Peter Goldstein

Peter Goldstein is a professor at Juniata College in Pennsylvania in the USA. He has been World Cup crazy since 1966. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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The World Cup en espaņol

    I was born in 1955, when soccer in the USA was almost invisible. But I was lucky to grow up in Los Angeles, one of the few places in the country where at least they knew the game existed. Southern California has a very large Hispanic population, including first and second-generation immigrants from all the Latin American nations. They play soccer in local leagues, read about their home country's teams in local Spanish-language newspapers, and listen to Spanish radio and TV reports on the games south of the border.

    Of course, I didn't know anything at all about this. I was white, affluent, suburban, Jewish; my sports were baseball, football, and basketball, like all the other kids. I was taking Spanish classes in elementary school, but the ethnic areas of Los Angeles were on the other side of town, miles away by car and light-years by culture. I might have heard of soccer, but if so, it was as a game played somewhere else. It may as well have been the moon.

    In the summer of 1966, when I was almost 11, I attended Colegio Espaņol, a local summer school for kids learning to speak Spanish. There were classes in Latin American history and culture; field trips to see the famous dancers of the Baile Folklorico and the open air market on Olvera Street; Spanish and Mexican arts and crafts. There was recess, too, and since this was an Hispanic cultural experience, we played something they called "futbol."

    The teachers (one tall and fair, one short and dark, both somehow named Seņor Dominguez) taught us the game -- I remember sitting in the classroom following the diagrams on the blackboard, absorbing the rules with all the natural curiosity of a kid. The concepts were new and pretty unusual, but after all soccer is the simplest game, and it wasn't long before we were ready to give it a try. We were divided into teams named after some of the great clubs of the time (I played for Real Madrid!), and set forth on the playground.

    I was hooked immediately. Where had this game been all my life? The dash into the penalty area, the blast from long range, the sliding tackle, the great save -- it didn't matter what position I played, as long as I was in the action. My skills were modest even by 11-year-old standards, but who cared? I was Pele, because that's who they said the greatest player was. I was also Lev Yashin for a while. What a summer! When we got our diplomas at the end of the course, the tall Seņor Dominguez, calling out our names, referred to me as "our football player." Thirty years later, hundreds of thousands of American boys and girls would be enjoying the same delights. I had no idea that I was any sort of pioneer, I just loved the game.

    And so, by an accident of history and geography, my native language of soccer was Spanish. You see, it was a Spanish language school, and everything was conducted in Spanish. I didn't know what a "corner kick" was; I knew about a "tiro de esquina." I knew that if you knocked someone off the ball wrongly, that was a "falta," that if the ball went over the touch line you had a "lateral," and that if you had only one person between you and the goal line when the ball was passed you were "fuera de lugar." Positions were "portero," "mediocampista," "centrodelantero," and so forth. I'm sure a good part of my enthusiasm for the game was the terminology, a doubly new language that was mine to keep.

    Later that summer I watched my first televised soccer game, the World Cup Final of 1966. I remember that England wore red, and West Germany white, that it went into extra time, and that England won on a controversial goal; not much more, really. But by that time I was a hopeless soccer fan. A year or two later, either I or my father somehow found a small red British paperback with a history of soccer, with special emphasis on the World Cup, and it became my bedside reading. I learned about Eusebio and Puskas, the Brazilian disappointment in 1950, and who those guys on the field during the 1966 Final actually were. I learned about qualifying rounds and draws for the final groups. Soccer was without question the most important thing in the world, and soccer to me was the World Cup.

    All this was in English. But in my mind, call it soccer or futbol, the game was still played in Spanish. My father had taught me a baseball game you could play with a deck of cards (an ace was a single, a deuce a double, the 10 of diamonds a home run, etc.). So naturally I invented a corresponding soccer game, and instead of playing off baseball seasons, I played off World Cups. I played gigantic regional qualifying rounds, poring over globes to make sure every nation in the world got into the competition. And as I played, I announced the game in my head, in Spanish. As the ball advanced inexorably toward the goal, it was "buen pase...buen pase." When it was time to fire off a shot, I shouted "tira!" And of course there was "gol!" My very first World Cup champion was Uruguay -- art imitates life! -- who beat a surprising Rhodesia in the Final. (In my 7th cup Rhodesia got their revenge, taking home the trophy themselves.)

