Mission Soccer Football Stories

In keeping with our promise of more coverage of the upcoming World Cup, Ronan and I thought it would be fun to invite everyone to share stories from the mish about soccer.

My home town was small enough that our high school didn’t participate in all sports, with soccer football being the most notable omission. However, when I was a junior in high school, plans announced to field a competitive high school team in a few years, and we started a community league and a club team to develop players. Although I wouldn’t be around to play on the official school team, I had always enjoyed playing soccer football and was eager to join the teams. Though I was certainly no Pelé, I had a decent enough kick and reasonable reflexes and found that I was fairly competent relative to my peers.

About a year after playing my last game in my community league, I was shivering from a chilly breeze in Savonlinna, Finland. I was a greenie missionary, and my companion and I had been invited by the young men from the branch (all 3 of them!) to come play soccer football at the local pitch with some guys from their school. I stared around the field, wondering how on earth anyone could call this hard, grassless dirt a “soccer football field” and immediately assumed, in true American fashion, that I was clearly going to be playing with novices who likely didn’t even understand the sport, and certainly wouldn’t be able to compete with me.

About 15 minutes later, I realized what everyone else in the world knew–Yanks suck at soccer football. These goofy, lurpy young Finns, who couldn’t catch a frisbee or throw a spiral to save their life, worked my companion and I into the ground with footspeed, finesse, and technique I had never seen before. The game only last an hour or so, and I don’t recall really ever getting a foot on the ball, much less advancing it past midfield or doing anything else meaningful. As my companion and I were walking home, I continued to be amazed–this was not Germany, Italy, or Holland. Finland has virtually no international soccer football reputation. And yet, a group of young boys played pickup soccer football at a level that my high school teams would never have been able to compete with after two years of practice.

Naturally, in true American fashion, I subsequently refused to play soccer football for the rest of my mission, and instead made the Finns play something I was better at–basketball.

So, there is my (only) mission soccer football story. Let’s hear yours.


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  1. Cynthia L. says:

    Ronan is going to kill you for calling it “soccer.” White gloves will be thrown down with violent disdain.

  2. 1. Christmas Eve 1996, Schmidl’s home: 5-a-side. Totally knackered. Austrians — even though Austria sucks at football — are good at football.

    2. 1996. Companion from California, Ian Bayless. Fantastic at the game. Could have played at a high level in Europe. Not all Yanks suck. (England, beware.)

    3. Euro 96. England marches to the semis, loses to Germany. Only hear about all this — never get the chance to see a game.

  3. Japan – no stories – not sad at all.

  4. Cynthia,
    I have repented of all crimes against football. Thanks for helping me see the error of my ways.

  5. CL,
    I’ll let him off if I get the sense Scott knows why it’s called “soccer.”

    (Incidentally, rugby snobs in England call football soccer because football = rugby.)

  6. We weren’t allowed to play in my French mission. Too many injuries, apparently, so we played Ultimate Frisbee instead.
    Ironically, in the MTC, we weren’t allowed to play Ultimate Frisbee (too many injuries) so we all played soccer instead…

    We did kick the ball around with some Muslim kids (8-9 ish) who lived next door to us, and learned a little Arabic, but nothing else.

    I still in the mission in 98 for the French win of the Cup. There was excitement.

  7. I went to Buenos Aires, Argentina. My whole mission was basically a “soccer story”.

    I really sucked at first. By the end, I just kinda sucked.

    I still play in some rec leagues with my friends who also served in soccer missions. We’re always in the bottom league. We still haven’t won a game in three seasons. Mexicans (usually overweight, 60 years old, etc) on most of the other teams make us look ridiculous.

    I was in Argentina for the 2002 world cup. It was not a happy place to be when they didn’t even make it out of the first round.

  8. >I was in Argentina for the 2002 world cup

    This is why football surpasses all other sports, not necessarily as a sport (cricket is better) but as An Event.

    England vs. Argentina 2002.

    Think: Falkland Islands, Maradona’s Hand of God, 1998’s agonising quarter final.


    Up steps David Beckham, the villain of 1998.



  9. I still in the mission in 98 for the French win of the Cup. There was excitement.

    That must have been insane.

  10. Aaron R. says:

    Playing five-a-side on New Years eve till 9.30pm.

    My companions, Paul Woodhead and Peter Cliff who were both just brilliant players.

    Being schooled by a 16yr old girl in my first three months, when I still was ok.

  11. Aaron R. says:

    I missed every. single. game of 2002. We had a rule which stopped us from watching it.

  12. I’ll let him off if I get the sense Scott knows why it’s called “soccer.”

    Something something Oxford something togger something something…

  13. We played football in Romania, though I can only remember a few games that the missionaries played with actual Romanians. There was this Ghanaian who was studying at a Romanian university and who was investigating the church. He played, and he played very well. Very aggressive too. I’ve been teaching my four year old daughter how to play, and she’s dribbling quite well.

