- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 4, 2002

I was determined not to get emotionally involved in the upcoming World Cup. I wanted to be detached, like a doctor is to his patients. I wanted to study and observe the finals from a distance with rationalism and artistic appreciation and cheer on the American lads in their uphill task. I wanted to avoid the pain and the emotional roller coaster of past defeats and letdowns. I wanted to be calm and cool a world citizen free of national ties.

Then David Beckham broke his foot, and my calm exterior caved in. I lost my rudder and the mad Englishman inside broke loose.

It's all right if you root for Brazil or Germany. Those nations always do well. But for the English, international tournaments are often cruel nightmares. England always crashes out on penalty kicks, and you are inevitably left apologizing for those beer-bellied, tattooed hooligans who wreak havoc on some dainty European town.

It's been nearly five decades since England brought home a title. The 1966 victory is now just a faded black-and-white memory and may have been an aberration after all.

This time it was meant to be different. England had Beckham, the best passer in the world. Finally there was hope. There's also young Michael Owen a lethal striker and talented midfielder Steven Gerrard, players any team would die for. But when Argentine hard man Aldo Duscher made a two-footed lunge at Beckham's custom-made Adidas Predator boot in a game last month, hope began to fade. Never before had a cracked bone resonated so much around the world. Herdsmen on the plains of Mongolian were talking about it, while fishermen in Tierra Del Fuego chuckled in delight.

We're not talking about a Joe Theismann leg here or an aging, past-its-prime Michael Jordan knee. We're talking about a foot that can pass the ball like none other in the game.

Along with the Queen and England's prime minister, Tony Blair, I was concerned.

"Nothing is more important to England's arrangement for the World Cup than the state of David Beckham's foot," Blair told his Cabinet.

Forget the crisis in the Middle East. This was serious stuff.

Why I should concern myself over the foot of a multimillionaire who is married to a pop star, is beyond me, yet I'd be willing to give up tea for a day if it would help. The Manchester United idol is earning $146,500 a week, while I fight the traffic in my 18-year-old Buick Skylark, but soccer makes us one.

Four years ago I detested Beckham. If he hadn't got himself sent off in France, England may have beaten Argentina. Now I'm going to light a candle for him and hope that the second metatarsal in his left foot will heal quickly so he can lead England out against Sweden on June 2.

It gets worse. I not only worry about Beckham, but I'm losing sleep over Owen's fragile hamstrings and Gerrard's torn groin. These guys are as injury prone as a Purdue chicken in Delaware.

I find myself praying for a man called Sven-Goran Eriksson, no doubt a descendent of the Vikings who once pillaged English hamlets but now the English national team coach. Can you believe this, we had to hire a foreigner to save the last remnants of the Empire?

I search for someone to console me.

Over his lawnmower, my neighbor wearing his Orioles hat is explaining the intricacies of a perfect game and how as a child he watched Sandy Koufax. I wonder whether I should tell him about how I saw Georgie Best play a perfect game. But I decline. I'm in American suburbia where the plight of Beckham's foot has no meaning. Soccer is for the kids, and serious people root for the Ravens, the Redskins and the Terps.

I find myself alone, aiming my satellite dish to the heavens and Sky Sports in search of answers. I dwell on conspiracy theories. After all, it was an Argentine who broke Beckham's foot. And guess what? England plays Argentina in the "group of death" along with Nigeria and Sweden. And can you imagine this? England plays Sweden, and we have a Swedish coach. "Once a Swede always a Swede," I muse.

I need to calm down. My doctor suggests valium, my wife suggests golf.

At the dinner table I crave to discuss the World Cup, but my 8-year-old still doesn't understand the difference between club and country.

"Why does Beckham wear a red shirt and sometimes a white shirt?" he asks. "Who do you want to win, Dad, the red shirts or the white shirts?"

I try to explain to him that Manchester United has red shirts, but when Beckham plays for England he wears a white one. But he doesn't quite get it. He knows Cal Ripken only wore one team's shirt.

There's a giant poster on his bedroom wall of England's 5-1 victory over Germany in a World Cup qualifier. Beckham is embracing hat-trick boy Owen. I'm proud that he has the poster even if I did put it up myself. I'm mesmerized by it. I wonder whether I'm going the same way as the guy Russell Crowe played in "A Beautiful Mind"?

They say the English are never more noble than in defeat, but I'm sick of that. Just keep an eye on me before I become a hooligan or something.


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