praying for a favorite football team to emerge victorious from a competition, and of course, to mercilessly annihilate one’s enemies. I’ve seen hoards of rabid fans warring and scrambling in the streets like toddlers at snack time. Only these toddlers are armed with lead pipes and switchblades. That shit gets ugly.
I’ve also seen friends lose tens of thousands of dollars to betting sharks and online gambling, because they’re sure they’ve deciphered the Da Vinci Code of football and will now be predicting winners like a German Octopus. Sorry guys, even Nostradamus got a few things wrong. He probably was in debt up to his armpits too.
The more intense the ritual and the obsession, the more I feel like I’ve crash landed on an alien planet. When the rest of the world watches The World Cup it is an act of love, a prayer, or a treasured family tradition. Not for me. When I watch it’s more of a sociological experiment. Yet I watch every four years when it comes around, and even manage to muster an acceptable amount of enthusiasm. Sure, maybe some of it is out of wifely duty to my European husband, but he never managed to turn me on to black pudding, haggis, or Nutella, so that can’t be the only factor. I can barely muster the energy to shave my legs for my husband, and that doesn’t take 90 minutes. Usually.
No, I watch the World Cup for my own reasons: the funny names.
There’s nothing quite like a competition involving the world population to dredge up some truly horrifying, hilarious, and downright bizarre names. I can’t tear my eyes away from the screen, because who knows when I might just miss a gem. Believe it or not, this was how my first son received his name.
Can you guess which one it is?
Thomas Mueller- Yogurt anyone? And when he received the ball from a corner, I laughed out loud. Who doesn’t love a good yogurt pun?
Koke, Beto, Pepe, and William- These one-named wonders had to come as a group. The first three names have pop star potential, apart from the fact that every time I hear the word “Pepe” I think “Le Pew”. They are iconic and memorable, like Madonna, Prince, or Usher. Except William. Why?
Hulk- You guessed it: he’s HUGE. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to see him angry.
Sebastian Schweinsteiger- This name literally means “pig climber”. I’m not sure if that means he comes from a long line of pig rodeo riders, or something more unsavory. I’m not sure I want to know.
Kaka- You know me, I love a good poop joke.
John Boye- The Waltons was a little before my time, but I still can’t see this man get knocked over without thinking “goodnight John Boy” in my head. He doesn’t have the mole though. I checked.
Ebeneezer Odunlami- Do you suppose he’s a ball-hog? I simply have to watch to find out.
Prince Boateng- I just love that the back of his jersey says the word “prince”. That’s one way to avoid dirty tackles. Who wants to tackle the guy who is self-proclaimed royalty? No no no, that sort of shenanigans would never be tolerated.
Ciro Immobile- He plays Forward for Italy. I’m not sure exactly how this works.
Lionel Messi- I don’t know about you, but my three-year-old loves the Mr. Men book series. Unfortunately, I can’t read Mr. Messy without thinking of this Argentinian legend. Of course, seeing him on television was a bit disappointing as he was for better groomed than his pink squiggly counterpart.
Laurent Ciman- God I hope this is pronounced “seman.” Teehee.
Ok, so my reasons for watching The World Cup aren’t as idealistic as some, but at least I’m trying. My boys are learning to love the sport along side their father, and my three-year-old sat down the other night and learned about all the countries playing. He was so excited to fill out his predictions for the first round of the competition, and although he’s no prophetic octopus, he’s embracing his heritage.
I guess I do have two very good reasons for watching The World Cup: little Kaka and Ebeneezer.
What are your favorite World Cup player names?