A Poem with a Passport
“What is the difference between youth football in the United States and Spain?”
This question I have tried to answer on many occasions in many conversations as an ex-pat living outside 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 perhaps the best answer to that question.
“You feel football here. You breathe it,” he remarked as we strolled through the narrow streets in search of coffee and a croissant.
A bit odd, no? After all, how bizarre to suggest that football can be more than chasing a ball and burying it in the back of the net. At the end of the day, two teams line up and one wins, no?
To “feel” football? To “breathe” football?
Surely, football is not the salty air of the Mediterranean Sea.
Surely, football is not an exquisite tapa at a sidewalk cafe.
Football cannot be a curbside conversation nor a cobblestone street.
It cannot be a cathedral perched upon glimmering waves.
It certainly is not “calabaza” on a corner stand.
Or is it?
What if football were a poem with a passport?
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees…
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.
Or a breath?
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!
Or a quest?
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
Perhaps football is indeed a calling: a commitment to sail beyond the known and to return triumphant. Maybe, just maybe football is a culture that cherishes every detail within and beyond the painted lines? Maybe football is more than you ever imagined.
Where would you go then?
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas.
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 what if this journey to extraordinary nourishes your 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 still not certain what to answer the next time someone asks me to define football in Catalonia. How silly of us in Sitges, a humble village by the sea, to believe that one can actually “feel” or “breathe” football.
It is just a game, after all.
* Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson