Not Another World Cup Soccer Post

Yes, despite the rest of the world (other than the USA) waking up bleary eyed from watching soccer matches from the World Cup tournament at unnatural hours and yes, despite the majority of the world and media coverage is eating and breathing world cup soccer,   I am pleased to say that this is “Not Another World Cup Soccer Post”.

Well, to be fair, many Americans are probably also following the tournament especially since the USA has a team competing in it.  Plus, it may be hard to avoid when CNN, BBC and even E! are all covering the event.

Okay but back to how this isn’t about that.  I just like to be contrary.   The more people tell me just how much I must see a movie blockbuster, then very likely I will avoid it like the plague and go see some unknown Indie production.   As a big fan of ice hockey,  I went to an NHL  ice hockey game wearing a Rugby tee-shirt just to confuse people (full details here).  And so, on the first day of World Cup soccer, I joined a crowd of several hundred mad dogs and Englishmen and braved the hot equatorial sun to watch a rugby match.  For the uninitiated, learn more about this strange sport here and here.

It was an exhibition match between the “Classic All Blacks” and a “Rest of the World Selection”.  Just to be clear, “Classic All Black” is not like “Classic Coke”.  The “Classic” means that they are a little past their prime, were not selected for the current team and decided to form their own little exhibition tournament.  Still, there were a few big names that would draw a crowd even now.

For me and most of the crowd, the big names were Andrew Merthens and Jonah Lomu.  The Classic All Blacks lost to the World Selection 36 to 26.  However, it was never about competition as it was about exhibition.  The scoreboard at the stadium wasn’t even in use.  Andrew Merthens played reasonably well but the team as a whole seemed very slow and sluggish by All Black standards.

Jonah Lomu, however, was really a shadow of his former self.  The few times that he got the rugby ball, the crowd let out a thundering cheer of expectation but he was not able to live up to his reputation.  His runs were short-lived and the legendary power and pace just wasn’t there.  Regretably, some in the crowd booed his performance.  This was most unkind and unnecessary.

If one is familiar with Jonah Lomu’s story, one would realise that this is a wonderful sportsman and an inspirational human being worth of respect and reverence.   Jonah started his career with the All Blacks in 1994 and in the end represented them in 63 appearances between 1994 and 2002.  During that period, he was considered “the most  intimidating player of the most intimidating team”.  He became rugby’s first truly global superstar.  The secret though, was that he was suffering from the draining effects of nephrotic syndrome, a serious and chronic kidney disorder, as early as during the Rugby World Cup in 1995.  Despite this debilitating illness, Jonah’s rugby was sensational all the way till 2003 when he needed dialysis three times a week.  He had to stop playing.

In 2004, he received a kidney transplant and immediately set about trying to make a comeback the following year.  He has not re-attained the lofty levels from earlier in his career.   He has since taken part in charity efforts and in 2009 began to play for a French rugby team.

Many people shake their heads and wondered what might have been if Jonah Lomu  had not suffered from nephrotic syndrome.  Indeed, he may have achieved so much more.  However, we should also recognise that despite that disease, he achieved a level of sportsmanship and excellence that remains an inspiration to all who know about it.

The Jonah Lomu that I witnessed yesterday was neither the powerhouse of energy or pace of his youth but he is a hero worthy of respect and reverence just for the way that he had accepted his illness, conquered it and returned against all odds to play rugby again.

At the end of the match, the two teams came up to the stands and received cheers of approval and appreciation from the crowd.  I am glad to say that the cheers were loudest for Lomu and he responded by throwing his boots up into the air and into the crowd.  A couple of lucky fans are now proud owners of Lomu’s stinky boots and I am sure they could not be more pleased.

Thank you Classic All Blacks and World Selection for a great afternoon of rugby and thank you Jonah Lomu for a lifetime of inspiration.

8 thoughts on “Not Another World Cup Soccer Post”

  1. It is always good to watch a skilled player. You can never doubt the value of sport if it isn’t played for money.

  2. I think you were right in the first place about this not being a big deal in the US. If they’re not likely to come out on top, they’re not all that interested. Canada, on the other hand is rabid about World Cup even though we don’t have a prayer. Most Canadians are rooting for non-Canadian teams anyway.

  3. Rugby was a big event at my university. We did not have a football team so Rugby was the big outdoor/macho dudes event. I used to know what was going on back then, but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten all the rules by now. Kudos to Lomu for fighting through his disease!
    By the way, when I went to my last NHL game I wore my Duke (college basketball powerhouse) jacket.

  4. Joyce,
    Isn’t just true that the love of money spoils all things?

    Are you supporting any world cup team? I am supporting South Korea cause they play an exciting game and they kind of carry the flag for Asian soccer.

  5. geewits,
    The list of our similarities continue to grow! I am surprised though to learn that your University had rugby instead of American football. I wonder how that came about. As for Lomu, it is amazing that even when he was already seriously ill, he was still able to out perform many fellow competitors.

    I’m still learning my way around wordpress. That’s my excuse!

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