Saturday, July 03, 2010

The World Cup and Me: 1986

My memories of the 1986 tournament are pretty limited. It was the first one that I actually watched on TV. I was 14 going on 15 during that tournament and was probably at the apex of my playing days (such as they were). My second to last year in the Litchfield Youth Soccer League I dominated, scoring 22 goals in 6 games. The next year, my last, I played the second half of every match in goal and still scored 24 goals in 6 matches. My love of the game was at an all time high. After the school year ended I spent most of my weekends at my father's house and in his neighborhood there were 4 or 5 other kids a little younger than me who loved soccer and so we turned the backyard into a field and would spend the day playing pickup games and knocking the ball around. To be honest, I had no idea the World Cup was even being played at that time since I'd long lost touch with any "real world" soccer news and let's face it, back then nobody in the US gave a rip about the World Cup. One afternoon I came into the house and there was a soccer match on TV. I started watching it and quickly realized that it was the World Cup! The only thing I remember about the match was that France was playing and it looked so much different than the soccer I was used to. Rather than one guy taking the ball and trying to dribble around everybody before shooting (guilty) the teams looked like they were playing keep away. Every now and then, one team would push the ball forward and make a run at the goal or send one his teammates running with a nifty ball that would slice through the defense. I'd never seen the sport I loved played like this before and for the first time I had an inkling that the sport we called soccer was played much different in the rest of the world.

Unfortunately the tournament started a couple weeks earlier that year than normal and by the time I discovered that it was on, it was almost over. So I only got to see a couple matches, very few details of which I can actually remember. What I remember most was that my fascination with the World Cup was instantly rekindled. The one player who stood out at that World Cup was of course Diego Maradona and he became the first World class player that I idolized. His team, Argentina had won the Cup and it opened up a new world for me - the world of South American soccer. Where we lived we had a lot of different immigrants and many of them were Hispanic. Suddenly I had a glimpse of why they loved the game so much. I ended up playing on the JV team of my high school that fall and we had a kid named Febonio who used to try and get fancy and dribble around everyone like Maradona and the coach used to mockingly call him "Madonna". That was a rough season for me as the coach played me at left wing which was probably my worst position and most of the other kids on the teams were a bunch of prima donnas and bad attitudes who were not fun to play with. It was the first time ever that I didn't enjoy playing the game and the next year I didn't even try out. My senior year I had originally planned on playing but, as I've written about on here before, I couldn't quit my job since I needed money for various things so I didn't. For all intents and purposes, my playing days were over as I would be leaving for college soon and given that my College team was made up almost entirely of foreign players while I'd played exactly one year of JV ball in high school, I'd have no chance of making the cut. But while my playing days were drawing to a close, my days of being a fan of the World game were just beginning. As Gino commented in my last post, I would occasionally stumble across a copy of Soccer Digest and through it, started learning about players and teams from other countries. The flame continued to be fanned, slowly but surely...

Up Next: 1990

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