  14. In Venezuela we played a sort of bastardized version called “futbolito.” It was played on a hard court (or street) and used a small, hardish ball.

    Venezuela, despite being in South America, is not a soccer nation. It’s a Caribbean beisbol nation. But we never saw much baseball, either. Mostly kids (and adults) swinging at bottle caps using a broomstick, which is pretty good practice for hitting.

  15. If I recall correctly, futbolito doesn’t use a goalie. It just has small goals.

  16. Also, much cockfighting.

  17. Japan ’96 – not much football (which the natives dutifully refer to as “sakka-“) going on. Word spread like wildfire that the national team beat Brazil, in a friendly or tournament I don’t know, and it may have just been the U23 team. I collected these cool stickers from cereal boxes featuring the logos of various J-League teams, which I still have today.

  18. Stephanie says:

    Isn’t it futbol?

  19. Brazil, 96. One of the sisters had played for BYU’s soccer team. A particularly macho Brazilian Elder (from Rio Grande do Sul, IIRC), taken aback that she had muscled him out of the way, said: “That’s no woman.”

  20. Stephanie says:

    Re 19 – ew

  21. While in the MTC I played American football with my district on the field that is between the MTC and the Provo temple.

    At one point I scored a touchdown and spiked the football – which promptly bounced back into my hand and broke one of my fingers.

  22. Two stories–

    1) First P-day in the field (Mexico). Two zones from the same city go to play indoor soccer at a little arena downtown. After about an hour of doing more exercise than I had done in about six months (the MTC half-court basketball notwithstanding), I am toast and decide to go with another Elder to a store around the corner to grab a drink. I go for the orange juice-Sunny Delight rip-off and proceed to drink about 1/3 of a gallon in about two minutes. Then back on the field. Following about another 30 minutes of up and down the field, I start to have awful stomach cramps. We wrap it up, and as we are leaving the field, I proceed to puke my guts out in front of all the missionaries in two zones. On my very first P-day. I count myself extremely lucky that the event did not seem to make an impression on anyone that day, as nobody ever mentioned it to me, even though I was deeply embarrassed.

    2) Playing with another missionary who played for a JUCO team back in Arizona. I am sitting on the sideline waiting for one game to get over when this elder kicks the ball in my direction to get my attention. Except he kicked it so hard that had it been about six inches lower, it would have, like Dirty Harry’s revolver, “taken my head clean off.”

  23. Eric S. says:

    First, thank you for not calling it soccer. Much like other sport names (handball, basketball, baseball), “football” is self-descriptive of a sport. It’s the most self-descriptive name for any sport. I would love to know the etymology of the word “soccer”. The sport that we Americans call “football” is one that you play with your hands. I have never understood this, other than it may be some form of cultural pride or protest to not name things the same as the “thing’s” country of origin. But I digress . . . and don’t want to jack the post on this topic . . .

    Like Scott, my first brush with a football field in Ecuador was a dirt “cancha” with what looked like poorly-welded posts on both ends. Trash was strewn about the perimeter, just inside the surrounding chain link fence. Each LDS chapel down there has–instead of a basketball court in “cultural hall”–an “indoor” soccer court that is outside and that is about the size of a basketball court. They play a lot of “indoor” there. Same as full-field, except the court is concrete, and the ball is a size 1 or 2 that is not inflated with air pressure; it is stuffed with rags and cloth. In hindsight, it forces you to learn to play in tighter spaces, have better ball control, and make passing decisions quicker, and get used to moving a small but heavier ball. So most gringos were terrible at “indoor” for the first few times they played.

    At the beginning of our mission, we played indoor about once a month on P-day. Whenever I could exert my righteous influence over P-day activities, we would get the zone or district together for indoor. It soon became a weekly event, followed by lunch or whatever. Many of the North American Elders would play football, even if they hadn’t ever played it before. They were open to it. A few wanted to play basketball because we were always necessarily taller than the Ecuadorians and they could play better. But foot-level play is the great equalizer. Whether you are tall (Peter Crouch, England) or short (Lionel Messi, Argentina), the play is at your feet most of the time. It was always interesting to me to observe a greenie North American who clearly dominated on his high school basketball team carry on complaining about football and how he and “no one back home plays soccer.” It was like Chevy Chase in Three Amigos when he asks, “Do they have anything here (Mexico) besides burritos?” Then I would see them a few months later, with a big smile, playing and loving football after learning to love the people and culture. It was awesome. It was part of understanding what it meant to be Ecuadorian.

