Wednesday: What’s up, soccer?
Right now, especially in Toronto, there’s a hum, a buzz, an undercurrent if you will. And what is the cause of this intense excitement, you might well ask. It’s soccer. Yes, the so-called “beautiful game.” Which, in my opinion, is just about as exciting as watching a haircut. And of the many issues I have with soccer, here’s the first:
Person 1: Oh, boy! I’m going to a soccer game!
Person 2: Who’s playing?
Person 1: The Toronto Football Club against the New York Football Club.
Person 2: I thought you said you were going to a soccer game.
Person 1: Right!
This sport doesn’t even know what it is. Is it football? Cuz that’s what everyone east of North America (Or is it west? Actually I think it’s both) calls it. But here in North America, you PLAY soccer, but you GO to a football game. (And where does this leave American-style football? We should just call THAT “cheap-ass rugby for people who are afraid to tackle each other without full body armour”. Put that on a t-shirt. It’ll take up the front AND the back, but at least people will know what you’re cheering for.) Apparently, the word “soccer” comes from 1800s English slang for “association football”. So if the English invented the term, why don’t THEY use it? Personally, I think it was just a trick to fool the Americans, like “Teehee, let’s convince them it’s really called soccer, so we can look down at them for THAT too.”
Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m not a true soccer-hater. I just find that “major league” soccer has turned into a game where the object is to play keep-away with a ball for 90 minutes (plus penalty time—GAWD), and you end up with a score of “nobody to sh*t-all”; it’s incredibly time-wasting. In fact, I know people who PVR soccer games, then just play it on fast forward. This is a great idea, when you think about it, because then everyone is running really fast, the ball is being passed like crazy, and the whole game takes less than twenty minutes . That’s a game I can get behind. Oh wait—I’m already behind that game. It’s called Rugby 7s. Plus there’s tackling in rugby. The legal kind, not the sucky sneaky, slide-y kind, which is another thing that frustrates me about international play. I’m sorry, but if you go down on the field crying and holding your leg and rolling around like you’re dying, you should NOT get to run back on said field 30 seconds later. You SHOULD get an Oscar.
By now, if you’re a true devotee of the game, you’re probably grumbling and saying to yourself, “What the hell does a middle-aged, secret agency worker know about soccer, anyway? Well, quite a bit, as it turns out, having coached it for several years. Let me tell you, there’s a big difference in the enjoyment level of any game when you have a stake in it, even if you’re staking your enjoyment on the capacity of 4 and 5 year olds to figure out how to pass a ball without tripping. Here’s how that particular phase of my life occurred: When Kate was 4, she wanted to play soccer. We took her to the local park for registration, and the convenor announced that there was no coach for the Super-Mini-PeeWee team, and if some parents didn’t step up and volunteer, they would have to cancel that age level. All the other parents hung their heads and started finding amazing things in the clouds, and there was Kate with her little face all excited, so Ken and I offered to coach the team. I hadn’t played soccer since I was a kid myself, and we had to get all the rule books and manuals and cram so that we were ready. Which, as it turns out, if you’ve ever watched 4 year-olds play soccer, was completely unnecessary. If you show a group of 4 year-olds a soccer ball, they will chase it in a large clump like a swarm of bees chasing Winnie the Pooh with his honey jar. And they will do it until they drop, despite your best efforts to come up with plays, or teach them to pass, or coerce them to stay in their position with promises of ice cream after the game. (We always bought them ice cream anyway. They were four years old—they were trying their best.)
Another thing about four year-olds, and if you know any, you’ll agree with this wholeheartedly, is that they have the attention spans of gerbils. For example, this was our team cheer:
Me: Are you ready?!
Me: 1, 2, —wait, where are you all going? No, don’t run on the field yet! You don’t know your positions! We haven’t even finished our cheer!
And if I had a dollar for every time one of my players stopped dead, bent down, picked a dandelion and ran over to give it to me, I could have bought a new whistle. But they WERE adorable, so I’d just tuck the dandelion behind my ear, smile and say, “Awesome! Now get back out there and kick that ball!” If it wasn’t dandelions, it was “Look at this cool bug, Coach!” or “Can I have a Freezie yet?”
But of course the hardest part was when they would randomly start to cry, because they were little and easily forgot the point of what they were doing:
Me: Why are you crying? What happened?
Little Boy: I-I-I had-had the ball-ball, and that guy took it away from me. I NEVER get to keep the balllll! It’s not fair!
Me: Never mind, sweetie. Here, take this one. It’s ORANGE.
