As a rule, I don’t do football; never liked sitting around watching other people do stuff; would rather be doing stuff myself. That rule, naturally, extends to soccer which – to an American – is like “football lite.” Just to illustrate the point, let me tell a little story.
Last year we had to run up to Paris for a business meeting. When we were on the way to the hotel where the meeting was to take place, we had to pass the Ritz at the Place de Vendome. At that precise moment, there was a gaggle of paparazzi out front waiting for something. Since we were early (planning for getting lost), we decided to stop and see what was going on. Everytime someone appeared at the door of the Ritz, the paparazzi started to buzz, but after the person would appear, not being the “right one” they were waiting for, the buzz died down. This happened several times and we watched from a position that was approximately 100 feet from the door.
Finally a young couple came out and all the flashbulbs started going off signalling to us that these were the folks that the paparazzi were waiting for. They ran up like a gaggle of geese going for a plump bug and surrounded this couple. I noticed the woman signing a couple of quick autographs before the Ritz doormen more or less pushed the little crowd back and helped the couple into the waiting car. They then sped away and all the paparazzi jumped oto little motoscooters and raced off down the street following the car.
We had no idea who we had just seen. But, there were a few people standing around in the square so I went up and asked them “who was that?” They told me “David Beckham.” I said “Who’s David Beckham?” They looked at me like I was from Mars and said, “You know, the soccer STAR!” I said “Well, that explains it. I don’t do soccer…”
And so it was – until last Sunday.
Now, let me explain that my husband used to play soccer and is something of a fan, but for the most part, since I don’t “do” ball games, he has mostly given it up. However, with the World Cup going on, there was no way he was going to miss it. So he – and the SOTT Team (all soccer fans) – faithfully gathered around the telly for every match. Alternating with our conversations about the world news we cover every day, there was the compelling subject of the World Cup. I would have had to have been a stone to not be affected.
And so, on Sunday night, when everyone went in to watch the game, they urged me to finally give in and give it a go; after all, it was a historic match: France vs. Italy!
As soon as it was established that France would play Italy, my husband predicted Italy would win. Why? I asked him. “Because they deserve a win after voting out Berlusconi” was his absolutely logical answer.
Of course, I wanted France to win. Sure, I was glad that Italy had the good sense to get rid of that pirate Berlusconi, but I am loyal to the country where I have made my home. I love France without reservation and find myself highly irritated when anyone criticizes the country they all want to visit. I mean, get this: the Brits constantly criticize France, but where do they all want to go on their holidays? Where do they all want to retire? France, of course! They have fouled their own country and have the nerve to criticize a people who have created a culture and lifestyle that THEY all want! I mean, what is UP with that? The French are what makes France what it is. Get it?!
Anyway, back to last Sunday and the World Cup. This was the very first soccer game I had ever watched in my entire life. I was proud of that record, but I willingly broke it to see France whip Italy’s buns.
And that is what would have happened… of that, I am convinced.
Now, I think all readers will agree that I am not a soccer expert based on what I have written above. But I did raise 5 children and I know a little bit about human behavior and how to teach people to get along and play fair. As far as I could see, the game was basically fair though the Italian team did seem to be quite a bit more – well – aggressive. At one point, I even commented that they looked and acted like a swarm of bloodthirsty mosquitos. Everyone in the room laughed and said, “yeah! you’re right!” I also noticed that there was a lot more hair on the Italian team. Having visited Italy last fall, I noticed that then as well. Italian men seem to be kind of stuck in a 70s hairstyle time-warp. But maybe that’s just “Retro” nowadays. I did wonder if they had all the hair so as to have a way to transport grease so they could wipe their hair and smear it on the ball, but I remembered that’s baseball. In soccer, you aren’t supposed to use your hands. If you want to get a really good idea of what I am talking about, and about Materazzi in particular, just watch these four video clips: One Two Three Four
Notice in video number Two, how Materazzi “pretends” to miss kicking the ball on more than one occasion. Anybody with eyes can see that he INTENDED to kick the other player. He didn’t “miss.” In another clip, he tries to act like he’s just clumsy and deliberately drags his foot over the other player’s privates. Over and over again you see Materazzi deliberately using his body as a weapon against other players, obviously intending to inflict as much damage as possible in order to remove them from the game. He plays soccer like a psychopath. The guy is a menace to the sport. Video number Three shows just what a dirty player Materazzi really is. He should be banned from soccer for life.
Well, anyway, there they were, acting like pesky mosquitos, climbing all over the French team, giving me the fidgets with their concept of personal physical space. The French team was holding up against this type of smarmy activity, keeping their mind on the game and doing as well as one can do in the face of what was clearly Attila the Hun style soccer playing. (They even had a guy with a pony tail who LOOKED like Attila!) And then, it happened: the incident that the whole world is buzzing about: Zizou butted one of the Italian players in the chest with his head, knocked the guy down, and that was all she wrote. Game over. Zidane was red carded, and the Italian team was assured their victory.
So, there I was, watching this live on TV and the instant they played the replay of the incident, showing Materazzi grabbing onto Zidane like a bloodsucking parasite, pinching his nipples (you’ll have to replay it slowly to see this) Zidane brushing him off and trying to keep his focus on the business at hand, walking away, and Materazzi’s mouth moving, I could see that whatever he said made Zidane snap.
It was a shame. Zidane should have known that the Italians would pull a trick like that just to try to get him out of the game. As all the soccer playing people in the room informed me, it’s standard operating procedure to try to get your opponent to lose it by taunting them. Apparently, it happens all the time.
But in this case, I think the situation was just a little bit different.
With many conflicting versions of events circling on the internet and in the world’s media, The Times enlisted the help of an expert lip reader, Jessica Rees, to determine the precise nature of the dialogue that caused Zidane to react in such a manner. After an exhaustive study of the match video, and with the help of an Italian translator, Rees claimed that Materazzi called Zidane “the son of a terrorist whore” before adding “so just f*** off” for good measure, supporting the natural assumption that the Frenchman must have been grievously insulted. As the son of two Algerian immigrants, the 34-year-old is proud of his North African roots, dedicating France’s 1998 World Cup win to “all Algerians who are proud of their flag and all those who have made sacrifices for their family but who have never abandoned their own culture”, so such a slur would certainly explain, if not justify, his violent response. When asked about the allegations on his return to Rome, Materazzi issued a vehement denial, while sources close to the player emphasised that he had not been accused of racism before, pointing to his close friendship with Obafemi Martins, the Nigeria and Inter Milan striker. “It is absolutely not true,” Materazzi said. “I did not call him a terrorist. I’m ignorant. I don’t even know what the word means. The whole world saw what happened on live TV.” […]
With the racial allegations particularly sensitive, the other speculative suggestions as to Materazzi’s offending words were no less offensive, also focusing on Zidane’s father, Smaïl. Zidane is close to both of his elderly parents, who live in a house he bought for them outside his native Marseilles, and is thought to have phoned his mother every day during the tournament. Another explanation being widely circulated yesterday was that Materazzi had insulted the memory of one of Zidane’s closest confidants and former coaches, Jean Varraud. The former AS Cannes coach died of cancer shortly before the tournament. With Materazzi denying all such charges, sources close to the Italy defender even claimed that he had been insulted. Several Italian newspapers claimed yesterday that Zidane had insulted the Inter Milan player’s mother, with Materazzi retorting that the Frenchman “made love to his sister”. [The Times]
Yes, the whole world saw what happened on TV. I saw it too. First of all, just by watching the incident as it happened, it was clear to me that Materazzi was deliberately trying to get under Zidane’s skin and Zidane was making a mighty effort to not let it affect him. The very fact that Materazzi was grabbing onto him in the way he did showed such a stunning lack of consideration that I was appalled. After all, not too much earlier, Zidane had taken a bad fall and injured his shoulder. The medics had tended to him, but it was clear that he was in pain. So Materazzi pulling on his arm the way he did must have been physically painful, to which he added his insults.
Certainly, what Zidane did was against the rules and being taken off the field was the correct response. But, as a mother, I would have sent Materazzi to the corner for provocation and probably would have washed his mouth out with soap.
But there is more to this than just a little foul mouthed agitation. Notice that the Times said:
After an exhaustive study of the match video, and with the help of an Italian translator, Rees claimed that Materazzi called Zidane “the son of a terrorist whore”
The Times wasn’t the only news organization that hired a lip reading expert.
Zidane’s moment of madness may have been provoked by Materazzi calling his sister a prostitute, according to report on brazilian televeision chanel Globo.
Fantastico, a programme on globo, employed a lip-reading experts who said footage showed the Italian twice insulted Zidane’ sister. The programme claimed materazzi made the same comment twice using a “coarse word” at the french player.
So we think that “whore” was probably used, and we notice that the Brazilian expert doesn’t tell us what the “coarse word” was; must have been “terrorist.”
Now, just think about this for a minute. In this day and time, when George Bush and the Neocons have made the word “Muslim” synonymous with “terrorist,” when members of the Muslim faith have been subjected to treatment that is rapidly rivaling what Hitler did to Jews, to call someone of the Muslim faith a terrorist amounts to about the most racist and xenophobic a remark anyone could make. Can you imagine the uproar that would be raging around the globe if Zidane had been Jewish and Materazzi had made an anti-Semitic remark?
The fact is, Zizou, an impecable French national hero who is beyond reproach, was called a “dirty muslim terrorist” by Materazzi, and this is the direct result of 9/11 and the lies and propaganda spread by the Bush government, including its continuing “crusade” in Iraq.
No Jewish player is ever called a kike or a dirty Jew. If anyone did that, they’d be banned from soccer for life. The demonization of Muslims today is actually way beyond what the Jews were subjected to in the 30’s. Then, it was isolated to Germany, but today, the entire Western world seems to think it is okay to call Muslims terrorists!
Notice Materazzi’s disingenuous defense: “I did not call him a terrorist. I’m ignorant. I don’t even know what the word means. The whole world saw what happened on live TV.”
Yeah, Materazzi, the whole world saw it and experts in lip reading say you called Zidane a terrorist. And if you don’t know what the word means, then you better go back to primary school and learn to read and write. And while you are at it, take some classes in “how to act like a human being.”
Speaking of acting like a human being, another commentator has written about the Zidane situation as follows:
The story of the 2006 World Cup has been the resurrection of France. After a lackluster performance in its first two games, the French team shocked the football watching world–otherwise known as “the world”–by upsetting Spain and then dethroning Brazil, the second time in three World Cups the French have knocked off the global kings of “the beautiful game.” While hundreds of thousands of people celebrated on the Champs-Elysées following France’s stunning turn-around, not everyone was feeling the joy. Proud racist and leader of the ultra-right wing National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, could not resist defiling the moment. Le Pen decried France’s multi-ethnic team as unrepresentative of French society, saying that France “cannot recognize itself in the national side,” and “maybe the coach exaggerated the proportion of players of color and should have been a bit more careful.” Le Pen and others of his ilk do not recognize themselves in a team whose leader is of Algerian descent–Zinedine Zidane–and whose most feared striker is black–Thierry Henry. Le Pen used to torture Algerians for the French military in the 1950s and it turns his stomach that his team reflects France’s (and Europe’s) colonial past, with players from Cameroon, Guadalupe, Senegal, Congo, Algeria, and Benin among other countries.
Le Pen’s efforts to use the pitch as a battleground for his Neanderthal views about immigration and Islam have not gone unanswered. After his latest comments, France midfielder Lilian Thuram said, “Clearly, he is unaware that there are Frenchmen who are black, Frenchmen who are white, Frenchmen who are brown. I think that reflects particularly badly on a man who has aspirations to be president of France but yet clearly doesn’t know anything about French history or society…. That’s pretty serious. He’s the type of person who’d turn on the television and see the American basketball team and wonder: ‘Hold on, there are black people playing for America? What’s going on?'” […] Le Pen does not have the market cornered on racism in the sport. So-called fans, throwing banana peels and peanuts at star players of African descent, have plagued European soccer this past season. For much of the World Cup, such assaults did not occur. But before the June 27th game against Spain, the French coach, Raymond Domenech, said Spanish fans were “making monkey chants” as the French team left their bus. The incident evoked memories of an outrageous racist diatribe against Thierry Henry delivered by Spanish coach Luis Aragones to “inspire” his team before a match against France a couple years ago. When Franch defeated Spain last week, it was more just desserts for Aragones and another bitter pill for Le Pen. […] Anti-Arab and Moslem sentiment is by no means monopolized by Le Pen and his cronies on the far right.
No doubt about that.
So, Materazzi got rid of his rival and Italy won almost by default.
I’d be ashamed to have to win a game that way.
But then, what do I know about soccer?
Originally Published 2006_07_11