I guess I’m mildly interested in World Cup soccer, although given my past I should be a total fanatic. Indeed, my soccer/football/futbol, your choice, was such a part of my life it affected the college.
Back in the 60’s they didn’t have the soccer leagues they have now. I think that’s because the minivan wasn’t invented until 1984 so moms who would have been tasked with ferrying youthful kickers had no viable means of transportation.
I tried Little League Baseball, but if you’re dad’s not the manager, you basically only get to play the two innings required in the regulations and are relegated to playing right field because no ball ever reaches right field except for when the shortstop throws his relay 12 feet above the first baseman’s head.
I dabbled in soccer in day camp but it was a Jewish day camp and I quickly tired of the counselor whining, “what!?!” every time I made some sort of mistake. That didn’t kill my enthusiasm for a sport that required no use of the hands and encouraged bopping the ball with your head.
In junior high I tried out for the school team and made it! That’s the good news. The bad news was the coach never scheduled any games against other schools. Development slowed after that.
By the time I got to high school, my luck changed. The previous year’s varsity won the championship and then all but a couple of players graduated. The Martin Van Buren High School soccer team was officially in a rebuilding mode. A bunch of us took advantage of this situation and Coach Marvin “Killer” Diller decided that most everyone who tried out made the squad. Before he could figure out my true skill level I quickly bought a team jacket and affixed my “VB” varsity letter.
My junior year I sat on the bench and only got in one game for 12 seconds while a regular threw up.
Aside from myself, at 5’6” and 120 pounds, there was another lightweight named Daryl, about my same size, and we kept the bench more than warmed, awaiting our chance. It was hard to crack the lineup because ahead of us were the Riofrio twins from Ecuador who could do everything with a soccer ball but make it dance the cha cha. Then there was an Armenian named Sirkus who felt no pain. Every. You could kick him in the face with the ball a dozen times and he’d shake it off. After the Riofrios and Sirkus, the depth chart quickly descended to a talent level that could fairly be labeled, “none.”
Indeed, our team was so horrible when a visiting team made the journey from the other side of Queens to play us at home, they were so upset at how easy it was to beat us they jumped on our bench after the game until it broke. Most of the members of that team had immigrated to NYC from Armenia and were therefore excellent players. In their best broken English they chanted, “you horrible, horrible. Bus ride not worth it. Horrible, horrible, suck!”
By my senior year enough of the good players graduated that I finally won a starting spot as a left winger. Swell. But the season didn’t start until Thanksgiving because New York City teachers went on strike. Killer Diller attempted to hold workouts at a public park near the school but once the union steward found out he put a quick end to that. Naturally, with no practices, our team was totally unable to improve from crappy to mediocre.
First game of the season I ran on the field..my first as a starter, and did not distinguish myself. I had a few chances but being such a little guy, it was easy for almost any opponent to steal the ball from me or knock me on my skinny ass. Coach Diller pulled me and in his lispy way whined “Eddie, you were so much better in practice.” No kidding. In practice there were no Bulgarian goons from another school trying to kill me.
I started one other game after which fate stepped in and saved me. I landed a part time after school job as the stock boy in the linens and domestics department at the S. Klein department store at the nearby Lake Success Shopping Center. When I informed Coach Diller I was quitting the team in favor of folding towels and table cloths he squeeked, “but you finally just became a starter after sitting on the bench for a year!” I could swear that was just for show and that he secretly turned to no one in particular and mouthed “Yes!”
For some reason I still thought I had a future in soccer and when it came time to choose a college I picked SUNY Oswego because it had a strong soccer program. But again, it was not to be. I went to the first meeting of the soccer team where Coach Peterson made the profound announcement that “remember, academics means absolutely nothing. Soccer means everything!” I turned around and walked out the room never to return. A couple of weeks before that meeting I landed a job as a DJ at the campus radio station and made the instant decision that if I couldn’t play soccer, I would pursue a position that required no use of my feet or head…just my brain and mouth! And that’s what I’ve done every day since that fateful day in 1969. Indeed, over a wonderful 45 year career I believe I reached my GOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLL!