At the end of the tour at the old Waterford crystal factory(*) in Kilbarry, Co. Waterford, visitors used to spill out into a sort of intermediate showroom where a few hand-picked craftsman demonstrated some of the most delicate, painstaking tasks, but were still prepared to answer questions as they worked. When we were there, my husband noticed a football-shaped item on a shelf, and got into this conversation:
Husband: “What’s that?”
Craftsman: “Oh, that’s an American football trophy.” (calls across the room) “What’s this one, George?”
(Okay, his name might not have been George, but let me have some poetic license.)
Craftsman: “This American football trophy. What’s it for?”
George: “The Super Bowl. It’s for the—whatchamacallit—MPV? Is that it?”
Husband, in an unusually high vocal register: “MVP? The Super Bowl MVP?”
Craftsman: “Ah, sure, I knew it was something like that.”
Husband: (awed silence)
Craftsman: “Do you want to hold it?”
And so my husband ended up holding the Waterford crystal trophy for the Most Valuable Player in the Super Bowl (UK readers: MVP is like your “Man of the Match”). Simultaneously feeling elated to have it in his hands and terrified because he might drop it—crystal is really heavy and that thing was big—resulted in a facial expression not seen before or since. The other chap in the photo is the Irish crystal artist; I hope, with most of Waterford crystal being made in Poland these days, he’s still got a job.
Now, I’m certainly not knocking those Irishmen for not knowing about American football; I’d bet most Americans know even less about European football. I’m sure readers do know that Americans’ soccer is Europeans’ football, but I mention it anyway so that I can go on to say that the word soccer is derived from Assoc, the abbreviation of Association: soccer is football “played by Association rules”, that is, rules set down by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). But soccer isn’t a name Americans dreamed up; the OED’s first example of the use of soccer is British and dates from 1889, though the lines quoted indicate the writer doesn’t approve of “socca’ matches”.
Growing up in the US, I had no idea we even had a national soccer team and had never heard of FIFA or the World Cup—the tournament FIFA holds every four years—but over here you can’t ignore it; World Cup excitement saturates the culture here even more than Super Bowl hype does in the USA. I say that as one who was once accused of stealing from a company because I went to the office to finish off a project on Super Bowl Sunday; I hadn’t even known it was Super Bowl Sunday, but the boss felt that no American would voluntarily work that afternoon so I must have been up to no good.
While I’m not a fan, I appreciate European football to some degree. I especially like the pace; I find baseball too slow, and as for cricket, well, I’d like to learn to understand it, but slow is hardly the word. A single match can take several days, and even the one-day games have tea breaks scheduled in.
I thought I really ought to see the US vs. UK World Cup match, now that I have a foot in each camp, but the vuvuzelas defeated me. A vuvuzela (aka lepatata, if you prefer) is the horn the fans in South Africa use constantly, creating an annoying background buzz like the world’s largest swarm of bees. After a few minutes of the horns I’d had enough. Vuvuzelas 1: blogger 0.
While the UK was still in the tournament, though, every third or fourth car on the road displayed some kind of football regalia, usually a pair of England flags coming out of the front doors, but that’s just the start of it. Mini strips, also called mini kits, are popular, these being doll-sized football uniforms on tiny clothes hangers suspended from suction cups in the back windows. In the US, a tiny sports uniform would be a very odd way to support the team, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a British car with a bumper sticker (other than my own, which still has “Obama ’08″ stickers, front and back).
Strip is so-called because it’s the clothing the players strip down to before they play. Kit, used in the US almost exclusively to mean a collection of tools or objects needed to complete some task, here means any kind of clothing, most usually heard in the joking phrase “get your kit off”, meaning to strip down to, well, nothing.
This driver has decked out her car with the whole shebang: the obligatory pair of flags plus the mini kit, an England-supporter sun-shade for the kid in the child safety seat in the back, and (though this is difficult to see) an England-flag patterned ball on the antennae, with red and white streamers. Now that’s fan loyalty—or it was, until England fell to Germany 4:1. The day after that game, virtually all the flags vanished.
Everyone is still talking about football, but now they’re mostly moaning about how badly the British have done. The punching bag at my gym sprouted taped-on photos so that disappointed fans can take out their frustrations by punching Fabio Capello (the coach), Robert Green (the goalie who let the US’s goal in), Wayne Rooney (the star player) and assorted teammates. There’s been some fierce punching—and did I mention it’s a women-only gym?
That’s it for England’s national football team until the next World Cup, then. With four years to wait between games, there’s at least four times as much anticipation than there is for the Super Bowl, but I don’t think the World Cup involves any Waterford crystal. And to tell the truth, making beautiful things out of crystal is much more my kind of spectator sport anyway.
(*) After going into receivership (US: Chapter 7 bankruptcy), the Waterford factory just re-opened to visitors on June 22 in a new location, with a posh new visitors centre. Only a few kinds of products–including trophies–are still made in Ireland; the bulk of the work is done in Poland to keep costs low.