Mark Kozek has been contributing to SB Nation's Soccer pages throughout the World Cup. On the verge of this years final in South Africa, Mark shares his life with the quadrennial championship's ultimate match.
Tomorrow’s the big day. Four years of blood, sweat and tears, of angst and agony, of ups and downs have led up to the most watched event in the World… Where are YOU going to watch the Final?
Since it only happens once every four years, the World Cup Final is like a Super Bowl party times four. But really, it is so much more than that. Everyone in the World is watching it, which means wherever you are you can find a place close by to watch it and probably new (or old) friends with whom to watch it.
Also, given the four-year intervals between World Cups, many fans, myself included, use the World Cup to mark important events in our lives. Why that is is hard to explain. Reading Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch might offer an insight into this phenomenon (though instead he uses his favorite team as the marker). I assure you that once you experience your first Final, you will get it. And the more Finals you live, the more each will stand out as a relevant moment your life – as a "life-mark", if you will.
In my lifetime, there have been nine World Cups, not including South Africa. I was too young to remember the first two, but to this day, I can remember vividly where I watched the other seven Finals, the stories and people associated with each, and hence, where I was at that particular time in my life.
Spain 1982. This was my "first" World Cup. I was nine years old and had just completed fourth grade. My family had lived in South America for about five years by then, however, my parents booked a flight to Miami between the Third Place game and the Final. I was quite worried that the Final wound not be broadcast in the States and that I would miss it, ruining the entire World Cup for me, and thus ruining my life. (Yes, nine-year-old soccer fans can be a little melodramatic.) Fortunately, since Miami had Spanish language channels, I was able to watch my "first" Final at my Uncle’s house on Spanish language television.
Mexico 1986. I had just completed the eighth grade in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where we moved two years earlier. I missed my graduation because I came down with chicken pox. I don’t recall the World Cup being broadcast in English, but one of the Mexican pay-cable channels had it. Surprisingly, my father was willing to subscribe to this channel for the duration of the World Cup. My father even threw a Final party at our house and invited several of his co-workers, including a Panamanian and an Argentinean. Who knew my father was a closeted soccer fan? I wanted to invite my best friend Diego (an Argentinean) to this party, but he had tickets to the Final and flew to Mexico City with his parents. When he came back, not only did he frame the ticket stubs, but he also had them signed by Pelé. Needless to say, I was jealous.
Italy 1990. I had just graduated from high school, still in Puerto Rico. I had a couple friends over for the Final, not many, maybe five or ten. I don’t think any were soccer players or even soccer fans, but they came anyway. The Final was broadcast by one of the Turner networks, so at least I was able to get it in English. Naturally, I recorded the final on a VHS tape. The story is that I loaned the tape to one of my friends, Cirilo, who took a good three years to copy it and finally return it. I mean, seriously, you don’t hoard some else’s Final tape for three years! But it was returned safely… eventually.
USA 1994. I had just graduated from college. I had a summer job in Boston, but one of my roommates threw a graduation, weekend-long party at his parents’ house in Pittsburgh that also happened to fall on Final’s weekend. I flew in Friday night; my mother somehow was able to get me a ridiculously cheap plane ticket. I thought the deal was because Pittsburgh was a hub for USAir. No, I found out on Sunday that it was because my return flight to Boston was at practically the EXACT same time as the Final. (I had explicitly told my mother that I would play extra so long as I didn’t fly during the Final… as if parents ever listen!) So, I watched the first fifteen minutes or so at the airport in Pittsburgh, and the last few minutes of overtime and the PKs at Boston Logan Airport… NOT my favorite Final viewing experience. And believe me, every four years I remind my mother about this.
France 1998. I was living in Miami and had just finished my first year teaching high school and coaching soccer. My friend Jorge (from high school, who as at the 1990 Final party) invited me to his mother’s house in Coral Gables for Brazil’s World Cup victory celebration. Yes, you read correctly… their victory celebration. His parents were divorced and he was raised by his father in Puerto Rico, whereas his mother moved to Florida. The victory celebration started at noon, yet the Final started at around 2 pm. And well, you all might remember what happened. Still, the party continued past midnight.
Korea/Japan 2002. I had just completed my masters degree in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Jorge who by then was married and lived in suburban Washington DC converted is basement into World Cup Central. He rented a big-screen TV, and we both decorated the room with all of our soccer jerseys. I spent the first week or so of the World Cup at his house – including the amazing USA-Portugal game – before reporting for my summer job in Raleigh, North Carolina. Then, I drove back up to DC for the Final. Jorge and I stayed up to 2:00 am (or whatever time it was in the morning) and watched Brazil actually win this time; finally, a Brazil World Cup victory celebration that lived up to its name, even though it was just the two of us.
Germany 2006. I was in my fourth year of my PhD in Columbia, South Carolina. I was co-captain of an adult soccer team, and that spring we went undefeated in our division. Also, through one of my teammates, a Greek who also happened to be the president of the local amateur soccer association, I was able to get tickets to the USA games at the World Cup. My first World Cup as a spectator! I spent the first two rounds in Germany staying with German graduate school professors, the quarterfinals in France with master’s program roommate, a French exchange student, and returned to South Carolina for the semis and the Final. Our team captain, Charley, threw a World Cup party at his house, and the team watched it together on this new contraption he had called a "high definition television".
There you have it. Seven Finals, watched in six different cities and two airports, each with their own story, characters and subplots. Trust me, I just glanced over each.
Where will I be Sunday? Mostly likely at a local sandwich shop in Uptown Whittier, California, where I’ve lived for the past two years, and where I’ve assembled a new soccer-watching group that includes the shop’s owner, Peter, an American, ardent fan of Spain (I think there is a distant blood connection, but I’m not entirely sure about it).
This is the beauty of soccer and this is why the Final is an event like no other. Wherever you are in the World, you can find a place to watch the game and new (or old) friends with whom to watch it. The question is… Where are YOU watching the Final?
Please share your own Final stories below.
Mark Kozek just returned from South Africa where he attended six second and third round matches. His traveling party included old friends from South America, and he tried but was unable to meet up with an old friend from Miami. He already hears the distant echo of Brazil calling to him. (And if you want to read a soccer book set in Brazil, he recommends Mal Peet’s The Keeper.)