Everything starts a couple of months before the World Cup; with the popular Panini’ sticker album: I collected my first in 1994. I was in fourth grade of school and asked my mom to buy it. My mom hesitated “you sure you don’t want the Hello Kitty one?” – Nope, this wasn’t a girl – boy thing, this was something every kid at school was collecting and I wanted to be part of that. For a month or more, all the breaks at school were dedicated to exchange stickers and to announce everybody, in an arrogant air that you had finally completed Colombia or Brazil´ team.
This year my boyfriend refused to collect the album: “way too expensive” – he claimed. And it really was way too expensive. But my heart couldn’t stand to see his sight get lost every time we passed by a newspaper stand and saw the album and all those people changing stickers. So I thought: "in four years, who knows where I’m going to be?"… if everything goes according to the plan; in four years I could be married with kids and filled with responsibilities; totally unable to make unnecessary spends such as a silly sticker album. This could be our last chance to collect one of those and its only once every four years. The album came as a free gift with the newspaper. I bought several stickers envelopes and the fun began.
Everyone collects the stickers. Usually, and because of the price of the stickers, one family has one album and every member puts its best effort to complete it. The kids change stickers at school, the grown ups at work or at the university and on weekends, the whole family goes to shopping malls or around iconic newspaper stands to change repeated stickers they have with, well, just everybody. People all ages and sizes, strangers that would had never exchange a word if it wasn’t for the World Cup are now talking about how hard is to find the Brazilian shield sticker and such, while they’re checking a list with the missing numbers “I found five” – “Ok, then give me five of yours. Did you finish Germany?” – “Hell no… but Argentina is complete, next to Ghana and the States...Germany and Italy players are so hard to find…” and so on.
For a month, my “romantic dates” consisted on going on Sundays to one of those iconic newsstands to exchange some stickers. Next, we sat at a bakery to have breakfast and add our new stickers to our collection. During week days my boyfriend enjoyed exchanging more stickers at the office. I know, we are nerds, sports nerds, once very four years. We didn’t complete the album, but we certainly had a lot of fun trying to. A friend of mine who’s living in Mexico left a nostalgic message in my Facebook inbox: “No one seems to collect Panini here, at least not like people do in Caracas…”
Madness continues when the World Cup actually starts, a week after everyone has either completed the album or gave up about it. Employers know that during matches, no one is going to work for real. Even those workers that seemed to be very focused on their computers, are following the game thanks to a small window of their desk, or a tiny TV with a lousy signal in one drawer or a radio… which is the most common resource students have (or had, when I was a student) to follow the fame. Doesn’t matter if Algeria or Brazil is playing, the interest on the game is equal. Every single game of the World Cup must be carefully watched, followed and then commented with every single person you know. Doesn’t matter if this person doesn’t know a thing about football, this person will be out of your social circle if he/she doesn’t have an opinion on the match, doesn’t criticize arbitrary errors or praise the brilliant defense.
Some employers – the nice ones – simply stop being foolish, recognize that they can’t fight against culture and that no productive work can be made when Spain is playing a decisive match against Germany. So they go and install TV’s in the office. Some others simply let their employers go. Professors know that it’s hopeless to expect any student to pay attention or even to show up at class.
Soon, this group of irresponsible people, gather on squares (I counted at least three in Caracas) to see the match on big screens that a TV channel in partnership with a local government has installed for the events. Doesn’t matter if it’s raining or if the sun is burning everybody, or if the match is between countries you have never heard of before. If it’s 10 am or 2 Pm. Still, those squares are filled with fans who scream as if they were at the South African stadium.
Of course, some teams find in Venezuela more “borrowed” fans than others. Being this a nation of immigrants, almost everybody can find a distant DNA bond with an European or Latin American country. So the ones who are not watching the game in their offices, their universities, schools, restaurants, or at the squares; are still screaming as if they were at the stadiums in their exclusive immigrants club. The Italians descendants have the Italo – Venezolano. The Spanish – part of them at least – have La Hermandad Gallega. The Germans also have a place, but I just forgot the name (no, is not only Colonia Tovar), there is the Uruguayo club for Uruguay fans, descendants, and immigrants (on that issue, there is a sad note that I will probably comment in other entries); don’t remember if Argentina has also an iconic place but it do has a big community and many fans. Last, for Portugal, is the Centro Portugués. If you can’t proof any bond between you and a foreign country, you choose to go for Brazil because “it is closer to home”. Thus Venezuela is an unexpected place filled with Brazil’ team fans; that don’t have any connection with the neighbor country, except for football.