    Our second mission president from Colombia came half-way through my mission, and he gave us permission to also play Wednesday night pick up at the chapel if we brought an investigator. Game on!!!! A few months after he arrived as president, entire zones would play each other once a month on grass turf in La Carolina (Quito’s version of Central Park). Prez would always play too, and he was really good at 55+ years old. Zone rivalries developed, but it was always mission friendly.

    When I returned home, I started playing pick up around town, and then co-ed at BYU. I immediately noticed that I was playing different than before I had left and in comparison to other players. My understanding of the game was different because I had been playing with Ecuadorians for two years who were vastly more skilled and intelligent with the play. I think I began to see how coaches and leagues in the USA teach kids to approach football in a way that is completely different than most kids elsewhere in the world learn to play The Game. So an unexpected phenomenon that I took away from the mission was a deeper appreciation and fascination with the world’s game. I still play every Friday morning! Go USA!!!!

  24. Fletcher says:

    In Brazil of all places, our mission had a strict “No Futebol” policy. Nevertheless, I still found myself doing penalty kicks against some youth every now and then. I was able to net a few high corners, impressing the youth. Gringos aren’t supposed to do that.

  25. gst,
    Yeah, we had that too in Guatemala, though they called it poppyfoot. They constructed all their basketball courts with a small goal as the “post” holding up the backboard/hoop. It was pretty great because you got two uses out of the court rather than just one. We’d play poppy somewhat regularly, maybe a third as often as basketball. Gringos are jerks.

    The ‘98 World Cup was happening at the end of my mission and EVERYONE watched it. We took that as an excuse to sit down and watch it with them. You know, it’s important for missionaries to make personal connections and what better way than to be educated on their interests?!!

  26. I believe it was my first week in Guatemala and my companion took me to the ward’s Noche Mormona (Mormon night). After a quick lesson and treat (Mormon coffee with Cocoa Crispies) they flipped on a friendly between Guatemala and Brazil. Guatemala was at full strength while Brazil had left most of it’s stars (Ronaldo) at home.

    It was a close match throughout and there was a lot of tension in the room. Finally, in extra time Guatemala scored a goal to…..TIE the game. The room erupted, people were screaming, even close to tears. They TIED the game.

    Pepsi got a hold of the footage rights and made the game-TYING goal into a commercial and ran it endlessly on Guatemala television. It was the biggest goal in Guatemalan soccer history. It was a TIE. In a FRIENDLY!

    After that, and the subsequent ’98 World Cup a few months later, I never looked at soccer the same way.

  27. “The ‘98 World Cup was happening at the end of my mission and EVERYONE watched it.”

    Missionary work was nearly impossible during this time. It didn’t matter if the match was between Scotland and Nigeria, they were glued to the TV screen.

    In the area I was in, it was a small poor town. In the middle of town was a small electronics store that had TV’s on that you could watch thru the windows from the outside. There must have been crowds of 30-40 people outside that store everyday watching the WC.

  28. Michael A says:

    I’ll echo DCL in #17, since we were in the same mission at the same time: not much football action in my part of Japan ’94-’96. We did play lots of basketball, a little volleyball, some kickball, and a little rugby. And I also collected a few J-League stickers.

  29. Gilgamesh says:

    Mestre Italy,

    We go out to the park behind our apartment to shoot some hoops. A few local look at us in awe because we are tall and play (just ok for missionaries) amazing. They ask to play with us and we school them. After we finish our game, they drop dowm a couple of shirts underneath each hoop and begin a two on two game of “calcio” (Kick in English – antoher self descriptive name of the sport) in the basketball court. They invite us to join in. Now it is 4 on 4 in a tiny little court. They are good, way good, but the small size of the court allows for little by way of footwork and we do okay. It was the most fun, high energy and high scoring game of calcio I had ever played.

  30. (25) All Hail Rusty, Lord of the Poppyfeet.

  31. oudenos says:

    2002 Korea/Japan

    I was in Seoul (Seoul Mission) for the duration of the event and I watched soccer. Hours and hours and hours of it.

    Great memory: Companion and I mistakenly getting off of the subway in downtown Seoul the night of one of the matches in which Korea was playing and getting stuck amidst a sea of several hundred thousand red-clad fans who filled the downtown area to watch the match on massive outdoor screens. Couldn’t breathe because of the crush. Ended up nearby a stage from which a Korean rock/metal band was blasting out metaled-up versions of traditional Korean folk songs while Koreans danced, drank, and wept after the victory.

    Another great memory: During each match that Korea played the entire city of Seoul would scream, groan, inhale, exhale, roar, and cheer as the events of the match progressed. It was like watching the matches with 13 million people in your house. And when Korea won the cheering and horn-honking and cymbal clashing would go on until the next morning. And they did same even when they lost.

