Summer is winding down and the nights are getting cooler here. Apples are ripening and the dry grass has been cut from the fields.The air has a crisp feel to it that hints at fall. Soon we will be entering our third season here in Switzerland.
I love this season more than any other. Some people eagerly await September because school starts back up again. Others want to start dressing in sweaters and the new fall fashions. Many of us anticipate a crackling fireplace at the end of the day. And, of course, we pretty much all get excited about the first snowfall.
But for me, fall means mainly one thing: the beginning of soccer season.Or, more accurately, when league play begins and the Champions League returns for another combative year.
Most of you non-sports people will have stopped reading by now, or you are rolling your eyes in disgust. But hey, I’ll try to make this piece super poignant and resounding with universal truths.
You know what, never mind. Leave now if you want.
A number of years ago, I went back to school to finish a degree in English Literature at Meredith College. The first day of enrollment, I met with my advisor, the esteemed Dr. Gary Walton. I sat in his office and we had a lovely talk about my transferable credits, the books, the classwork, that kind of thing.
At the end of the meeting, he picked up his phone to talk with the Registrar about my records, and I overheard him say: “I have a wonderful soccer mom here in my office who will be joining us in the fall …”
My mouth dropped open. My mind instantly snapped back from its reverie of myself as a college co-ed with a wool skirt and penny loafers, back into the forty-something wannabe I truly was.
Soccer mom? Is that how he saw me? I had never been called that before. He was profiling me. I hated that term. Sarah Palin was a soccer mom, or maybe it was Tipper Gore, but whatever. Yuck.
But the sad reality was that I matched the profile: stay at home mom, two kids and hey, one of them actually played soccer. It was definitely me. Forget being the star Chaucer student. Forget long afternoons in the coffee shop discussing sonnets, or memorizing lines from The Canterbury Tales sprawled under the big oak trees on campus. All people saw was my minivan.
My soccer roots go way back. Lewis was five when Mac started coaching him. It was adorable, watching all those toddlers chasing after the ball, bunched up in a huge clot by the goal. Lewis’s main motivation to play was the promise of a juice box at the end of the game. And clearly, at the beginning, I was only into soccer for his sake.
But now its the real deal. I am a genuine, professional futbol fan. Practically a hooligan. I know more about what’s going on in all the leagues than most European fans. The only person who can match me is my son, but I’ve got him beat with all the juicy, off-pitch information. You know, news about the players’ wives, the scandals, embarrassing things they did on YouTube. I tweet with some of them and I feel that they know me.
I once went out of my way to visit my favorite soccer player’s home in Sweden. I even entered a contest on BeIn Sports that challenged us to predict match results, week to week. I didn’t win, but I was up to third place at one point. That was the best week of my life.
My point is, I love soccer, but I didn’t necessarily love Lewis’s soccer. Don’t get me wrong, I loved watching him. It’s just that watching his games, being a part of that whole suburban soccer mom thing, was not my scene. And I’ll tell you why.
First off, American soccer parents know next to nothing about the rules. Especially the offside rule which is admittedly difficult. At any rate, because they don’t get it, they scream ignorant, insulting comments at the referee and at the opposing players (they’re like 12 years old) I can’t stand that. It’s totally embarrassing.
Secondly, the coaches are horrid. They are actually paid, but most of them don’t know squat. Enough said.
Next, we live in the culture of “over praise,” I’ll call it. You know, every kid wins, every kid gets a trophy. I admit, its intoxicating. I wanted Lewis to be a winner too. But it just felt so demeaning, all those trophies. The value is completely lost on the kids.
Also, soccer parents are pushy. Many of them are convinced that their kids are potential pro MLS material. Sure, at night I had secretly sketched out the terms of Lewis’s contract with Barcelona FC. But I had truly tried to smother those ambitions, and let things take their natural course.
We’d be fine with Swansea.
But the expectations were crazy. Was the final goal to play college ball? And then what? The chances of making it through the system to play internationally are non-existent.
But nevermind all that. I’m only grateful that Lewis got to play in college and have the experience of being coached by a worse coach than any of his previous coaches.
But luckily, it hasn’t killed his love of the beautiful game. He continued to play club soccer, and indoor soccer during the winter months. And, of course, now he enjoys as many pick-up games that he can find.
And now that I don’t have the distraction of watching all that tomfoolery, I can focus on the main event: international futbol. Because it has everything: unbelievable athleticism, exciting play and the best looking athletes in any sport.
Did I mention that? Yes, everyone knows that all soccer players are gorgeous. Except Frank Ribéry, he’s the odd exception.The very odd exception.
Yes, here comes fall. No more back-to-school lunches to pack, or carpools to arrange. Just me, enjoying the empty nest. Snuggled in front of the tv every night, enjoying the start of the season. Champions League, French Cup, European Cup, they are all simply ripe, like crisp fall apples, for the picking.
Soccer Mom? As Sarah Palin would say – you betcha’.