I have long detested football and the ball has returned my hate in any number of ways. As a child I made some half-hearted attempts to play but it was not to be. I don’t believe that I ever scored a goal, though if my foot rarely found the ball, my face often did. When teams were chosen I would invariably be everyone’s last choice, told to stay in defense, that I might cause as little damage as possible.
Nor was I any more successful as a spectator. The game has always bored me, however, when so many of my friends were obsessed with the various teams they supported, I was left with no choice but to choose one of my own. I have and had no idea why but it was Manchester United. The year was 1971 and there was little poor Tommy Docherty could do. Sure enough, within three years the legendary squad had been relegated to the second division. I felt quite awful for having passed my curse on to the Red Devils.
The years have passed and marrying an Argentinean woman changed nothing. My sons are quite athletic and both play football occasionally. Considering the genes they inherited, their relative success is worthy of note.
Today my association with football consists of watching one match every four years – namely the world cup. Invariably the team I select for victory loses. I often fall asleep while they are doing so.
This year on an impulse I decided to invite some friends to see the finals together. This writer is an ideal person to call on for the match as I’m an excellent host when I’m bored. I found time during play to bake homemade pizzas from scratch as well as serving all manner of tasty snacks and beverages. My eldest son and his wife honored us with their presence, the latter dozed off within minutes. He had made a fine choice.
Children’s author and chess expert Nick Kopaloff and his son Liam joined us and slept over the night while Jewish priest, 100 meter sprinter and software genius Moshe Goldman crossed the Green line too, with his boy Assaf.
We Jews are fickle lot and nobody seemed to have any strong preferences between Holland and Spain. Jewish history had no opinion either as the Inquisition is apparently long forgiven, while Holland’s image as a Holocaust good-guy has been severely tarnished of late. It was clear that whoever would be the first team score would be the proud recipient of all our cheers and support. Israelis love to back a winner.
As the evening went on, the game seemed to be even more tedious than usual. The kids were playing chess, young Ariel Ben-Yosef beat all comers, hardly surprising seeing as he’s about twice their age. I delighted all with my scrumptious salmon pâté and eggplant dip. There was some semi-serious drinking, though no intoxication.
The score was still zero-zero and looked everything like a game going to penalties, so the time had come for my expert analysis. Mustering up all my skills as an ex-chess columnist I explained to all who would listen, that it appeared that both teams were lacking in any overall, coherent strategy. However, without doubt the first team to get the ball in the net would be going home with the cup. History recognized the wisdom of my prediction. Unfortunately, my loved ones were less kind and told me to shut up. Woe is the genius who is unrecognized in his own lifetime.
Eventually the inevitable happened and someone scored, by chance the man was a Spaniard. We all jumped for joy and Liam Kopaloff and my eldest daughter Dina broke out into a spontaneous chorus of “Spain! Spain!” Sadly, the name has but one syllable and hardly lends itself to being chanted, so the shouting soon faded out, and that was that.
It was a funny old World Cup from this settler’s perspective. At the beginning a South American team seemed certain to win, the only question being which. Later the Germans humiliating victory over Argentina made them appear all but invincible. After Spain’s defeat of the Hun I ran of interest and was supporting nobody, so my curse was no more.
To borrow one final cliché, “The better man one, probably.”