I only discovered that Croatia has a soccer team when my son drew them as his “team” in our school’s soccer draw. “Bad mazal,” I thought, “They’ll never make it past the first round”.
Shows how much I know about soccer.
On Wednesday, ahead of England’s World Cup semi-final match against Croatia, real soccer experts confidently touted how England would “bring it home”. On Thursday, it seemed that they actually meant that BA would bring the English team home.
Who knows? I’m no expert on soccer.
BBC featured a fan who was so confident of England’s success that he tattooed a picture of the World Cup and “England 2018” on his stomach (I’d post the link, but his beer belly is not for sensitive viewers). Another tattooed “Harry Kane, World Cup winner 2018” on his leg. Now, those tattoos are now coming home — to roost. Poor fellows, they’ll have to wear shirts to the beach and long pants in summer. (Does England even have a summer?).
Even laser treatment won’t remove the scars on their egos.
Fans pelted the Brazilian team with eggs on their return home last week. After the wailing and gnashing of teeth on Wednesday night, I wonder what the English team expected on their return. (For a start, fans might want a refund on the $10 000 of beer they wasted after that first goal).
I really don’t know much about international soccer. I’ve learned that the French last faced off with Croatia in a World Cup semi-final twenty years ago, that today’s French team is half African and that there is no Croatian player called Lubavitch.
This World Cup has also taught me some useful life lessons.
Number one: Life is not predictable, ergo experts are often wrong. “Experts” were convinced that the Jewish nation would not survive without a homeland or a central place of worship. 2000 years on, we still mourn the loss of Jerusalem and our Temple, as marked by the nine days of somber mourning that start today. Ironically, that itself is testimony to the miracle of our survival. Jews are still around, still practice the same traditions and still pray for the restoration of the same Temple our eternal capital.
Two: There is a unique nachas when the underdog wins. I’m not sure if we derive more joy when swagger fades into despair or when the outlier triumphs. It’s a rush either way. Our People have been pitted against the toughest throughout history, from Romans to Nazis. Each time we have rebounded, outlasted and emerged victorious.
And the most important lesson from this World Cup: Competitions are not won by fans. No matter how much dedication they show to their team- screaming from the bleachers, traveling across the globe to show their support or tattooing victory onto their bodies- fans don’t win matches. Players do.
Judaism is about players, not fans. We all trumpet support for our traditions; but we’re often out of play. If we want the trophy, we need to take the shot. We’re playing the real World Cup. Our win that will benefit the whole world- not only us as victors. We are all on the team; not one of us is on the bench. The next shot you take could be the one that brings it Home.