The year: 198X. I was at a friend’s house in a remote part of northern Oklahoma. We were watching Victory, a so-so Sylvester Stallone movie about a POW soccer team playing Nazi Germany during World War II. My buddy and I were no older than five or six at the time.
Not wanting to endure the feeble character and pre-game drama, we fast forwarded the VHS “through all the boring stuff” to get right to the climatic game. While the build up to said game will likely keep most adults engaged — more for its interesting plot than acting skills — the last 20 minutes of the movie is most triumphant.
Keep in mind, I grew up in a basketball home. My father also instructed me in the ways of football and baseball—the American “hat trick” if you will. So Victory was the first time I was exposed to soccer. I didn’t understand all the rules, but I liked what I saw.
I flipped when I saw this: Pele doing a bicycle kick!
That did it. That one scene made me fall for soccer. My childhood friend and I rewound the tape again and again. It “has it all” I thought to myself. Air. Acrobatics. Karate. Artistry. Sport. All things endearing to a five year old boy. All things awesome. My imagination ran wild that afternoon and never came home.
Of course, the soccer on display in Victory greatly benefits from editing. In 20 condensed minutes, for instance, the film shows nine goals, the oh-so-rare Brazilian bicycle kick, and one penalty shot. For anyone who’s watched a full soccer match, you might see 0-2 goals over 90+ minute match. Like I’ve said before, soccer is more boring with better climax. But its lulls allow it to crescendo better than other sports, even though the entire product might not entertain as well as others.
Regardless, I’ve since kept a soft spot in my heart for soccer. I played it as a child and as an adult. I watch it occassionally. But I still prefer watching football, basketball, and playoff baseball to it. That’s probably the American in me talking. I don’t deny being a product of my environment.
Every four years during the World Cup, however, I catch soccer fever. I try to infect my friends. I write about it. I play hooky to live watch the underdog beat the establishment. The games also remind me of the two years I lived in Brazil and how important and integral soccer is to their culture and identity. To the entire world.
You see, for a brief month every fourth summer, I’m no longer American. I’m an expatriate sportsfan watching the best “footballers” in the world frantically play for national pride and lasting legacy instead of money. Consequently, you’ll rarely see athletes play as hard for 90 minutes as you will here.
Which is why I still love soccer, particularly the World Cup. It’s the closest thing you’ll see to real-life Victory.