When he began hosting Only A Game 25 years ago, Bill Littlefield’s favorite sport was baseball. That isn’t the case these days, and it’s not just because the World Cup is once again underway.
OK, here’s how it happened.
On cold mornings, I watched my daughters in bright shirts, learning — gradually — that chasing the ball in a swarm wasn’t the most productive way for a team to play.
Twenty-seven years ago, I met several members of the U.S. women’s team and — again in the company of my daughters — watched that team play Norway. Several years later, while interviewing Julie Foudy in a conference room in a Connecticut hotel, I mentioned that I had two daughters who played soccer. She excused herself, went up to her room and came back with two photographs that she autographed for my kids.
When MLS began, Brian O’Donovan, then the general manager of the New England Revolution, called to see if I’d like to meet Alexi Lalas.
Once the games began, I sat in the press box between Frank Dell’Apa of the Globe and Gus Martins, then of the Herald, both superb teachers of the intricacies of the game ... patient, tolerant, gentle with their corrections.
On a trip to Spain, jet-lagged nearly to the point of hallucination, I saw FC Barcelona play at home in the company of 100,000 other people, many of them waving banners and singing as their team played the beautiful game as beautifully as it can be played.
When the Boston Breakers began playing at Nickerson Field, once the home of the Boston Braves, I bought a season ticket. I’d never bought a season ticket before. Actually, it was half a season ticket. My wife, my daughters and I split it with a neighbor and his kids. We saw half the Breakers home games, which featured, among others, this country’s most durable and accomplished player: Kristine Lilly.
And then there’s the World Cup. One image will suffice. In 2010, in a restaurant full of Spanish speakers, I watched Spain — a team committed to playing with finesse — hold off a team from the Netherlands, the coach of which had apparently decided before the game that his only hope lay in mugging the opposition.
Spain prevailed. Soccer prevailed.
Somebody — perhaps sportswriter Arthur Daley — once said baseball must be a great game to survive the people who run it. Given the bribery, larceny, blackmail and perjury that have characterized FIFA’s daily business, the same can certainly be said of soccer, which has not just survived but thrived and even — temporarily — at least when the men or the women stage their World Cup tournaments, united all sorts of disparate elements the world over.
This segment aired on June 15, 2018.