- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 16, 2002

Now that the World Cup is capturing so much attention around the world, some of my American friends are asking why I love soccer. Actually, I've never given it much thought it's always been kind of a given.
From the time I was a boy, I kicked a ball around our inner-city Dublin streets with my friends. We needed no costly equipment; we didn't even need a patch of grass. Our goal was a gate, an archway, two coats on the ground. The ball was a tennis ball if we could get one, a collection of crushed newspapers bound with elastic if we could not.
I guess it was like baseball used to be in the United States all those years ago. As with baseball, we had our idols at home the local team that played in the league of Ireland, abroad the unimaginable glamour of the international team, most of whom plied their trade in England, where the standard was higher. In those days, Ireland's international victories tended to be of the moral variety only, but we savored them just the same.
Soccer was, and is, universal. One of my first trips away from Ireland was to play a football match in Scotland as an 11-year-old. My childhood memories revolve around the local park and the street leagues organized by our parish to while away the summer months, which in those far-off days seemed long and golden. Given that I am now on the down side of 50 and my last game of soccer was just a year ago in Maryland, of all places it has been a lifelong romance.
Just now Ireland is participating in its third World Cup finals, and Dublin is a sea of green, white and orange. Flags are draped from every window, fluttering from every car, and tricolored bunting adorns nearly every house. This is something that has gripped an entire nation, as it did in Italia '90 and USA '94, as no other sports event has done. For the 90 minutes that Ireland plays each game, the country is united as in no other circumstances.
Now television brings us every game in living color. We know the names and faces of footballers from Washington, D.C., to Warsaw, from London to Lisbon and all points north, south, east and west.
Yet they all play the same game I did as a kid with a ball of paper and a garden gate all those years ago. That's the magic.
Rob Carey, a resident of Dublin, is a member of the Department of Finance for the Republic of Ireland and a former senior adviser with the World Bank in Washington.

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