MAMMA’S DIARY – DIARIO DI MAMMA
There’s something magical about the World Cup international soccer tournament. It brings together people of all kinds. What Americans tend to find so annoying – the lack of high scores – is precisely what makes soccer the beautiful game. Every goal is a little, unexpected miracle. Even if it is your opponent scoring, you have to admit the preciousness of it. That’s why soccer is a means of holding onto hope for a better tomorrow. You never know when you’re going to finally score. And the joy in your heart in that moment – even if you’re just a fan – is utterly pure.
Spectacular Even without My Teams
Both the United States and Italy, my birthplace and ancestral homeland respectively, failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup currently taking place in Russia. Truly, the results were crushing. Initially, I imagined I would not even pay attention to the tournament. But soccer is a bond in my family. My father launched our interest, but it is one of the few things that truly unifies my brother, sister, and me. We could not be more different in all the rest, but we agree that penalty kicks are the worst way to win or lose. All three of us are certain French and Brazilian soccer is the stuff of the devil. And we see nothing wrong with crying – real, hard tears – over something like Roberto Baggio sending the ball over the goalpost in the Greek tragedy that was the final game of the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
Family Keeps Me in the Game
Then, there are my cousins who are in mixed marriages or from different regions of the world. They have married people of different teams, such as Croatia and Argentina, or they live in, dare I admit it, France. (Blah, Les Bleu!) As soon as the games began, the text messages started flying among these different wings of the family. And I was drawn in. “How dare you expect me to root for Croatia? Blasphemy!” In the end, I have been cheering on the Croatians. My son was brainwashed by my cousin’s husband, so he wants the checkered team to win. Pun intended. Frankly, I’m impressed at how far it has gotten. In fact, tonight, Croatia has a chance of snagging a seat at the final, when it faces off against England.
Even I must admit France, especially after its valiant showing against Belgium last night, has wowed legions of soccer fans. It just might bring home the cup. Don’t expect me to be happy about it, French cousins. But I still love you. Indeed, soccer is love. Like other professional sports, soccer moves you. Fans become emotionally connected to the players and also each other. Aside from anarchists and hooligans, the overwhelming majority of soccer fans take great pleasure ribbing each other if they are on opposing sides. It forges a community, friendships, and laughter. Like all sports and entertainment, it’s a distraction from the tremendous weights of life most of us have on our shoulders. Sure, it can get political at times just like any sport. But mostly it’s just fun.
Living and Breathing Soccer
For a long while, I wore a “Soccer is Life” T-shirt. Back then, in many ways, soccer really was life. It was my hobby to follow favorite players, watch tons of games, and debate strategies of the world’s best teams. In fact, keeping up with Italian soccer’s Serie A is what drove me to become fluent in Italian. That’s significant because I probably never would have ended up marrying my husband if I didn’t speak universal Italian. I remember many a night spent translating Italian sports stories from that unforgettable pink newspaper, La Gazzetta dello Sport and intently watching RAI International.
Just as all great loves do, soccer disappointed me. Doping, gambling, and bribing scandals in Italy were a big turn off. Then, FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, turned out to be a fraud. It was criminal, even if fans like me already had their suspicions. Now, we know we were right all along. Also, I became a working mom, which continues to eat up my free time. So, soccer is not as central to my world as it once was. But every four years, it pulls me in again.
I can’t help but realize “soccer is life.” Really and truly. The players on the field must learn to work together or suffer defeat. All sorts of challenges come their way – blood, sweat, tears, a hooligan tossing a molotov cocktail onto the field, what have you. A surly teammate might delude you and end up with a red card while he’s at it. No matter. His teammates have to charge forward all the same. Those who work hard and concentrate will eventually prevail. The question is when. It might not be when you expect. On any given game day, the underdog may manage a win. Sometimes, all it takes is one of those little miracles. Then, you recognize life truly is beautiful.
Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press, 2012). She also has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.