The sun was beating down so that even the shade of the front porch couldn’t provide relief from the afternoon heat. I stood up and went inside, turning on the stand-up fan in my room and opening the windows. At least with the fan I can keep cool while I lay down on my bed. It was your typical lazy Sunday afternoon and my host mother wasn’t feeling well, so I didn’t have any plans.
The EC 89 group message lit up with a something about a soccer game going on at the local community center. Since I had nothing better to do I decided I might as well go and check it out. I quickly changed and began the ten minute walk up and down the hills of Desruisseaux (“Dare-is-sow’) to the community center. The street atop the hill that leads down to the center was lined with parked cars and trucks. A group of locals piled out of a taxi van and I followed them down to the field as music played in the distance.
A decent crowd was gathering as I sat down with some other Trainees while the teams were making their way onto the field. The team dressed in orange was from Desruisseaux, my host community. They were slated to play Ti Roche, an adjacent town whose players were donning red uniforms. A thematic song rang from the loud speakers as the teams walked in single file on either side of the league banner. This was surprising to me, a grand entrance and banner is something you’d expect to see the professional soccer leagues do on television, not something a local league would do. I began to think that maybe this soccer game was a bigger deal than I originally thought.
Now I have been a stereotypical American when it comes to soccer. The game is long and there is simply not enough action. The players are over-dramatic, particularly for such a low-scoring game. Real football is played a helmet, pads, and a ball made of pigskin. However, about six months ago, my perspective on soccer began to change.
The first time it hit me that maybe there was something more to soccer was in Cape Town, South Africa. Lucas, a fellow volunteer from Germany, and I joined two local teenagers that were shooting goals on a turf field outside of the townships. We started playing a game where the goalie had to stay at the net until he stopped a shot. After he made a save, the shooter that missed became the next goalie and so on. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time playing goalie. Eventually I stopped a shot, albeit with my face (much to the entertainment of all involved). But then I started asking them questions about things like the proper way to strike the ball. Then a few attempted shots later, I made a shot past one of the local boys guarding the net. That accomplishment, one where an American that could hardly play finally scored, was something we could all celebrate. After this I began to realize that maybe soccer is in fact, as they say, the world’s sport. After all, in this particular case, soccer provided the grounds for a cultural exchange between people from three entirely different parts of the world.
Fast forward back to the lazy Sunday afternoon at a local Caribbean soccer game, which I later learned was a semi-final match in the playoffs. The small crowd that had gathered steadily filled out the concrete stands built into the side of the street. Cars were parked all along the street next to the field where families were grilling chicken, sausages, and plantains with coolers of rum and beer. Children were scattered intermittently around the field, practicing their skills and anxiously waiting to retrieve a ball that goes out of bounds so they could return it to their idols on the field. The field itself was mostly dirt with sporadic patches of grass, with the community center and homes behind each respective goal. Running parallel to the field was the stands built into the street on one side and a wooded area on the other. The atmosphere was like that of a community festival: the smells of the various foods grilling, a set of loud speakers blaring music, and the whole community cheering on their team.
A player for Desruisseaux scored on a header off a free kick and immediately ran to the stands; climbing up to the street and finding his family, he kissed his wife and toddler son as the community rejoiced. That first-half goal proved to be the only one of the game as Desruisseaux won 1-0. As the final whistle blew, a few family and friends ran onto the field to celebrate the victory with their loved ones on the field. The teams left the field and the sun began to set but the crowd, at roughly 300 or so by the end of the game, carried on with their cookouts. The soccer game had basically turned into a community block party, or ‘lime’ as they call it here. As nightfall came one of the local ladies went around provoking each one of the Trainees into dancing with her. She taught us how ‘whine,’ a distinct dance of the St. Lucians. Since once again soccer provided grounds for a cultural exchange, this time through dancing, I couldn’t help but teach her the infamous ‘shopping cart’ dance move. So if you happen to meet any St. Lucians that have the impression that Americans are bad dancers, I apologize for not proving them otherwise.
At the end of the day in a small, rural community such as Derissoux, this soccer game was a reason for family and friends to spend a Sunday afternoon together. In my case, the game gave me a reason to leave the comfort of my home and immerse myself with the community. Soccer is the world’s sport because of its simplicity — all you need is a ball and two goals. It provides a universal language for people from all over the world to understand and use to come together.
All in all, I can say that the Caribbean has completed my conversion. Although I stand by the sports I grew up playing such as baseball, basketball, and American football; I can now that I am a soccer fan, or dare I say, a ‘football’ fan. To the world the game of football is so much more than a sport. Football is a reason to come together and give people who otherwise would not have anything in common, something to not only share, but celebrate. The world is riding the football bandwagon…and it’s about time that I jumped on.