Pounding the Rock:

Are you ready for some football?

That's right, are you ready for some football or, as we call it in this country, soccer?

The World Cup begins today in Germany, with the U.S. hoping to build on a quarterfinal finish in the 2004 cup.

While the game is making inroads here in the states, the zeal for soccer in other parts of the world is well documented.

The world stops to watch the World Cup.

I won't likely ever be able to attend a World Cup match, but I have had first-hand soccer encounters of the European kind.

During our five years in Hungary there was no National Football League coverage, with the exception of the Super Bowl. But that was on a German language television station. Televised live bright and early at 2 a.m. in the morning.

So I went without football on Sundays, and put that interest into foci, as Hungarians called football of the soccer kind.

I had a chance to play a few times during church picnics, both admiring the foot control required for the "beautiful game" and a bit fearful at first when it was my turn to be the keeper.

While always a Seahawk fan, my allegiance in Hungary switched to the green and white striped Fradi soccer team of Budapest.

They were the New York Yankees of Hungarian professional soccer back in the mid and late 1990's.

They were either loved or hated. Still are, I suspect.

Though the level of play isn't up to the top standards set by better known clubs in western Europe, I found that I enjoyed watching soccer.

I love the fact that a 45-minute half is just that, 45 minutes, plus a minute or two added on for injuries-both feigned and real.

Just as hoopsters learn to fake a charge call on the basketball court, soccer players are some of the best actors when it comes to taking a non-contact fall and turning into a soap opera of tears and grimaces.

While we were in Budapest, a young man in our congregration was a Fradi fan and, knowing of my acquired interest in his team, invited me to attend a Fradi soccer match.

I thought, wow, this will be great, attending a live European professional soccer match.

On the day my friend and I went to the game, there were about 7,000 people packed into the bandbox of a stadium that Fradi called home.

The crowd was loud and boisterous, similar to some college football stadiums, I thought. I joined in as the fans beckoned with a collective shout of "Fra-di!"

But, as I learned, there was a difference.

Imagine a college football crowd with attitude to burn.

Playing a far inferior team, Fradi struggled through the first-half to a 1-1 tie. There was outrage in the stands worthy of a revolution, and Hungary's had a few of those.

Epithets, among other things, flew through the air.

The storm was only stilled by a halftime whistle and the lure of more beer and lard sandwiches to fuel the crowd.

As my friend and I sipped on sodas and looked around at the maddening crowd, I actually stopped hoping Fradi would pull out a win in the second half.

No, I prayed they would win.

After all, if the home crowd was upset about a tie at halftime, then bedlam would surely erupt if the final outcome was a tie or worse.

The second half, it turned out, was a joy to watch.

A newly energized Fradi took control with a pair of goals early in the half and cruised to a 3-2 win.

Now that was fun, being a part of the positive, nearly frenetic, energy when Fradi scored amidst shouts of "gooool."

Fradi left with a win, the crowd left happy and the experience left me even more of a soccer fan-albeit more cautious-than I was before.

Yes, I am ready for some World Cup football.

And, yes, I look forward to watching it safe and secure at home.


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