Goal! U.S. makes it to second round in World Cup Soccer

Ciaran Coen. Photo by April Firstencel.

When my 17-year-old son asked me if I wanted to go to breakfast with him, I dropped everything and cancelled my workout and lunch plans. Why? Yesterday, he wasn’t even speaking to me. 

Soon however, I figured out just why he wanted to spend time with his mother. The “breakfast” was at the Cedar Lee Pub and Grill, which opened early for World Cup fans. My son, one of 3 senior captains on the Heights High soccer team, puts the "fan" in fanatic. He needed me there to 1) be admitted 2) to drive and 3) to pay.

But I didn’t care. It was quality time with my son. He and one of his Heights High teammates sat across the bar from us soccer moms. I watched a screen above his head and he above mine. Between missed goals, we talked about college admissions, the upcoming season, and grades, grades, grades. Sometimes, I caught myself watching my son watch the match, especially for the first frustrating 90 minutes as it took overage time for USA to score against Algeria. 

In the 91st minute when Landon Donovan finally scored, the place exploded. The atmosphere was electric as some of our favorite British commentators say. I hadn’t witnessed a public eruption such as this since my post-college days when I worked in a pub in the West End of London. We barmaids and barmen would cheer when England or Chelsea scored and then brace ourselves for fear that the skinheads in the corner might decide to ruin the party.

The communal viewing was pure joy with no threat of violence. Everyone was smiling, jumping off their barstools and cheering. I became hoarse from screaming and I found that I had actually shed a tear. Soccer-- as Pele called it, “the beautiful game”--is also an emotional game. If you Google the words, “soccer” and “emotional” you will get 10,600,000 results. No matter how many years I’ve cheered my son from the stands, and no matter how many times he has used the salt and pepper shakers to explain “off sides” to me, I really just think of myself as a supporter, not a real fan. Why was I so emotional?

Watching the passion and joy on my son’s face, I was reminded of his father, another soccer fanatic who at the tender age of 14 would skip school in Ireland to take the ferry over to Liverpool to watch that team play. My son (also a Liverpool supporter) has played soccer since he was five years old, from the Heights Recreation League to East Side Kickers, to club teams, and finally to the Heights varsity team. His father taught him to kick the ball the day he learned to walk. Though we are no longer together, my son and his father stay connected via soccer. It’s mostly what they talk about on the phone.   

Recently, I’d been thinking about whether or not I can afford another summer soccer camp. Of course I’ll send him. It’s incredible to see your own child so passionate--in a good way! Today I shed a tear because I felt real joy in that little pub in Cleveland Heights. Our bartender, Kelli, and the folks at the Cedar Lee Pub and Grill, understand that the word pub comes from “public house,” a place where a family can go for a meal and a match.  

I’ve kept my son in soccer because he loves it and it’s given him a positive activity and surrounded him with positive male role models. I know that it has kept his connection to his father a little more alive all these years. And he invited me to watch the game today (in his own way). 

You can wait a long time for a goal in soccer, as my fellow Americans are wont to protest. And sometimes, frequently even, after all the blood, sweat, and tears, there is no score. 

I know that I have scored. And it took me only 17 years.

Christine McBurney is the theatre arts department chair at Shaker Heights High School, a performer, freelance writer, and proud Heights High soccer mom.

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Volume 3, Issue 7, Posted 12:41 PM, 06.25.2010