It's that time again, the whole world’s favorite quadrennial event: The World Cup. And it begins tomorrow. Flights and tickets have been bought, work schedules have been rearranged, fans assembled, and every bar that can afford it has a huge screen TV. Here in the U.S. there is a little more publicity than usual; the local San Francisco buses display advertising, (paid for by the Germans), welcoming the US football squad. The national team's excellent quarterfinal finish at the last World Cup helps, but still football is the red-headed step child of sports in the land of baseball and that...other football.
I can't wait. I have finally made peace with the fact that Ireland, despite having a very decent team, contrived not to qualify. I had planned on going to Germany if they did. Instead, I took the money and bought a plasma TV and got HD TV installed. I now realise that as a non-partisan, I may actually enjoy the event more. No nail biting moments while begging for the clock to run out or aching despondency over a missed penalty during the World Cup's notorious way of deciding deadlocked games. I just get to enjoy every victory. Of course, though, there will be none of the overwhelming joy that overtook Ireland in 1990 when the Irish team marked their historic finals debut and made it all the way to the quarter finals.
Many of the major events in my life seem to have coincided with the World Cup. Mexico '86 was such a distraction during my Leaving Certificate Exams that I had to repeat the damn thing the following year. I will never forget making my way through Manhattan during Italia '90 to a job interview, and stopping in every Irish bar along the way to see if Ireland had managed to equalise the one goal Holland had scored against them. At the final bar, everyone was so quiet that I thought all was lost. The when I saw the 1-1 score board, (ensuring progression to the next round), I let out a shout of joy, startling the nervous crowd who were willing the clock to run out before Holland scored another. I will also never forget the the stunned silence that came over everyone in Sally O'Briens bar in Queens when that little bollix, Toto Schillaci, put one past Packy Bonner. Up to that point, we really thought we could win the whole thing.
My favorite World Cup was US '94. I got to see some games in Stanford, and experienced the exuberance of the Brazilian and Nigerian fans, as both teams were situated in the Bay Area for the beginning rounds. But more than that, sparks first flew between my wife and me when we met in a bar to watch the Italy v. Brazil finals in an Irish bar. We had known each other socially through my roommate, but had never really spent time together. I was very impressed with her football knowledge, (even if she did keep calling it "sawker"). And not only did she play, but she had played on the same high school team as U.S. great, and double women’s world cup medal winner, Kristine Lilly. Our first date was a pick up football game in Golden Gate Park!
We spent S. Korea and Japan '02 back in Ireland with Shane, our eldest, when he was just a few months old. We had both been laid off from our jobs in the previous months, and decided that we were just going to chill out in Ireland and not think about the future for six weeks. We spent much of that six weeks watching football. Despite the Roy Keane saga, Ireland played some nice football, only to suffer the heartbreak of being knocked out after losing to Spain in penalties.
So over the next month or so, I will spend way too much time on front of the television, but we are slap bang in the middle of San Francisco's foggy summer, so what better way to wile away the cold weekends while waiting for the sunshine that September will bring. My early bet is on Brazil, but I am pretty sure that may change as the event progresses and I develop new favorites. I do hope the U.S. does well. We could do with some favorable publicity, and more to the point, the experienced Team USA has the talent to do well - but they are in a very difficult group, and even if they do make it out of group play, it is likely they will then play Brazil. The odds are not good.