    It was now the late 60s-early 70s, and my soccer language could have gone either way. Prototypes of the North American Soccer League had sprung up; I was able to watch club games on television regularly, with English-language commentary. This was pretty good, but what I really wanted was the World Cup. And I got it, on KMEX, channel 34, the local Spanish language television station. Mainstream TV stations wouldn't touch the World Cup: who would watch? But KMEX had the audience. They broadcast games live from Mexico 1970 -- heaven on earth! -- and so my first real taste of international soccer was the magnificent Brazilians, in 100% Spanish. I can still hear the announcer calling in steadily rising inflections "Pele...Pele...Pele..." as he brought the ball up the field, and then "tira!" when he shot. The predominant adjectives were "excelente," "magnifico," "maravilloso," and at the end of the tournament there was the culminating word "campeones."

    And so, from then on, my World Cups were in Spanish. In 1974 and 1978 most of the games were on pay-per-view closed-circuit television, but I was old enough to drive, and saved all my money for the trips downtown. Huge crowds gathered in the old Los Angeles Sports Arena, wearing their countries' colors and waving flags of all sizes. I think the commentaries were in English, but in the din you couldn't hear them anyway. Most of the fans were Latin American, so I got to discuss the finer points of the game in Spanish. I learned a cheer that seemed to be common to all the Latin American nations (I've picked Mexico for the example, but it could have been any one of a dozen others):

"Por arriba! Por abajo! Por a-bi-bo-ba!
Mexico! Mexico! Ra-ra-ra!"

    The nearest English translation is something like "High, low, go team go!" But it sounded much better in Spanish, hundreds of voices somehow spontaneously in unison.

    In the late 70s, while in law school, I met a fellow soccer fan, a second-generation American of Mexican descent. His first language was English, but like me, he experienced soccer in Spanish. His name, very appropriately, was Dominguez -- Ben Dominguez; we became good friends, and soccer was invariably a leading topic of discussion. We would conduct these weird bilingual conversations, all the words in English except the soccer terms, which were in Spanish. Maybe we'd be watching a game on televsion, and when a goal kick was awarded, one of us might say "that should have been a tiro de esquina." Or we might opine that "they've got Lopez as a delantero, but he's really a mediocampista." And so on. It made perfect sense to us.

    As the 1980s progressed, English-language television began to pick up a few of the World Cup games, not many. But it didn't matter, because I preferred the game in Spanish. This needs some explanation. It wasn't because I was more comfortable in Spanish; after all, I had learned all the English terms years ago. And it wasn't only because the Spanish announcers were more knowledgable about the game. It was mostly a cultural thing. In the USA, English-language soccer fans are on the whole a pretty detached lot. We cheer, we enjoy, we go home, and that's it. But Latin American fans are different. They have the game in their souls. Every four years the USA plays Central American teams in the qualifiers, and we see Mexican, Honduran, Costa Rican, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran fans at more-than-fever pitch, experiencing the game with a life-consuming passion completely foreign to the average American. This is true even when the games take place in the USA: Central American fans, many of whom are US citizens, are always louder and more demonstrative, and we have to choose sites and allocate tickets carefully so as to give our boys the sense of really playing at home. Even then, it doesn't always work: at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington (the nation's capital, for goodness sake!), USA fans are invariably dominated by their Central American counterparts.

    I first came to understand this up close on May 31, 1985, USA-Costa Rica, my first World Cup qualifier. It was held in a 15,000 seat stadium on the campus of El Camino College in Torrance, California, and the stands were almost exactly split between Costa Rican and American fans. The tickets had been sold so that the Costa Rican fans were on one side, the Americans on the other. The sound from the Costa Rican side was stunning: a huge wave around the intimate stadium, an indecipherable swirling noise occasionally coalescing into a booming "Por arriba, por abajo, por a-bi-bo-ba! Costa Rica! Costa Rica! Ra-ra-ra!" The USA side tried bravely to match their fervor, and occasionally managed it (Ben and I and a couple of our friends joining in), but over 90 minutes we were badly outclassed. From a neutral's standpoint, the game itself was pretty good, but there were no neutrals in the stadium, and a mere entertainment became an explosive, exhausting, body-and-soul experience. Before the game I wondered why there were so many soccer riots; after, I wondered why there were so few. The final score? Well, the USA needed only a draw to advance to the next round, but they lost 0:1, and you knew the Costa Rican fans had made a difference.

