The author, middle, after heading the ball up field during his high school days. Photo courtesy of Ed Nystrom

The author, middle, after heading the ball up field during his high school days. Photo courtesy of Ed Nystrom

Enjoying the World Cup and being a life-long soccer fan | Column

I’ve always been fascinated with soccer and writing.

In my early years playing on the soccer field, I even combined two of the key facets of my life. Following my games as a youngster in Redondo Beach, California, I’d sit with my dad and write game reports for our AYSO weekly magazine, The Dribble.

Dad came up with one of the most brilliant descriptions of a goal scorer ever, noting that my pal’s “electric headband” gave him the strength to put us ahead just moments into the second half. I’m still trying to outdo that one.

So, with the World Cup on the docket for the next month or so, I was inspired to relive some of my favorite soccer moments and journeys during my lifetime.

As always, I was stoked to cover our talented local prep soccer teams this season. Whenever I’m out at the fields and watching the action, I’ll put myself in their shoes and imagine what I’d do when one of their passes came my way and how I’d make my maneuver and crack the ball into the back of the net.

I scored a few nice goals during my playing days: a hat trick in my grade-school years; a leaning shot with the goalkeeper closing in, and we then nearly collided and fell to the pitch as I scored; a head shot off a corner kick that lasered into the net as my head smacked with a defender; and then a goal off a nice lead pass that was the game-winner in an all-star game (I don’t remember anything about how the ball got past the keeper, I just knew that everyone was hugging me).

I played soccer during high school as well, but was probably a better writer than forward during those days. The competition got stiffer later on, but I did what I could to help the team find success.

A crucial lesson I learned during my high school years was that if I wasn’t in the starting lineup and even playing that many minutes — or any at all — I had to be a solid supporter for my teammates on the pitch. That’s an important part of the sports scene and spills over into the real world. Always try and lift up others and do your part in any way you’re called upon to do so.

And I always got excited when it was World Cup time. One of my favorite announcers, Welshman Toby Charles, had a way with words and made the game come to life for us. “He takes a second bite of the cherry!” he yelled when one player scored off a rebound of his initial shot.

I used to spend one hour on Saturday afternoons watching Soccer Made in Germany, highlights from top-notch Bundesliga matches on a UHF channel. I even received The Globe Kicker magazine each Friday afternoon in the mail to gear up for the matches.

Charles sported soccer knowledge and humor that no one could match. No one could pronounce Borussia Monchengladbach like Charles … and my wife and I reached the promised land of the Monchengladbach stadium for a match in April 2013. It was bliss — not just the match, but interacting with the locals and finding a stellar soccer bar in town and later The FanHaus pub and gathering spot just outside the stadium.

Twenty years earlier, we were part of a raucous crowd at Wembley Stadium in London during an Arsenal vs. Sheffield Wednesday FA Cup Final replay. Although we had been soccer fans forever, we became Arsenal FC supporters that evening during the Gunners’ 2-1 overtime victory.

We supported the San Jose Clash early on in MLS action and I’ve followed the Seattle Sounders since the NASL Kingdome days.

As for the World Cup, we attended several matches in the Bay Area in 1994 and can’t wait for the Cup to return to the United States (along with Mexico and Canada) in 2026. During those Cup matches 24 years ago at Stanford University, there was nothing like walking through the tunnel and seeing the players warming up on the well-groomed pitch. Once the ball was kicked into play, it was heaven for the next 90 minutes or so.

Enjoy the Cup, readers.

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