So some of you may have noticed that the World Cup happened this summer. It was a few frantic weeks of close games and rooting for the underdogs. I was sort of happy to discover that my home-team (Go USA!) was actually an underdog in this particular event. It was kind of fun being able to root for the home-team without feeling that residual sense of shame and self loathing I always get in regards to team spirit and patriotism. (This is not a political statement. It comes from growing up unpopular, geekish, and nerdy. I associate patriotism and team spirit with popular kids and the feeling of rejection.)
Anyway, I used to play soccer on the city rec team when I was a kid, so I also carry some fond feelings for the sport (despite aforementioned adversity to team spirit, my parents still thought I should have some form of physical outlet). So I was excited to watch the World Cup unfold this year, especially since I have accumulated a few friends of various nationalities in the years since the last World Cup. I was excited to be able to root for team Germany, team Romania, team Sweden, etc, along with team USA.
Some of my friends are really avid football fans. (I’m going to call soccer “football” from here on out because that’s what the rest of the world calls it and anyone who is actually an avid fan calls it football, not soccer.) Hanging out with them made me feel special in the kind of way I always wanted to feel watching the popular kids while growing up. I picked up on the lingo, on the importance of having favorite players in addition to favorite teams, the joys of screaming loudly when our team scored a goal and screaming just as loudly (but in despair) when the other team scored. I felt a sense of camaraderie by getting up at ungodly hours, going to sketchy bars, taking time off of work, JUST to catch the game.
It was exciting in a way I had never experienced before. I felt myself starting to CARE for these teams, for these people. I learned the thrill of making off-hand comments at social gatherings about how such and such was really on his game the other night or how this or that team really blew things. It was thrilling. I felt superior. I finally felt like I belonged to a select group of sports fans. I had a new insight into the American way of life I had never had before. It became addicting.
I was almost entirely sold on the whole concept of being a sports fan until I started noticing a disturbing trend. I’m going to call it “flopping” for lack of a better term. Maybe that’s what it’s actually called, but I wouldn’t really know. Anyway, flopping is this awful thing that football (remember “football” = soccer) players do. I won’t go into all the reasons they do it, or why it is such a problem, but the gist of it is this: players fake injuries to get the ref to call foul on the other team. This happens in all sports, but in football (are we past reminders yet?) it’s particularly bad.
So here I am getting all excited about being a super fantastic sports fan. I even sought out a TV at my grandma’s 80th birthday party just so I could watch the championship game between Spain and …uuuuum Argentina (?). Because the stakes were so high, the flopping in this particular game got pretty bad. Yellow cards were flying, things were getting ugly. I think at one point it stopped being fake and started getting nasty. For example, a Spanish player got karate kicked in the chest by someone on the other team. People started going nuts. Handballs, fouls, swearing, chaos. It was in the midst of watching this game deteriorate, that I had a flashback to one of the most humiliating, horrible, sports-related experiences of my life (an experience I had sort of repressed until just then). It might come as close to experiencing a PTSD flashback as someone like me may ever get.
Here’s what I remembered, while sitting there in my grandmother’s living room watching the game. Please keep in mind I was also maybe 14 at the time the original trauma took place, so multiply everything by about 100 to understand how awful this was:
At which point, the ball rolled past me, I chased it, saw it cross a white line and assumed it was out-of-bounds. I bent over and picked up the ball for a throw-in. But then I started getting confused. I heard a loud whistle and people yelling and waving and jumping and staring in disbelief. Here’s why:
In case you can’t decipher that drawing…here’s what happened. When the ball came towards me I got really excited. As the ball went past me I was so excited that I completely forgot I was a defender standing right in front of the goal/penatly box. All reason flew out of my head. I suddenly forgot where I was and as I was chasing the ball, I saw it go over a white line and my excited brain told me “that means OUT!” And then…I bent over to pick it up. IN. THE. PENALTY. BOX.
Yup. A blatant handball in the goal box of my own team. Possibly one of the most embarrassing moments of my young adult life. And I had managed to repress this awful memory so well until the World Cup brought it all flooding back. So now I remember why I’m not a sports fan.
[UPDATE: In case you were wondering: Yes. The other team was awarded a penalty kick. Yes they scored. Yes, we lost the game. Yes, it was all my fault.]