To many Americans, "football"--okay, fine, we'll call it soccer--is nothing more than a really long, boring game where a bunch of men in short shorts kick around a ball and fall to the ground at the slightest touch. Oh, and all the fans are hooligans!
Well, sort of, but if you take a closer look, the game bursts with inspiring moments of grace and good sportsmanship. Soccer is the world's most popular sport with billions (yes, billions) of fans worldwide. And in just a few days, one of the sport's most popular leagues, the English Premier League, will officially kick off a new season.
While all this may seem foreign, get used to it: NBC Sports will be broadcasting Premier League games in America (they've embraced the cultural differences), and that silly little league called the Major League Soccer, well, it's growing. Fast.
So what better time to become a bit more familiar with the sport and learn why so many (remember, billions!) earthlings drop everything once a week to support what's known as The World's Game. We've gathered some of the most heartwarming moments in the game that will not only brighten your day, but, who knows, maybe teach you a lesson or two. If watching a toddler and his unbridled passion for the game steal the show doesn't reignite your zeal for doing what you love, it's time to find another line of work.
Fight songs are more than just songs in soccer, they're part of the culture--think of the importance of "Sweet Caroline" at Fenway or "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch. Now imagine that passion for 90 minutes--with no breaks.
Players often get their own songs, too. Like a young Josh "Sign Him Up" Turnbull, son of Chelsea Footbal Club reserve keeper Ross, who recently netted his first goal for the Blues.
Across the channel in Holland, a pint-size supporter of club PSV Eindhoven takes a front row to the action--and brings an entire stadium along with him. It's hard not to be swept up in passion this pure.
Immediately following Bayern Munich's victory over Valencia in the 2001 Champions League Final (arguably the most prestigious competition in club soccer), Bayern's goalkeeper, Oliver Kahn, refused to celebrate. Instead, Kahn, who had previously experienced the defeat of losing a Champion's League Final, consoled Valencia's goalkeeper, Santi Canizares. (Skip to 00:50 for the money shot.)
On April 15, 1989, the world bore witness to one of the worst sporting disasters in history. At a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, 96 supporters were crushed to death and more than 700 injured due to poor crowd control and an outdated stadium.
Just four days later, in a European cup match between Italy's AC Milan and Spain's Real Madrid, the referee held a moment of silence at 3:06 p.m. (the same time Hillsborough descended into disaster and the game was stopped), as a sign of respect. What happened next, though, no one could expect. The AC Milan fans, in tribute to Liverpool, belted out a heartfelt rendition of Liverpool's club song "You'll Never Walk Alone."
View the video below to see Liverpool fans sing "You'll Never Walk Alone," during a match with Scotland's Celtic FC.
During a 2003 match between Denmark and Iran, an Iranian defender picked up the ball (remember, you can't use your hands in soccer) after hearing a whistle. He assumed the play was dead--but the whistle had come from the crowd.
Though Denmark was losing the match 1-0 and the match was fast approaching its end, Morten Wieghors consulted with his manager and squandered the penalty kick out of respect for the Iranian team.
When someone on the field is injured, players are expected to pause the game. This often means that the opposing team must forfeit the ball by kicking it out of bounds to allow for a medical team to enter the field. This doesn't always happen, and it can become very tense if the game is nearing its end and the opposing team is close to scoring a goal.
The below video shows just that, but when the goalkeeper is injured, Paolo Di Canio, a player never short on controversy, surprised everyone. Even while his teammates continue play, Di Canio grabs the ball (remember, no hands!) forcing the referee to blow his whistle.
Your team is getting destroyed. What do you do? Most fans would probably leave the stadium to get a jump on traffic--there's nothing more to see, right?
Not so for Ireland's fans in the Euro 2012 competition. Even though they were losing by 4 to Spain (which would go on to win the tournament) and had zero chance of advancing, Ireland's faithful stayed and created one of the most memorable moments of the year: a heartfelt performance of the Irish folk ballad "The Fields of Athenry."
What are your favorite inspiring moments from the world of sport? Share them with us in the comments.
[Image: Flickr user Fabiana]