    Awkward memory: Watching Korea vs US at the local church building with the ward members. But the best of all results happened: Tie.

    Funny memory: A senior companion (former AP!) attempted to jump up and steal a World Cup flag from a light post and gashed open his hand in so doing. Had to go an emergency room. I felt smug.

  32. S.P. Bailey says:

    1. Brazilian kids play soccer everywhere, even barefooted on cobblestone streets with green coconuts for goals and a ball made of rags and tape. We jumped into games like this all the time for a few minutes to break up the tracting monotony.

    2. The basketball courts adjacent to the churches were only used for basketball by the missionaries. They were often hosts of fairly intense futsal games. I got into some of these too. I had a Brazilian comp of German descent who was very good. The locals assumed he was American, and they were shocked when he proceeded to school them.

    3. Missionary work didn’t happen during selecao matches—or even big matches in the Brazilian league. I have great memories of watching matches with investigators, including a family we baptized. I loved watching the loathing, criticism, and emotion-hedging of fans that care way too much that was replaced by spontaneous jubilation (fireworks, firing guns in the air, banging pots and pans, dancing in the streets, etc., etc.). It was infectious like the Dengue fever but way more fun.

  33. “During each match that Korea played the entire city of Seoul would scream, groan, inhale, exhale, roar, and cheer as the events of the match progressed.”

    If only South Koreans cared as much about the contest between their navy and North Korea.

  34. I remember one Sunday that Boca played River. As the game was starting the streets of our area looked like a desolate wasteland. I even think I saw a tumbleweed roll through the street (which is strange since there aren’t any tumbleweed in Buenos Aires). After a door or two of impatient people NOT wanting to know more about Jesus Christ, we went home.

  35. Peter LLC says:

    The summer of ’97, back before the Red Bull rebranding of the pro team, the district took in an afternoon came.

    The mascot, Bully, ran around the stadium throwing balls into the crowd. Whoever caught one could join the festivities at half time which involved penalty kicks against the goalie.

    One of the elders caught one of the balls and at halftime dutifully marched out onto the field in shirt, tie and Salzburg Trikot and did his church and country proud by advancing to the third round.

  36. Peter LLC says:

    If only South Koreans cared as much about the contest between their navy and North Korea.


  37. Never played Soccer as a kid, and didn’t serve a mission myself, but I made sure that all my kids learned to play real football before they left on their missions. My son who served in Argentina brought me back a Boca jersey, which I am proud to wear when I play basketball. One son served in the Dominican Republic, which is not exactly a hotbed of football. I think he still played a few times there. My fourth son, probably the best of all my kids as a player, ended up going to New Jersey Spanish speaking, so he got very little chance to play there. The big sport was dodging bullets.

  38. People that insist on changing “soccer” to “football” belong to the same class of misguided pedants that think that “Kolkata” is preferable to “Calcutta,” etc.

  39. My son who served in Argentina brought me back a Boca jersey, which I am proud to wear when I play basketball.

    And I’m sure Maradonna is proud to have YOU wear it while you play basketball!

  40. B. Russ, my son was in Buenos Aires from 2001 through 2002, the West Mission if I recall. What mission were you in? He spent a year at BYUH before his mission, came home to Seattle to work for a few months prior to leaving for the MTC.

  41. I served in Bulgaria in 2000 and I played all the time with locals. But I also played when I was younger at a competitive level so for me it was the opposite effect, that the Bulgarians were surprised that I was good.

    My favorite missionary football stories are from when I played on the Ricks College club team, when it still existed. We often played varous intramual teams filled with RM’s who serve in Brazil or other countries. These guys think they come home as the next Pele and just end up being hackers. Just because you have a shirt that says Ronaldinho on it doesn’t mean that you can kick people at will.

  42. At least when I wear that jersey, B. Russ, I don’t have to count on divine intervention when I use my hands.

  43. The cheer that echoed through canyons of Soviet-era apartment blocks when Romania beat Wales to qualify for the 1994 World Cup was the most amazing, widespread expression of communal joy that I have ever experienced.

    Stupidly, I thought that I didn’t have the time and money to see Romania play (I returned Jan. 1994) even though I was living on the West Coast during the 1994 World Cup.

  44. Fletcher (24), were you there when we played kickball at Parque Marinha do Brasil? It was the POA and POA Sul Zones along with some local members, and we had a grand time.

    That day we also played ‘taco,’ which in that region was a variety of baseball-lite played with a stick called a taco. The name was endlessly hilarious to us americanos.

    Like Fletcher said, we were not allowed to play futbol. This ruined my plan of becoming an expert player during my mission. It sure was fun to watch, though, whether it was kids in the street or games on TV (I don’t recall ever walking into a house with the TV on and having the residents turn it off without us asking).

