All right, ya’ll I am chuffed (British informal English for delighted or pleased) about the US women winning the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada this weekend. What an exciting final game with Japan! The US team won in a decisive 5-2 score. And Houston Dash’s own Carli Lloyd got the earliest hat trick in Women’s World Cup soccer history. She also won the Golden Ball trophy as the most valuable player.
I have to tell you that earlier in the tournament, I was also cheering for Japan. Those women are also an exceptional team. How could I root for Japan? Well…you see, football (soccer to Americans) is a truly global sport. It is estimated that 265 million people on the planet play it. The World Cup finals are also the most watched sporting event around the globe…bar none.
It is an intercultural phenomenon. The New York Times just published an article about students in the Arctic preparing to play an indoor territorial tournament in Iqualuit, Nunavut, Canada. This tournament is claimed to be one of the most remote places for a football competition.
As an American from the Midwest (where American football is king…yes think helmets and pads like those here in Texas), I first encountered football while living in Malaysia and Singapore. Football is BIG in Asia. I then got even more familiar with it when I studied in Ireland. Football is HUGE in Europe. People from all over the globe are certainly passionate about this sport.
In fact, I became too familiar with the passion for it when I was visiting a friend in London in 1996 during the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) European Cup semifinals between England and Germany. The game at Wembley Stadium was on televisions in every open-air pub and restaurant that we passed as we walked to a Thai restaurant for dinner. I told my friend “I’m rooting for Germany”. At that point the English patrons in these establishments all turned to look at me in the street. It was like a scene from a Jurassic Park movie where the dinosaurs sense the humans in their midst. My friend urged that we scoot to our restaurant as quickly as possible. We did. When we left, the score was 1-1. Then on the walk back, England lost to Germany 6-5 on penalty kicks. Rubbish bins in the streets began to be set on fire. Needless to say, we high-tailed it back home.
Fast forward to 2008. I was giving a guest lecture at the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid. This was the summer of the UEFA European Cup finals in Austria between Germany and Spain. I went out into downtown Madrid to find dinner hours before the game would begin. The streets were already filled with thousands of Spaniards waving flags as they headed to the Puerta del Sol or “Gate of the Sun”, which is the most famous public square in Madrid. I did not join them given my previous experience, but did watch the game on television in Spanish. (Trust me, even if you do not know the language, you can follow the action.) In the end Spain won over Germany 1-0. The next day as I was awaiting my flight back to the US in the airport, the Spanish team arrived to thousands of cheering fans. It was indeed a sight to behold.
Back to the present. HBU now has both a men’s and women’s soccer teams. I have been blessed to have these student athletes in my classrooms. They study hard and train hard. They are excited about the US win over Japan in the World Cup. If you ever get a chance to check them out on the HBU campus please do. I think you would be surprised at their athleticism on the pitch. Perhaps one day one of them will represent the US in the World Cup.