For one, it’s called football. Where I come from football is actually a throw, catch and run sport where not much kicking happens. But everywhere else in the world the game of “football” is one that brings nations together, in both celebration and property destruction. I will call it football, properly, in this post. The passion that follows this sport is unparalleled, and I’m beginning to find out why.
Football is a sport that truly needs no specific materials to play. Many poor youth across the world play with tin cans or stones, anything can be kicked and anybody can play anywhere, it requires no gear or special places to play. It’s completely accessible to everyone.
It’s a 90-minute match, a grueling ordeal that provides rest only during a 15 minute halftime. It’s one of the toughest sports on the planet, a couple of shin guards, no timeouts, no nothing, just play.
During the two halves of play, there is a constant anticipation and from my experience being an American, I need things to happen right now, I need action within a few minutes or I’m flipping the channel or going for some chilidogs. Football is a low tempo game with brief moments of exhilarating fury, a drawn out fistfight where decisive blows only connect every so often. So when you see your team with the ball towards the opponents’ goal, you’re out of your seat ready to explode. Most of the time it doesn’t happen but when it does, the proper reaction is to erupt into a screaming chant and froth at the mouth.
Americans have no attention span to wait for such moments (which doesn’t explain how baseball is the national pastime), in addition, I’m not so sure Americans wholeheartedly like being part of a competitive community where they don’t have the ability to dominate. In fact, they suck so bad Americans have their own sport of football. Nothing says “We have our own balls” like naming your own sport after a global one.
What brings me to these observations is that I just finished watching a football match on television here in Vietnam. It was a championship game between Thailand and Vietnam where Thailand had led the score for 90% of the game. Every storefront, house, restaurant and cafe had televisions blaring, fans drumming and chanting everytime a Vietnamese player touched the ball, it was the most communal thing I’ve seen here, it’s nearly a religion. Everyone was watching, the streets were dead except for the crowd noise on every block. During the final moments of the match, Vietnam miraculously scored a goal to win the match and as I watched in slack-jawed disbelief, I opened the back door to hear the streets go berserk with people absolutely losing their minds.
After waiting 93 minutes, the home team’s goal is a virtual buzzer beater in a championship match. After all that time of biting nails and hoping to score, it’s no wonder fires are set and riots occur.
It’s been two hours since that goal but the streets here are a parade of screaming people banging drums & garbage can lids, motorbikes racing up and down the streets waving flags, cars honking in procession, it’s complete bedlam.
This is why I love sports. Because it’s kind of like war but with more revelry and fun and less dead people. Some people don’t like sports because it breeds competition and anger and rage (warlike qualities), and all I have to say is…nothing. I’d score a goal on their face, take off my shirt, twirl it around in the air while chanting and dancing a circle around their body.