It will amaze my family and friends that I’m even attempting to write about soccer, while my acquaintances in the land of Fussball will be appalled that I am so uninformed.
It’s not that I don’t understand soccer – I just have difficulty appreciating it. But that’s my general reaction to any team sport. Ironically, I zero in with laser-like attention on figure skaters whirling and twirling, acrobatic gymnasts on bars and beam, tennis players serving and smashing. Unfortunately, I lose all focus when confronted by entire phalanxes of gridders, cagers, and footballers racing wildly back and forth on a playing field – or court.
I believe, however, that 25 Junes and Julys in Germany and 20 years of high school soccer players in my classroom marginally qualify me to stroll along my limited memory lane of this international sport.
My recollections begin in early July of 1974, during Graham’s first German exchange trip, when I found myself window shopping along Hannover’s empty streets. I later learned that West Germany and the Netherlands were competing in the World Cup finals at the Olympic Stadium in Munich. Every self-respecting German was glued to a TV somewhere, cheering their national team to a 2-1 victory. And I, the clueless American, had never even heard of World Cup soccer!
I did manage, however, in the next 15 years to learn a few basics. For example, football and soccer and Fussball are all the same sport. Fussball, the German word for soccer, is a compound noun meaning “foot” and “ball.” When Germans correctly translate their word into our language as “football,” the difference between what the Germans play and what the NFL plays causes confusion. Eventually the kids at GHS and OHG settled on a vocabulary of football and American football.
Year after year, I also noticed Fussball being played everywhere in Germany: in yards and on playgrounds, in sport clubs, in stadiums all over the country, and on several television stations, some of them international. This arrangement was not so different from our own for football, baseball, and basketball, with our pee-wee teams, school teams, college teams, and professional teams. The lasting image in my mind: for every kid here passing a football, playing catch, or shooting baskets, there was a kid on the other side of the ocean kicking a soccer ball.
One summer we organized a game between the American and German exchange kids: one half Fussball, one half American football. I did my best to explain in German the bare basics of our sport. As expected, they bested us in soccer. But I will never forget the absolute frustration of my Falcon team when the Germans came down the field for the first time. Knowing they could not kick the ball, they applied their Fussball mentality by passing the ball forward and laterally the entire length of the field! Something was obviously lost in the translation.
Another memory from that day remains clear in my mind. Never mind the snafus and misunderstandings. Tears sprang to my eyes when the kids left the field as friends, arms thrown around shoulders. Fifty years earlier their American and German great-grandfathers had been shooting at each other. My father and Ingrid’s father had served on opposite sides of a devastating global conflict. And now “our kids” could live in peace and friendship.
And then 1990 happened. And it happened in the country whose every headline trumpeted the latest about “Die National Elf”: the National Eleven. It happened in a country that refers to soccer as “Koenig Fussball” – King Soccer – a difficult concept here in the USA where we divvy up our sport loyalties among baseball, basketball, and football.
We Ohioans became acquainted with the names and pictures of Coach Franz Beckenbauer, who had played in the 1974 victory. We knew who forward Rudi Voeller was, and we girls thought fellow striker Juergen Klinsmann was really cute!
By the way, Klinsmann coached the U.S. national men’s team a few years back. It was the World Cup with all the attendant noise, color, flags, drama – and national pride. And all of Germany gathered to watch its National Elf defeat Argentina 2-1 in Rome. What an experience! What a celebration!
This year’s World Cup play has been compelling for the success of new teams over some of the usual victors such as Brazil, Italy, and Germany. I am submitting this article before the semifinal games, so we wonder who will emerge as champions: France, Croatia, Argentina, Morocco?
But for this American who understands that soccer is king in Germany, I must describe one final image, a treasured memory involving Ingrid’s husband Hubert.
Hubert is a Fussball purist who grudgingly accepts any victory, but is truly satisfied and pleased only by a beautifully-played game.
We sat together in the TV room that summer of 1990 for several games: the knockout round, the semis, the finals. Hubert provided running commentary, interrupted only by his shouts of “Tor!” each time Germany scored – “Tor” being the German word for goal. But then, amidst his continued string of “Tor! Tor! Tor!” I heard through open windows neighbors from other houses similarly shouting. And, folks, therein lies the enduring tradition of World Cup soccer: everyday people in little corners of little villages every four years shouting in celebration of the success of their National Elf – wherever that country happens to be.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.