Sometimes, I sit down and think. And sometimes, I just sit down. The other day I engaged in the former. I sat down and had a good think for myself. I wondered about truth and reality and these deep philosophical reflections led me to, yes, you’ve guessed it, soccer.
About 20 years ago, I was living in France and had the good fortune to work with Schlumberger in Paris. I taught English to senior executives there and most of them shared with me a passion for soccer. I played, not terribly well mind you, but I played and loved it. The company invited me to join their team and not long thereafter we were involved in a soccer tournament wherein we had to play teams from Spain and Italy. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
Not for me. I ended up being asked to leave the field of play, leave the team, and was never invited back to play again at the international tournament. What did I do wrong? Here’s what happened – from my perspective: I grew up playing soccer on the streets of Cork where physicality was part and parcel of the game. We didn’t exactly compromise when we tackled, but, by the same token “unnecessary roughness” or “thuggish behavior” was not tolerated. If you got hurt, as often happened, it was rarely serious, and rarely intentional. When it came to competitive games, as opposed to pick up games on the street, sometimes you might get hurt, but you’d pretend you weren’t because you did not want to be substituted – unless you were writhing in agony of course.
At the soccer tournament against the Italians and the Spanish teams, I became increasingly frustrated with my opponents. I would go into a tackle, challenge hard for the ball, and as often as not, my opponent would throw himself on to the ground pretending to be hurt. He would do this in order to get the referee to award a foul against me. I was appalled at this behavior. It was cheating to me, pure and simple. Not to mention, downright unmanly. The last straw occurred when I challenged for the ball and the opposing Italian player “dived” causing the referee to award a penalty – which in soccer is a bit like giving a basketball player 30 free throws. A penalty in soccer is a game changer. So, I boiled over. I reached down to the player who’d “dived’”onto the ground grabbed him by the scruff of the next – he was much, much bigger than I – and I started pulling him back onto his feet, yelling as I did so. And that was when the referee sent me packing.
But here’s the thing, while I considered the Italian’s behavior utterly despicable, as far as he was concerned he had simply displayed how much smarter he was than I. He had fooled the referee into thinking I had fouled him and he managed to upset me so much I was expelled, thus leaving my team a man down for the rest of the game. He’d outwitted both the referee and me with his cunning. All of which had me wondering: ‘What happened”?
And I realized that “What happened” depends upon who you ask. The Italian player and I have two completely different takes on the same event. Which kinda makes you think about news reports and how “What happened” is often interpreted completely differently, depending on who’s witnessing and reporting.
Brian O’ Nuanain runs “Across The Pond And Beyond”, a company that organizes international vacations. You can reach him at acrossthepondandbeyond.com