In 2002, during the World Cup hosted jointly by Japan and South Korea, I was 19. I was home for the summer, a year of college under my belt, on the verge of breaking up with a long-time boyfriend. I had a job coordinating student workers for conferences at my old high school. I vividly remember scheduling my own work hours according to which WC games I wanted to watch–anything involving England (since I had just returned from a semester there and fancied myself connected to all things British), Senegal (they were this year’s Ghana!), and the Asian teams. It was a year of upsets in the early rounds but eventually the final teams were Germany and Brazil, which was disappointing to me despite my Brazilian college roommate’s excitement. We watched most of the games at my boyfriend’s house and I remember, even while knowing that the relationship was doomed, hoping against hope that my boyfriend and I would be together during the next World Cup, four years later.
I did, in fact, break up with the high school boyfriend. I started dating my husband Christmas of 2004 and, months of long-distance and a whirlwind romance later, we were married in 2006. The World Cup (hosted in Germany) started soon after we got back from our honeymoon. I worked at the college’s Visit Office and flew down the hill during lunch to watch games at our friends’ house (we didn’t have cable in our apartment). This was before the days of live streaming on ESPN and I spent the workday with ESPN’s Gamecast running in the background on my computer.* The final was between Italy and France. I was rooting for Italy. France self-destructed. My husband and I were moving to TZ that fall. I remember wondering what in the world we would be doing and where in the world we would be during the next World Cup, in 2010. I assumed that I’d watch the games with P, since he would, at least, be one constant in my life.
We’re here in the US this summer. We are in a much larger university town, on the verge of buying a house. The biggest shock to the 23-year-old me would probably be the fact that I watched almost every game of the World Cup with the same person: my almost-two-year-old daughter. A has been patient with my obsession but has expressed her share of frustration, too, that Mommy can’t keep her eyes off the TV (or computer screen). More than once she has stood between me and the TV and said “off, please!” (Don’t worry, I listened.) To her credit, sometimes she also pointed to the TV during non-game times and said, “game, please?” I was rooting for Ghana, the last African team standing (but had Spain at the top of my bracket), but as heartbreaking as the Ghana-Uruguay game was, I could not help but be bowled over by the undeniable Diego Forlan. He and Suarez made Uruguay a team so enjoyable to watch, which was more than I could say about Spain. Uruguay had been pitted against some of my favourites–South Africa, South Korea, Ghana, Mexico–and yet I could not help but root for them when it came down to the end. Spain came out the champion, I made second in our bracket pool, but I was even more pleased to hear that Forlan was awarded the Golden Ball (best player of the tournament). This WC was a bit lonely at the start since few of my closest (non-working) friends in this town were into the tournament, but the watching got more social (via Skype with my brothers, Facebook with old friends, out-of-town visitors, and a borrowed group of fanatics) as it went on.
Things don’t seem to change too much from year to year, but from World Cup to World Cup? The change is pretty dramatic. I believe that the World Cup might just be the yardstick with which I will measure the passing of time and the occurrence of change in my adult life.
Just to throw it out there, here’s my prediction for World Cup 2014:
- Brazil will be in the finals.
- An African team will make it to the semi-finals for the first time (hope!).
- While I watched the past three WCs in three different countries, I suspect we will still be here.
- We will have another child–either an infant of our own or a fostered child.
- We’ll have a longer-term guest staying with us over the World Cup.
- P will still be in grad school, which suggests that he might be the one watching games from home while I sneak peeks at work.
Nothing too dramatic, but dude, a lot can change in four years.
*We watched the final game (France v. Italy) at a professor’s house. My friend B (the Brazilian mentioned above, who hardly LOOKS like a sports fanatic) shyly corrected the professor when he made an erroneous but obscure reference to a foul committed in a 1994 game, much to his surprise. In fact, he was so surprised (shocked by the audacity to be questioned by my unassuming friend?) that he pulled out some books on World Cup history (no joke) and looked it up. My friend was right. I mentally high-fived her. The professor was shocked.