  45. 42 Ha!

    I was in the BA West mission too, from oct 2001 to 2003. Whats your (his) last name? I’m sure I knew him.

  46. B. Russ, Jake Folkman. If you knew him, you’d remember. Kind of a spacy, goofy, but very fun and gregarious kid. He’s currently living as an expat in the Philippines with his wife that he met at BYUH when he got back from his mission. They are due back stateside in a couple of months, in time for the birth of their first son.

  47. The name is familiar, I know I met him. Wasn’t in any of my districts though, so I’m going to have to go home and look at our mission photo.

  48. I served in the desert regions of southern California, and I believe there were many who played soccer. (And yes, they called it such – even the Mexicans in the area. They had adapted to American terminology.) Alas, lacking depth perception and the ability to run (seriously – I have a medical condition that consists of crazed fits of coughing and blacking out triggered by running), I never played much. I do believe I have a few pictures of the Sisters in the area schooling the Elders, which was always amusing.

    Incidentally, while football, the two forms of Rugby rules football, and American football are all related sports, I think we all need to acknowledge that Rugby Union is the greatest of the three, with Rugby League a close second.

  49. I served in England (Coventry) from 88-90 and have three strong memories of football.

    I went to see Coventry play as a greenie with an investigator and it was an eye opening experience. While I knew about the cages that separated the opposing fans and the pitch I had never been in it before. Otherwise the sheer excitement of the crowd and the often profane chants made it a great time.

    I was serving in Runcorn in April of 1989, which is about 30 minutes south of Liverpool. The Hillsborough disaster (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillsborough_Disaster) was directly related to the cages mentioned above. That was a hard time as several people from the town died. I believe changes were made after that, for the better. Generally speaking football fans were just getting out of control and the disaster helped to curb that.

    Finally, I was what we called a travelling Elder in 1990 so I spent all my time going across the mission training other Elders (and doing ppi sort of stuff) on exchanges. Every day we would drive to another area and spend time with another companionship. In the long commute time we listen to the World Cup on the radio and seeing how many sunflower seeds we could stuff in our mouths. Good Times.

    My strongest memory was pre-mish living in London in 1986 when that Bas***d Maradona and his “Hand of God” robbed England of the World Cup.

  50. Fletcher says:


    I do not recall any kickball games while I was in Zona POA sul. I might have been in Partenon at the time, or back home already.

    One time, we tried to introduce nation ball/dodge ball as a p-day activity. Having played water polo in high school, while Brazilians don’t really practice throwing any sort of ball, I had an unfair and scary advantage in the game. Even the other Americans didn’t want to play after a while. It was kind of like that scene from Billy Madison.

  51. (50) I thought for sure it was around the time you were in Cristal. Maybe it was just Zona POA sul and the members. I’ll have to check the photos when I get home.

  52. In Arkansas, where I served, football was the rage. I’ll never forget when we played the big game between McDonnell Hollow and Cannon Fodder Creek up on Flat Hat Knoll. They let the missionaries play since Ol’ Man Sonders had run off with the pastor’s wife and half the team was hunting him down. It was a controversial game because the coon we had blown up with a bicycle pump for a ball had only been dead on the road for three days, instead of the traditional six, and some felt like it hadn’t been aged properly. The Holler won, 74 to 67, and really I must say that the rumors that the missionaries were involved in the resumption of hostilities between the Kayhill and Sommerset families is false, as that feud had been simmering for some time and the controversial penalty kick had nothing to do with it.

  53. SteveP, nicely written!

    If we’re going to have blogging and fiction going together, that is the kind of prose I’d like to have in front of me.

  54. I served in England and it was football every p-day. The American Elders would tease their indigenous companions that the English could kick a ball for miles but couldn’t throw.


  55. Dave, you need to find a less spamallicious handle, or we will start moderating your comments.

  56. Eric S. says:

    GST (38) – Fine fine. I’ll take your bait. I’m slow at work right now.

    I think you just wanted to use “pedant” into a sentence. And I would say “Nice job” except I think a person who suggests using “football” instead of “soccer” for a game you play with your foot is an example of a “pedant”, not a “misquided” pedant. There’s a difference. And I’m not sure anyone on this thread has “insist[ed]” on such a change: the posts here are simply etymological observations and are accepting of (not resistant to) the way things have evolved (albeit nonsensically). By the way, Kolcata and Calcutta are the basically same word with the same meaning (the same city) while football and soccer in the US are two completely different words with completely different meanings. Bad analogy, just sayin’.

  57. Mark B. says:

    gst really meant to sneer at people who insist on calling Madras Chennai. Which is fine, unless your idea of high culture is poems that start

    There once was a girl from Madras,
    Who has a magnificent . . .

