Saturday, June 12, 2010

My Brother's (Goal) Keeper


I recently taught a short-term class at school called “Siblings in Film and Literature.” We started with Cain and Abel, of course, before moving on to more recent depictions of what Slate’s Emily Yoffe has called this “difficult combination of allegiance and rivalry.” My favorite line about siblings comes from a film we didn’t watch: The Straight Story. "There's no one knows your life better than a brother that's near your age,” says Alvin Straight to a pair of bickering twin brothers. “He knows who you are and what you are better than anyone on Earth.” I expect that is so. In my case, it was impossible to watch films like East of Eden, read dramas like True West, or read short stories like “Sonny’s Blues” without thinking about my own brother and how we used to fight like Biblical siblings. You’d think a birthright was at stake the way we played basketball in the driveway.

I have also had Rob on the brain because it is World Cup time. Our household is definitely into it. In many ways I have Rob to thank for my fandom.

Rob discovered soccer sometime in the late seventies, long before the current Becks-fueled vogue. As was always the case in our house, a newly discovered passion had to go beyond the mere practice of it: you had to become an aficionado. Rob loved playing soccer (he joined a club team in Athens), but he also become a devoted viewer of a show called Soccer Made in Germany, a English-language highlight show from the Bundesliga broadcast weekly on our local PBS station. Rob learned all the teams and the major players. He also learned to do a hilarious impersonation of Toby Charles, the excitable, nasal-voiced Englishman who provided commentary for the matches. For a couple of years it was not uncommon for Rob to suddenly blurt out the name of a German star in the manner of the Charles: “Rummenigge!” “Hrubesch!” The impersonations also included Charles’ British soccer terminology, including his use of the plural in reference to teams: “And that’s it, it’s all over out there on the pitch. Bayern-Munich have defeated Cologne, two-nil.”

It has been interesting listening to my local sports talk radio favorites leading up to the World Cup. Sadly, too many of them have descended into knee-jerk soccer bashing (By the way, you know you’re listening to a sports talk hack when he resorts to any of these three stupid rants: soccer is boring, women’s sports are boring, and dodgeball needs to be brought back to elementary school P.E.). Low scoring and ties are the usual gripes against soccer. Whatever. I try not to be one of those insufferable soccer fans who take U.S. failure to fully embrace “real football” as a sign of national dim-wittedness, but when NASCAR fans complain that soccer is boring . . . wow. What can you say?

In our house we’re for the U.S., of course, but we also have enough of a soft spot for the Netherlands to be closely monitoring Arjen Robben’s hamstring injury. The U.S. team’s first game is later today against England. I doubt Landon Donovan and company will win, but soccerniks said the same thing last summer during their improbable run at the Confederations Cup – a team that defeats Spain and puts a real scare into Brazil (two favorites to wind up in the finals this summer) has to be taken seriously.

Whatever happens, I expect this to be a fun few weeks. I never knew what we were missing before. Rob did, of course. As usual, he was on to something.

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