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A Different Kind Of Soccer Mom

Jose Rodriguez, from left, Mark Dickinson, Luke Cantin, and Christian react to play early in the World Cup soccer match between the United States and Belgium last Tuesday in Jacksonville Beach, Fla. (AP PHOTO/THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, BOB MACK)

Jose Rodriguez, from left, Mark Dickinson, Luke Cantin, and Christian react to play early in the World Cup soccer match between the United States and Belgium last Tuesday in Jacksonville Beach, Fla. (AP PHOTO/THE FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, BOB MACK)

It appears the whole nation has caught soccer fever after the U.S. soccer team’s performance in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. But no one knows for sure if this soccer fever has become a long-term condition or simply the sports-fan equivalent of the 24-hour flu. Only time will tell.

Professional soccer is a hard sell in the U.S. One reason is that Americans have a lot of sports competing for their face paint and strange hats.

Second, futbol, as the rest of the world calls it, isn’t our sport. Someone else invented futbol. America, a stubbornly independent nation of entrepreneurs, insisted on inventing its own games. Coincidentally, it’s also called football, but is played mostly with hands.

Third, scoring. Americans favor high numbers on a score board: 110-97 or at least 20-10. We have little tolerance for any game ending in nil-nil, which to futbol fans is cause for apoplectic chest beating and a party.

Fourth, futbol has no breaks except during a short halftime. When does one get a beer, use the lua, watch a fast-stepping band or hear a singer with mic feedback? We Americans need time, as in the game of baseball, our national pasttime, during which a person can eat a meal, take a nap, have a baby, write a short novel and knit a sweater. And that’s just in one inning.

I love soccer. It saved me from prison. Not true prison, but from my metaphoric prison: home 24/7 with two toddlers. It was spring 1976, in northern Virginia. My friend Karin asked me if I wanted to join a soccer team. I immediately said yes, then searched the Encyclopedia

Britannica. Soccer: ball game using no hands. Good enough. If playing soccer meant adult conversation and a babysitter, I could do without hands.

I arrived at the field where, much to my surprise, there were women — mothers like me — who knew as much about soccer as I did. And there was our coach, Larry Kirk. Larry had no legs. No joke. He was a Vietnam vet who had encountered a land mine. Even so, he was still better at soccer than we were. At practice, Larry, so frustrated with our collective lack of skill, would slide out of his wheelchair and onto his stumps to demonstrate a simple pass or tackle. (At times, I think he longed for Vietnam.)

Anyway, there were only four women’s teams in northern Virginia then. Unbeknownst to us beleaguered moms, we were the “foremothers” of women’s soccer in Virginia. We played each other twice in that season.

Our team, the Firecrackers, had a team cheer, “It’s not how you play, it’s how you look,” which we thought was funny. In our first game, a player on the other team, a mother with twin babies, fell back and broke both her wrists, which was not funny.

But to our credit, the American Women’s World Cup team star, Mia Hamm, recently told Oprah that she got her soccer inspiration in northern Virginia in 1976 as a toddler watching her mother’s games — our games that first awkward season.

By fall, women’s teams had grown to 10 and by spring to 24 in the area. Today, teams number in the hundreds.

For the next 12 years I played and my kids played, too. Sometimes I was their coach.

Did I ever improve as a player? I guess that’s relative. On one team, Wally, our coach, was convinced we could compete well against a visiting German women’s team. They beat us 12 to 1.

Now that our grandchildren play soccer here at Hawaii’s plentiful soccer parks, I’m back on my “field of dreams,” if only on the sidelines. Ironically, during this World Cup, I dreamt I was on the national team and scored the winning goal. Larry Kirk was the goalie. I told my son, a former college player, that the dream must be a sign I should join a team. He scolded, “Mom, at your age, don’t do it. You’ll hurt your back.”

This mother-son role reversal and a bad case of soccer fever have me confused. Maybe I’ll take some Tylenol, paint my face red, white and blue, and see if it passes.

Soccer/futbol forever.

susanpagecoffee@gmail.com

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