    Try rhyming anything interesting with Chennai.

    As to “soccer”, the story is that it came from “Association Football”–to distinguish it, I suppose, from Rugby Football–which the Brits then shortened to “Assoc” which then morphed into “soccer.”

    I, like Ray, was in Japan. But I didn’t engage in any pickup Sumo wrestling matches in the park. I didn’t look that good in a mawashi.

  58. I was in Brazil for the 1994 World Cup. Several interesting things happened.

    Walking down the street as a missionary people tend to yell random things at you. At least they do in Brazil. Usually “Mormon!” or “Gringo!” but occasionally much worse.

    In the time before each game though the things that were yelled at me all had to do with whatever opponent Brazil would face next. For weeks people assumed that I was Russian and screamed insults about Russians at me. Then it was an entire parade of countries. Even briefly the USA as the July 4th game approached. The best was when people assumed that I’m Japanese, which is doubly odd given that Brazil has a large Japanese population.

    We were required to watch all the Brazil games. We took a bus to a member’s house for the first game. When we got on it was totally empty. Then with 15 minutes to go till game time the entire city shut down and people came pouring out of work. In two stops the bus was jammed beyond capacity and the driver was having to physically push people out of the bus in order to close the door.

    He then announced that he was skipping the next two stops in order to avoid more fights. I had always been told by my companions that it was impolite to even take a few quick steps to catch a bus, even if missing it meant waiting over an hour for the next one to come by. I thought this was nonsense. As we accelerated up a hill past the first stop, which had enough people at it to fill the bus by themselves, I wondered how they’d react. Well, like sensible people they all began sprinting up the hill, not to catch the bus but to attempt to get home on time.

    Watching all the games was great until I fell ill. Then my Brazilian companion left me in the apartment to go watch the games. I could tell how many goals Brazil had scored by the number of times that fireworks, bombs, and guns had gone off, minus two for halftime and the end of the game.

    Investigators were amazed that I had left the very place that Brazil would be playing to come to Brazil. They became near apoplectic when they heard that a group of my friends got tickets to all the Stanford Stadium games, and would see Brazil three times.

    The missionaries organized their own Brazil v USA game in a local park. We had a number of really good American players in our mission, and the USA was up 5 – 4 when somebody got the bright idea to put me in on defense. I am a horrible futbol player and Elder Alcantara (who I disliked for reasons that had nothing to do with football ability) scored on me twice in quick succession. I was pulled from the game but the damage was done and Brazil won.

    When Brazil won the whole thing the country, including many of the missionaries, went nuts. We had reports of several specific elders who were seen standing on top of moving cars in white shirts, ties, and name tags, celebrating the championship. No action was taken against any of them.

    Later in my mission I was caught in the middle of a soccer riot in which two people died. Not fun at all.

    Four years later I met up with my last mission companion (a Brazilian) and his family in Paris and we cheered for Brazil together. While celebrating a victory on the Champs Elysees I was attacked by a guy that wanted to steal my crazy Brazil hat. My Brazilian friends came to my aid and ended the scuffle. He must have been itching for a fight because a few minutes later we saw the same guy take a swing at one of the riot police, which ended with the guy getting clubbed in the neck, pressed firmly to the pavement, and hauled off in hand cuffs.

  59. I won’t call it football if I’m not in England.

  60. Hi Eric, good to hear from you.

    I wasn’t so much trying to analogize between soccer/football and Calcutta/Kolkata–I was just grouping the issues together as things that the same set of people care about. Those same people also care about NPR, the metric system, rail travel. In other words, Stuff White People Like.

    In fact, I went to http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/ to find the URL just now, and look at the top item!

  61. Eric S.,
    You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – The most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never pick a fight with gst, or you’ll get your ass butt handed to you!” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha…

  62. Scott, as you know, Eric is an old friend of mine. I don’t mean that in the sense that we’ve known each other for a long time, but rather that he’s a really old man. So he sometimes makes stupid decisions, like getting into arguments with me, and buying commemorative plates and air purifiers he sees advertised in the Saturday Evening Post.

  63. Well, with any luck, he’ll be able to pick up a Barbara Streisand commemorative dinner plate soon enough.

  64. Eric S. says:

    GST, hilarious link. So true, I love it. All of a sudden everyone in America likes soccer every four years. Have you seen The Onion’s version of the same?: http://www.theonion.com/articles/nations-soccer-fan-becoming-insufferable,17553/

    Stuff White People Like, The Onion, South Park, and (your and my favorite) The Simpsons exist and are popular because they exploit and parody Americans’ cultural peculiarities and insecurities. That makes Soccer a perfect subject.

