CONFESSIONS OF A SOCCER JUNKIE
By John F. Molinaro
Hello. My name is John and I am a soccer-holic.
Soccer, the most popular sport on the planet, has had a grip on me ever since I was six years old when I watched my first Italian league game on the TV in the basement with my dad.
Every four years, sports fans across North America jump on the soccer bandwagon and get swept up by World Cup fever. And as soon as the World Cup is over, they go back to their pedestrian, non-soccer watching lives.
But me, I live and breathe the game 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Growing up as I did in an Italian household, it was only natural that I fell in love with the beautiful game. But that childlike passion has blossomed into an obsession with the passage of time, so much so that soccer has completely taken over my life.
Such is the depth of my soccer dementia that I have become feebly uninformed when it comes to current events - a horrible admission for someone who works in the media to make, I know, but it is, sadly, the truth.
I couldn't name the president of Russia even if my life depended on it, and yet I somehow know that Daniel Carvalho scored five goals for Russian soccer club CSKA Moscow over the past two seasons and is one of three Brazilian players on the team (Dude Cearense and Wagner Love are the others).
Soccer has also hurt me financially. I've worked fulltime for the better part of seven years and have always made an above average living, but I still don't own a house, probably because each month I spend a small fortune equal to that of a regular mortgage payment on a stack of British soccer magazines.
Thousands of dollars have also been spent on several European vacations just so I can get my fix of live football (as the Brits call it), but look into my fridge on the average day and all you'll find are a carton of milk, a few lemons and some olives. Having spent all my dough on soccer, I rarely have anything left for groceries.
Soccer has also wreaked havoc with my "social life." I use quotation marks because asking the 50-year-old woman behind the counter at the Tim Hortons every Saturday for a for a double-double is the extent of my social life.
Thanks to the miracle that is digital cable, I park myself on the couch every weekend and watch seven or eight games from around the world on TV. I still recall that one weekend in the winter of 2002 when I watched 13 games within a 48 hour period, getting up only to go to the bathroom.
My work colleagues, bless their hearts, are the ones who have had to deal with my neurotic behaviour the most over the last few years.
They've had to put up with my extreme moodiness whenever my team, Juventus, loses a key game. They've been put under strict orders to turn off all televisions in the newsroom whenever there's a game on in the afternoon that I'm taping and plan to watch at home later that night. And they've had to put up with my constant blathering about the game in general.
They've tried to include me in after-work functions (drinks, a rotisserie softball league, poker night) but nine times out of 10, I blow them off.
"Sorry, I can't make it. There's a Turkish game between Galatasaray and Gaziantepspor on the tube tonight that I have to watch," I tell the guys with a straight face.
At least they know enough to not even bother asking me to go out with them any more. Others in a similar position would feel slighted and take personal stock of themselves, vowing to change the way they live their lives.
I, on the other hand, added GolTV, Canada's first 24-hour soccer channel, to my existing cable package - who needs a social life when I can watch live action from the Guatemalan second division.
And then, of course, there is the way I have neglected my family.
Somewhat shamefully, I admit to skipping out on a handful of weddings and birthday parties over the years because they just so happened to coincide with an important game that I had to watch. I always feel small pangs of guilt at first, but then I realize that if these people thought about someone else for just once in their lives, they would have scheduled the blessed event for another day.
Soccer hasn't helped my love life, either. It's somewhat difficult, I have found, to meet members of the opposite sex who can stand to be in my presence for any length of time. For reasons I can't quite fathom, women get turned off by someone who shows up for a date wearing a Juventus jersey. No pleasing some people, I suppose.
Women, curiously, want to find a guy who's a good dancer and who is an engaging conversationalist - not someone who can explain the intricacies of soccer's offside trap and recite on command the starting lineup of Italy's 1982 World Cup winning team.
Ah, but who needs female companionship, anyway. Certainly not any Scottish soccer fan who remembers Archie Gemmell's famous goal at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Gemmell's remarkable goal against the Netherlands became such a hallmark of Scottish culture that author Irvine Welsh worked it into his landmark 1993 debut novel Trainspotting.
Mark Renton, the book's protagonist, meets young Diane in a bar and the two end up back at her place for a night of passion. After reaching climax with Diane, Mark screams out, "I haven't felt that good since Archie Gemmill scored against Holland in 1978!"
I'd love to be able to make a similar comparison - for me, substitute Gemmel's goal with Marco Tardelli's goal for Italy against West Germany in the 1982 World Cup final - but finding that "someone special" and then seducing them seems like a lot of work. The average soccer game, meanwhile, lasts no more than two hours - wham, bam, thank you ma'am!
Lest you think I'm the only one afflicted by this dreaded disease, you're dead wrong. Over the next month during the World Cup, millions of employees will call in sick, kids will beg their parents to let them stay home from school and entire countries will halt to a standstill.
Passion for soccer runs deep but I think the one person who best summed up the essence of the sport was Bill Shankly, the former manager of English club Liverpool FC. Shanks, as his players affectionately called him, was someone who took the game, er, rather seriously.
"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death," he once famously remarked. "I'm very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."
Amen, Shanks. Amen.
John F. Molinaro is the editor
of CBC Sports Online's 2006 World Cup website. John covered the 2002 World
Cup, 2003 Champions League final and Euro 2004 for Sports Online. He also
won a CBC.ca Award of Excellence for his work on Sports Online's Euro 2004
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