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Footballer

One day it hit me: all my friends knew how to play soccer—except me.

And that got me thinking: where did they learn all those rules and how did they learn to kick the ball like that?

Of course, like every Brazilian they learned the ABCs of soccer while playing with their fathers in their backyards. And since my father—the son of Japanese immigrants—couldn’t care less about soccer, I was left behind.

Now, what should have been nothing more than a minor detail in my cultural formation, ended up resulting in years of personal shame.

Real shame. I became sort of like a circus show for the school crowd. Watching the grandson of a Japanese immigrant—in a town where even today there are few Japanese descendants, Matão, in the interior of São Paulo—kick a soccer ball was as entertaining for them as watching a clown getting a pie in the face. No exaggeration. Worse yet, I didn’t even know how to give the ball a little sideway kick.

During the games, whenever the ball came towards me, I would hear a fellow teammate holler, “For God’s sake, kick that ball!!! You can do it, kick it, kick it!!”

Things were so bad that by the time I scored my first goal I was already 9 years old. If that weren’t all, the goal was annulled because, according to the opponent’s goalkeeper, I kicked the ball with the sole of my foot. And that, of course, should invalidate my goal. To this day I don’t know whether there is such a rule.

I was also left behind when it came to something else: the choice of a team to cheer for. When I was 11 or 12, I couldn’t care less about the Brazilian soccer team, let alone local soccer clubs.

Until the day came when my friends demanded that I choose a team.

Thankfully, they volunteered to help me make up my mind. Then each of them began to enumerate the qualities of his own team and to denounce the flaws of the other teams.

Faced with so much information, I decided that I would make my choice based on the color of the team’s uniform. So, the team with blue uniform shirts would be the one I would root for. That’s how it was decided that I was a Cruzeiro fan!

Luckily, the smartest one among us made a minor correction. He told us that I couldn’t be a Cruzeiro fan, as this team was based in the state of Minas Gerais while I was from the state of São Paulo.

Okay, we’d have to do some more thinking. But only until another friend presented me with a reasonable idea: “Do you like [Brazilian comic book character] Cebolinha, of the [comic book series] Turma da Mônica?” he asked me. I said yes, of course. “And do you like the color of his shirt?” he continued.

And that was how my second nationality was selected: I was now both Brazilian and Palmeirense [Palmeiras soccer team fan].

But then another problem came up. They started to make fun of me because I didn’t even know the name of the goalkeeper of the team of which I was supposedly a fan.

This problem would be resolved only in the 1990s, during the glorious phase of both Palmeiras and the Brazilian national soccer team—and when I was, guess what, 15 years old. That was when, I gotta say, I became an authentic footballer.

At that time, I began playing soccer almost every day, besides watching sports newscasts every afternoon, listening to and watching Palmeiras and the Brazilian national team in all their games, collecting stickers of soccer clubs and national teams, getting into fights because of soccer, and most impressive, visiting the nearby church to beg of God to illuminate the path of the players I was rooting for.

Yes, dear reader, I began to—practically—breathe soccer. And that’s certainly why I remember all these details.

But it’s also certainly for this reason that, on that fateful day—07/08/2014—after the semifinal pitting Brazil against Germany at the World Cup in Brazil, I suffered my one and only episode of amnesia.

They tell me that that evening I spent more than four hours prostrate on the couch, watching the post-game newscasts. They tell me that my eyes were filled with tears and that I wouldn’t talk to anyone. They tell me that at one point I fainted on the couch, waking up only the next day.

Whatever happened to me during that time frame, I swear I can’t remember a thing. Nothing Nothing Nothing Nothing Nothing Nothing Nothing.

 

© 2017 Hudson Okada

Brazil futbol identity sao paulo soccer sports