Soccer? U-S-A! U-S-A!

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 80’s presented a fair amount of unique “hobbies” and plenty of options and potholes to fall out of line; for every dangerous street corner, there was a school yard with some of the best pick up games in the world. For every wannabe Chris Mullin or Bernard King, there were a slew of burn-outs congregating by the hand ball court. And they weren’t practicing for the Olympics,  not with Pink Floyd blaring in the background and some funny scent filling the sky.

Again, options–your choice.

However, when your old man is a New York City detective, the options were more defined. Drugs were never in play, not in my house. The emphasis was always on the next practice, the next game, and yes, the next test.

Full disclosure? The movie “Beat Street” played a pretty interesting role in my childhood, at least for a few years. If I couldn’t negotiate my curfew, you better believe I found one activity that gave me access to the streets, see below.

Anyway,i f you were looking for trouble, you never had to search too aggressively because chances are, it found you before you were even able to fully calculate any perceived risk.

That was the dangerous thing about Brooklyn for my generation: bowling alleys and empty parks and Camaro’s highlighted by underage drinking; miss a turn, and you’re in pretty deep. No one carried cell phones, but a few shady characters carried brass knuckles, which sadly, became the weapon of my generation. 

The great thing however, about Brooklyn in the 80’s–even with the explosion of crack and palpable racial tension which caused an unfortunate though very real divide–was the insulation provided by sport. 

Creativity was the theme, as we found ways to keep busy, and for the most part, stay on track, and out of trouble. In our world, rolls of black masking tape served as hockey pucks and telephone wires provided the closest thing to a “Green Monster.” It gave is something to aim for.

A thin, black magic marker instantly transformed a .99 cent t-shirt into a jersey, complete with “TIERNEY” proudly written on the back. We all had one. 

We played whiffle ball from dusk to dawn, emulating every batting stance for the Yanks and Mets along the way. We dunked off ladders and pools and garage doors and used chalk to compliment our own field of dreams.

Garbage cans provided the finishing touch to our rink as we sped around on roller skates, trying to avoid shattering another $25 Koho stick. 

During the fall and winter months, we proudly wore our “Gastineau” and “Taylor” and “McNeil” jerseys, hoping to get another snap in before a stream of cars forced us to call another unwanted time-out. After a few more hurried snaps, and a few more brief interruptions, the sun would disappear, enveloping the streets with darkness, and yes–danger.

That’s when the options decreased exponentially in my house. If I wasn’t at practice or playing in the street or at a CYO game, I was in my backyard, working on my cross-over, or emulating Mark Jackson’s “tear drop” floater in the lane. And yes, it was usually followed by a Jackson inspired helicopter-spin around the yard.

We’d pipe the Beastie Boys and Run DMC and the Fat Boys (for a brief, brief stint) into the backyard from my sisters’ window, providing an arena ambience before lowering the rim two feet and transforming into MJ, ‘Nique and Larry Nance.

Yet, for all the windows we broke and tennis balls we lost in gutters, for every car we dented and for every stitch, bruise and broken bone we received along the way, there was one game we never, ever played: 

Soccer.

Not once, not even out of sheer boredom.

The closest we came to soccer was kick ball, but even with that, it was only a matter of time before a nasty game of dodge ball broke out.

The only time we used our foot was on 4th down when two Dodge’s and a mini-van stood in the way of another first down. Time to punt. That’s kind of like soccer, I guess.

Which lead me to the World Cup.

Raise your hand if you’re tired of hearing the same, lame talk radio mantra: “Soccer’s not mainstream enough, it will never catch on here in the States…blah, blah blah…”

Truth is, it probably won’t. But is that really the point anymore?

Funny thing is, I’ve delivered the same lines over the years, minimizing the Metro Stars and any other team with the audacity to play a game other than baseball, hoops, or football.

After a while, as a listener, I’d become offended. I’d be offended by anyone ignorant enough to dispel just how popular soccer has become world-wide, to marginalize the game.

Do I know all the rules? No chance.

Can I recite Team USA’s roster? No chance.

Heck, it’s taken me long enough to identify the World powers when it comes to soccer, and by now you know, I certainly never played soccer.

OK, we get it.

But it’s my job to have a fundamental feel for what’s going on in South Africa, and you have my word: that’s exactly what I’m going to do…in between the Subway Series and the Lebron Watch and NBA Draft and NFL mini-camps and Tiger and Phil at the US Open, I’m finally open to “squeezing” in a little soccer.

Heck, if I’m going to invest some time, we may as well win the damn thing, no?

USA! USA!

Just make it worth my time soccer,  here’s your chance.

Deal?

Your move.

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2 Comments

  1. dimi199

     /  06/15/2010

    BT, this is a great post, the entire read brought back so many memories of junior high school and high school growing up in bay ridge for me. “Garbage cans provided the finishing touch to our rink as we sped around on roller skates, trying to avoid shattering another $25 Koho stick,” and “rolls of black masking tape served as hockey pucks.” You really captured the true essense of what it was like growing up in BK. I’m really glad you started this blog, I always love when you reminisce about being young in Brooklyn the way you did in this posting and also when you bring it up on your radio show. Thanks for the memories!

  2. bdegrande

     /  06/15/2010

    Excellent post, very fair minded.

    I have been a soccer fan for a long time. My father worked in England for a year, and I went to live with him for the summer during college and became a fan.

    However, I do think that most mainstream sports guys like you badly underestimate how popular soccer is in this country – not MLS, which is a pretty poor league, but when we get to see high caliber soccer, we turn out in droves. The 1994 World Cup set attendance records which have yet to be broken. Touring top European teams sell out stadiums here for meaningless games.

    However, that might only indicate that there is a small but very loyal group of fans. Something just happened, though, that should really be an eyeopener. Soccer has always had bad TV ratings, little newspaper and radio coverage, etc.

    The USA-England game had a US viewing audience of 17 million – higher than any of the first four games of the NBA finals, and that’s a final between two legendary teams, the Lakers and Celtics.

    I’d say that’s pretty mainstream. that soccer by now has earned some coverage, and, yes, you actually should bother to learn the US team’s roster. BTW, the US team’s 1-1 draw with England was a mild upset at best, England is not nearly as good as the hype.

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