MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

“So, Garrett,” I say to the bartender on Monday, “did you watch the World Cup today?”

“Some of it,” Garrett said. “I had it on. Did we end up winning?”

“No,” I say. “We tied.”

“You mean a draw.”

“Okay, a draw,” I say.

After Garrett proceeded to unleash an expletive or three, he said, “The U.S. was winning 1-0 when I had it on.”

“Then I guess you shouldn’t have turned it off,” I say, “because Wales scored on a late penalty and then they … drew? Is that the right word?”

“I had a bet on it,” Garrett says.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“Well, why didn’t they go for two?”

“I don’t know … I don’t think they can do that. I don’t know. Can they?”

Yes, the World Cup is here once more, and while Soccer Underground is delighted by that, as they should be, I watch it when I can. But, truthfully, I have no idea what I’m looking at.

I am a dinosaur.

My mother, you see, didn’t drive a BMW station wagon in the day and car pool all of the kids in the neighborhood to soccer games. She drove a used red Simca and took all of the kids in the neighborhood to little league baseball games. How we ever got five kids in that car is beyond me. How that car ever made it up those hills to Constitution Park and Al Abrams with six people in it is beyond me as well.

But it was either pile into the red Simca or walk, which we did plenty of in those days as it was.

In those days, the first any of us ever saw of a soccer ball (and it was brown leather) was in 7th grade when Mr. Lauder rolled it out in gym class. Mr. Lauder, who remains a soccer and basketball legend in Georges Creek, never showed the frustration he must have felt, but he certainly earned his paycheck on those days, trying to teach a couple of hundred South End kids the game of soccer in the early 1970s.

We didn’t have soccer teams in the Cumberland high schools then. The WMIL was a strong soccer conference in those days, of course, with Beall, Bruce, Valley, Mount Savage, Flintstone and Oldtown always fielding good teams, but Cumberland didn’t have a high school soccer team until Bishop Walsh started its program, followed by Allegany and then Fort Hill.

So it can be accurately said that man did walk on the moon before Cumberland had high school soccer. In fact, it was close to a decade after man walked on the moon before Cumberland had soccer. But by then, my contemporaries and I were long gone.

I tell friends who are younger than I am of the complete lack of soccer in my upbringing and they look at me as though I am Oliver Twist.

One lady I know, who is not a particularly big sports fan, but who “watches World Cup” (no “the” she tells me) because she grew up playing soccer, actually told me she was sorry I had been deprived, calling my soccerless childhood and teen years “a crime.”

I don’t believe any of us felt deprived, because we didn’t know any differently. Yet every four years when World Cup (see what I did there?) comes along we are the ones who are left out.

So while some of my contemporaries and I are targeted with bewildered expressions from members of Soccer Underground when they discover we are discussing poor officiating in football, basketball, hockey or baseball, rather than in what they say is the premier sporting event in the world (hence, the name World Cup, I suppose), we get stone-silent stares when we try to venture into their world.

Several years ago in World Cup when the United States apparently was victimized with a bad call against England, I believe, I made the mistake of suggesting to somebody who clearly knew better that didn’t we also receive an enormous break when their goal keeper let our goal slip through his fingers and across the line?

“No,” I was told when I suggested that the breaks had appeared (to me) to have evened out for the United States, “it’s not the same thing at all. That keeper just took his eyes off of it. That’s part of the game. Could happen to anybody.”

Oh.

“It’s just entirely different,” I was told (no, scolded). “That official just screwed us.”

Look, I countered, nobody likes a crying giant. We’re the United States. We’re not real popular right now as it is, unless somebody wants something or needs their fanny saved. Okay, we were hosed, but we’re still in a position to advance if we actually win a game this week. I don’t see too many W’s in that W column, do you? Matter of fact, I don’t see any.

“You don’t see any L’s in the L column either,” my friend snapped. “What are you, some sort of communist?”

If I were, I’d probably know what the hell I was talking about.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT