If God Existed, He’d Be A Solid Midfielder

Aleksandar Hemon in Granta:

1328190265764German was not German – he was from Ecuador, but his father was born in Germany, hence the nickname. He was a UPS truck driver in his mid-forties, suntanned, wearing a moustache. Every Saturday and Sunday, he’d arrive by the lake around 2.00 p.m. in a decrepit, twenty-five-year-old van, on which a soccer ball and the words were painted. He’d unload goalposts and nets, bagfuls of single-colour T-shirts and balls, plus the flags of different countries – Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, the United States, Spain, Nigeria – and he’d distribute the shirts to the guys who came to play. Most of them lived in Uptown and Edgewater and were from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Belize, Brazil, Jamaica, Nigeria, Somalia, Ethiopia, Senegal, Eritrea, Ghana, Cameroon, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, France, Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Ukraine, Russia, Vietnam, Korea. There was even a guy from Tibet, and he was a very good goalie.

Normally, there’d be more than two teams, so the games lasted for fifteen minutes or until one team scored two goals. The games were very serious, as the winner stayed on the field, while the losing team had to wait on the sidelines. German refereed and he almost never called a foul – it seemed he needed to hear the sound of a breaking bone to use his whistle. Sometimes, if a team needed a player, he’d referee and play.He was particularly hard on himself and once he gave himself a yellow card for a brutal tackle. We – immigrants trying to stay afloat in this country – found comfort in playing by the rules we set ourselves. It made us feel that we still were part of a world much bigger than the United States.

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