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Dad gets ticket to World Cup

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and best-selling author Mike Royko once wrote of the world’s obsession with soccer: "All that proves is that most of the world is too poor to build bowling alleys, golf courses, tennis courts and baseball fields . Soccer is boring. I’ve never seen a more boring sport."

Frankly, this is a sentiment a lot of Americans share. Among them, my father.

When I announced several months ago that I was taking him to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa for his Father’s Day gift, he wondered (out loud) why I couldn’t just buy him a tie like all the other normal kids. I bribed him with the added bonus of a safari, and he agreed to endure a few matches in exchange for seeing some wild animals.

Little did he know, he didn’t have to wait for the safari to encounter wild animals. Soccer fans can be just as feral and unpredictable as leopards. And there was no shortage of either in South Africa.

With an almost religious determination, I resolved to convert my dad into a vuvuzela-blowing, jersey-wearing, face-painting, anthem-chanting ‘football hooligan.’ And I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it would only take one World Cup match to do so.

Even for my dad, who grew up on American football and is staunchly convinced of its supreme reign in the world of sports (he also believes wearing a foam cheese hat on Sunday is a fashion statement the rest of the world will soon take note of), the energy and excitement of the World Cup proved overwhelming.

The atmosphere at each match we attended was a celebratory mix of Mardi Gras, the SuperBowl, and Independence Day parades. Over 70,000 people draped in a patriotic displays of their countries’ flags and team colors, most also equipped with more than a few adult beverages, pressed into the stadium before each match. It was positively impossible not to be electrified by the crowd and immediately inspired to pledge eternal allegiance to this beautiful game.

Quite simply, no other sporting event in the world comes close to matching the spirit of the World Cup. The Olympics may garner the attention of more global leaders and media outlets, but its myriad competitions and choreographed pageantry can never generate the unifying, almost cosmic passion that envelops the World Cup.

Even the United Nations is jealous of soccer’s unifying force.

Writing in the New York Times, then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan noted: "The World Cup makes us at the United Nations green with envy. As the pinnacle of the only truly global game, played in every country by every race and religion, it is one of the few phenomena as universal as the United Nations."

There is no cultural practice more global than soccer. It has more followers than any one religion. It is more universal than any one language. And this Sunday, over three BILLION humans (more than half the planet!) will act in unison by watching Spain and the Netherlands battle it out in the World Cup final.

Having seen both teams play previously in the contest, I can assure you of two things:

  • My dad will be eagerly tuned in from his couch, playing the role of a passionate armchair quarterback.
  • If Mike Royko was still alive today, he’d write a retraction. This match will be anything but boring.

    Amy Roberts lives in Park City and plays in the local adult soccer league where she is known as "Red Card Roberts" for her aggressive defensive tactics.


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