Football Folly

It is July 9.  We are rolling up I-95 in Betty Blue, a leather-seated 1964 vintage Mercedes, and listening, windows down, hair flying, to the sultry sound of the Gipsy Kings, a Spanish-language music group from Provence, France. Foxboro Stadium is hosting the 1994 World Cup semi-finals between Italy and Spain, “two great southern European footballing nations,” and we are very lucky to have tickets.

The Rumba Catalana, an enticing pop mixture of flamenco and Romani, builds with  strumming by the Reyes and Baliardo brothers–  and I’m quietly realizing on the four hour drive from New York to Boston that I’m outnumbered: there are three Spanish supporters among the four of us, but I can’t see it otherwise—true, as an undergraduate I traveled to the Basque Country, but my father’s side came from Tuscany — the very same region as Michelangelo and Galileo, as always my grandfather pointed out. I continue listening to the Gipsy Kings and pose select questions to the experts in the car; they have lived, breathed, and played soccer since day one – in the streets of Dublin and Glasgow; green fields of rural colleges; and boroughs of New York – running encyclopedias of their most passionate sport.

At Foxboro there is an estimated attendance of 54,000. I am unsure of the crowd’s general preference, but the game is sizzling with excitement over the attacks and emotionally charged counterattacks. Dino Baggio shoots from a distance of thirty meters and scores to the rhythmic stomping of feet. Spanish arms curve expressively around heads and bodies, almost balletic with proud carriage, as Jose Luis Caminero equalizes. An Italian player stumbles with a side kick and falls, theatrically raising his knees to his stomach– dramatically rocking on the ground while his teammates rush feverishly to his side.  Free and running alone, Roberto Baggio hammers in the next goal. With sixty seconds to go, Hungarian referee Sandor Puhl bypasses a bleeding Luis Enrique, elbowed in the face by Tassotti, the Italian, who is banned from eight subsequent matches. Italy wins by 2-1, but Spain plays their best game ever in the tournament and fights major disappointment over the lack of a call. The judgment feels wrong in the Italy-Spain semi final, and I change sides.

Driving back with the gypsy blues, we stop for dinner at a small café in Providence. After all these years of living in the Big Apple, I have no idea that there will be a second defection. One wintry Sunday yet to come, Chicago will slam the hockey puck into the net and defeat New York by one goal. Being raised in the Windy City, I’ll stand up and cry “Yea, Black Hawks!” to the astonished silence of the very same friends who have season’s tickets to Madison Square Garden.

Be sure to see our news exhibit: Celebrating the World Cup, Friday, 7/9 in the Everett Café