Every four years nations stop what they are doing and come together for the FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) World Cup. The World Cup was started in 1930 and has witnessed some of the finest moments in football (soccer) history. The famed tournament, which involves finals for thirty-two national teams, was hosted by Germany two summers ago.
During the majority of the finals, my family and I had the privilege to be in Prague, Czech Republic. Football is more than just a sport in Europe; it is an event, a way of life. I have never been a big sports fan, and when we boarded our British Airways flight in Chicago, it was the first time I was consciously aware of the World Cup.
On the seven-hour flight overseas, half of the television channels were either re-runs of the two matches that had taken place earlier in the week or sports news, making predictions on the outcome of future matches. Not paying too much attention to it, I filed the event in the back of my mind. Our first day in Prague was amazing despite the jet lag.
We had rented an apartment very near the two main squares, and upon walking around that first day I was brought back to the fact that there was a World Cup taking place. Wenceslas Square, which would be our equivalent to Michigan Avenue or State Street, is mainly a local place. It is a very long rectangle with the National Museum at the top and fades into a large pedestrian intersection at the bottom.
Our stroll that first day took us through this pedestrian intersection, and at first, I wasn’t sure why there was an unusually large gathering of people. My brothers and I peered over heads’ to discover that these people were watching a cylindrical television, about six and a half feet tall with three screens wrapped around it. It was the World Cup.
Our exposure to Prague over the next few days was wonderful, and I began to discover a whole new world beyond my own. In this world one dressed with clean lines, bought lunch at street vendors, worked in buildings from the renaissance, and watched football like it was a religion. Football was not anything like our Monday Night Football here in the States.
No, this football involved passion and heartache. It was a game everyone, no-matter his or her age or job, watched and chatted about. Walking down the street, ones ears would be bombarded with foreign words and the word football always stood out.
In Old Town Square was where the World Cup became the most real to me. There, amidst outdoor cafes and tourists, stands the very large statue of Jan Hus as well as Prague’s famed clock tower, and during the World Cup, Mr. Hus, who is as tall as a three-floor apartment building, has the company of an equally-tall television screen, which broadcasts all World Cup matches.
It is perhaps the most eye-opening sight, a television admits buildings that our older then the United States. Our travels through Europe created a love of football in me. The energy produced by the fans dragged me in until I was were having dinner in a pub watching the match with at least thirty locals, or stopping by one the television stations in the squares. Football is a sport that Americans have not mastered, and I am doubtful that they will. Americans, in general, show half the passion and devotion to any sport that the rest of the world gives to football. For this reason I do not believe we will ever excel in it. On an official FIFA broadcasting booklet, I found this saying: It closes the shops, closes the school, closes a city, stops a war, flues a nation, breaks the borders, builds a hero, crushes a dream, answers a prayer, and changes the world. And it’s true; this game, this event, brings nations together.
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