Soccer….Family Style

Luis Suárez is Wrecking My Marriage

Luis Suárez is causing trouble in my marriage. I realize there are many women who watch soccer based on which teams have the hottest players. I’m not one of those women. It’s not that I can’t appreciate a good hottie, but it’s not really a motivating factor in my passion for soccer.

However, there is a player that has finally come between my husband and I, and it is Mr. Suárez. You may know him better as that cheater from Uruguay  that handled the ball on the goal line, denying the goal by Ghana in the 90th minute.

Richard Whittall wrote an article that FIFA was considering extending the one game suspension Suárez received for his ejection to a tournament suspension. This article provoked quite the argument at our house, because in a house with 2 referees, that’s bound to happen eventually.

My position on referees has been long established: you have to suck up who you get, but my position on cheaters was battled out today. I think it’s that now I’m not just a referee, I’m a mom too, and cheaters really, really suck. I can’t stand them. The diving, the feigning injury, even the German goalkeeper pretending that the ball wasn’t in the net when he knew it was against England…all unacceptable. But the handball on the goal line is cheating at it’s worst form. Just ask any American that’s been a fan since before 2002, it is an awful way to leave a World Cup.

My husband’s position is that the referee made the right call (red card and PK in favor of Ghana) and that it’s Ghana’s problem that they didn’t capitalize on the penalty kick. And yes, they should have. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s cheating that affected the outcome of the game. I’m happy that at least in this case, the referee got the call right, but don’t you feel cheated that Ghana’s going home? I know most of South Africa does. There’s no fairness in the result of that game.

So frankly, I don’t care that justice was served in the eyes of FIFA. It’s a cheap way to go home, and I’d be happier if Luis Suárez was going home on the same plane as Ghana (now THERE’S some justice!) Since that won’t happen, I’ll pray to the gods of soccer justice, the same gods that graced Landon Donovan in extra time for the US, sending us through in spite of being dealt some lame referee luck. Netherlands: Send Uruguay home on July 6! Maybe then I’ll feel like speaking to my husband again.

Zulu falls under the Bantu family of languages and is one of eleven
official languages of South Africa. Zulu is the language of the Zulu people and is spoken by
approximately ten million people. About 24% of the South African
population speaks Zulu and over 50% of the population understands Zulu,
making it the most common language of South Africa.

Back in the USA
July 3, 2010, 9:52 am
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We survived the 30 hours of flying it takes to get from South Africa to Des Moines and I’m mostly over travel fatigue and jet lag. My husband came down with a 104 fever, which we discovered is the FASTEST way to get into a walk in clinic: “I have a 104 fever and just returned from the World Cup in South Africa.” Fortunately, his wacky South African disease responded just fine to antibiotics, and I’m finally getting caught up with this blog!

The kids mauled us when we got back and it was about 48 hours of mutual adoration. We’ve settled back into the family summer routine, and the kids have accepted that when the World Cup is on, the parents are only available for emergencies, and there will probably be loud shouting at the television. The one piece of soccer culture they have passionately adopted is the vuvuzela. Our 7-1/2 year old daughter has learned how to blow it perfectly, and her almost 3 year old brother can make plenty of noise in his own, unsanctioned way.

There was an intense withdrawal period returning to the US after spending 3 weeks at the World Cup. You can talk all you want that the USA Round of 16 game had a 50% increase in viewers over previous World Cup, but the reality is that America has a long way to go before it’s pleasant for a soccer fan to be here for a World Cup. I have found that discussions with non-soccer fans range from painful to infuriating, so I try to avoid the “World Cup isn’t actually over” discussion altogether.

I have found Amici Espresso, which while it’s not a bar, does have the games on and a decent crowd of educated fans, and since the “late” game is on at 1:30 PM Iowa time, coffee is probably more appropriate anyway. The backstory is that Amici is tied to Kum and Go (yes, that’s really their name), which is tied to the Des Moines Menace, which is all related back to Kyle Krause (Kum and Go CEO), who may be the one person in Des Moines who is a bigger soccer than Doug and I, although I would argue that he is just better financed. Either way, if you love soccer in Des Moines, you should be filling your car at Kum and Go.

It’s good to be home, even if it feels like a foreign land while the Cup is still on.

South Africa Wine Country
June 16, 2010, 6:47 am
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Our compressed wine country tour started at Dornier Winery in Stellenbosch. They had a beautiful terrace looking out over the mountain and a choice of 5 wines for 30 Rand (about $4). It was a completely pleasant experience.