And then it would be MY fault that there was more than one ball on the field, but it didn’t really matter because we never actually kept score, being as there never WAS a score. In fact, if someone miraculously happened to get the ball in the net, it was a bit of a disaster, with no one quite being sure who scored, and the other team’s keeper crying. But as Kate got older, Ken and I graduated to older and older teams, until eventually we were coaching 13 year-olds who understood how the game was played, and cared about the score. And even then, it was fun, and exciting to see the same little girl who was plucking grass just a few years before now maneuvering the ball to rival Beckham.
And maybe that’s the whole point. I love a game when I’m actively involved and I’m working with a group of kids who are super-enthusiastic despite their varying skill levels, but I just find sitting and watching grown men falling down and pretending to be hurt for millions of dollars a little obnoxious. If you did that in rugby, you’d get laughed off the field. And what the hell do you know about rugby anyway, lady? Well, once again, I coached rugby for many years, both Girls’ Varsity and Senior Boys. It was one of the true joys of my life, and it’s the one thing I absolutely miss about being a classroom teacher, aside from actually being in the classroom, which I also loved. Here are my two favourite rugby memories:
1) Holding a tackle bag during practice and having one of my props come running at me, hit me hard, and knock me ass over teakettle. I lay on the ground, in pain but laughing hysterically as she rushed over almost in tears.
“Oh my god, Coach! I’m so sorry!” she said.
“No worries,” I answered. “Just do THAT on the field.”
2) At the end of my last season with the Senior Boys’, we lost the quarter final game. My captain started to cry. Not because we’d lost, but because he was graduating, and the team had been like family to him. Then more boys started crying, then I started crying because I was so proud of them for being such wonderful human beings. And they call soccer the beautiful game.
Of course, there were awkward or stressful moments, like having a referee look around totally perplexed then ask me, “So where’s the coach?” because I was the only female Senior Boys’ coach at the time, or having to take my hooker (don’t laugh—it’s a legitimate position) to the med tent to get her chin stitched up after a terrible collision in an Ohio tournament that left her with a fractured jaw. And then having to call her mother and explain what was going on. Or having to tell one of the best scrumhalfs I’d ever had that he couldn’t play the rest of the season because he was on his second major concussion and I wanted him to be able to remember his own name when he was forty. 18 years old and he sobbed like his heart was broken, but he understood, and still came to every game to support his team. And there were funny random moments too, like having to request that the boys use the porta-a-potties, NOT the trees, or reminding players that ALL piercings, visible or otherwise, had to be removed before a game.
So, yes, I’ve done both soccer and rugby; I’ve stood on many a pitch in the pouring rain, sleet, hail, bitter winds, and gorgeous spring days alike. I’ve wiped tears, handed out lollipops, carried equipment bags, bandaged raked shins, and done concussion protocol checks. And I f*cking miss it. So we come full circle, around to where I started. I still don’t like major league soccer, but when I wake up on a Saturday morning and hear the screams of excited laughter and cheering from kids at the soccer park a block away, I smile. And then I put on TSN and watch rugby.
Saturday: Donald Trump has an imaginary friend
Today, I was listening to an interview between Donald Trump and some guy named Jake Tapper about Trump’s racist comments regarding the judge overseeing the lawsuit filed against his fake-ass college. As I listened to the interview, I realized that the Trump was having an entirely different conversation with an imaginary interviewer. I came to this conclusion because every time Jake Tapper asked him if his statements about the judge were racist, he would say, “I’m building a wall”, or other unconnected statements:
Tapper: Why do you keep calling the judge Mexican? He was born in Indiana.
Trump: I’m building a wall.
Tapper: What does his heritage have to do with anything? He’s American.
Trump: My college is an excellent college. Everyone thinks so.
Tapper: Don’t you think you’re being racist?
Trump: Hilary’s a stiff. She should be in jail.
Tapper: Can we just talk for a minute about your statement that the judge is Mexican?
Trump: I’m building a wall.
Who the f*ck is Trump talking to? Because every time I see him talking ANYWHERE, it’s like he’s having an imaginary conversation with another 5 year-old, regardless of the circumstances. And he just keeps repeating the same bizarre statements over and over again, the way two small children talk to each other in the sandbox:
Child 1: My truck is green.
Child 2: Muslims are bad.
Child 1: I like ice cream.
Child 2: I’m building a wall.
Child 1: Can I use your shovel?
Child 2: I’m going to make America great again.
Child 1: Um…okay.
Child 2: My hands are bigger than yours. You’re a loser.
Child 1: Mommy!!
Bottom line: Dude is on another planet. One where there’s a lot of hate and stupidity. And speaking as a Canadian, there are many of us just praying that he builds a wall between him and us as well.