Now, Boston is known as a pretty provincial town, and I wouldn’t argue that point. The city has an ardent fan base that defiantly defends its hometown teams. Tonight in fact the defending champions of the NHL, the Boston Bruins, are hosting a first round game 7 against the Washington Capitals, and believe me there are plenty of black and gold bespoked jerseys, banners, and flags jauntily proclaiming the faith up and down the city’s blustery avenues this afternoon. I’ve played hookey from school today, and along with some aging teammates from my Sunday morning soccer league, I’m at the Copley Marriott sports bar, not for the hockey, but to watch Real Madrid contest Bayern Munich in the last leg of their Champion’s League semifinal. One of the great things about soccer is the game’s international appeal. People from all over the world play, watch, and appreciate the game. On my Sunday morning team out of Ipswich, MA, I’ve had the good fortune to play with guys from Russia, Sweden, Wales, Ireland, England, Iceland, Holland, Portugal, Romania, Italy, Greece, Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Ghana, Egypt, South Korea, Guatemala, Barbados, and Jamaica. (Speaking of Jamaica, Bob Marley was an avid soccer player himself. If you’ve any interest at all in his life or his music, I heartily recommend seeing the recent documentary entitled Marley. The film provides great insight into his life’s path and is loaded with entertaining characters.)
On this particular Wednesday afternoon, the Back Bay hotel sports bar was packed with internationals. The Champions League semifinals have been compelling, with defending champion and odds-on favorite, FC Barcelona (and Argentine Lionel Messi) losing just the day before to a defensive and disciplined Chelsea squad from England. (Former US international Eric Wynalda wryly observed that “Chelsea basically parked the bus in front of the goal.”) Two feet behind our table sit four middle-aged men speaking Arabic and vigorously congratulating each other as the Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo’s penalty kick in the 14th minute puts Real ahead 2-0. To our right is a table populated with a dozen or so dark and attractive twenty-something men and women speaking Spanish. They erupt with joy when Dutchman Arjen Robben sneaks in his own penalty at minute 27 to bring Bayern back within one and tie the home and home series aggregate score at three apiece. Although playing in Madrid against one of the world’s best teams, Munich attacks confidently throughout the match and elicits voluble shouts of both hope and despair from our adjacent Spanish speakers. Why, our table wonders, would these Spaniards be cheering for the German club? Are they relatives of Bayern’s sauve striker Mario Gomez, whose father is from Grenada? Another 90 minutes of superlative soccer later, the two teams go to the dreaded penalty kicks. David Alaba from Austria, who’s had a great game, converts Munich’s first. Ronaldo, perhaps the second-best player in the world, misses! (keeper save). Gomez makes for Munich. The famous Kaka of Brazil also misses low left! (keeper save). 2-0 Munich. Madrid is in trouble. Then Real’s goalkeeper, the Spaniard Iker Casillas, bookends his Catalan teammate Xabi Alonso’s (Mark Wahlberg’s skinny doppelganger?) converted kick with two clutch saves of his own. The slick Spanish international, Sergio Ramos, has a chance to knot it at two. He adjusts his headband and skies his kick into the twentieth row. Gasps and moans from viewers of every ethnic persuasion. German international, Bastian Schweinsteiger, now has a chance to send Munich back home for the final. Cooly, with no extraneous movement, the rugged, blond German slams his shot into the back of the net for victory. I approach the celebrating Spaniards at their table. “Why Munich?” I ask a beautiful young woman with rebellious black eyes and straight black hair. “Why Madrid?” she responds reprovingly with the telling lisp of a Barcelona native. “If there will be no Barca, then there will be no Madrid,” she contends. Her handsome friends resound in cheer. I can’t wait for June, Euro 2012, and more international encounters.