    So it's easy to see why I wanted soccer in Spanish. For an American, English means soccer as a game, Spanish means soccer as life. (British soccer broadcasts, which were rare in the USA until recently, are another story; they're special too, but for different reasons.) By listening to the game in Spanish, I was in a small way participating in the great Latin American celebration, compensating for the lack of passion in my natural soccer experience. No imagination necessary, either: the Spanish announcers themselves bring the passion to you. Without any affectation, just sitting in a studio calling games from a huge monitor, they project a devotion totally unavailable through English broadcasts in America.

    There's a classic episode of the TV show "The Simpsons" which encapsulates this perfectly. The family is attending a big international friendly, Mexico vs. Portugal; the media hype is gigantic, and everyone has packed the stands expecting the vibrant excitement of futbol. The whistle blows, and the teams kick off -- and, of course, nothing happens. The teams just kick the ball around, without much effort to score. The fans start to fall asleep. The camera moves to the English-language announcers, who can barely keep awake themselves. And then it moves to the Spanish announcers -- who are in a frenzy. Nothing's happening on the field, and you'd think it was the greatest game since they founded Peņarol and River Plate.

    It's funny, but it's not satire: it's 100% literally true. Jorge Ramos, one of the great Latin American radio announcers, could give you four heart attacks (per half!) during the dullest 0-0 draw in history. I'd be watching a game on television with the sound turned off and Ramos on the radio, and no matter what was happening on screen, my pulse rate would double. And although radio was naturally more intense, Spanish-language television gave you the same rush. During the 1990s, Spanish broadcaster Andres Cantor of Univision became famous among English-language fans for his insane cries of "goooooooooooooooooollllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll!!!" somehow prolonged beyond the limits of the human larynx. But as early as 1978, there was Tony Tirado of Spanish International Network, who did the same thing, and was even crazier. (Whatever happened to Tony? I did a search for his name on the web, and found an article that mentioned how he used to throw in English words for the English-language viewers who had no other place to go. And then a little biographical note on Luis Omar Tapia of ESPN International, who cites Tony as a great influence on his career. There's also a Tony Tirado in charge of videos for UNICEF -- maybe?)

    I have so many wonderful memories of those broadcasts, TV and radio. Where to start? Maybe during the 1986 World Cup. After a few games, it became obvious that this was Maradona's tournament, and practically every time he touched the ball, Tony Tirado would call out "Diego Ar-MAN-do Maradona," or alternatively "Diego Dieguito Diegote" (literally: Diego, little Diego, big Diego). "Maradona" would have been enough, but not for our Tony. And when Diego Dieguito Diegote scored that immortal goal against England (the legitimate one), Tirado went over the top, capping off his call: "Argentina esta buscando el cimento para hacerle un monumento!" (Argentina is searching for the cement to make a monument to him!)

    I remember too the epic France-Brazil game of that year, particularly the penalties. When Joel Bats saved Zico's penalty in regular time, it was Tirado with "SA-ca Joel Bats!" And in the shootout, repeated cries of "increible, increible," and when Julio Cesar's kick hit the woodwork, Norberto Longo exclaiming "El palo dice que no!" (The post says no!)

    Jorge Ramos was in fine form in 1986 as well. American journalistic ethics dictate that national sports broadcasters remain impartial, but that has absolutely no meaning for Spanish-language broadcasters, who unashamedly root for the Latin American teams. (At the 1990 Costa Rica-Czechoslovakia game, Ramos' opening, roughly translated, was: "It's Costa Rica vs. Czechoslovakia here, and we're rooting for Costa Rica, because, well, you just have to.") In the 1986 Final, Ramos was totally pro-Argentina, exploding in joy at the goals by Brown and Valdano. When West Germany got their first, late in the second half, Ramos called it soberly, went over the play somberly, then suddenly brightened, and in triumph exclaimed: "Pero, damas y caballeros -- no pasa nada!" (In effect: "Ladies and gentlemen, don't worry, it's still in the bag!") When the Germans got the shock equalizer, Ramos never even mentioned that the ball was in the net; he was too busy crying in despair "Neri!" "Neri!" (Neri Pumpido, the Argentine goalkeeper.)

    The classic call of that Final belonged to Tirado, though. Maradona's pass split the defense, and there was Jorge Luis Burruchaga clear, heading for the winning goal. Tirado somehow had time for "Burruchaga Burruchaga, Jorge Luis [and then with extra rolls of the R's] Burrrrrrrruchaga..." and then after the goal: "Gooooooooooooooooooooooolllllllllllllll!!! Burrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrruchaga!" You can't get that kind of stuff on ESPN.

