Matt Kauffman in Jordan

Football! In Jordan!

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Yesterday was a big day for sports in Jordan, namely because the final group stage for World Cup 2014 qualifying started. Jordan hasn’t made it this far in years, so the fact that they are even remotely close to the world’s biggest sporting event is an achievement in itself for a country of some 6-7 million people.

‘Urdunn was matched up against Iraq in the first round of group play. Anthony and I would have been totally oblivious to it, but thankfully our teenage host brother, Amir, lives and breathes football (a man after my own heart). He told us about the game on Saturday and was nice enough to buy us our tickets yesterday morning.

Hellloooo Mid East soccer culture!

Yalla ‘Urdunn

Needless to say, I was excited to experience the world’s sport in Jordan, a place where — after religion and tribe — allegiances are drawn on whether you support Lionel Messi and the Blaugrana or those star-studded Galácticos, Real Madrid.

Now, for those of you who don’t know me (and I’m sure you are few and far between. I’ve no delusions about the meager reach of this blog), I’m a bit of a soccer hooligan… the good kind though. Not the football riot wackjob, just the dude that drinks too much beer, yells obnoxiously and hugs random people when my team scores (Go Timbers).

What can I say? I just love every facet of it. The non-stop play, the fluidity, the improvisation, the collective intake of breath when a shot soars toward goal and the shared, cathartic explosion of noise when it rips into the back of the net. Okay, the flopping is lame yada yadayada, but so is stepping out of the fookin’ batter’s box after every pitch in baseball. Spare me your pseudo-macho Americanisms if you have them.

I grew up playing it, I made friends from it, it’s kept me in great shape and I’d like to think it’s made me a bit smarter too.

And futball has a culture that may be bigger than the game itself. Soccer stars — Pele, Maradona, Cantona and, my current favorite, Mario Balotelli — becomes heros, villians, legends and unwitting comedians.

Free kick Jordan

I also love how soccer, more than any other sport, is so intrinsically tied to the identity of a place, be it country, town or region. When a team plays, it’s not just representing its fans, or its owners or its sponsors. It is the city, the town (in London, it’s the neighborhood). It’s often imbued with the hopes and dreams of the people there.

So it was no surprise, that the game was sooo Jordan. Pushcart vendors served turkish coffee, a variety of nuts and local sweets. Jordanian men hung out pre-kickoff in front of their cars, decked out in a red and white keffiyeh or national flag. Getting into the game was the human equivalent of Ammani street traffic: queues, much like car lanes, were completely ignored as huge crowds of men (football games here are not for women that’s for sure) pushed and shoved moving toward a single-person turnstile. Seating was wherever you found a spot to suit your fancy.  Cigarette smoke was as suffocating as it is everywhere else in the city. The chants were organic, not coming from a single person, but rising and falling by the count of some hidden metronome.

Goal! Jordan

In the end Jordan didn’t win, but they didn’t lose either; Iraq struck first, but “The Brave” (as the national team is nicknamed) pounced on a bungled save by the Iraqi goalie and punched in the equalizer.

A fitting result. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve learned (and probably mentioned too many times) of the strange duality that seems to pervade the culture here. I guess football is no different.


Written by kauffmant

04/06/2012 at 5:41 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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