“Come ON,” they pleaded. “It will be SO MUCH FUN! Tailgating, grilling out, drinking beer at the game, cheering with the crowd…”
“Hold up,” I said. “Cheering – no. That’s what I hate the MOST about sporting events – besides having to watch the sport itself – the noise. I’m not going.”
“Come ON!” My friends were relentless. “You’re with US! It will be fun! You’ll have fun – we’re ALL going! You don’t have to do anything – we will do it all!”
“Nope. Nope nope nope. I will end up doing something. Do you know my husband? He will find something for me to do. Plus, you are not new here. I HATE SPORTS! You know me. HATE.”
My husband stood idly by, smile on his face. He’d had this conversation with me before. My husband lives and breathes sports – playing, watching, going to games, talking about teams, watching sports news. The sport doesn’t matter. He even watches the OLYMPICS, for goodness' sake. Who does this?
On the other hand, I am holding out hope that all sports will be outlawed someday, or at least that all the sports stadiums in the world would vanish, or that we will find a parallel universe that only non-sports people will have access to.
Maybe it’s because sports have been shoved down my throat so much that I have developed a deep-seated aversion to them. My husband’s over the top love of sports has, in effect, ruined them for me. I have seen so much baseball basketball wrestling football golf hockey in person and on TV against my wishes that a squeak of a shoe on a court, the low roar of a crowd or one word of a shouting commentator sends me out of the room immediately. Maybe it’s because I have hosted so many sports-centered parties in our home that eventually end with me doing all the work because everyone else is so wrapped up in the game. Maybe it’s because I’m not a natural competitor; I don’t care who wins or loses. Maybe it’s because I’m against the amount of money that sports figures make. Or maybe it’s just because I don’t get it.
Whatever it is, I was NOT going.
So I’m not sure how it happened that I found myself in the front seat of my husband’s car, friends piled in the back, on my way to a professional soccer game last weekend.
I admit, I looked forward to hanging out with my friends – we always have a good time. Upon arriving to the stadium parking lot, we scored free hats in return for answering a questionnaire about our computer experience. We ate delicious food that I didn’t prepare, although it was touch and go at home before we left while my husband wandered around and asked me a thousand times what we were doing about food and drink. “I don’t know,” I said over and over. “I was told that I didn’t have to do anything.”
“But… I thought… I mean…” he stammered.
“You thought I’d step in and take over like I usually do,” I retorted.
“No,” he started.
“Yes,” I finished. “That’s exactly what you thought. This is not my deal. By the way, what sort of arrangements did you make for our kids while we are away this evening?”
* * *
During the game, I was astonished to find out that our entire section would not be sitting down at all. That it was customary to stand the whole time. As I wistfully looked at the empty seats all around me I hoped for something to do. Luckily, my friends know how to take care of me and it was suggested that we do a beer run right away before I started to cry over not being able to put my feet up for ninety minutes.
“Did the game start yet?” I asked. “Yes,” they replied. “It started ten minutes ago.” Soccer is confusing, I thought to myself. As I tried to make sense of what was happening on the field, I decided that counting the players was as good a place to start as any. I noted that there were two different uniform colors - red and black. Our team was supposed to be blue. Why do the net guards have white and turquoise on? And who are the guys with the yellow shirts? “There are 25 people on the field,” I announced.
“Yes,” said my patient friends. I peered into my cup. The beer wasn’t very good. The guy next to me was into the game, swearing and yelling and chanting and cheering and generally hating me as I inched my way closer to the railing so I could at least lean on something if I wasn’t allowed to sit down. I stole a look behind me and there was a woman with white hair. She was yelling. I wonder if she has grandchildren, I thought.
I heard drums. I leaned wayyyyy over and followed the sound. The crowd started to sing and chant along with the beat. There was a guy with a beard in the next section, beating on a drum that I couldn’t see. I wondered if he took requests. I wondered if anyone had ever fallen over the railing.
More friends came. I kissed them hello as if they were an oasis in the desert. How was your day? How was your drive? Did you know that there are 25 people on the field? Do you need a beer? Thirty minutes had passed. Fifteen to go until halftime. Do they call it halftime in soccer? My husband was six rows behind me with the other husbands, oblivious to my presence and not caring about my pain.
Halftime. More beer. Bathroom break. Man, my hair was a mess.
The second half of the game brought something new to watch – a man on the field nearby who was playing an elaborate game of follow the leader with some guys wearing yellow mesh shirts. When he ran, they ran. When he jumped, they jumped. The group hopped like a bunny and skipped around cones, single file. I was entertained.
“Who are they?” pointing to the group. “Are they cheerleaders?” “They are players,” my friends responded. “The leader is Warm-Up Guy. He warms them up in case they have to play soon.” Then my friend said, “This is my favorite part of the game.”
Almost on cue, the crowd started singing a song about Warm-Up Guy never going out on the field. I felt bad for him a little, but figured he hears it all the time, is in incredible shape, gets to play follow the leader for money, and decided that he’s probably good with the song about him. With new excitement, I tried to focus on the game and at that moment, one of the players kicked the ball into the goal. I jumped up and down with the crowd and looked at the score to see who made the goal, having given up on figuring out which team was which long ago. To my surprise neither score increased. Someone said that the goal didn’t count.
Then I cursed and decided that I officially hate soccer.
After the game, while the rest of the crowd was busy staring into the sky at fireworks, I saw soccer players on the field signing autographs, a tradition that fills me with as much curiosity as finding meaning in watching sports. At once, a player whipped off his shirt and threw it to a fan. I accepted this as a challenge, and as I scoped out the few players that were left to see if I could get the attention of one of them, I saw him.
“Hey! Warm-Up Guy!” my friends and I yelled. He looked up and waved. “You are my favorite part of the game!” gushed my friend like a teenage fangirl. “I just love you!” I sensed we were running out of time. All of the soccer players had gone. “GIVE US YOUR SHIRT!” I screamed.
He sort of chuckled. “Hold on, I’ll get you a different one,” he said, and ran off.
My friend squealed at me. “Do you think he’ll be back?” she asked. “Probably not,” said one of the husbands, who had joined us. “He’ll be back,” I assured her. “He said he was going to bring another shirt.”
Several minutes later, with no sign of Warm-Up Guy, the husbands were getting antsy. “Come on,” they whined. “No,” I said. “He’ll be back.” Just then, I saw a familiar figure scanning the crowd.
“There he is! HEY! WE’RE RIGHT HERE!” I screamed. He grinned and threw us the shirt. My friend let out a sound not unlike a primitive war cry from a tribal nation. Her excitement was palpable as she inhaled the shirt and held it up to her bosom as if it was the wedding dress she had dreamed about since she was a girl. “AHMAGAH! I DON’T BELIEVE IT! WARM-UP GUY GAVE ME HIS SHIRT! THANK YOU, WARM-UP GUY!” We fell over each other, laughing and screaming.
I guess soccer isn’t so bad, after all.