After that, we headed back to Stellenrust Winery, which hadn’t opened when we arrived at 930 (10 AM start). The ambiance wasn’t quite as awe inspiring, but the wines were fantastic. We bought a case and a half between the four of us of Simplicity, the rose, and the 1st white on the *free* tasting. At around $4 a bottle, I wish we had more space in the luggage or more time here to drink.

The vineyard owner came over and shared some of his private reserve sparkling wine with us. He was delicious, the wine was delicious…all in all it was a fantastic experience. It’s where the SATC girls would go if they had a clue how to spend money sensibly.

My only edit would be to start at Stellenrust then have lunch at Dornier. If you’re in Cape Town, it’s worth the trip. If you aren’t in Cape Town, why aren’t you?

Cape Town Wine Country
June 16, 2010, 2:19 am
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We finally got a decent morning of weather and we are headed up to wine country bright and early (it’s after noon in the States). It’s great to get out of the city and remember that we really are in Africa, and not just another international city.

The mountains are wrapped in mist and the farms have ostriches and other non-pig and cow animals. There are amazing trees that are clearly African. It is really beautiful, and we haven’t even started drinking.

Rainbow over Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa
June 16, 2010, 1:57 am
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Cape Town Monday
June 14, 2010, 8:47 am
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We got into Cape Town last night and once Christina learned how to drive stick left handed and drive on the left side of the road, we made our way to the apartment we rented here. It looked like a decent place on the map, but as we drove up at midnight (thanks delayed flight!) I started to get concerned.

First we past what sounded like a jail. Yeah…they put those in good neighborhoods. Then we past a “Crime Prevention Vehicle” and several characters that looked like they’d attract the Crime Prevention Squad. Then we found our apartment, which had bars on some of the inside doors. The apartment was, shall we say, less than we expected, but at midnight, what are you going to do?

We woke up this morning and things were looking up. The French and Italian consulates are in our hood, and the Long Street bar district is stumbling distance from our place.

And here’s the thing: South Africa is EXPENSIVE. This is our 5th, and by far, most expensive World Cup. Public transportation is non-existent of sketchy, and hotels and jacking up rates that make “”gouging” sound like a compliment. But the people are SO nice, you start to forget to care about it. They are funny and passionate and really pleased to have us here.

And the country is BEAUTIFUL. Better than I ever imagined. This is a country you really should come and see….especially once the prices have fallen from World Cup levels.

More later from wine country, Robben Island, and more of Cape Town.

Tied on the Field, But Not in the Stands
June 13, 2010, 1:55 pm
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The World Cup has started for the US, and we may have only racked up 1 point on the pitch, but in all things non-banner related, we dominated the supporters game, in and out of the stadium. Our group of supporters hired buses for 37 of us to travel together from Joburg to our game in Rustenburg. We planned a huge tailgate and left 7 hours before the game.

Travel delays and getting lost along the way, we ended up being near the stadium, but far from our meeting point and decided to abandon the bus tour and head to the stadium with Kaela, Brock, Prairie and Toole. We were really psyched for a huge tailgate, but traffic was horrible and the call of the stadium was too great.

We set up camp just outside the security perimeter. As you can see from photo stream, we do stand out in a crowd. We spent the next few hours singing, face painting, meeting fans, giving interviews to foreign press from all over the world, and take photos with fans from all over.

Americans were there in a huge variety of costumed patriotism. There were superheros, princesses, Revolutionary heros, and assorted random costumes. It was fantastic. Except for a few guys in Monty Python conqueror getups, the English fans really didn’t get more creative than a flag draped across their shoulders.

Then there came the chants and singing. I travel to games with the serious supporters. We stand and sing all game, and have a hard time sticking to the half dozen cheers everyone knows. You don’t want to provoke this group’s creativity…which is exactly what a few English seemed determined to do.

The stadium crowd was mixed up fans: English and US mixed up, the wisdom of which FIFA will have to explain to me. We mostly sorted into a group of Americans and sang and cheered our hearts out with our full repetoire of material: “There’s only one Ron Green” to “If it weren’t for USA, you’d be speaking German” to any number of songs about individual players. England fans earned a rendition of “You’ve only got 2 songs” and were generally far less impressive than I expected.

The best was on the way out, our group was getting heckled by an persistent, if not all that sober or smart Englishman. He made a few jokes about BP and George Bush, but was no match for us. Even his desperate “You know, all you are is shit” was met with joyful “You tied shit” chants and my favorite of the night “One – nil, and you f’d it up.”

I love that about the American fans. We’re funny and creative and entertaining. We are passionate about the game, and have been doing this for years together. I couldn’t ask for better travel mates. The official score may have been 1-1, but know that in the stands, the English hooligans of infamy had nothing on USMNT Ultras.

