“What is the difference between youth football in America and Spain?” This question I have tried to answer on many occasions in many conversations as an ex-pat living near Barcelona. To be honest, my answer has always been woefully inadequate.
Recently, a coaching colleague visited our humble Catalan village by the sea and provided me with perhaps the best answer to that question.
“You feel football here. You breathe it,” he remarked as we strolled through the narrow streets.
Now, if we break that down it is quite improbable to think that disparate parts can mean too much. Ambience is overrated, no?
Surely, football is not the salty air waltzing in off the Mediterranean.
Football is not a tapa at the sidewalk cafe.
Football is not the newsstand ripe with details of our 11-a-side heroes.
Football is neither a curbside conversation nor a cobblestone street.
It cannot be our cathedral perched upon the relentless waves.
It certainly has nothing to do with “calabaza” on a corner stand.
It is not our “sweet water” stadium set upon the sandy shore.
Football is not the imperfect patio upon which the children delight.
Or is it?
What if football was a poem or a passport?
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees...
What if football was companionship?
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! *
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought. *
What if football was not just a game but a calling? A commitment to journey beyond the known and to come back triumphant. What if football was about immersing oneself in a culture that cherishes every component within and beyond the painted lines? Where would we go then?
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. *
What happens if the adventure could awaken us?
Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world.
...my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die. *
And if that journey nourished our heroic spirit?
...that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. *
I am not certain what to answer the next time someone asks me to define football here. How silly of us in Sitges, a humble village by the sea, to believe that one can “feel” football or actually “breathe it”.
It is just a game, after all.
* Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson