Wednesday, June 23, 2010
I can’t explain why exactly, but since I arrived in Jordan I’ve been hooked on soccer. Sure, I like playing the game (I even had a less than mediocre stint on a BYU intramural team last fall), but I’ve never made time to sit down and watch an entire ninety-minute game. Now I watch World Cup games almost nightly. And what’s more is that my support for America is so firm that my heart rate reaches dangerous speeds when they play.
Like most countries in the world, Jordan possesses a much stronger love for soccer than America. The passion of the locals is probably the leading cause of my newfound interest. I’ve watched the games at parties in Amman a couple of times, but usually I watch them in the local youth center right here in Salhiyya. Every night, the village boys, teenagers, and men show up in droves to snag a plastic lawn chair and root for their team of choice beneath the glow of the only wall-mounted flat screen I’ve seen in the Badia. Jordan’s national team didn’t make it to the cup this year, so most people have chosen one of the big teams like Argentina, Brazil, or Spain to support. Because of this phenomenon, both playing teams get some support from the locals in any given match. There has been one game, however, that united the whole village in support for one team and loathing for another: this afternoon’s match between Algeria and the United States.
By the time the game started at 5:00, Cyrus, James, and I had staked our claims on the second row in prime viewing position. The Pan-Arabist sentiments that engendered support for Algeria overcame all but two local men in the entire viewing hall. One was an Egyptian whose bitterness towards the Algerian team made him our greatest ally (On a fluke, Egypt lost to Algeria in a qualifying game sparking riots and shaky political relations between the two countries in the days following). The other was a stranger in a white thobe – perhaps a guardian angel . . . jk.
The cheering and clapping leading up to Algeria’s first failed attempt at a goal was more energetic than any support I’d heard in any other game I’ve been to at the youth center. When America scored what looked like its first goal, the five of us American supporters leapt into the air screaming and clapping until the ref called offside’s and voided the goal. Following the call, the other seventy or so guys in the room clapped and mocked our premature celebration. I knew then that my boys from the States had to win if I didn’t want to go home humiliated in front of my entire village.
At halftime, the score was still zero to zero which got me worrying considerably. If America was to advance to tournament play, they had to win this game, especially since England was simultaneously beating Slovenia. The Algerians had to win if they wanted a chance at all. With such high stakes, the atmosphere became more and more nerve-racking as the match wore on. Every time the Algerians looked like they were going in for a goal, the masses screamed and jumped. And, whenever the Americans were getting ready to score, the skimpy US section cheered amongst the sea of Algerian supporters. Finally, in the ninety-first minute of the game, Donovan scored a goal for America. My four comrades and I went ballistic jumping up and down and even indulging ourselves in blowing the plastic horn I brought for extra effect. In two and a half minutes, the deal was sealed and America had won. To my surprise, many of the staunch Algerian supporters graciously congratulated us on our victory.
In celebration, James and I went to the market and bought a box of date cookies to hand out to passersby. The people here understand that we’re Americans who love our country, so despite fresh wounds they received us well. One of my local buddies who hadn’t been at the game but had heard the news greeted me with congratulations and kisses. Some of the neighborhood kids stopped us on the way home to take pictures after our victory. Indeed, victory is sweet.