Last night I went to bed extra early, and made sure my two alarms were on for 5 o’clock. For those of you who know me, this might be a surprise. I’m a known night owl; in fact, I’m still recuperating from my all-nighter “Breaking Dawn” reading fest. But this morning I had some serious business to attend to: Argentina was playing Serbia. I know this is not self-explanatory for some. Argentina’s what? Basketball, field hockey, tennis? Argentina to me means Soccer,
Futbol. I’m cheering for all of the other sports my country is representing this Olympic Games, but Futbol is the only one with the power to raise me from my precious sleep at 2:30 in the morning (like on Sunday), or at 5, like today. I wasn’t always a futbol lover; actually, I used to hate the blasted thing.
You see, in a country tired of political, financial, social unrest, the only constant was Argentina’s superiority in something. That’s why we love Manu Ginobilli, why we idolized Gabriela Sabatinni (the tennis player), and made a god out of Diego (no need to explain here). These were people who showed the world that in spite of all the mess, there was greatness in Argentina. Oh, my family ate, lived, breathed futbol for as long as I can remember.
Growing up though, only boys played futbol, so my little sister and I were relegated to watching endless little kids’ games, and then go home and watch more on TV. My parents used to spend all weekend at the futbol fields with my brothers. And boy did we resent that! By the time I was 12, I decided to stay home on the weekends, and my sister and I would pretend we were gymnasts, recreating the exercises learned at school, on a mattress we laid on the family room to muffle the sounds of our acrobatics from our neighbors downstairs.
I clearly remember the night I made the conscious choice to start liking futbol, since it seemed that was all we were going to watch on TV (even at the movies! They had a show called “Heroes” from World Cup ’86. We saw it 3 times). River Plate of Buenos Aires was playing someone else, and I made myself pay attention to understand the rules. I learned the rules; I’m an expert. I don’t play that well, but I can appreciate good futbol when I see it.
When I came to the US futbol became synonymous with home. So my few Argentine friends and I would get together to watch the games, no matter what time the boys played. For France ’98 I was working at the Missionary Training Center cafeteria, and we had a TV in the break room. The South Americans, Africans and Europeans were glued to Telemundo, the only channel showing the games. The poor American kids just begged us for a break, to be able to watch Judge Judy. We didn’t let them. After all, the cup is every 4 years. How can you even think about anything else?
The day Argentina was eliminated from France (against Holland) Jeff was watching the game with me. And we lost. My friends said it was my fault; I had broken the tradition of watching the games together, and I had called bad luck on the team. The positive thing was that my future husband became an Argentina fan. I seriously turn into someone else when I watch the white and blue play. Maybe Jeff liked that intensity, that craziness because a few months later we were married.
My best friend G lives 4 hours away from me, and we’re from the same city, cheer for the same team (Rosario Central). We’re both very quiet around strangers, soft spoken. But when we watch the games, we scream, jump, call names (shame on me!). Our kids look at us with wide eyes while with each goal we run to the phone to call each other and celebrate together in the distance.
We’re far from home, but we’re not alone. Scattered all over the globe, there are others like us: watching the game online, checking the newspaper every 5 seconds for an update, chanting the songs that we must carry in our genes; we’ve always known them.
I have my internal issues with my country. It makes me so mad that over the years the news are old, always the same. But when people ask me “If the USA plays Argentina, who do you go for?” I just look at them. What can of question is that? I don’t even think about it, Argentina, 100%. I feel futbol is one of the only threads that link me to the place where I was born. I can speak in another language, write a lot more in it than in my own, I can eat other foods, listen to other music, vote in another country, have a new passport. But futbol for me has only two colors, sky blue and white. A field of 11 young long haired boys, chasing after a ball. Carrying the hopes of (how many are we now) 46 million Argentines who need a victory just to get through the next two years (remember, world cup in ’10).
Gorgeous Boy woke up this morning and said, “I’ve never watched a full game, you know.” It’s different for him. No threads to keep intact.

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Yamile Saied Mendez

Yamile (sha-MEE-lay) Saied Méndez is a fútbol-obsessed Argentine-American, Picture Book, Middle Grade, and Young Adult author.

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