Be Safe, Fellow Travelers
June 2, 2010, 11:39 pm
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I’ve always written about my travels and adventures WITH my children. In my work life, I own a children’s store and blog about my adventures as a parent. My plan for Soccer….Family Style was to write about traveling with my kids. My 7-1/2 year old has a dozen caps, and at the age of 3-1/2 led a German double decker train car in the “Everywhere we go” chant. My 2-1/2 year old sees a flag and starts soccer chants without prompting. They’re great little fans and I love going to games with them.

But even I have to draw the line somewhere. When we realized that just to fly them to South Africa would cost $3700, we had to accept that this trip would be better suited for second honeymoon than family adventure. Thanks to Verizon and Skype we should be able to keep in touch with the kids as they party it up with an extended Grandparents visit.

In the back of my mind, I was a little relieved to not have to worry about their safety. When we were planning to bring them, I had people at my store advising my to write on them in permanent marker with our contact information in case they were kidnapped. But it was hard to take comfort in that since my previous experience has been that the World Cup is typically a very safe place to be. There’s security everywhere, the hosts are excited and helpful, and people are typically in good spirits.

Then I read a story of a mother in South Africa who fought off a child abductor who tried to snatch her child out of her car through a smashed window. I had heard that you should be very careful to always travel with windows up and keep valuables off the seat and out of view, but how are you supposed to extend that to your children? We have two kids…they can’t both sit in the middle.

I would love to have our kids with us. They have a different way of looking at the world that makes sharing soccer with them a pleasure, but in this case, I think they will have more fun getting spoiled by grandparents and we will have more fun knowing we only have to keep track of two grown ups. And we’ll save that $3700 to go visit Germany next summer for the Women’s World Cup.

What I’ve Learned About Traveling to the World Cup
May 31, 2010, 3:47 pm
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I’ve spent the last 16 years of my life following the US Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT). As we prepare to travel to our 5th Men’s World Cup in South Africa, my husband and I have been comparing notes on what we’ve learned from our travels. Here’s a summary:

1994: The USA World Cup

This was the World Cup that started it all: where we decided we never wanted to miss a World Cup ever again. We were pretty new, but we picked up a few ideas here:

* Go with the most fun people you can find, or meet fun people while you’re there. You’ll have more fun with other fun people. Go early and look for the supporters tailgate. Introduce yourself to the people around you. Have fun.

*Get a hotel room. Our first game we could have had so much more fun if we’d sprung for a hotel room and stayed for the after party. Half the fun is the party afterward.

1998: The France Coupe de Monde

*Don’t wear face paint. OK, I’m just kidding. It’s just that the one time we wore face paint, we got mugged and had our tickets stolen. So really what I’m saying is, you’re allowed to be as superstitious as you want. If you feel like you have to wear the exact same thing the same way to every game, you go right ahead. Just as long as I don’t have to face paint again.

*It’s the world cup, even if thing go horribly wrong, they can still end up pretty great. Best story of the tournament followed getting mugged. We met these crazy police officers who got us into the super secret police headquarters at the stadium (PS don’t pick your nose in the stadium…they’re watching you). We had a far better time because we got mugged and were able to keep a positive attitude. No matter what, keep your head up and look for your next adventure.
*Book hotels in advance, even if you don’t think you’ll stay. Our last night in France, we’d planned on leaving our luggage at the train station in a locker, and then taking the train back to Paris that night. Only problem: the lockers were closed because of the security risk. It took 4 hours to find a hotel that wasn’t booked!

2002: Korea World Cup

*When giving quotes outside the stadium to foreign press, do it with a straight face. It’s the World Cup, crazy stuff can happen. Figo was the #1 FIFA player in the world. Who would have guessed Jeff Agoos would score more goals than Figo?
*The further away the world cup, the more psycho the fans. Yes, it’s expensive to travel halfway around the world. But the people who do are the best in the world. Get ready to make friends for life.
*Respect the local culture, until you just need to cross the street, then your expanding their horizons. Experience the local culture. Try new foods. Be respectful. But when there’s one traffic cop and 100+ fans and the road is closed, it’s OK to cross against the light, even if doing so is completely NOT Korean.

2006: Germany Weltmeisterschaft

*I am truly sorry if you wanted tickets and couldn’t get them, but we brought our 3-1/2 year old daughter and FIFA makes you buy a ticket from all children. Even a 3 year old can and did sleep through at least half of every game.
*The barter system is a beautiful thing. We tried to get US vs Italy tickets every way we could. In the end, we traded 2 of our Germany vs. Ecuador for 2 US vs. Italy tickets with a German who was as thrilled as we were with the trade.

Tune in starting June 12th for the lessons of 2010: South Africa.

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