I love the big sporting events. I always have. The Olympics. The Masters at Augusta. Wimbledon. And, of course, the World Cup.
What is it about the World Cup that is so gripping? What makes us stop walking by a café – with shouts and cries pouring out of it – to watch football on the sidewalk with fifty strangers suddenly turned into friends, forgetting where we were headed? All the world’s nations in one place. The inherent nationalism or the gracious international harmony. The announcers’ emotions materialized in British accents. The face painting and the singing. Maybe it’s simply the beautiful game itself being played at the highest level. Whatever the reason, it certainly is special.
As a staunch hockey fan, I am reminded every four years that football is the world’s game.
This time around, as the proverbial wheels seem to be falling off their wagons everywhere you turn, and there is no shortage of events to test our faith in humanity, there was a display of all the human traits I admire and hold dear in a way I have not seen in a long time.
Grit. Will. Class. These will always raise the hairs on my arm…
The South Koreans fighting to beat Germany even though they were mathematically out of the tournament themselves, essentially stopping Germany from advancing past the group stage for the first time in eighty years. The Belgians playing David to the Brazilian Goliath (although the Belgians fielded a stellar team this year), and the Brazilians unable to temper their frustrations while the Belgians stayed cool. The Japanese fans cleaning up the stadium! (Really?!) And the wonderful Croatians fighting against all odds to make it to within 90 minutes of that elusive first star – a feat accomplished by only 8 countries since the creation of this tournament.
But above all, common to all these stories was the attitude of those involved. We all know the theories about attitude and we have heard all the clichés: focus on what you can control; people will remember not what you said, but how you made them feel; what the mind can believe, the mind can achieve;
I heard a singer on the radio late last night, he said he’s gonna kick the darkness ‘till it bleeds daylight.
I’m generally a positive person, but I don’t tend to think of things in glass-half-full or glass-half-empty terms. In fact, as an engineer, normally all I see is inefficient design (you only need half the amount of glass for the same amount of water). But thinking about these players and fans, against impossible odds and in the face of inevitable defeat, what is sticking with me today is this one line my father handed me on a photocopied sheet of paper almost 30 years ago: “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.” He didn’t write it himself, but he himself exemplified the message and he knew it would hit home.
The South Korean players were greeted as heroes at the airport. The Japanese players stayed on the field and bowed to their fans after losing. And the Croatians – whose president perhaps set the bar herself by wearing a team jersey into the VIP area of the stadium – have been dancing and singing through the night all over the country since Sunday.
These were uplifting and inspiring stories in a World Cup tournament filled with upsets and underdogs, a new era in football goaltending, and a reel of highlights for the ages.
They were more than mere subtext. For me, collectively they were the story of this year’s tournament. They reminded me how often my old man is right. And they reminded me, if you’ll allow me one final cliché, that attitude is everything.