I come to you this Tuesday filled with malaise. The leaves outside my window seem paler now, the sunshine dim, the world a quieter and less vivid place. This ennui is not quite as strong as the one that struck me in the afterglow of the Olympics. But, mes amis, I miss the World Cup.
Now I am admittedly the very model of a fair weather fan here. I don’t follow soccer in between international championships. I didn’t even really follow the tournament until it progressed beyond the group stage. And my knowledge of the rules of the beautiful game draws largely from the classic film, “Bend It Like Beckham” and the pivotal condiments scene. I set one tentative foot on the World Cup bandwagon when my desk at work enacted a random draw sweepstakes, but my assigned team — Morocco — did little to inspire much fervor. But then a friend told me how much she’d loved watching the games at a Senegalese restaurant in our neighborhood. We decided to go see the Belgium-Brazil game there together, and, dear reader, I was hooked.
I arrived at Café Rue Dix early, procuring the last three seats at the bar for me and my compatriots. The room was already abuzz with anticipation and drink orders. I spend a lot of time complaining about how difficult my unconventional work schedule makes it for me to socialize, but judging by the crowd gathered that Friday, there are far more people with free weekday mornings than I realized. When my friends arrived, we ordered drinks and snacks to fortify us for the match ahead. And then the teams walked out and, as one, every head in the bar swiveled toward one of the two screens.
For the next couple hours, we gasped and yelled and convulsed in double takes as one. The barriers to social interaction with strangers that normally govern New York life slowly disintegrated, every thwap of the ball splintering a crack in the walls between neighbors. It would start with a shared groan or cheer, followed by eye contact and a nod, maybe a clink of a glass. Pretty soon we were laughing and teasing each other like the oldest of friends. Even those who found themselves cheering for opposite teams were able to engage in goodnatured ribbing, the kind that brings you closer to your adversary rather than driving you farther apart.
I left the bar post-game hungry for more. I watched the Russia-Croatia game in a Russian restaurant in Brighton Beach, my table quietly rooting for the underdogs, lest the host nation’s New York children spit in our borscht. I took in France-Belgium and Croatia-England at work, all journalistic work stopping for a moment while my coworkers and I sat rapt before one of the newsroom TVs. And on the day of the final, I slept too late to procure a seat at the aforementioned Café, settling instead for pajamas and my couch with my roommate.
And now it’s all over, and I find myself craving more. There is something magic in the way sports bring people from all backgrounds, creeds, and walks of life together. You may have nothing else in common with a person, but if you cheer for the same team, you’re friends. And while baseball and football and basketball can be considered primarily American pastimes, soccer (or, really, football) belongs to the world. I want to bottle up that feeling of knowing that millions of people are watching the same thing you are, cheering as you cheer, groaning as you groan. On cell phones and laptops and giant screens and old televisions, as families or friends or towns, in piazzas or markets or schoolyards or homes, we all set aside whatever strife may occupy our minds and devote 90 minutes (plus stoppage time) to the game.
One of the things I love most about New York is that it’s a melting pot. You can find people from every nation — with a World Cup team or without — here. And at times that diversity can seem like a cacophony, so many masses struggling to hold onto the same small patch of land. But the World Cup reminds us how much we have in common. We love to love something bigger than ourselves. We love to take pride in the places we call home, whether by birth or by choice. We love to get lost in the drama of the field, to spin out elaborate mythologies of player or legacy. We love this beautiful, beautiful game.
P.S. In honor of my one-time adopted home and their victory in this year’s championship, I urge you to listen to this: the greatest sports anthem of all time (and the source of this post’s title).