The Return of Soccer
By Gary Singh
SINCE MY FRIENDS in Germany are about to blast me for reneging on my promises to attend the World Cup this summer, I must at least attempt to vicariously experience the world's hugest sporting event. And to do that, I invite everyone to come check out the Goethe Institute's exhibition of soccer photos from around the world, on the second floor of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library until April 30. The exhibit, which documents how soccer is the world game, is traveling to over 100 cities around the globe to help celebrate the World Cup in Germany. Co-sponsored by the Department of Foreign Languages at SJSU, the exhibit is titled "Weltsprache FußballPlanet Football."
Basically, soccer is the hugest sport on the planet because you can play it literally anywhere. You don't need a bat, glove or helmet. You don't need 6,000 pads on your body. You can use a freakin' cantaloupe for the ball and two garbage cans for the goal posts if you wantwhich is precisely what many folks in Third World areas do.
"Weltsprache Fußball" depicts the everyday lives of human beings everywhere, regardless of age, origin or social standing. One 1986 black and white shot from Bolivia portrays an old man in a room. On the wall hangs a picture of the Last Supper right next to a poster of Bolivia's national soccer team. A 1993 shot from Egypt shows a few folks kicking a soccer ball on the streets in front of a mosque. In another, Buddhist monks are shown watching a match in Cambodia. Full-color shots of children in China and Japan are also included. Other images capture folks playing soccer on the beaches of Burma and Martinique, and kids kicking soccer balls on the streets of Spain, Israel and France. Marilyn Monroe even shows up in a 1959 photograph, booting a soccer ball in a ceremony with an English team. In a revealing shot from 1983, a U.S. tank rolls through the streets of Grenada after the invasion, while a young Grenadian practices with a soccer ball right alongside it. And you have a wonderful glimpse at two Irish Catholic priests in 1962 removing their religious attire only to reveal soccer uniforms underneath.
Except for one photo of Argentine legend Diego Maradona from the 1986 World Cup in which Argentina won, all the photos are of everyday folks, not professional players. The exhibit clearly shows that soccer is indeed the universal language. I can more than attest to this. I can't tell you how many times I've traveled abroad and encountered someone who was inherently anti-American and didn't want to talk to me, only to have everything change once the person found out I was a soccer fan. The ice would break immediately and we would carry on into the night. Throughout the globe, soccer really is more than just a sport. It transcends everything, and this exhibition is the first time the glory of the Beautiful Game has come back to town since the Earthquakes' owners decided they would rather lose money in Houston than in San Jose.
If you were a Quakes fan, go to this exhibit and bring the kids. The widest possible variety of people are stopping by to check it out. Romey Sabalius, SJSU professor of German, the guy who spearheaded the exhibit from the university side, confirmed this. "It's amazing how people are drawn to it," he said. "Even when I was setting it upthroughout the whole weekendthere were always people constantly there, even when everything was kind of rubblish and not really set up straight. They were very interested and spent a lot of time there."
When it comes to soccer's universality, professor Jutta Limbach, president of the Goethe Institute, explained it this way in the exhibit's curatorial statement: "With all the diversity of living conditions and perspectives, there is one common thread: On the beach, in a car park or in a stadium, in the shadow of a huge industrial plant or under palm trees, on the roof of a high-rise building or even in a church, all you need is a ball (or something ball-shaped) and the words of the classical German author Friedrich Schiller become true: 'Man is only fully human when at play.'"
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