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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “The Soccer Diaries, Part Two”

    My love affair with soccer blossomed during my stay in Italy.

    The Orvieto study abroad summer semester coincided with the Euro 2008, where 14 teams from across Europe competed in a month long tournament in Switzerland and Austria. Each night I would tune in to watch different nations, each with unique cultures and history, come together with one common goal: to put a ball into a net and prevent the other team from doing the same.

    I watched countries which had been at world war less than a century ago. Poland, Germany, France and Russia came together, peacefully – well, with minimal bloodshed – to play a sport. It was a beautiful thing.

    Before each match, the teams from each nation would come to the field, accompanied by children from their opponent’s nation, and with such pride, sing along to their national anthems, about to play for the honor or their countries. A massive crowd from each nation would be in attendance at the matches. They sang, too. Some fans held their heads high with pride, shoulders back, hand pressed firmly against their hearts. Others could be seen with glowing tears in their eyes as they hummed along. Some held flags while others held their fellow citizens.

    As soccer bonded cultures from across Europe on a national level, the sport would also unite Americans in our program with another nation.

    We, the Americans, had all gathered at a local café one night in Orvieto. Because I was wearing a jersey from an Italian club team from Milan, I was approached by a local Italian man, Alessio, in his early 20s. He brought with him an American student, who was fluent in Italian.

    With some help from the other American, and a bit of charades, we arranged to have a soccer match, or calcio, as they call it in Italy, between a group of local Italians and some American students, the following night.

    Our uniforms the next night were a good indication of how the match would go. I showed up wearing the most athletic clothes I had: a plaid bathing suit, high-top All Stars with socks sticking out their lining, and a UA T-shirt (represent!). The Italians all wore white and blue Nike or Puma soccer jerseys, and carried bags full of their gear. They meant business.

    To save myself and this country from embarrassment, I won’t give a play-by-play of the match, but I will say that balls with kicked between our legs, over our heads, and off our various body parts, into our net.

    The final score was 8-0, but there were nothing but smiles on both sides. The score didn’t matter. Something special happened on that field that night in the heart of Italy.

    Over the next few weeks, we became close friends with our Italian opponents. We ate together and went to discos together. They helped us with our Italian homework and we helped them learn English. They introduced us to their friends and we did the same.

    We would gather with them and the rest of the village to watch the Italian national team compete in the Euro. We would cuss and yell in our respective languages at the TV when the Italians did poorly, and universally cheer with each goal scored.

    We shared cigarettes, talked politics and told each other of our daily lives and struggles. Despite residing across the world, I learned we were quite similar.

    We spent almost every night together after our match, sometimes staying up all night, laughing, joking or just sitting together contently in silence under the town’s cathedral.

    Because of soccer, I am proud to say I have friends on the other side of the world.

    Nogomet, futball, jalkapallo, soccer, calcio. Though it is labeled different names in different tongues, soccer represents more than a sport. The fields are a common ground among cultures, international territory within different borders. It is a language without words, spoken with movements of the body, fueled by the universal emotions of pride and honor.

    As I backpacked around Europe after my stay in Italy, everywhere I went, I could meet people by discussing soccer. I met Swedish fans on an overnight train to Amsterdam, and a conversation that began with soccer led to an in-depth discussion of world politics. After small talk about soccer, we began to better understand each other.

    In Belgium, I met more soccer fans, who, after learning we had a common interest, shared a few beers, a few laughs and more international dialogue.

    Prior to my summer abroad, like most Americans, I had little interest in soccer. I was naive, ignorant to the great international sport. It is an example of how our nation can be segregated from the rest of the world.

    Look at the sports we watch: baseball, football, basketball and cage fighting. With the exception of a few Canadian teams, for the most part, it is American against American, competing within the confines of our borders and often beating each other to a pulp.

    In less than three weeks, the world will again come together through sport, in Beijing. Because of my summer abroad, knowing what soccer means to me and the rest of the world, I’m most excited for that competition. I will dress myself in red, white and blue, sing along with my country’s anthem, and with a smile and likely a few tears of joy, watch as my great nation comes together with other nations of the world, to dance through the universal language of soccer.

    – Evan Pellegrino is a journalism senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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