When in Rome, er, uh, Cairo…
Warning: Explicit language and images.
When in Rome, or rather Cairo, do as the rest of the world does, and get infatuated with football, aka soccer to us ignorant Americans.
Friday. My flat is being painted and it’s a mess of paint, dirt, fumes, dust and everything out of place. I am relegated to living in my bedroom and kitchen, the painter even having partially coopting my bathroom. After an end of the school year dinner cruise I wander home to find Ahmed still working. I can’t bear to hang out so, remembering that the World Cup is playing at the local expat club, I decide to head out and be social. What I’m about to find is six hours of entertainment, and it’s not on the big screen.
I’m not drinking today so I walk up to the bar at the ACE and buy my first of many club sodas…glass of ice with some lime please…and wander to a table full of colleagues and local acquaintances from Spain (they’re playing tonight), Scotland, England, Canada, Egypt, and the US. The Mexico – Cameroon game is on, into the second half and there is no score, though Mexico will score soon and win by that single score.
I have always found football extremely boring, having not grown up with it at all, though I can think of exactly twice where the match I watched showed a high level of play that was obvious to even this ignorant neophyte. Still, if I hadn’t been having a conversation with someone, I’d have fallen asleep.
In my junior year of high school our school district began an intramural soccer league. It was at the insistence of a kid named Pete and his family, recent immigrants from Ireland. I did not participate, though I spectated, and the level of play was abysmal, made evident by how Pete danced around everyone, and I mean everyone. The contrast was embarrassing.
Our school had three teams and the other high school in town fielded the same, so it worked. Most of the teams took it pretty seriously, but I was a fan of the hippie team, which ironically Pete chose to play on. They wanted to call themselves the Galloping Gonads (we were all so full of clever ways to offend authority in those heady late 60s) but the school nixed the name. So, they settled on the Nads, which I’m frankly surprised the school went for. Imagine cheering the team on…Go Nads, Go Nad, Go Nads! Was the administration as naïve as we were? Did we actually think ourselves clever? My girlfriend, Janet, an artist, designed the logo and tee shirts. She drew this little fat guy who was all body, little head, big sneakers, an enormous nose, and stubby hair kicking a football. His name… Harry Nadz. Needless to say the team name was retired at the end of the first year, but football had taken hold.
The second game of the evening is Spain versus the Netherlands. Tony, my half Spanish friend, is rooting for his home team. Most others appear to be rooting for Holland, including Mark, from Scotland. Mark is a sports junkie, probably gambles a little too much on sports, but is a wealth of knowledge about the game. We have dubbed him, “The Entertainment.” He is patient with my questions about the rules I know little of. Can you foul out like basketball, explain off sides, what’s with this extra time at the end that seems so random? He most patiently and with true interest happily answers my questions. Mark is also quick to give Tony shit about how his team is going down tonight.
…the game begins…Spain versus Holland. We’ve got two betting pools going, the first, ten LE each, pick a name, and whoever’s player scores the first goal gets the pot. The second, five LE in a pot that passes from person to person each time the ball goes out of play and whoever has the pot when a goal is scored gets the money, then refill this pot and keep it up for the game. When the first goal is scored I am holding the ante. All of a sudden 50 LE richer I am an instant fan of the evening’s match. The round of drinks I buy from my winnings costs me 90 LE. At this first goal, a penalty kick for Spain, Mark is on his feet. Fuckin shit call, that was no foul, oh my god (all with an incomprehensible Scottish accent). Fuckin refs suck. Where is that arsehole from, god damn… He reminds me of my father, not by any means due to his expletives, but by the fire of his emotion. Like my father Mark can go from sitting slack and comfortable to standing in animated rage in a nanosecond when his team is slighted. The Englishman, Stephen, sipping on his hookah, chuckles and tells him to sit down. Tony, the Spaniard, breathes a sigh of relief at Spain having this slight one goal cushion. His relief does not last long as Holland scores on a beautiful play, the club erupting with Holland fans, Tony subdued, and Mark in his face…Yer goin down, fucking Spaniards, no fucking way yer takin it twice, damn, that’s all yer gowin ta see tonight man, let’s go Holland! I am now amused and thoroughly enjoying my football match. Thus the carnage begins as Holland scores again and again, a header that the Spanish goalie watches helplessly float over his own crown, then tricking the goalie out of the net, circumnavigating him and kicking past two defenders, and again and again, until the bewildered reigning champions lose by an embarrassing 5-1. Tony slinks out of the club to the good natured chastisement of Mark as the game ends. Mark exalts and buys everyone a round.
I sip on my last club soda, with ice and lime slices, listen to the banter about who has a chance and who doesn’t, the game later this evening (0100 Cairo time) that only Mark has the interest to stick around for, and then say goodnight. Sadly, with the end of the school year, most of this gang is leaving in the next week. I’m going to have to find a new cadre of fans to hang with. I’m beginning to like the game, at least for the next five weeks.