Finishing a long, long journey
If you see me this summer at a barbeque, please, no more bratwurst.
As I heard overheard a person from England say, “No thank you, I’ve had it up to here with bloody sausages. I just want England to beat Portugal and Brazil, get to the final against Germany, end this 40 years of waiting (since England’s World Cup win in 1966), move out of this tent I’ve been sharing with my mate Tubby and get home to my missus, That will do nicely, thank you. All right, four sausages then a Pilsner then.”
I couldn’t wait for the final outcome and have surrendered my tickets to my brother and headed back home. Easier said than done, however. Ever seen that film, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles?”
That was a relatively smooth journey compared to mine.
The World Cup produced some magical moments during my final days there. The France-Togo game, with an obstructed-view category three ticket, turned into a great event.
The old guard of the French team has been under pressure throughout this tournament from the fans and media at home. The generation that won a World Cup and European Championship, in my mind, should be able to play on as long as it likes even if it is slightly passed its “sell-by” date.
Expectations are high, however, in the countries with stars on their shirts, signifying past World Cup wins. Patrick Vieria scored a magnificent goal on his 30th birthday and Thierry Henry added another. The weight of the world seemed to have been lifted of the players and fans as the second goal went in as that was the score that assured them passage to the next round.
Togo now also realized its World Cup was coming to an end and the players and fans should relish it as they might not be back again. The party began with a conga line of Togo supporters behind the goal at our line and lasted through the rest of the half, eventually joined by supporters waving flags from France, U.S.A., Turkey, Ghana, Brazil and many others.
Now that is what I call a multinational coalition. The drumbeat from the Togo supporters surged and everyone danced into the Cologne night chanting, “Togo, Togo.” “Allez les Bleus” and, of course, “Lukas Podolski” for the Cologne player who has become a national hero.
The next match we attended was Italy-Australia. The dramatic Italians provide an evil character to root against for neutral fans. They appear on stage with their good looks, negative tactics, overacting and relish in the boos that emanate from the rest of the crowd.
I’ve often wondered on the bus up to Beaver Creek to go skiing if there is anyone left in Australia or if they are all teaching skiing and running lifts. Well, I have news for you ” they are in Kaiserslauten. The atmosphere was very reminiscent of the scene before the U.S. game there with the streets packed with revelers, though slightly more rowdy ones this time.
I think their background as a prison colony and ours as Puritan ministers accounts for some of the differences. A great scene developed on the steps of a cathedral with a D.J. playing all your favorite Aussie songs and the crowd heartily singing along, “I come from the land down under … you better run, you better take cover,” something about “Tie me Kangaroo down sport, tie me Kangaroo down” and the great, “Waltzing Matilda.”
Inside the stadium it turned to “You’re blue, you’re white, you’re going home tonight,” which of course they very nearly did. The Italians employed their bend-but-don’t-break tactics again to survive a red card and win a dubious penalty to advance to the quarterfinals despite the best efforts of the Aussies and neutrals in the crowd.
They could yet steal this thing if the weight of scandal, expectation (remember the three stars on their shirts) and turmoil at home (including a tragic suicide attempt this week by a former player now embroiled in the match fixing scandal) doesn’t overwhelm them.
Dad wants to walk
So onto the trip home. No room stand-by on Tuesday as everyone is either flying into or out of Germany this month and planes are packed. So we headed into the city of Frankfurt to watch Brazil-Ghana on huge screen set up in the river and visible from both banks.
Tens of thousands of fans arrive hours before the game to watch from one of the coolest venues I’ve ever seen. By the way, I am still on pace to average 63 viewing venues during the 63 matches, aided by many two-venue matches with a change at halftime.
Ronaldo set the record, blah, blah, blah, and Brazil has another gear it hasn’t revealed yet as the team has not really been pushed thus far.
The next morning I relish relaxing at the hotel to wait for an airport shuttle and read the papers but Dad has other ideas. They are tougher than us, this generation born in the depression and raised during World War II.
They know how to get the most out of everyday and they rarely rest. When I was a kid, Dad would pack us into the station wagon at 5 a.m. to head up skiing. Now, I am happy to get the kids to Beavo in time from Eagle-Vail.
It’s a secret I keep from my parents that sometimes I pay for parking when I go skiing with the kids because its closer and easier. We all have skeletons in the closet.
Anyway, Dad suggests a walk before the shuttle arrives, so off we trudge into the suburban Frankfurt wildlife refuge (yes, there is one) and 7 kilometers later (there were signs) we are back just in time for the shuttle.
Where are the chairs?
Anyway off to the airport, there are huge lines and Americans everywhere trying to get on an American Airlines flight to Chicago. They ask questions slowly and loudly so that the German airport employees (who are fluent in English, by the way) can understand them. “IS THIS LINE FOR EVERYONE?” Spoken slow enough and loud enough, I guess English is universal.
Frankfurt airport has no chairs ” you are supposed to be out walking ” so after a few hours of lounging on the floor reading the papers and listening to astute match analysis from my fellow passengers, “If Claudio Reyna’s shot had just gone in off the post it would have all been different.”
Yes it would, well perhaps not all ” there would still be no chairs in this damn airport.
We arrived late into Chicago and passed through the extensive U.S. customs check. We can all rest easily about Homeland Security because I’ve assured the guy I haven’t touched any foreign livestock, except for the sausages of course.
I pulled out the right passport luckily. I have been carrying my brother’s as well with me because FIFA made it harder to transfer tickets between family members than a Republican Congress has made it to pass on a Bill Gates-size fortune to your offspring.
So now I am in Chicago and see that my plane is delayed and my cell phone has a message that my in-laws did not, in fact, leave a car at D.I.A. as planned. Apparently the engine light, which has been on since we bought the car 2002 (remember Ronaldo’s goal in the final?), was on and they were afraid of it overheating.
The last part of this journey could be a challenge.
Welcome to Boulder
No problem, a little research says the last C.M.E. shuttle leaves Denver at 9:30 p.m. and the plane gets in at 9. Except it doesn’t because we sit on the runway for a few hours due to lightning and get in at 11:45 p.m.
My brother is waiting for me to pick up match tickets (which he hasn’t paid for yet ” can’t find his check book apparently) and his passport because he flies out in the morning for the quarterfinals and the rest of it.
The handoff is made and we check the airport hotels and they are all full because of a softball tournament or software convention or something. So, it’s back to Boulder for the night or morning because it’s 1 a.m.
I love my nieces and nephews, and hopefully, if I don’t emerge from the guest bedroom until 8:30 a.m., I can sleep soundly in the knowledge that they are ensconced in a quality preschool which will assure them of a great future.
No such luck. I have to put my niece Chloe in touch with my father-in-law, a trustee at the Virginia Military Institute, because she is great at marching ” back and forth across the kitchen floor just above my head. Now the twins have joined her and the whole squadron is present.
Oh well, 7 a.m. and time for some coffee. I walk in the kitchen, apparently not looking my best because Owen starts crying when he sees me.
So now I have to go. We are leaving for the airport from Boulder, on a bus, something about saving money on parking ” how about using some of the money you didn’t pay me for the tickets? It looks like I’ll be on a later shuttle. I better call my wife, Kathleen. Maybe, I won’t be able to pick up the kids from camp.
I knew I’d find a way to occupy these two days without games. Hopefully, I make it home in time for Germany-Argentina today. I tell my brother to take care of Dad, or take care of himself trying to keep up with Dad, and trudge off to the van.
See you this weekend, and please, no bratwurst.
David Cope is the soccer coach at Battle Mountain High School and attended his fourth World Cup. We can safely confirm that he finally made it back home.