Sun, 11 Jun 2000

Out in left field as soccer mania hits home

JAKARTA (JP): It's that time of the year again. In the next few weeks people will be walking around with a dazed-as-a-Disney- dwarf look from lack of sleep.

It's the time when the television repairmen are called out to homes across the world to tweak the antenna to that perfect hundredth of a degree for the picture-perfect image.

The refrigerator has been stocked with drinks and eats as if the world was coming to an end and food was going out of style.

It's time for Euro 2000 and the soccer fans, alias soccer fanatics, have begun preparations for four glorious weeks of soccer mania. Europe is the ideal place to be, and those who are not THERE have declared a state of emergency. Invitations to parties and social gatherings are politely declined, curtains drawn and cellular phones switched off during the live broadcasts of the matches, plus their reruns and the reruns of the reruns.

It's that time when people who do not watch soccer should dig a hole at the end of the yard and hibernate for four weeks straight. The husband and kids convert into inert blobs of protoplasm, with glazed orbs for eyes bewitched by the idiot box.

The inanimate family converts into the humanoid class only when:

* nature calls

* there is a commercial break

* a drink or bite to eat is needed.

They would not bat an eyelid if:

* there was an earthquake measuring 9.5 on the Richter scale.

* their mother had a heart attack

* World War III was declared

* Soeharto returned to power.

It's that time of the year when wives lovingly suggest a walk in the moonlight and husbands announce wistfully, "I wish I could be there, in Europe".

This is the time for all soccer widows/victims to bring all their emotional securities and resources to the front and outlive the epidemic of Euro 2000. Someone once told me that she thought divorce rates spiraled during these events. The wives initiate proceedings and the husbands arrive to contest them later -- after the end of the games.

A non-soccer loving friend holes up with her maids, watching Indonesian soaps on television and trying out new dishes. But what do you do about a household like ours where there is a male cook and the only female household help is the official bookie of the Euro 2000 season?

All bets are made through her, and she can tell you who scored the most goals in the last Euro soccer meet. When the kids fall asleep during a game in the wee hours, they ask her the score in the morning as she sweeps the floor. It's scores-in-bed instead of breakfast-in-bed as they wake up to yet another day and announce, "I wish I was there and not here".

In preparation for Euro 2000, I have harvested my home of all the priceless Ladros and crystal within a hundred kilometer radius of the television screen so that any victorious soccer fan can lose himself in ecstatic rapture without hindrance. The measure serves the same purpose for the anguished soccer lover who decides to take out his frustrations on his immediate surroundings.

Another insulation against the onslaught of the season is the formation of Soccer Victims 2000. We are the women who last year tried the approach of "if you cannot beat them, join them". We decided to try to act "interested" by going to our son's soccer games at school.

Yet when I yelled "offside" at the wrong moment for the third time, I decided to give it up. I just don't get it. I cannot understand when a bunch of guys, who are sponsored by the wealthiest multinational companies, spend their days and nights running like the world has come to an end for one silly ball, when they could easily buy a hundred of their own.

Our game plan for this year was to have a fabulous lunch all by ourselves, where nobody asks for the scores, complains of how unfair the referee was or wishes they could be there instead of here.

To our utmost dismay, we discovered there is not a restaurant in the entire city that will not have at least one television blaring the soccer scores from the night before. Each eatery is vying for more clientele by offering bigger screens and cranking up the volume. Even their menus have adopted a familiar theme -- "Beckham nasi goreng", "Berger's burger with Giggs Spike fries" and "Owen's juicy steak".

It seems there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

Still, soccer is probably not a big sport in the Himalayas.

I wish I could be there instead of here.

-- Pavan Kapoor