Hi, there, Dear Reader. It’s Friday, November 20, 2020, and here in New Hometown, Florida it is early afternoon on a (relatively) fall-like day in the sub-tropics. Currently, the temperature is 78˚F (25˚C) under mostly sunny skies. With the wind blowing from the east-northeast at 13 MPH (21 KM/H) and humidity at 66%, the heat index is 78˚F (25˚C). The high for today is expected to reach 79˚F (26˚C); tonight’s forecast for my area calls for clear skies and a low of 65˚F (18˚C).
As Thanksgiving is less than six days away, I find myself thinking about other late-year holiday seasons of my past instead of looking forward to the one that looms, like the iceberg that sank the Titanic, ahead in the black, cold sea of the immediate future. And while it is true that dwelling on the past isn’t always a great idea – especially in times when you miss friends and relatives who have died – I find it comforting when I recall past events that were memorable because they were full of joy, excitement, and bonhomie.
Take, for instance, the last time that I ever played a team sport outside of a video game. That happened a little over 32 years ago, when I was a 25-year-old journalism major at what was then called Miami-Dade Community College.
I must point out that I was never a student-athlete; I liked to watch sports on occasion, but having a physical disability limits my ability to play sports well, and in any case (I must admit) I don’t have the desire or self-discipline to put in the long hours of practice and physical training required to be a true athlete anyway.
Still, I did sometimes play impromptu games of either soccer – in Colombia – or touch football – in Miami – as a boy, and I enjoyed doing so, though I can’t claim I was particularly good at either sport.
Anyway…about that last soccer game…..
The last time I ever played soccer was in early November of 1988, when I was a participant in the College Consortium for International Studies (CCIS) Semester in Spain program in the beautiful city of Sevilla (Seville). A group of around 20 students from the 42-member Fall of ’88 contingent had signed up to play, and others decided to go and watch us to make fools of ourselves at a small soccer field called Campo de Reina Mercedes in a neighborhood a short ride away from the old CCIS Center on Calle Adolfo Rodriguez Jurado.
Here is my contemporary account of that event as I described it in one of the columns I wrote while I was still in Spain:
In Spain, soccer is a wild, no-holds barred contest
January 26, 1989
SEVILLE, Spain (CCIS Program)
When one is in Spain, one must do as the Spaniards do, or so we’ve been told by the College Consortium for International Studies Center staff when we ask about how to enjoy our free time here.
This applies to everything — from eating lunch at 2 p.m. and dinner between 9 and 10 p.m. to drinking tall glasses of “cerveza Cruzcampo” (the Spanish Budweiser) with tapas at one of the billions of bars in the city.
And for those of us with a desire to be athletic (even if it’s once during a 12-week term), it applies to playing sports.
Because soccer is the national sport here, it was only natural that we, too, would want to catch a little “futbol fever.”
Most of the time we watched soccer games on Spanish television, although quite a few of us went to see the Spain-Argentina exhibition game or the Spain-Ireland game, which, of course, was for a spot in the European Cup finals.
Naturally, we wanted to have our own soccer game.
Natural because over here, we see little kids playing on fields (usually hard-packed soil), making moves that would dazzle even Pele. There are also foozball tables or video games with soccer as the “main theme.”
But what really got the ball rolling (so to speak) was the pick-up game of sand-soccer at our first out-of-town trip to Mazagon Beach.
There, Juan Dura, director of the CCIS Program, and I were captains of the two teams during a most heavily contested and exhausting match (Ever try playing soccer on a sandy beach?), which my team won.
It could’ve ended there, but the word rematch spread like wildfire, and for a month all of us were looking forward to the “real” soccer game.
Although I’m not usually athletic, I was one of the most ardent proponents for the second match, having first taken a “general opinion survey” and formally suggesting it to Lisa Dolan, student activities coordinator here.
After all, “my” team had won the “sand soccer” match and I had gotten a taste of the “thrill of victory.”
Signs went up on the bulletin board, and two weeks later we had enough players on the sign-up sheet to be able to make arrangements for the Game of the Semester.
“I was looking forward to that game a lot,” said Bob Holzweiss, a junior from St. Bonaventure College in New York. “But for some people the timing was bad — they wanted to go to Morocco that Friday — so we ‘lost’ a few good players.”
Holzweiss, thinking there would be very few people going to the game, resorted to deception to ensure attendance.
“I was afraid we’d have no game if enough people didn’t show up, so I told some people there would be a barbecue afterwards.”
Well, whether it was the enthusiasm felt by the group or Bob’s barbecue that got at least 20 students to show up at the CCIS Center doesn’t matter.
We piled into a bus and headed off to the grandly-named Reina Mercedes Field (Actually, it was one of those dirt fields, with two battered goalboxes at each end.), and at 1 p.m. we were divided into two teams with me on Bob’s team.
The game? It was a wild, no-holds barred contest. Most of us had only the basic experience at this (our method being “see the ball, chase it, then kick it.”). But what we lacked in skill, we made up for it in determination and enthusiasm.
From a player’s point of view, I can say the score seesawed wildly.
And though Dura’s effective goalkeeping kept our team from scoring as often as we’d have liked, we still won, 4-3.
It was an exhausting game, too. The field was about 50 meters long, there were no out-of-bounds areas, and we’re all sedentary over here. (The few spectators watching the game thought we looked silly.)
But no one cared because we were having too much fun.
And my performance?
I didn’t score any goals, nor was I ever close to the goal with the ball. I was too busy chasing after the ball to remember everything I tried to do.
Yes, there were a few injuries, the most serious being a player socked near the eye with a badly aimed soccer ball. Otherwise, just the usual scrapes and bruises.
After the game, we all forgot our rivalry and posed for group photos. I haven’t seen any of them yet, but I can tell you this much: Behind our sweaty and dirty sweatshirts, there’s a great deal of the camaraderie that added a kick to our experience in Spain.
I did, eventually, see the group picture that I had someone take of our group for publication in the student newspaper for which I wrote this column. Of course, I still recognize many of the faces in the photo, including Dr. Dura, Bob Holzweiss (who helped me take some of the photos that were later published in a “double truck” feature story in the Catalyst in March of 1989), and the only CCISer I am still in touch with, my friend Ingrid Gottlieb. And, naturally, I recognize my 25-year-old self, sporting a beard and smiling happily with the cocky confidence and naivete of youth.
Copyright © 1988, 2020 Alex Diaz-Granados. All Rights Reserved.