MatchDay Memory–Playing Hooky

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Italia ’90 was my first World Cup, and I didn’t even know what I was watching.  I had been playing soccer for years, but had no connection with any club or country.  The game was just something my family did during the week, with my parents driving me, my sister and my brother around town to a myriad of practices and games.  This World Cup came around, with games on a combination of Univision (in Spanish, punctuated by calls of GOOOALLLLLL!!) and TNT (with commercial breaks), and I was introduced to the strange phenomenon of Schillaci.  For a while I didn’t even know what a Schillaci was, but in the snippets I would see, a Schillaci would occur. By the end of the tournament, I had discovered that Schillaci was a person, who ended up winning the Golden Boot with six goals.  Even later, as I came to know more about the game, I would find out that Schillaci played for Juventus from 89-92, having a great debut season with 15 goals.  Based on research, he tailed off after that, due to injuries, moving on to Inter and the J League.

During one week of the tournament I was at a church youth conference called Christ in Youth (CIY).  For a couple of hours in the afternoon, we would skip our afternoon session and go down to the basement of one of the dorms, with a bunch of other truants, and watch soccer, play pool and hang out.  (I figure the statute of limitations has run out on this and my youth minister, if he is reading this, is not going to yell at me).  Turns out I was trading one religion for another.

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I was vaguely aware that the United States had qualified and that this was a minor miracle.  I have no recollection of the thrashing they took at the hands of Czechoslovakia, and I barely remember them holding out for only a 1-0 defeat to the hosts.  My biggest takeaway of the tournament was Roberto Baggio.  I saw a highlight of his goal against Czechoslovakia and thought, who is this guy?  I kept his name in the back of my mind for four years and then, in his pomp at USA’94, I became very aware of all that he had done and would do.

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Really the tournament was experienced over eight years.  USA ’94 had a summary of 1990, which filled in a couple of blanks.  I read Among the Thugs, which saw the tournament through the very narrow prism of English hooliganism.  Continued research and reading supplied more and more info, but a job at a soccer store just after the 1998 World Cup, with access to highlights tapes (yes, VCR tapes), really gave me a full experience of the tournament—Higuita’s hair, Roger Milla’s dance, Gazza’s tears, and Germany’s victory.  Plus all of those goals by Schillaci.

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2014 is less than three years away, but if life has taught me anything so far, it’s that three years might as well be tomorrow.  Germany 2006 seems like yesterday, with Zidane leading France to the Final before his moment of madness, and South Africa 2010 is fresh in the memory, seeing Iniesta firing La Furia Roja to glory. From an American perspective, twenty years on from hosting the Finals, the US will have one more chance with the old guard (Donovan, Boca, Howard) before turning the team over to the next generation.

Every four years I say, “This is the one I’m going to”, knowing in my heart that I am not.  The way things are heading, ie the club game taking over the international game, I may not have a World Cup to go to, but that’s a different discussion.  For now, I am counting down the days to Brazil 2014 and await the memories that will be created.

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