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A Beautiful Surprise From The Beautiful Game

This article is more than 11 years old.

Soccer doesn't get a whole lot of press here in the United States. However, after catching a glimpse of F.C. Barcelona in action earlier this week, Bill Littlefield observes that soccer truly is an art.

Thanks to the likes of Messi, Deco, Henry, and Eto'o, F.C. Barcelona plays soccer about as brilliantly as it can be played. That I do not often have the opportunity to see them do it is a source of some regret, but last Wednesday evening, I stumbled on to art. That afternoon, allegedly working, I had checked the result of Barcelona's Championship League game against Celtic. So I not only knew that Barca had prevailed, 3-2, in Glasgow, which delighted me...I knew that Lionel Messi had provided the deciding goal in the seventy ninth minute. Late that afternoon, I left work and made the tedious drive to the college where I teach one night a week. I parked in the only lot where there was space and, carrying my briefcase full of student papers and the tuna sandwich that would be my dinner, I climbed the long hill to the academic building. In the commuter lounge, I tried to tune out the cell phone conversations around me as I unwrapped my sandwich. I ignored the television, which always seems to be tuned to particularly unreal reality. Except that on this particular evening, somebody had left the TV on ESPN 2. And there was a soccer game on. And it was Barcelona at Celtic. I moved to the table closest to the TV set. Nobody else in the room was paying any attention to the game. Not even the people who weren't talking on their cell phones. When I realized what I'd been presented with by whatever minor deity is in charge of distributing happy surprises to the marginally deserving, Barcelona was down, 2-1. Of course I was undismayed. I knew they would score twice in the remaining minutes. Sure enough, Thierry Henry evened the match on schedule. I laughed at the apparent ease with which he did so. He was the illusion of effortless success. I watched as the Barcelona players, now tied with increasingly ragged Celtic, nudged and punched and flicked the ball to each other, controlling the play, probing for opportunities with exquisite patience. As the seventy ninth minute approached, I smiled at what I knew was coming. On schedule, Messi took a pass in the goal area, spun to his right, shook off the defender trying to drag him down by his jersey, and slipped the ball into the Celtic net. The broadcast ended just before seven. I walked upstairs to the classroom where I'd be teaching for the next two and a half hours. My students may still be asking each other about the smile with which I greeted them that evening.

This program aired on February 28, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.


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