World Cup: Fitting in with Israelis by watching soccer - opinion

Forty years in this country, and I finally care about soccer. Not local soccer, perhaps, but at least international soccer.

 Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Final - Argentina v France - Lusail Stadium, Lusail, Qatar - December 18, 2022 Argentina players celebrate winning the World Cup (photo credit: REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY)
Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Final - Argentina v France - Lusail Stadium, Lusail, Qatar - December 18, 2022 Argentina players celebrate winning the World Cup
(photo credit: REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY)

I’m not from the big cursers.

Sure, an imprecation or two might slip out when a car cuts me off on the road (hopefully when the children are not riding with me). A profanity may emerge when I bang my toe into the bedpost. An obscenity is sure to surface when reading a particularly nasty op-ed about Israel.

But, in general, I try – I don’t always succeed, but I try – to keep my swearing to a minimum. Except when watching sports. Not all sports, just sports I care passionately about. More precisely, when I watch American football and the Denver Broncos. 

I got that from my dad. I didn’t hear my dad swear that much growing up, except when we watched the Broncos. Then he cursed like a sailor. He passed that on to me. And the Broncos – over the years – have given us plenty to swear about.

Therefore, I was both surprised and pleased with myself two weeks ago when an expletive came flying out of my mouth while watching the Argentina-France World Cup final

 Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Final - Argentina v France - Lusail Stadium, Lusail, Qatar - December 18, 2022 Argentina players during a penalty shootout  (credit: REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY) Soccer Football - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 - Final - Argentina v France - Lusail Stadium, Lusail, Qatar - December 18, 2022 Argentina players during a penalty shootout (credit: REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY)

That’s right, I cursed at a soccer match. 

I was surprised because cursing at a soccer match showed that I actually cared about what was happening – it almost put that game in the same league as the Broncos. And I was pleased, yes pleased, that I cursed – though I wish the window was not open – because it showed a high degree of acculturation. 

Forty years in this country, and I finally care about soccer. Not local soccer, perhaps, but at least international soccer. I had made it. I’d gone local. I knew the difference between Messi and Mbappe. I could even pick Croatia’s Luka Modric out of a police line-up. I felt Israeli. 

This has been a long road. 

THE FIRST World Cup after the wife and I made aliyah took place in Mexico in 1986. I could not have cared less. The Mondial, as the World Cup is commonly known, sounded to me like a brand of soap or something you measure time with by using the sun. 

Folks all around me at work were talking about Maradona and the “Hand of God” (arguably, the most famous goal in football history), and I was wondering why everyone was talking about The Madonna and Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam.

I had no clue. I didn’t play soccer as a kid, I never watched it, and I didn’t really get the world’s fascination with it. Beautiful game, my foot. What kind of sport doesn’t let you use your hands? A sport without hands seemed to me like a symphony without instruments. 

When the tournament comes around every four years, it is everywhere in this country, all anyone seems to talk about. It’s a major news item. I used to call sources in my younger days during a World Cup match, and they wouldn’t answer. So as the years passed – one World Cup, and another, and another – I became interested, primarily because you can’t escape it. If I didn’t want to feel left out, I’d have to get interested.

So I started watching, little by little. First, I’d watch the end of a World Cup final. Four years later, I’d watch the second half of the final; four years after that, I’d sit for the entire final match.

And now, 40 years later, I watched almost the whole recent tournament, having had the TV continuously on in the background and picking up my head whenever I heard a roar from the crowd. 

ONE OF the problems I’ve always had with soccer, one of the obstacles that always kept me from getting into the sport, was a very rudimentary understanding of the game and its rules. 

The rather complicated rules of American football are second nature to me; knowledge of them is something I was born with. Not so the rules of soccer. For me, offside is a 250-pound defensive tackle with his head on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage in an American football game. What are offsides in soccer? 

I didn’t know a yellow card from a red one. And it seemed crazy that during a game, coaches couldn’t substitute as many players as they wanted, whenever they wanted. 

Then I had Israeli-born kids, and one of the added values they bring to my table is a good knowledge of all things Israeli – such as soccer, the army, Mizrahi music and good places to take day trips – that are simply out of my wheelhouse. If I have any questions about things Israeli and feel too stupid to ask a neighbor who may think less of me for not knowing something so basic, I just ask the kids. 

“Son, what are offsides?” I asked the youngest at the beginning of this year’s World Cup, and – with a lot of patience and some forks and spoons on the kitchen table for illustrative purposes – he gave me a fine explanation. 

Armed with that explanation, I could not only understand the World Cup, but even enjoy it. This past month I watched as much of the World Cup as did most of my neighbors. Something I looked upon with disdain when I first came here, I have – after 40 years – come to appreciate.

And it’s not only soccer. There are other things that I never got into when I first arrived, that I now appreciate or at least take an interest in. 

Like Eurovision

Who knew from Eurovision in America? Nobody. It doesn’t exist in America. Nobody cares. 

Come here, however, and it’s a big deal. I can’t say that I sit around and watch the entire competition when it comes on in the spring, but I will take an interest in the Israeli entry, watch the Israeli contestant perform, and then follow the scoring to see which countries are giving Israel 12 points and which – for political reasons – are not giving us any.

And those countries I curse.

It’s telling, actually: The more I acculturate, the more things I have to swear about. ■