    I've got a zillion more, but perhaps the most memorable call, memorable for what it said about the Latin American approach to the game, came from the 1982 France-West Germany semifinal. The announcer was Geraldo Peņa, a thin, serious-looking man given to poetic, even metaphysical football commentary. By the semifinals all the South American teams had been eliminated (Spain, too), and the one hope of the Latin fans was France, with their glorious midfield led by Michel Platini. They were known as "the Brazil of Europe," and against the unimaginative, rigid West Germans, they were without question good against evil. You know the story of the game: how Schumacher levelled Battiston, to the horror of the watching world, and how France went two goals ahead in extra time, only to lose in the penalty shootout. The game was one of the most intense in World Cup history, and Peņa called it with appropriate fervor, always favoring the French. In extra time France went up 2-1, and he exulted -- and then France got the third goal. Surely this meant victory. Peņa celebrated with a crescendo of words hailing France's creativity, their exuberance, their attacking style of play, their dedication to the game at its best, winding up with an ecstatic cry: "el futbol nunca puede morir!" ("Football can never die!") Well, the Germans came back, and football didn't die, but I think a bit of Peņa died that night, and maybe a bit of some of his listeners did as well.

    Mainstream American soccer will never have anything to match that, but the Spanish-language influence is creeping in slowly. In the 1980s, Ben and I and maybe a few others sought out the Spanish broadcasters, but in recent years they've become more visible and more popular. Andres Cantor became something of a celebrity during USA '94, as people gradually realized that Spanish-language soccer had its special attractions. After France '98 he was so well known that he was hired to do English-language commentary on women's soccer. This was a classic misreading: Cantor was special not because he was a good announcer, but because he was a good Spanish announcer. With the exception of the endless "goooll" cry, his English broadcasts were flat, and no one responded.

    The American vocabulary of soccer is also undergoing Spanish influence. The original language of soccer is English, of course, and most footballing cultures use some of the original English terms. Even the French, notorious for their linguistic purity, call the sport "football." Spanish announcers will sometimes use the word "offside" instead of "fuera de lugar," or "penalty" instead of "penal." And the Spanish word for "pressing" appears to be "pressing." But because in America Spanish is the more powerful football language, a few Spanish terms are starting to move into English, particularly in places like Los Angeles. There's "futbol," for one, which will occasionally show up in conversation, or on an otherwise English-language banner. Then there's "golazo," meaning a spectacular goal, which has become pretty current in mainstream soccer circles. "Mano," meaning handball, also gets a call now and then. And most amusingly: while those Spanish announcers are saying "offside," English-language fans are sometimes saying "fuera," or even "fuera de lugar." The other day Ben told me he overheard some people talking about soccer the way he and I used to: English most of the way, soccer terms in Spanish. Think about it: an English-language game in an English-language country incorporating Spanish-language vocabulary by natural cultural assimilation. That's the power of futbol.

    In 1991 I moved from Los Angeles to central Pennsylvania, where soccer is almost exclusively a kids' sport, and where in a hundred-mile radius you might find two or three families of Latin American descent. The bottom line for me: no futbol, not even on cable. In 1994 and 1998, I watched all the games in English -- well, not really, because most of the time I just turned the sound off. (The less said about American soccer commentators, the better.) It was good enough -- all World Cups are good -- but as a life-transforming experience it left a lot to be desired. I'd speak to Ben over the phone, and he'd tell me about some of the great Spanish calls. Norberto Longo, watching Spain destroy Bulgaria 6:1 but get eliminated anyway, had called the game a "goleada dolorosa" (an equally poetic English translation would be "sorrowful slaughter," but no American announcer would ever say that).

    But the next year the cavalry came. The DISH satellite network started to carry Univision and Galavision, not to mention Fox Sports World Espaņol, and for a mere $100 installation, plus a $40 monthly fee, I was back home. The qualifiers. The Copa America. The Gold Cup. Pablo Ramirez and Ricardo Mayorga are a pretty good broadcast team, and when Ramirez decides a goal is good enough to be a golazo, it's "goooooooooooooooooolAZO! AH-zo AH-zo AH-zo!" On May 31, 2002, I'll watch France-Senegal, my first Spanish-language World Cup game in 12 years. And I'll remember those beautiful words of Geraldo Peņa: el futbol nunca puede morir!



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