The Greatest Show On Earth…

No, I am not referring to the circus. I am talking about the beautiful game: Soccer*, Calcio, Futbol, Football, Fussball however you want to call it.

Soccer is the first true form of global social media. It is hands down the most watched and played sport in the world and certainly amongst the most watched – anything – in the world. It unites and divides people, makes them laugh and cry, rejoice and despair all in a span of 90 minutes.

Just to put it into perspective, the 2006 FIFA World Cup averaged 95 million viewers per match (64 matches total) with the final attracting 260 million viewers (according to an independent study on 90% of worldwide viewership by Initiative Sports Futures). No other sport or sporting event comes close.

No matter where you are in the world (with unfortunately the glaring exception of the U.S.) you can strike up a passionate conversation about soccer, you can kick anything that rolls for a quick pickup game with perfect strangers and you are guaranteed instant camaraderie with bitter enemies.

Piola, Pele, Zico, Cruyff, Best, Beckenbauer, Platini, Gentile, van Basten, Maradona, Klinsman, Zidane, Ronaldo, Baggio, Maldini, Totti, Del Piero, Rooney, Messi, Kaka, Eto’o, C. Ronaldo, Torres and the list continues and expands with legends and current stars from all over the world.

I am passionate about soccer like no other sport (and I do love my sports). But if you told me I could only get one channel on TV, I would not hesitate – give me soccer 24/7. While I lived and worked in Rome in the late 90s and early 00s I was a season ticket holder of the Stadio Olimpico’s Curva Sud (the most passionate section of the stadium) home to my “giallorossi” – AS Roma. I rolled around on the pitch weeping for joy after the final game of the 2000-2001 season when we won the Serie A title after 25 years of abstinence. As for the upcoming 2010 World Cup in South Africa, I will be following my beloved “Azzurri” who are set to defend their title against the best teams in the world. If you ask my wife what it was like at home as I watched the 2006 World Cup semi-final against Germany she will tell you that I was sweating more than the players and let out one of the most liberating screams ever heard when Fabio Grosso curled the ball into the German net with a few minutes left in overtime. I still get goose bumps every time I see the sequence replayed.

So you can imagine my joy in seeing my son kick around a soccer ball and chase after it. I cannot wait for him to start enjoying watching soccer with me and kicking the ball around in the park. It may be cliché, but if the love of soccer is one more way in which my son and I will add to strength to our bond it would please me immensely. This is one of my passions and I am sure that for others it is something else that stirs up such emotions.

I look forward to the World Cup because it will be my son’s first and even if he does not fully appreciate, I will make sure to plant the seed of passion (I can just see my wife rolling her eyes).

*Ironically this name is an abbreviation of Association Football used at elite universities in England in the late 1800’s