The last time I deliberately didn’t watch a big soccer match was just over a quarter of a century ago—May 18, 1985. That day, in the living room of our house in England, Dad sat on the edge of his seat as Kevin Moran became the first player in the history of FA Cup finals to be sent off. Manchester United, his (and my) beloved team, were doomed, surely…. Then, in extra time, Norman Whiteside, a Wayne Rooney of his day who had just turned 20, scored a magnificent solo goal in extra time to give United the trophy.
Me? I was in my bedroom, listening to “Hearts and Bones,” by Paul Simon. To my father’s quiet horror, I had discovered music and girls, causing my love of soccer to wane to the point that my sixteen-year-old skin would not tingle at the image of Whiteside’s shot curling past Neville Southall’s despairing dive. Instead, I was tingling at how the middle eight of Simon’s title track, “this is how I love you, baby,” morphed from its tonic into some kind of augmented thing before resolving back to E.
Next Saturday I will for the second time in my life not watch a massive game, but this time it’s not about girls and music… well, it is girls, partly. For the last 15 years I’ve lived in New York, and it’s no secret to my friends and relations that I have fallen very hard for this magnificent country. Yes, waterboarding; yes, yes, Sarah Palin; I know, Glen Beck and all that. But fundamentally? Best country I’ve ever lived in (and I’ve lived in a few). A short list of things I love about the US. One: if you’re lost in New York City, and look like you’re lost, 38 people will rush up and offer you every possible way to get to Carnegie Hall. Two: summer starts on Memorial Day, and ends on Labor Day (compare this to England, where there is no summer). Three: all the nature, rivers and mountains, fifty beautiful states of bliss. Four: the people almost all of them are lovely, and generous, and funny.
Two in particular: one, named on her birth certificate Lily Adele Solskjaer Dempsey, is a smart, wide-hearted wonder. The other, her twin, certified as Amelia Margaret Cantona Dempsey, is a smart, wide-hearted wonder, too. Also, they’re American, born on 68th Street and York Avenue in New York City (or, as I like to think of it: 1968, the year of United’s first European Cup victory, and Yorke, as in center forward the year we next won it, 1999, just a couple of months before my girls were born).
So how am I to watch England vs. USA? Who could I possibly cheer for? I’m English, through and through, and what would my late father think … but I’d no more root against the US than want to live anywhere else. How can I be in the position of wanting both teams to win, and neither to even draw? A draw won’t do it—both need maximum points in the treacherously brief, three-game group stage.
Answer? I can’t watch it, so I won’t. In fact, I don’t even want to know the score. For the purposes of my heart I’m going to assume USA wins 4-0, and for my bones, so does England. To my homeland, and to my adopted homeland, I sing with sorrow and joy: this is how I love you, baby.