    Social Experiment: Americans out there–Without using Google, can you name the most viewed sporting event? (If you know, go on just admit it, you can do it, it’s OK, really). How about the second or the third most viewed sporting events? Hint: it’s not the Super Bowl *gasp from the back of the crowd: “Impossible!!! The whole world watches the Super Bowl!”*.

  65. I grew up playing soccer and played in high school. On my mission in New England in 1990-91, no one thought I’d have much skill given everyone else were big into basketball and U.S. football. An elder from South America talked everyone into playing one p-day with a bunch of international locals and I out passed, out shot, and out ran them all. Elder Vargas was impressed which is the only praise I wanted but all the jocks from the U.S. had a new respect. I wish I had tried playing in college but was too busy trying to get good grades and make ends meet to play.

  66. In Germany my first indication that I was truly in a different land was when someone tossed a ball to a kid who wasn’t paying attention and he deflected it with his foot and leg rather than raise his hands to protect his face. Later that week I watched our ward’s bishop kick the ball with such speed that it nearly knocked out his very “football” obsessed 13 year-old son when he was the goalie. I spent most of the game praying that the ball would never come my way and trying to keep from standing between the ball and the goal.

    I had a 30-minute long conversation with someone who was watching a baseball game on television, which was a very uncommon thing, about his confusion having witnessed a ground rule double.

    The most peculiar “football” experience I had was attending a match between the hometown VfB Stuttgart playing against FC Kaiserslautern. We took the very crowded S-Bahn and walked to the stadium from the station. One of the fans ran over to the side of the road and—facing away from the road—began urinating. I heard a chorus of people exclaim “That’s a good idea!” and before you knew it the sides of the road were lined with men urinating so they wouldn’t have to leave during the game.

    I really miss Germany sometimes.

  67. Wow, in my mission, New York New York North, ’03-’05, baseball was king. The only soccer story I have was we sometimes played as missionaries. On elder had played professionally in Brazil and Mexico, and he enjoyed beating everybody. Now, if you want to talk baseball, then I have lots of stories, especially about Yankees-Red Sox games.

  68. Norbert says:

    1. There was something like Wednesday Night Football in Holland, and we tried to tract through it once. Once.

    2. Playing pick-up games with any kids around — usually immigrants — and counting it as street contacting hours.

    3. I always tried to go and see a local team play, which was considerably more intense than any American sports event I had ever attended. A little frightening.

    4. Watching most of the games in 1990 projected on the side of a truck in Leuven. Fantastic, and again, street contacting hours.

  69. I was in France, as a missionary, for the ’98 World Cup. The country was turned upside down for the Cup, especially with France winning the entire thing.

    The city centers were equipped with massively big TVs where everyone would congregate and watch the games, including us missionaries (for the most part). We were still guilt ridden about indulging in the games, so we – unfortunately – tried not to watch all the games, though doing anything outside of the games was more or less worthless. At the start of the cup I was still with my trainer and we, probably against no small portion of rules, found ourselves in Montpelier and spent nearly our entire months funds to buy tickets to go to the game from some scalper. We sat in some pretty bad seats behind some drunk Germans (it was a Germany v. Mexico match), but had a blast as we watched the game in our white shirts and ties.

    Then, sometime before the final, I was transferred over to a small city just outside of Cannes and my new companion was not at all kosher about listening to or watching the games. Indeed, I had to convince him to let me go to McDonald’s to watch the final (France v. Brasil), which was literally across the street from our apartment. We were in France and France was in the final, and somehow he thought it unholy to watch the game. So I made him take me to the McDonald’s where I watched, while his back was turned to the TV and he laid his head on the table to avoid the temptation to watch, the first 45 or so minutes before curfew hit and we returned home. Somehow he thought we should be out working amidst a country and people where EVERYONE, including their unborn children, were glued to the TV watching the match of the century for that country. And, even worse, somehow I felt guilty for indulging in the spectacle.

    Anyway, we returned to our apartment early – as if being in the apartment early was somehow better than being at McD’s watching the game – where I sat on our balcony overlooking the main drag as France won the Cup. The town, naturally, went berserk – dancing, singing, fireworks, etc., on through the night as they celebrated somehow beating the better Brazilian squad.

    If I had to do it over again, I would have found a better location to watch it (centre ville would have been cool), and would have stayed through the end. I would have told my comp to suck it up and enjoy the experience. :)

    Fun times.

  70. P.S. … another time, later in my mish (summer of ’99 I believe), we somehow managed to skip out one evening and went to a local match – the French A league – where Marseille was playing (l’OM). We scalped some tickets from some kid who we thought was trying to rip us off – he made us wander around the entire stadium after dark as he tried to find his dad (we thought he was going to take us to some group of guys where we’d get pummeled and our wallets stolen, or some other concoction of the mind).

