That’s the Way Soccer Should Be

Watching 16-year-old boys play soccer at a very high level is not for the faint of heart. They are insanely quick, closing down the available space in the blink of an eye; if you find yourself thinking about your next decision of what to do with the ball, it’s already too late. And the physical contact? Brace yourself, because it hurts just watching. They are young kamikazes in colorful kits who have no regard for their own bodies or the bodies of their opponents. They are young rams testing their mettle in head-to-head combat, guarding their turf as if it were a matter of life or death.

Number Two Son and Number Eight on the opposing squad went at it all afternoon. I focused on their contest within a contest and witnessed a titantic tussle: So-called legal “shoulder charges” which were really a little more than that, frequent tugs of the jersey and elbows to the ribcage, subtle and cleverly disguised, and acrobatic, aerial dogfights fought over the control of a lofted ball. Just as wince-inducing were the sounds of mortal combat, the collision of leather, plastic and bone whose report echoed throughout the battlefield. The center ref was of the mind to let them play, and they took the leash in their steely jaws and stretched it to the breaking point.

But I saw something else too. Whenever the action shifted away from them, the two stood close together and chatted pleasantly, seemingly pleased with each other’s company as their strong athletic bodies glistened like young gods under a blazing, early fall sun. But when the ball was switched back to their side, it was back to business: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”

At the end of the match, the two of them shook hands, did the man-hug thing and amicably parted ways. Later, I asked Number Two what they had been discussing in those brief moments of truce. “Oh, you know, this and that–movies, music, how French people talk, that sort of thing.”

I noted how odd it seemed, the two of them locked in Darwinian struggle one moment and acting like brothers in the next.

“That happens all the time out there, Dad,” he replied. “It’s nothing personal. That’s the way soccer should be.”

  1. Mike the Eyeguy

    I found out after the match that Number Eight was the son of a former professor of mine at UAB. When told that, Number Two replied: “That’s cool.”

  2. mmlace

    Wow! I like that story! I’m not sure what it is, I can’t quite put my finger on it…but I like that! In mortal combat one minute, chatting the next…how interesting!

  3. Brady

    And how doo zee French peeeple talk?

  4. Mike the Eyeguy

    mmlace–Perhaps one reason the story resonates with you is that it points toward a higher truth–that the clash of opposing forces is not bad per se, but can actually be a case of “iron sharpening iron.” That out of such dialectic comes a synthesis; in this instance, a well-played contest, a just result, a friendship based on respect. It is a lesson that we adults could learn from and apply in our personal affairs, politics, workplaces and houses of worship.

    brady–I’m not sure, but I think they do it with a trace of a Southern accent.

  5. Mike the Eyeguy

    Does anybody else remember that old Warner Brothers cartoon where the sheepdog and the wolf clock in at the start of the day, fight bitterly during their “shift,” then clock out at the end of the day and walk into the sunset with their arms around each other?

    It was sorta like that.

  6. JRB

    He’s going to make a fine lawyer.

  7. Mike the Eyeguy

    I’ll pass that career suggestion along, JRB. πŸ™‚

  8. Stoogelover

    The cartoon? Yes. One of the best!

    I came over hear wanting your take on the new Saban era now that … well, you know the situation. I guess I’m looking for some hope and comfort!

    Great story. I don’t like soccer at all (my son coached it at the high school level two years, and I went to every game but I still don’t care for it), but this was a great post!

  9. Mike the Eyeguy

    sl–I’ll have something to say later in the week about that, ahem, Recent Unpleasantness to which you refer.

    Though you are part of the unwashed masses who care not for The Beautiful Game, yea, a veritable soccer imbecile, I’m glad you enjoyed the story nonetheless!

  10. mmlace

    I like your assessment, Dr. Eyeguy–the idea of “iron sharpening iron” and out of it coming a friendship based on respect.

    I’m afraid I don’t recall the sheepdog and wolf cartoon, though…

  11. Mike the Eyeguy

    That’s because you’re a Young Liberal Whippersnapper… πŸ™‚

  12. Alan Gable

    Good stuff. Perhaps this could be an effective illustration to combat the namby-pamby notion that competition causes young folks to lose self confidence. On the contrary, one can compete vigorously (and lose handily) yet still maintain respect for one’s opponent and oneself.

    Kudos to the secondary offspring for keeping his elbows tucked in…

  13. Mike the Eyeguy

    Competition has been good for my guys. I always had a hard time letting go and would often brood over a loss or poor performance, but years of competition have enabled them to handle it well and leave it on the field when they’re done.

    And you’re right about those elbows. A couple of years ago, Number One was having his jersey grabbed repeatedly by his marker in a match in Montgomery. I was standing very close to the touchline the next time they ran by, and I beamed with great paternal pride as Number One, with his arm tucked neatly in so as to not draw attention from the center ref, leaned in and delivered a well-placed elbow to his opponent’s ribcage. His marker kept his hands off of him, and his distance from him, for the rest of the match.

    Sometimes you just gotta take care of business out there.

  14. Laurie

    My youngest son is like this with his chess opponents. Fiercely competitive when they’re across the board from each other, but when they come out together they’ll be so engrossed in chatting about video games, etc. that I can’t tell who won. It’s a good thing.

    And: Yes! The words “French” and “soccer” in one post. How did my intuition not tell me this was here? πŸ™‚

    Also: re the Hope Solo situation. Somebody just pointed out to me that this is very similar to the Barthez-Coupet thing for France right before the 2006 World Cup. The similarities are numerous. Somehow, though, I can’t imagine Zidane and Co. threatening to make Coupet fly home on a separate plane.

    The best take on the situation was a blog that illustrated the post with a promo poster from “Mean Girls.” Sad, but true. And to think I once considered these women good role models for young girls.

  15. Mike the Eyeguy

    That scene you describe reminds me of the final moments of “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” Yes, it is a good thing.

    I thought the WNT and Ryan were over-the-top harsh with Solo. By my score, she made one mistake, they made two. That’s 2-1, Solo wins. I would be interested in reading that blog post you mentioned if you could send me a link.

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