Sunday, July 8, 2007

Origins of the Illness

Dear Johan,

About 32 years ago, I came to understand the grip soccer had on me. It helps if I try to keep in mind what I actually said that day. I figure, it gives me excuses for my behavior. Weak ones, but they're better than nothing. If I know the root cause of my problem, I can explain it away in my head. Or, so I would like to believe.

I read soccer forums and some blogs. Parents of youth soccer players feel they are addicted to the game, and like to spout off about how consumed they are by it. Their kid, after all, has been playing youth soccer for probably 5 years, so obviously, there is little for them left to learn. I'm not like that. I don't think about soccer all the time, just most of the time. Nor do I feel the need to share my knowledge about the game. I love learning new things about soccer, and I feel I can learn from anyone, novice or expert.

I just can't get enough -- never could, never will.

Tracing the origins of my illness will show that it started at age 4. My dad was a coach. I was a ball-chaser for the local college team, and that was 44 years ago. In high school, I didn't have a place to play in the summer, so I started an adult team and got us in a league. That, by the way, made me the club president, travel-coordinator, field-liner, registrar, net-hanger, and sideline-mower. My garage was the storage shed. My Datsun B210 hauled balls, nets and lime (pre-historic field paint).

Oh, I was also player-coach. I was 16.

My goalkeeper was a 32-year-old alcoholic math genius who could play anytime the Grateful Dead wasn't within travelling distance. We always had some collegiate players in town for the summer. We had a 24-year-old Englishman who was unbelievable, and a variety of characters who will make up my next book (tentatively titled How Soccer Ruined My Life).

By 17, I was a league officer -- again because if I didn't help I might not have had a place to play.

By that time, though, I was well aware of the illness. Four or five years before that was the first time I said the words that made me understand. It was fall in Central New York -- late enough in the fall for the snow to be finally gone. It was the first nice day of season, warm enough for the neighbors to mow their lawns. I walked outside, stopped in my tracks and said, "It smells like soccer."

That was it. It was over for me. I had long ago reached the point where an open field was a potential soccer complex. I was already suffering from the infliction of seeing something black and white out of the corner of your eye and automatically thinking it was a soccer ball.

Now, though, my old factory senses were playing along. Things could now smell like soccer.

When I think of more, I'll write.


You know who.


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