Inside, all those people giving their screams and hearts to foreign countries, players and dreams, secretly have a very nationalist aspiration: to collect some day, the Panini stickers of the Vinotinto (our football team that has never classified for a World Cup). We don’t expect them to win a single match in the actual World Cup. But we want them in the competition at least, for once. For God sake we are tired of collecting someone’ else’ stickers and we want the pictures of our own players covering a couple of pages of our Panini album.
In the meantime, my family like most Venezuelan families, appeal to a distant bond with a country who is actually competing and goes for it. Our bond, my bond, comes as no surprise. It is a bond close enough to actually claim a connection but distant enough to not be able to apply for an European Passport. I’m the fourth generation of Spanish immigrants (my great grandparents) who came to this country at the beginning of the XX century and stayed here ever since. This means that for the first time, the team we traditionally support: Spain, won a World Cup and we were insanely happy.
For the final match, my dad invited all my extended family and cooked an exquisite (and huge) paella. The rest of my relatives brought either wine or beer or more Spanish dishes. The kids wore the team uniform. Anyone dressed in orange was forbidden to enter my house. And when Iniestas marked that decisive goal on Sunday, everyone in my house screamed and jumped as if the TV screen could actually hear us. My mom even had tears in her eyes. My newborn niece got upset because of the incredible amount of noise we made. My uncle threw a glass of wine accidentally. My dad begged us, now that the tension was over; to taste his paella before it got cold.
While all this was happening, I was just sitting there, trying to see how the goal actually was because my family hysteric celebration didn’t allowed me to. But over all, I was smiling. Soon I knew I wasn’t smiling because this distant country were my roots reside won the World Cup. I don't even know the country, have never been there. At this point, Spain just represent good food we eat at some family lunch, good music we hear in weddings, good excuses to celebrate a World Cup final. I wasn’t smiling because Spain won. I was smiling because this team proved something. Something I need to know it was possible, beyond football and celebrations.
Spain proved that hard work and perseverance are keys to success. Such success is possible, even after losing the first match.
Spain proved that it is possible to win without sacrificing our values. Spain played, most of times, fair, clean, pretty. They didn’t try to cheat anybody. They didn’t change their style. Their strategy was not centered on putting unnecessary obstacles to the opponent. Their strategy was to go out there and play. In the final, it was obvious that Holland applied a very different strategy, a ruder one. They were hopping a dirty game could lead them to the World Cup but at the end it didn’t.
You might say this is just football but not only football has to be a fair play. All the games we play in life – because if you think about it life is just one match after another – should be fair. Those games should have some rules, above some ethics and we should follow them, expecting them to lead us to success.
But from Johannesburg to Caracas there is a huge distance. Most people here tend to think that if they don’t cheat, if they don’t look their way to commit a fraud, if they don’t bring home their piece of the cake, if they don’t sacrifice one value or another in order to sign a business; they will never have success in life. This World Cup is a slap in the face to all of them, football players or not… this is a message for all the corrupt politicians, cold businessman, cheater students; and it’s a message for you too, you and me as regular citizens. It’s a message for all of us, who pass a red light, who pay extra cash to have a privileged spot in a line, all of us who cheat the companies to pay less; and pretend we didn’t notice.
I think every Venezuelan that was watching the match learned something valuable that day. If you read the post, you can do the math and tell that this is a lot of Venezuelans learning something valuable: learning that it is possible to achieve success without corruption. It is a matter of another post but here is sufficient to explain that Venezuelans tend to value people who are more able to cheat the system to success that does who persistently try no to compromise their morals. Many people, fathers of family, generally “good” people, have told me that you can’t achieve anything here if you keep with that “correct attitude”, if you do not fool the rules, or sell your political ideals to the government in turn.
They could have also learned that same as Spanish struggled till the end to achieve that decisive goal, the clean, fair, ethic play is neither easy nor fast move but at the end, it could be far more rewarding.
This golden World Cup is telling us that maybe its not something corny or silly or impossible. Maybe, to have ethics, and moral, to actually do things right is not ridiculous, hypocrite, or a losers’ attitude. Maybe is even convenient. Maybe to do things the right way is the path to success and not the other. Maybe we can be like Spain. Or we can punch everybody in order to put them behind and achieve our own purposes and end only as a semifinalist. Maybe the world can work in a different way, can stop rewarding cheaters and start rewarding other kinds of people.
At least has done so in a World Cup and that’s a start.
And this is really why I’m smiling…
PS: After this long exhausting post – I’m very thankful if you took the time to read it all – My corny side wants to share this video with you. It’s another lesson Spain has left us (the captain at least). At the end, success is not about the goal you stopped and the golden cup you kissed. It’s about sharing the happiness by stealing a kiss from something a hundred times more valuable: your girl. Enjoy!