Entries in soccer (4)


A Father's Advice

The other night I agreed to join a soccer team at the invitation of Stuart, an Englishman I’ve been acquainted with for years, but have only recently got to know. Whether I shine on the pitch next month or puke on it remains to be seen.

As the two of us were walking on the field, inspecting the turf, and talking about The Beautiful Game, Stuart relayed some advice his father had given him:

“Play for as long as you can, son.”

Stuart had taken his father’s words to heart and, at forty years of age, was still chasing a ball on the pitch. He worried, though, that he was only one injury away from being sidelined.

“All you can do,” he said with a wistful smile, “is enjoy it while you can.”

It was a nice piece of advice and I could sense that there was real affection between Stuart and his father.

As I rode the subway back home, I couldn’t help but think about my own father. He passed away a little over five years ago after a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s. It’s an awful disease, Alzheimer’s. Steals a loved one from you years before death ever comes. Thanks to the disease and my living in Japan all these years, I never got the chance to speak to my father as an adult.

Maybe that’s why the only word of advice I can recall my father ever imparting upon me was something he said to me shortly before I left for college. He said: “Think with your big head.”

Not quite sure what he was getting at, I replied with a tentative, “Okay?”


I can be slow at times. When I was a young boy I spent quite a lot of time with my alcoholic grandfather, my old man’s old man. Whenever Gran’pa was well-oiled he’d do a sad little vaudeville routine, dancing around with spoons in this hand, tapping them on his knee like castanets, or rolling up a napkin and sticking it under his nose like faux mustachios. Ask any of my siblings to impersonate Gran’pa and they’ll immediately reach for a napkin, such is the man’s enduring legacy.

Now, there’s a joke that Gran’pa used to tell. It involved a policeman talking to a hippie who had witnessed a crime--this was back in the late 60s, early 70s, mind you. The policeman asks, “Was he a tall man?” And, according to Gran’pa, the hippie replies, “Not a tall man.”

“Was he a tall man? Not a tall man.”

I didn’t get it.

I didn’t get it when I was five years old, didn’t get it when I was six, nor when I was seven or eight. But then one day as I was walking home from Holy Family, my grade school, I mulled over the joke, trying to understand the enigmatic punch line.

“Was he a tall man? Not a tall man . . . Was he a tall man . . .”

The problem was my grandfather’s Boston Irish working class accent which lent the two lines a cadence that had thrown me far off course. After repeating the line a good dozen times or so, changing the intonation and pausing, it finally dawned on me what Gran’pa was saying: “Was he a tallman?” the police asks the hippy to which he replies, “Not at all, man.”

You might suppose that the heavens opened up and a choir of angels started singing, “Hallelujah!” but no. Instead, I shouted, “That is the stupidest joke in the world!”


“Think with your big head,” my father had said.

I went back to my room and started packing my things. “Think with your big head . . . Think with your big head . . . Think with your big . . .” Then it hit me. “Oh dear.”


Made in England

   The other day I watched Arsenal and Manchester City, arguably two of England’s finest football teams, go head to head. As I was watching the game, though, I started to wonder if I was indeed watching English football. 

   First of all, in the case of Arsenal, the largest shareholder on the team’s board is an American sports tycoon named Stan Kroenke. Kroenke is also the owner of the St. Louis Rams, an American football team. Manchester City is owned outright by the Abu Dhabi United Group, a sovereign wealth fund based in the U.A.E. The club had been previously owned by Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Prime Minister of Thailand. 
   Arsenal plays in the Emirates Stadium and is coached by Arsène Wenger, an Alsatian. Man. City is coached by Chilean Manuel Pellegrini. 
   Both teams are sponsored by airlines that are based in the Middle East.
   Arsenal’s kits are made by the German sporting goods giant Puma, while Manchester's uniforms are supplied by the American firm Nike.
   And if that wasn’t enough to make you scratch your head, consider this: Man. City’s two goals were scored by Argentines, Aguero and Demichelis; meanwhile, one of Arsenal’s goals was decided by Chilean Sanchez.
   Made in England, or merely played in England?
   Incidentally, I watched that “English" football game on Turkish television.

Big Balls

   At my soccer team's New Year's party last night, Vasily stood up to make a toast: "When men are in their teens and twenties, they play soccer. When they are in their thirties and forties, they play tennis. When they are in their sixties, they play golf. The older they get, the smaller their balls. I'm happy to say that all of us still have large balls."

   I interrupted our Moldovan captain: "Vasily, I have some sad news for all of you . . . This is difficult for me to say, but I'm afraid I won't be playing soccer anymore."


   "From next week," I said, "I'll be playing basketball, instead." 



   I neither shined nor puked on the pitch last night in my first soccer game in well over two decades (See Advice). 

   Our team played three matches--one against a group of North African graduate students, a second against a team of firemen, and a third against the staff of the university on whose field we practice.

   Let me tell you, I thought my heart would explode in my chest and today my whole body is sore as hell. (Must remember to sign up for a double hip replacement in fifteen years.) Still, it feels pretty damn good to be in this much pain. Looking forward to our next practice.