200 nations, one GOOOOAAAAAL!

Monday, June 12, 2006
Aaron Springston

Aaron Springston contacted us last winter to tell us about his upcoming trip to Europe and his plans to visit the cities hosting FIFA World Cup soccer matches.

He thought we might be interested in some first-hand dispatches from Europe as he made his way around the continent en route to his final destination, the World Cup Championship in Berlin on July 9.

We wholeheartedly agreed -- what an opportunity for our readers to get an up-close look at the great cities and small burghs of Europe set against a backdrop of worldwide mania over the sport everyone else on the planet calls "football."

Aaron, 19, the son of Marsha Havens of Eureka Springs and Randy Springston of Springdale, was born in Berryville. He's currently a mass communications major at Principia College in Elsah, Ill., and calls Eureka Springs home. While he is loathe to brag on his own soccer career, he was a highly-regarded player for a regional team during his high school years.

Here is the first of his dispatches:

dublin, ireland -- My name is Aaron Springston. I'm a 19-year-old college student from Eureka Springs, and this summer I have the opportunity to tour Europe during the FIFA World Cup. The world is crazy about football (soccer, as we Americans call it). Sometimes perhaps a little too crazy -- there have been many fights and riots at matches around the world. The word hooligan is most commonly connected with this sport for legitimate reasons.

In spite of all this, I have made and saved all the money I could during the past year so that I could take this trip because I want to experience the world. I am willing to weather the risks. The World Cup is the largest and most watched event in the world.

More than 200 countries field their own national football teams, making it the most truly international championship. After two years of intense qualifying, 32 teams -- including the United States -- are competing in the final stage of tournament over the next month in Germany. People around the world will be skipping work to see their teams play in this epic display of athleticism and humanity that only comes once every four years. The final in Berlin on July 9 is expected to make history by having the largest live television audience of any event ever.

I'm traveling with one friend, and our goal is to get in the middle of it all -- to join the rest of the world for this great celebration. I'm writing this from Dublin, Ireland and I'll be spending time in England, Holland, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, and of course, Germany. Demand for tickets far outweighed the supply, but we were fortunate enough to receive tickets to see two games via the official raffle process. We will see Trinidad and Tobago versus Paraguay in Kaiserslautern and the U.S.A. vs. Ghana in Nuremberg.

I'm writing this on our third day in Europe, and our short time here has already been very eventful. We have seen some very famous and historic architecture and run into some of the most unusual people I have ever met.

Londoners can be seen all around the city, anxiously reading the newspapers which have all been faithfully reporting on the English national team as they prepared to leave for Germany. It seems that the whole of London is losing sleep as they await word about the condition of their star forward who may not be able to play after injuring his foot in late April.

A boisterous deaf man with no regard for personal space who tailed us into the underground in London was very excited about the coming tournament. I had a conversation with an art student who was about my age on a bus who was able to name all of the players on the England squad. She said she loved the World Cup because of the way it brings not only her country together behind the team, but because of the way it brings her family together as well. On the bus from the airport to central Dublin, a man and his young daughter were talking about how disappointed they are that Ireland failed to qualify for the World Cup -- but how exciting it is anyway. McDonald's has even picked up on the frustration of the Irish and is looking to capitalize on it with their advertising for the "Bigger Big Mac" by suggesting to customers that it can help solve the "empty feeling" they have been left with from their national team's shortcomings. Everything is very fast-paced and exciting around here right now as the anticipation peaks ahead of the opening match.

Just when we thought we had found time to relax by a nice little bridge over a canal in downtown Dublin, a sturdy bald man approached us. He was very drunk. He called himself Stephen. He told us all about how he had just had a fight with his ex-wife in which large amounts of hashish, cocaine and stew had ended up scattered across the floor. He warned us over and over that we could not trust people in that part of town. Yet he (in that part of town) kept asking us to walk down to his house with him. When Stephen told us how long he'd been in jail, the man on the bench next to us called him a liar. It was only a moment before they were face to face, threatening each other. The fact that they were both too drunk to find the words for more than one or two threats each meant that it wasn't long before the first punch was thrown. After landing a blow to the head, Stephen pinned the other guy to a bench by his neck. The fight was over.

It took a little maneuvering, but we eventually wrapped up our "conversation" with Stephen and headed back to the main streets and, eventually, to bed.

Reflecting back that night on everything that had happened in the action-packed two days before, I was thinking about just how globally celebrated football really is. This was an idea I had thought about plenty of times before, although the last couple days have been my first chance to really experience it.

To think that people all around the world have the same love and passion for football that I have seen in the last couple days inspires me. Now, this summer, at a time when so much of the world is stuck dwelling on its differences, we have the rare opportunity to embrace this unifying festivity. For the first time in four years, the World Cup has descended upon us to bless us once again, and everyone is invited.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: