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City Lights: There's more to the soccer ball than meets the eye

June 13, 2012|By Michael Miller
  • Mike Uribe, left, Steve Vanover, Herbert Assigal and his wife, Janice, right, cheer at the Old World Village restaurant Huntington Beach as Poland scores a goal against Russia in a Eurocup match on Tuesday.
Mike Uribe, left, Steve Vanover, Herbert Assigal and… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

When I was a graduate student in England, I once attended a soccer game — or football, as they call it most everywhere but here.

I didn't get much out of it. It seemed awfully simple: two teams kicking the ball back and forth for two hours, and once in a long while, there was a shot into the net.

At least, that's the way it seemed to a neophyte.

I remember the time I introduced baseball to a Vietnamese roommate and found myself struggling to explain it in sound bites. Part of our conversation, I believe, went something like this:

"Why does he walk to first base?"

"Because the pitcher threw four balls."

"Doesn't he always throw a ball?"

"Yes, but if the ball lands outside the strike zone, it's called a ball."

If baseball is an intricate mosaic — and my roommate and I didn't even cover the infield fly rule or the unassisted triple play — soccer always struck me as the sports equivalent of a Mark Rothko painting: broad strokes of color and easily identified boundaries.

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But if you've ever listened to an art critic, you know Rothko is more complex than that. And so is soccer, which I watched Tuesday afternoon at Old World Village with some of Orange County's most rabid fans.

The game in question wasn't a local one, but rather the quarterfinals of the UEFA championship, in which Germany is facing off against 15 other countries. Old World, famous for its dachshund races and Oktoberfests, is Huntington Beach's haven for German culture — and part of that culture is soccer, which brings in up to 1,000 people when the German national team is in the running for a title.

Tuesday's quarterfinal match pitted Poland against Russia, so the crowd before the TV on the Old World Patio numbered just about a dozen. But for some members of the shopping center's soccer club, a match is a match, which means an afternoon with friends and beers and plenty of childhood memories.

If Wikipedia can be trusted, soccer is the world's most popular sport, played by more than 250 million people in more than 200 countries. Old World's team, known as the Fussballverein, has a German name, but its lineup hails from places as far removed as Mexico, Italy and the Netherlands.

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