Football In Real Life
So, I may not get to see Messi v.s. Ronaldinho? You mean, I’ll only get to watch that on YouTube set to techno-music? I about lost it when I opened up the Daily Monitor Today (one of Uganda’s Daily Newspapers) to these headlines from the Beijing Olympics.
As we all know, the Olympics have been heavily politicized and criticized for more than the past year. And today, more bad news headlines, the football (read: Soccer) had also become politicized, and my favorite team (after the U.S. team), Argentina, was at the center of the controversy.
As most would argue today, Argentine football is two-words: Lionel Messi. Argentina selected Messi for the Argentine Olympic Team for Beijing in-line with FIFA’s rule that club teams must release under-23 players for the Olympics. Initially, FC Barcelona did not comply and took him off to a pre-season training camp located in Scotland. However, eventually, they allowed him to travel with his native country to Beijing. Yet, just a few days ago, FC Barcelona appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the FIFA ruling. Unfortunately, CAS ruled in favor of Barcelona.
Messi has made it clear that he wants to play for Argentina in Beijing, and it sounds like he will play no matter the CAS ruling. However, this politics hurts the game and harms the fans (Read: A Possible Argentina v.s. Brazil match-up for the gold medal becomes impossible)
So, in light of this saga, and hoping that Messi does play because he loves the game and wants to represent his country, this is my humble ode…. “Football in Real Life.”
In the United States it’s baseball diamonds and basketball courts. In the rest of the world it’s football fields. Every football field has distinct features and everyone has their favorite field. Something at the field that leaves an indelible mark on any football fan from Boca to Chelsea.
Some of the fields are surrounded by mountains and mango trees while others are located on the grounds of a church, a primary school or an old industrial site.
Some have wooden football goals whose roots sink deep into the earth and serve as “the oxygen” for aspiring young players. Others are rusted orange metal pipes or wooden sticks plugged into the ground. No matter, it all works.
Some fields have rocks that come from a nearby quarry to mark out of bounds, and dirt or mud to draw the mid-field line.
Ultimately, each football field is a unique expression of the football artists in the community.
The field itself is usually the central space of the community and thus, the heart of the community. The football field is the place where the youth, the children, the young boys and girls create, ask questions, discuss, and play. The football field belongs to each and every one of them, it is their home and where their dreams are nourished.
So, simple, yet so life changing, the football field explains why the game makes so much sense wherever it appears. All you need is an open space – whether its 100 yards, or 20 yards – the game can be played, the ball can be passed… the game is shared.
It’s not about the bleachers, because the fans and players will come whether or not there are bleachers.
It’s not about lighting, because at sun-down players still dream and replay the practice, the tournament, the game. And tomorrow, the sun will rise, the rain will fall, but a game will be played.
And, it’s not about having nets in each goal, some player will chase after the ball once it goes through the goal, and play will always resume. Why? Because as in life, in football it’s about the journey and it is impossible to be entirely individualistic. You need your team, and you need coaches if you are going to score the goals, cross the ball, or stop a defensive strike.
Yesterday, in Bukomero and Kiboga, those football fields, those players, those coaches, those mountains, mango trees, primary schools and churches that I’ve passed many times driving across Uganda, became a place I visited.
The images remain so vivid….children scrambling the field their blue or yellow school uniforms, goats roaming (and grazing) on the field, young kids in torn t-shirts and pants or without shoes sweating around the pitch and forgetting about life for a while. In fact, in the rural areas, I’ve even seen the young cattle herders park their cows as they take a little break in the middle of their afternoon to play.
Nearby, I could smell the women cooking local food like matoke, brick making kilns, and the horrible smell of sewage. These are not distractions, this is life in its unedited form, this is football in the barrios, the playgrounds, the favelas, the industrial parks, the rural areas, this is football in Uganda. This is “Football in Real Life.” This is why I love this beautiful game.