Mem­o­ries will help achieve soccer’s goal

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Page Two - Gun­fight at the O.K. Cor­ral. High Noon. Con­tact the writer at tom­clif­ford@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

There’s a plaque out­side the Aztec sta­dium in Mex­ico City. It com­mem­o­rates the soccer teams of Italy and West Ger­many for the “Game of the Cen­tury” dur­ing the 1970 World Cup. Hyper­bole? Ex­ag­ger­a­tion?

At the risk of call­ing in the men in white coats, I might sug­gest the ex­act op­po­site. A slight un­der­state­ment. While that semi­fi­nal had more goals scored in ex­tra time than any other World Cup match — and this is where I prob­a­bly need med­i­cal su­per­vi­sion — there were at least two other matches in that World Cup that could have earned a sim­i­lar ac­co­lade be­fore the Ital­ian and West Ger­man teams took the field. So what is a World Cup? It is

But the Mex­i­can 1970 World Cup was

For drama, skill, panache, flair and bril­liance, there has never been one like it since. Soccer fans oc­cupy a dif­fer­ent time and space, what Ein­stein might de­scribe as a par­al­lel uni­verse. Our year, at least in Europe, starts in Au­gust and ends in June. Re­gional vari­a­tions ap­ply. Nostal­gia may not be what it used to be, es­pe­cially for soccer fans.

My boy­hood foot­ball he­roes are tack­ling arthri­tis in­stead of other play­ers. Al­chemists on the pitch decades ago now have dif­fi­culty find­ing a for­mula to climb the stairs. I was think­ing of this last month as I as­cended the steps, in­creas­ingly gasp­ing, to the up­per tier of the Bird’s Nest to watch two Lon­don teams in a pre­sea­son friendly. Now I have to de­clare a vested in­ter­est. I am rather par­tial to things Arse­nal, have been since 1969. As for “The Other Team”, Chelsea, well, I can ap­pre­ci­ate that some may find them wor­thy of a de­gree of sup­port that I find strangely at odds with the ad­vance­ment of civ­i­liza­tion.

Be that as it may, what struck me was the fact that 56,000 Chi­nese fans turned up to watch it. There was a fair smat­ter­ing of chil­dren and teens with their par­ents, and a lot of men and women in their early 20s, and al­most as many women as men in at­ten­dance. This de­lighted me more than Chelsea’s dis­al­lowed goal.

Why? you may ask. They are mak­ing their own nostal­gia. The kids at that match will talk about it for years to come. Many will want to repli­cate what they saw on the play­ground, (not, hope­fully, the Chelsea ten­dency to roll and writhe on the pitch af­ter a le­git­i­mate Arse­nal tackle!).

At least some of the cou­ples in their 20s will have their own chil­dren and talk to them of soccer and per­suade, bribe, en­tice them to sup­port Arse­nal. And the women, as in all walks of life, are vi­tal to any en­deavor’s suc­cess. And in this case, the en­deavor is an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of soccer, its nu­ances, in­tri­ca­cies, tac­tics and abil­ity to en­gen­der mem­o­ries as we ne­go­ti­ate stairs in later life. Less than a year to the next World Cup. Plaques cel­e­brate what went be­fore, mem­o­ries can help to recre­ate fa­bled mo­ments. Scan the code to hear an au­dio ver­sion.

GENT SHKULLAKU / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A swim­mer dips into the Blue Eye, a nat­u­ral spring about 15 kilo­me­ters from the city of Sarande, Al­ba­nia, to es­cape the heat. The wa­ter is beau­ti­ful but breath­tak­ingly cold.

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