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World Cup Versus World History

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I love living in New York City. You can take a trip around the world without ever leaving town. I especially like being here during the World Cup.

Soccer gives me something to talk about with my man from Afghanistan who runs the coffee cart near my office, and to Levy from Equador who runs the service elevator and brings me up with my bike, and Roger from Trinidad who heads the maintenance crew and is a soccer aficionado.

And even though Senegal didn’t make the cut, I relived Senegal’s victory over France in the 2002 World Cup with a cab driver the other morning. (It’s always nice to see a former colonial power defeated by the formerly colonized.

I also stood with a crowd of Koreans (Koreatown is one block from my office) watching through a window as Lee Jung-Soo scored the equalizing goal against Nigeria. I have a soft sport for Koreans that goes back years to San Francisco where I worked in a restaurant called Bilbao’s Basque Café that was owned by the Kim family.

I don’t know who coined the phrase “the Koreans are the Irish of the Orient,” but I found I had a lot in common with the Kims, especially the uncle who sang sad love songs as he worked and pined for his farm back home.

Maybe we Irish are psychologically tuned in to people from nations who also suffered under forced occupations. God knows the Koreans have good reason not to root for Japan. Two and a half million Koreans were used as forced laborers during WWII. They conscripted the men into the Army and used “Comfort Women” as sex-slaves to serve the Japanese soldiers. (Twenty-five percent of those killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were Korean.)

As I look at those beautiful young men battling each other on the playing field today, I cannot help but think of how many young men have died in wars not of their own making. And the many innocent bystanders who got caught in the crossfire.

The Italy/Slovakia game reminded me of the only World Cup game I saw live -- when the U.S. hosted the World Cup and Italy played Ireland at Giants Stadium in New York.

It took place on Saturday, June 18, 1994, and Ireland won the day, with Ray Houghton scoring a memorable goal against the Italian side.

It was an unbelievable victory for Ireland, but even as we cheered on “Jackie’s Army” (the Irish team were so named for their beloved English coach Jackie Charlton) an unbearable tragedy was being played out in Loughlinisland, County Down.

Loyalist gunmen opened fire with assault rifles on a crowd who had gathered to watch the match in a local pub. Six men were killed including Barney Greene, 87, the oldest man to die in the Troubles.

As far as I know, no one was ever charged with the killing.

The 30-year long “Troubles” saw so many atrocities committed by both sides, I'm glad that the people of Northern Ireland can watch this World Cup in relative peace.

And I’m glad I have soccer to talk to with the man from Afghanistan. I can’t ask him if he’s lost any family in the 9-years-long conflict, the longest war the U.S. has ever been involved in.

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