I have never really been able to like or enjoy soccer. In much of the world, soccer fans are fanatical. Years ago when Brazil won the World Cup there was a rash of suicides in Brazil. The common theme of the messages left was that after winning the World Cup life from then on could only be a disappointment. Once you have experienced ultimate joy there is no point continuing to live. Years later a Colombian player accidentally kicked the ball into his own goal, causing Colombia to lose the game. When he returned to Colombia he was assassinated. I cannot fathom that kind of devotion to soccer.
Even now, so many years later, I have never been able to relate to it and just cannot understand its fan following, bordering on reverence, with a mixture of hysteria and obsession, and when some Al-Khelaifi came over to my city last week, there was a frenzied crowd that was lying in wait and simply went berserk when they saw him. It was a sight that I would never forget, no matter how hard I can try.
I’ve heard people say that they don’t like soccer because there isn’t enough scoring. I can understand that complaint, but I don’t think that’s why I don’t enjoy soccer. It’s the feet. While almost all sports involve athletic skill with the whole body, in almost all sports, the focus is on the hands. Soccer is an obvious exception as are running events in track and field, but they are almost the only exceptions. What is true for athletes is also true for musicians; it is the hand, again with an exception, singers. Singers and runners, unlike almost all other musicians and athletes, are engaged in a purely natural human activity. Other musicians and athletes use something alien, an instrument or piece of equipment, which always uses the hands; that is, except for the soccer ball.
There is one player on a soccer team who uses hands, the goalie. When one considers the pivotal role goalies play the psychological implication of their singular ability to use their hands is striking. They are the parents, the alpha dogs. But what about the Pele’s of the sport? Aren’t they the alphas? Consider the shoot-out at the end of a tied match where the game is reduced to its essence. It is the Peles of one team challenging the goalie of the other. How Freudian, and clearly the strikers are the children. The goalies are the adults, the complete humans, the masters, and the others are not.
The hand is central to even less than athletic competition. In chess the mind conceives the strategy, but the hand moves the knight for a check. The hand plays the trump card. The hand rolls the dice and pulls the slot machine lever. One could go on and on.
In The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski said that the hand was the cutting edge of the mind. He posited that perhaps it was our distant ancestors’ facile hands that drove the evolution of our minds. Think about it. Your hand is the extension of your mind. Your hands enable you to make your thoughts real. They are the channels of your creativity. In Ways of the Hand, David Sudnow wrote about how for the jazz pianist the hands seemingly compose the music by themselves. Our sense of identity is intrinsic to the products of our hands. We are, in effect, our hands. So, a game played without the hands is alien to what it is to be human, and alien to me. Now, let me see if I can find some figure skating on TV.