“Major Strosser has been shot……Round up the usual suspects.”
“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
These two lines are the last two in a long list of sublimely quotable ones in a film that might just have more classic (and misquoted) lines in film history. What does this have to do with the title of this entry? Well, as I wrote these words, I was on my way to Dusseldorf, Germany (by way of London, Brussels and Cologne…don’t ask) to attend the World Cup. Upon boarding my overstuffed American Airlines flight and checking the schedule of the films on offer, I noticed that they had wisely added a classics channel and guess what was playing… Yup. Casablanca. On my way back, it’s The Maltese Falcon. How cool is that?
The thing is, I’m not on my way to a film festival which is where most of you are used to seeing me or reading me. This is a much more exciting trip than your garden variety film festival or even Cannes, Sundance or Berlin, to be honest. This is the World Cup. The granddaddy of all world sporting events. Simply put, the FIFA World Cup is the biggest, most exciting and most important sporting event in the world. It’s undoubtedly the world’s most important sporting and cultural gathering and it’s about the US got on board.
Above: The author (center) surrounded by friends Matt Bourke and Leo Simmons in Gelsenkirchen before the Czech Republic ripped us a new one.
I can’t remember the last time I was this excited, to be honest. I’m in Germany to spend almost three weeks attending the greatest sporting event in the world, one that only comes every four years and the excitement around which can only be matched by….well nothing, really. By way of disclosure, I am what most Americans might shamefully call a fucking soccer weirdo. It is a real pity that sports fans in the US are so apathetic regarding the “jogo bonito” or “beautiful game,” as soccer is known in Brazil. We’ll ignore, for the moment, that Brazil’s opening match was less “pretty” than advertised. The beautiful game it is, and those who denigrate the sport due to some odd need for high scores or over-pumped pituitary cases beating the shit out of each other simply don’t get it. Why is basketball, to choose the highest scoring example, any better as a sport, as some US TV pundits would have you believe? Or, god forbid, golf? “We have Tiger vs. Phil next weekend,” cried one short-sighted, jingoistic moron on some sports broadcast or other last week. “And of course, the NBA finals!”
Yeah, well Tiger missed the cut at the US Open on Friday and really, will the TV audience of the NBA Finals really compare to the estimated 30,000,000,000 (yes folks, that’s NINE zeros) people expected to watch the combined World Cup games? Do people from dozens of countries around the globe converge on Miami, Dallas, etc. to watch the roundballers? Hell no!
Now don’t get me wrong. I actually like watching golf. I think the final round of a tightly contested major tournament is among the most exciting few hours in sports, especially when the two players are paired together. Watching Tiger Woods charge from 7 strokes down after 18 holes and force a playoff in the 2005 Masters or watching a virtually unheralded New Zealander like Michael Campbell play such a masterful final round as he did in the 2005 US Open are definitely exciting events in sports, up there with many other great moments. I mean, how can I forget sitting in a Rome hotel, flicking back and forth between OJ’s white Bronco “escape” and game 5 of the 1994 NBA Finals (Charles Smith may thy name never pass my lips again)?
Of course to be honest, all of the major sports played in the US are international, except for American football (fans of the Frankfurt Fire can hate me all they want. What’s that? It’s the Rhein Fire and the Frankfurt Galaxy? Oh. Sorry.) Organized baseball is played in more than 100 countries, hockey has broad international support (in countries that actually have ice, of course) and basketball is a very popular Olympic sport with professional leagues all over Europe. However, the championships of none of these sports even approach the majesty and spectacle that is the World Cup Finals.
And let us not forget how much I love baseball. I love it so much I have it tattooed on my left arm (my pitching arm, natch!) But soccer fills a niche in my sporting soul that had, for the first 25 years of my life had gone untapped. It often rivals my affection for baseball and on occasion, tops it. It would be fair to say that of the top ten moments in my life as a sports fan, soccer (or football, as I will call it from here on) probably occupies 3 or 4 of them. Not a bad percentage, for a Yank!
As I mentioned, this is a time-delayed entry, as Internet access was a bit hard to come by during the Dusseldorf-Berlin phase of my trip. That and the fact that I was constantly in motion, what with all the essen, the trinken and the fußball! So here I find myself, in an outdoor café in Mannheim with the name of Starks and the odd Mannheim street address of N4 13-23, trying to catch up.
My World Cup Itinerary
All times local Central European Time. EDT is -6 hours.
Saturday, June 10th
JFK to LHR
Sunday, June 11th
London to Brussels
Brussels to Cologne
Cologne to Dusseldorf
Don’t ask. Yes, I know I am nuts.
Sunday, June 11th – Tuesday, June 13th
Monday, June 12th
Gelsenkirschen – USA v. Czech Republic, 6pm
Tuesday, June 13th
Dusseldorf to Berlin
Tuesday, June 13th – Friday, June 16th
Friday, June 16th
Berlin to Mannheim
Friday, June 16th – Sunday, June 18th
Saturday, June 17th
Kaiserslautern – Italy v. USA, 9pm
Sunday, June 18th
Mannheim to Cologne
Sunday, June 18th – Monday, June 19th
Cologne to Vienna, overnight train
Monday, June 19th – Wednesday, June 21st
Wednesday, June 21st
Vienna to Nuremburg
Wednesday, June 21st – Saturday, June 24th
Thursday, June 22nd
Nuremberg – Ghana v. USA, 4pm
The rest? TBD…., including out loss tot he Czechs, dramatic draw with Italy, fans all over Germany and a singing lion….