Football soccer transcends wars

Football soccer is the world’s sport and fans of the game can be very passionate.

FIFA, the International Federation of Football Association, is a powerful, wealthy body, and in some cases stronger than country governments. Just look at what FIFA has demanded of South Africa and more recently Brazil to “allow” these countries to host the Word Cup. As it happened in South Africa, Brazil is spending an incredible amount of money in stadiums and infrastructure and had to change local laws allowing alcoholic beverages in stadiums, in order to host the 2014 World Cup, because of FIFA marketing agreements with beer companies.

But I had no idea that football soccer exceeded wars until I lived in England…

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While living in England I travelled a lot throughout Europe and to the US and occasionally to South America and Asia. In order to go back and forth to the airport, I regularly used a car service and most of the time the same driver. Let’s call him Mike.

I loved to talk to Mike. He was a little strange in his hobbies, though. He liked to watch airplanes or as one would call airplane spotting. Waiting for clients to arrive at airports, Mike used binoculars to look for aircraft registration id which is normally displayed under the wings of large airplanes. First time he told me that I was a little skeptical, but I started to believe when he showed me a thick book that listed registration ids of all airplanes ever built, where he inserted a mark for the airplanes that he had spotted. Most of the entries on the book had marks.

Knowing this, I said to Mike: “You like when you spot a plane that you saw before, right?”  Mike replied: “Not at all, I want to see new planes, so I can complete the book.” He said that knowing very well that he would never be able to fully complete the book since some aircraft would never land in British airports and Mike, well; he was not the type of person that travelled much to other countries.

Mike knew everything about British history: The dynasties, the kings, queens, intrigues and wars. I loved to talk to Mike about that, and I learned a lot from him. However, I will never forget a conversation we had while going to Stanstead airport which was more than one hour away from my house. Mike started to tell me about William, the conqueror also known as William, the bastard, the Norman king that in 1066 conquered England and forced people in England to speak French. In one point of the narrative, Mike said: “We hate the French.”

I was not surprised by that statement, since England and France have a long history of battles and wars. It is not a coincidence that the train station in London were trains from France arrive is called Waterloo. This is to remind the arriving French passengers of the famous battle were the Emperor Napoleon was defeated by British and Prussian forces. I knew of the animosity between Britain and France, but since Mike volunteered to say that the British hated the French I decided to know more about the British sentiment, I asked him: “How about the Germans?”

He replied without hesitation: “We hate the Germans.”

I thought for a second and then said to Mike: “I understand why you feel this way. World war I and II, bombing of London…” He interrupted me: “No, that is not it.” I was surprised and said: “What is it, then?” Mike replied: “Football soccer.” I was even more surprised and asked why.

Mike explained that England and Germany played against each other frequently and that Germany ended up winning most of the matches. Because of that the Germans always put the British down which infuriates everybody in England. When he said that, I remembered that several stores in England, including super-markets used to sell all kinds of merchandise with 5×1 marks on them. I knew that the 5×1 meant that in one of the matches, England won against Germany 5 goals to 1. And the entire country is still celebrating that victory.

Since Mike mentioned Germany, being a Brazilian, I was curious on how the British felt about another country and asked him: “How about the Argentinians?” He replied immediately: “We hate the Argentinians.”

This also did not surprise me and I said: “I understand: the Falkland war.” He said “Not at all, football soccer.”  Well, I had to understand this better and asked why. Mike simply said: “The hand of god.”

Being a football soccer fan, I knew immediately what he meant. The famous goal scored by Maradona on the 1986 FIFA World Cup against England. Maradona, considered one of the best football soccer players of all time, not very tall but with a large ego, received a high ball cross in the small area near the goal, jumped to hit the ball with his head and raised his hand at the same time. He hit the ball and it went directly to the goal putting Argentina ahead. A lot of people saw and it was proved on pictures and on the videotape that Maradona scored the goal by hitting the ball with his hand, which is not permitted in football soccer, but since the referee did not see the foul, the goal was allowed.

At the end of the game, when journalists asked Maradona if he had scored the goal with his hand, he replied: “Only if it was the hand of god.” This now famous statement caused two interpretations: One that the goal was scored by divine intervention and the other is that Maradona considered himself a god, something shared by a lot of Argentines, fans of the player.

Everyone forgets that a few minutes after the controversial goal, Maradona scored one of the most incredible goals of his career by dribbling the entire England defense and scoring a goal while falling down, but everybody remembers the hand of god goal, particularly the British that never forgave Maradona and because of that think that most of Argentinian players are cheaters.

I was puzzled by all of this and I asked Mike: “So, you are telling me that the wars do not count and your statements about hate is all about football soccer?” He replied without thinking: “That is right; it is all about football soccer.” Wars he complemented after a pause are all forgotten.

After thinking for a minute, he added:  “But don’t take me wrong, we still hate the French!”

What I learned that day is that football soccer transcends wars, except for wars with the French!

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