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...a sweatshop of moxie

Monday, February 14, 2005

Soccer Games Do Count

Someone said that the British might not have invented games, but that we had invented the importance of games. That person was yours truly. Hi!

It's long been my contention also that sport, used in the childhood sense of "games", doesn't attract the Best and the Brightest, but rather that when you participate in a game, something in you reacts and propels you to do one of the following: (1) fail or (2) succeed, whereupon your two courses of action are (a) persevere, or (b) lose interest.

You can fail and persevere, just as easily as you can succeed, and lose interest. Which path you choose is in no small part the kind of person you are then and later. And more often than not when you persevere, that is when you become one of the Best and the Brightest.

And I see one of the triumverate of "Fox and Friends", Brian Kilmeade, and I are on the same wavelength about this. Indeed, that's the basis of his New York Times best-seller:

"The Games do Count: America's Best and Brightest on the Power of Sports"

In a series of vignettes, he has the guest-star narrate a link they had with sport or games growing up. On one occasion, the son of the same name is charged with that duty, and I must say, the 5-page piece is startlingly effective -- Ronald Reagan and Son, together in commonality of cause...at last.

Not everyone in this book was good at games growing up. Almost without exception though, each of these Best and Brightest people interviewed recounted how games molded them growing up, since in that most American of ways, nothing can be done without it being practical in some way, and the practical here is that games teach you about yourself and armed with this knowledge, can help you further on in life.

Well and good, but my first thought when reading the book was to find a game I myself love, and see which people wrote about it. That game being soccer.

Some (often surprising) soccer players in their youth were:

- Jon Stewart: Talk Show Host on Comedy Central
- John Tesh: Television Host and erm, musician
- Dr. Henry Kissinger: Realpolitik mastermind extraordinaire
- Gen. Peter Pace: Vice-Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff
- Hannah Storm: Sport Television presenter
- Jeremy Glick: One of the heroes of Flight 93, as narrated by his father, Lloyd
- Michelle Lombardo: A winner of SI's 2004 "Fresh Faces"
- Robin Williams: Comedian-of-all-trades
- Donald Trump, Sr.: Media starlet, Manhattan developer
- Brian Kilmeade: "Games do Count" Author, shy addition to the back of the book

Interestingly, two standout politicians of the 2004 US Presidential campaign, whom I know for a fact played soccer at school ('cause erm, I read it somewhere), themselves do not list that activity in their roll-call of sport under their names -- and they would be Senator John Kerry of Massachussetts, better known for windsurfing skills and other impossibly patrician activities AND 43rd US President, George W. Bush, who parlayed a failed oil company into part-ownership of the Texas Rangers.

Not bad company to be in, if you love soccer.

My favourite segment, other than the Ronald Reagan elegiac, is Henry Kissinger's piece. Many people believe he is a power-behind-the-FIFA throne, having tipped his then-considerable weight to get João Havelange of Brazil elected President of FIFA back in the 70's, but like all Kissinger anecdotes, it only counts if its verified by John Dean.

Here's an exerpt from his eager account:

I began playing soccer in Fuerth, the town where I was born in Germany, which is near Nuremberg. Fuerth has the same relationship to Nueremberg, as Brooklyn has to New York; it's really the same town, but it has a different government due to a complicated history. [...] Fuerth, was to soccer as Green Bay is to [ed: American] football. It was a small town of 80,000 that in a ten-year period won three German championships. [...] I started playing when I was about six. [...] but there was a Jewish team and I played on the junior team of that Jewish community.

He adds that he started off as goalie, but then went from inside-right to midfield in short-order. He was the team strategist (huge shock), and the words bunker defence were no stranger to the man who went toe-to-toe with Chairman Mao.

I devised a system, that as it turned out, is the way the Italians play soccer. The system was to drive the other team nuts by not letting them score, by keeping as many people back as defenders. Good teams pass a lot, and if you keep thwarting them they get frustrated. [...] We had an inferior team, but instead of playing with five forwards we played with eight people back [!] and just kept two people forward. And if we were lucky, we could sneak a goal in.

Well. The inference is here in black and white for all to read. And how the Italians on RSS will love doing so.

Henry Kissinger, the inventor of catenaccio. You heard it here first.


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