    We ended up watching the entire match (OM was awful that year). Somehow taking in that match made me appreciate the town more, or so I tell myself.

  71. I served in England from 97-99 (I’m English). We played football most p-days. I had a companion who played for a local side as we were teaching the team coach. He stopped when his name appeared in a local newspaper match report.

    I watched England-Argentina with some members and nearly put my fist through their hanging lights when Michael Owen scored his wonder goal. I was back in the apartment for extra time and penalties and sat huddled around a radio with 5 other missionaries (all American). When David Batty missed they all quietly filed out of the room without saying a word leaving me sat their staring at the radio in disbelief for the next 30 mins. Bloody penalities.

  72. Brazil, 96: The city had two major league teams. When they played each other dozens of buses got torched, among other displays of emotion.

    I had to travel to a doctor, alone. President told me to dress so as to appear “not rich.” My Brazilian companion lent me a shirt from a major league team—but not one of the two home teams. In fact, the shirt’s team got demoted from the majors the following season.

    The home teams played the day of my appointment. Cars with people hanging out the windows swerved to scream at me in my out-of-place jersey. People on the bus laughed and jeered. The doctor laughed in my face. My companion, of course, laughed when I returned. I assume he also laughed while I was gone.

  73. Slate just published an article about the origins and great divide of football/soccer, rugby, American football, and Australian football. Must be the season.

  74. Belo Horizonte, Brasil, 1950: my companion, a native, was a an avid football player. He talked me into attending a Cup match between the U.S. and England at Estádio Independência. I wasn’t much interested, but I went along. I figured it was better than street contacting, and it was close to our apartment. I knew the Americans were a ragtag team consisting of amateurs and semi-pros, and they had no chance against mighty England, but that was about it.

    Truth be told, England was a bit unlucky in the match, hitting the post several times, and the Americans had a huge stroke of good luck in the first half when a diving Gaetjens deflected the ball with a header past England’s goalkeeper. The stunned crowd began to get behind the American team, which managed to hold on to their lead.

    When the match ended, the fans, including my companion and I, ran onto the field. In the ensuing melee, I got knocked over and stepped on by a few crazies (I suffered a cracked rib and bloodied knuckles), but I threw some decent punches myself. I also had a great story to share with my kid brother back home.

  75. Fletcher says:

    One more story from me: in 1999, Brazil’s independence day (07 Sept) was the day that Brazil hosted Argentina in an exhibition game at Estádio Beira Rio. The city was absolutely nuts, and our president was quite adamant about us not even being close to the stadium that day. Still, to get to my zone meeting, we had to take the bus that went by that location. Since it was a holiday and a futebol game day, the buses were passe livre and loaded to the gills with rabid fans. If I were not the fine upstanding missionary that I was, I would have found a way to sell my future children and go to that game.

  76. Btw, in the England London Mission the current mission president has told missionaries they can watch one game. Most seem to be opting for the England-USA game.

  77. Aaron R. says:

    Interesting our Missionaries told us (or interpreted) this rule as they can watch any games England play inbecause they are not allowed to tract while England was playing.

    btw, congrats on winning the dialogue issue gomez.

  78. JD Dancer says:

    In Madagascar there would be kids playing football with “ghetto balls” all over the place all the time. Normally these were made with rags/plastic grocery sacks held together by string. I loved stopping every chance I got to play with the locals on the uneven hard packed clay terrains, where a couple of mud bricks were used as goalposts.

    My companions and I were always horrible, but we never failed to draw a crowd. Eventually it became a useful way to break down some of the barriers between us large white foreigners and the native villagers who would always keep a fair distance, wondering with suspicious eyes what we were all about.

  79. Steve G. says:

    The only football game I saw in Germany was American Football. The President gave us permission to go see the game. (I’m sure one of the companionships who went must have had an investigator with them or something.) Any High School Team could have whooped these guys. Cheerleaders pretty much did a dance number for every down, and we got beer spilled on us by germans wrestling in the crowds. I’m not really sure why President allowed us to go, but it was a nice break from the Mission.

  80. laurenlou says:

    I served in Germany during the last world cup, and patriotism during those few weeks rivaled American fervor over the Fourth of July. This might seem natural, except for the fact that Germans are not usually at all what you’d call patriotic (for example, an elderly gentleman in the ward berated the EQP for wearing a German flag lapel pin). The Sunday after the world cup ended, a woman in the ward gave a talk in sacrament meeting in which she praised the world cup for bringing the nation together and waved a large German flag from the pulpit. That was an awesome ward.

    Also, is it a German, European, or worldwide thing that when your team wins, you cram as many people in your car as you can and drive up and down the main street with the rest of the town, honking your horns for two hours?

  81. a random John says:

    I think that Justin easily wins for best story.