The World Cup soccer extravaganza has begun in South Africa.  Though I have never accustomed myself to soccer, I will watch some of the matches just because of rivalry of countries.  Today, I watched a sizable part of the match between Uruguay and France, which ended in a 0-0 tie.   It was in Uruguay where I saw my first soccer match — 43 years ago, in 1967.

When I went to that country between my junior and senior years of college, in 1967, I discovered a nation of fanatics for either the  Peñarol or the Nacional team. The intense rivalry was always the conversation.  People I met were lined up behind one or the other, and they could talk for hours about how their team far surpassed the other. Each side sought to proselytize me as a fan of their team.

At the time, I was one of 10 American students spending the summer in Uruguay through college YMCA.  We were assigned to the sister organization in Uruguay, the Associacion Chritiana de Jovenes, or Christian Association of Youth as the YMCA was known.

Once in Montivideo, the capital city,  we were slowed down when our leader, Frank Smith, informed us that almost all of our passports that he had been holding had been somehow stolen.  Working with the U.S. consulate, the were replaced.  We were subsequently farmed out to varied YMCA units in the country.  Margaret Christiansen and I were sent to San Jose de Mayo, an hour’s bus trip from Montivideo, where I was assigned to live with the Abbate family, who operated a funeral business out of their beautiful home. that featured beautiful marble floors.

One of their daughter’s boyfriends was a futbol, or soccer, fanatic.  One night they took me to a match in a large stadium that rocked throughout the evenings. Fortunately, it was concrete and not the wooden kind that so commonly collapses, killing many.    I mostly remember being very high up in the stadium  peering through cigarette smoke on a field seemingly too faraway to care much about.   The  deadening hollering was far beyond what I was used to in American incollegiate sports, such as football.  We stood virtually all night in the stands. I just remember the prolonged wait for a goal to be scored.

My parents back in Iowa faithfully read and kept every letter I wrote during my roaming years — 1964 to 1972, or college, three South American adventures, including the Peace Corps, the U.S. Army years and graduate school.  I was a prolific writer of letters, details with rich adjectives and full narratives.  I am grateful that my mother carefully filed my letters of those years away.   I have the letters from that 1967 summer in Uruguay  but, in a cursory search today, I did not find the reference to going to that soccer game.

That summer of 1967, we volunteered in San Jose de Mayo  in their recreational and social programs, especially in gym sports and organized activities.  Once, for example, I was made to dress like Frank Sinatra and do my best to sing “Strangers in the Night” at a talent show.

I cheered today for Uruguay and will again if another one of their games is on TV from Capetown.   Uruguay won the World Cup in 1930 and 1950.

My church friend, Jayson Godfrey,  a Marcos de Niza High School English teacher, has returned for a second summer in a row to South Africa, this time to watch the planet’s most popular sporting event.  He is writing his own blog, Jason’s World Cup, and sharing his observations

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