World Cup soccer Latin style is the name of the game. Long after the hype of the FIFA World Cup 2014 hits the history books, everyday folks in the entire world will still play “fútbol,” or as we call it here in the U.S.A. – soccer.
So, why is soccer so popular worldwide and in Latin America why is it practically a way of life?
Of all the reasons, other than just plain fun, fútbol or soccer in Hispanic or Latino culture is about pride in the community or country if you will (nationalism). It’s the ever attractive rags to riches story that so many of us want to read. It’s about passion and controversy.
Soccer is a team sport yet allows for individuals to shine as stars. Every boy or girl can dream to be a Messi, Ronaldo, Hernandez, Iniesta, Suarez, and other famous stars. When I was a child, it was Pelé. This is why fútbol or soccer is so popular among Hispanics.
I have to admit up front that I am not a real soccer fan, although my interest is growing the more matches I watch.
Every time I walk into El Tio’s tacos, there’s either a telenovela or a soccer match blairing on the TV. Folks watch as they come in to pick up their dollar tacos. I don’t watch much soccer and therefore I don’t claim to know much about the game, although I really have no excuse.
I graduated from an NCAA Division I university that won a national soccer title coached by Bob Guelker whose name you’ll now find in the National Soccer Hall of Fame. So I have no excuse. I was “busy” with other things and of course at that time in the U.S., soccer’s popularity in the 1970’s was not like it is now.
Besides, I didn’t grow up playing it. I played the typical American sports (in season, I might add) like baseball, American football, and basketball. I played little league baseball and high school baseball and football. We played in our backyard or at a nearby diamond or field when we could manage it as kids.
Of course nowadays, American soccer is growing substantially with probably just as many kids playing it than are playing baseball, basketball, and football. It’s become so popular that the term “soccer moms” has entered our vocabulary.
As I have mentioned in blogs before, as a sport, baseball is my first love. I have fond memories of my father playing catch with me and listening to ballgames on the radio on summer nights on the back porch with him and my grandfather.
Baseball was a game my father could afford to take me once in a while to see big league baseball.
It was a field trip my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Singleton, took us on one glorious spring day to see the St. Louis Cardinals at the first Busch Stadium. Mr. Singleton was a firm disciplinarian, fair, and the only teacher in grade school I recall that took his class on a field trip. He was also the only black or African-American faculty member in the mostly white school. Sorry I digress.
Just like baseball in the U.S.A, there’s something “everyman” about the game of soccer. You can play it just about anywhere.
You don’t need a field. You don’t need equipment. Just a ball and some sort of goal and a bit of space. Add a few enthusiastic players, and you have a match.
In much of Latin America, with a few exceptions, kids grow up kicking a soccer ball nearly right out of the womb. Usually, their fathers are wearing a jersey from their favorite local or professional team and find themselves at the local pub rooting for their favorite team.
The British introduced soccer to Latin America at the beginning of the twentieth century. Since then, Hispanics or Latinos from all over have made it their own, turning it into an exciting sport with their own style and strategy of play. Just remember, except in the U.S.A., the sport is fútbol (football) not soccer.
Uruguay hosted the first FIFA World Cup in 1930 and was the first country to win the trophy. Curiously, Uruguay became the first and only World Cup winner to refuse to defend its title.
Four years later in the second World Cup it refused to participate because it protested that only four European teams showed up in Montevideo. Again, controversy and passion has been part of the game ever since.
How soccer is officiated can be a bit arbitrary. Like baseball umpires, soccer referees have the final say. I hate that time that is added on at the end of many soccer matches that seem to make all the difference on how the entire game is played and won. At times it’s been a bit bizarre. Drama and controversy make it all too Latin, but very appealing – depending upon if your team wins.
It’s no secret that I am a St. Louis Baseball Cardinal fan. I have been all my life. I love the way Yadier Molina plays. Not only is he one of the best catchers in baseball today, if not the best, you can tell he really loves to play the game. That is why I love baseball – and that is why I suspect others love fútbol. Passion is a human trait that we all share at some point in life. When we see it in others, we identify because in that regard we’re all the same.
Actually nowadays I don’t watch much of any sport. Not that I don’t enjoy it, it’s just that I find other things take priority these days. Don’t get me wrong. I love to watch a good match or game when I can, so when the World Cup soccer comes along every four years I catch a few games on the TV. I’ll watch it today. Who knows? Maybe the U.S.A. will advance one more time. Either way, I am sure there will be plenty of drama.