As I entered my late teens, my distain for doing any kind of sports was consummate. This left watching them as a form of enjoyment. Most of my family and friends regularly engaged in such activities. I figured I’d give it a shot. I saw my first soccer game in Spain during a study abroad program. It was Real Madrid versus some rinky-dink team or another. The stadium was packed and we ordered beers. They were non-alcoholic beers (I came to find out) which already put a bad taste in my mouth. I sipped at mine with a scowl. A few little players were out there on the field kicking a ball around. One player kicked the ball into the face of another. The surely-not-so-injured player dropped to his knees and screamed through his fingers in agony. I set my beer down and rose from my seat.
“Where are you going?” my friend asked.
Soccer was blacklisted after that. This left whatever else. At some point, my Dad got box seats at a Giants game through his company. I’d seen a baseball game before that and been bored to tears. My Dad swore the box seat experience was different. He even told me to invite some friends so we could all have a good time. We went up there an hour before the game and started eating and drinking. His colleagues and their families joined us. This was all fine until the game started. Then one of my friends (who will remain nameless) got ass-kicking drunk and started cussing like a sailor in front of my Dad’s colleague’s children. Their parents were horrified. My enormous father was ready to pick my friend up by the hair and hurl him through the plate glass. Needless to say, this ruined the “box seat” experience. I whipped out my notepad and wrote “baseball of any kind” under soccer.
My Dad (God bless his soul) was still determined to show me that sports games could be fun. He came to me one summer day with two tickets in his hand. I leered at them like they were anal probes. He smiled and handed me one.
“Wanna go see a college football game with me?” he asked.
I had a very precise idea of where I thought my ticket should go. I might have said something politely to that effect when I glanced at who was playing. There was the challenging team: The Three-Peckered Owls or some such nonsense. Then there was the home team: The Bears. The latter are the mascots of Cal Berkeley – my Dad’s alma mater. I couldn’t find it in my heart to be that tremendous of a cock. I took my ticket and thanked him.
The whole ride to campus he explained to me the joys of college football.
“It hasn’t been polluted by materialism and greed like regular football has,” he said. “College players are much more down-to-earth. They play for the spirit of the game, and it’s contagious. I got us end-zone seats so we’ll be sittin’ up real close to the action. Really son, you’re gonna love it.”
We arrived and got drinks and snacks. We took our seats up front and settled in. There were thousands of other fans there. Everyone seemed excited for what was about to begin. I tried my damnedest to get excited too. I tossed handfuls of popcorn in my mouth and pounded my Coke and yelled and cheered with the crowd. The players came out onto the field. They looked like roided aliens in space armor. They lined up and bent over. Then someone blew a whistle and they slammed into each other. The ball sloshed about over a sea of giant, reaching hands. People were screaming and veins were standing out on their necks. I noticed one vein on one man’s neck that was particularly large. It looked like the branch of an oak tree growing up from under his shirt. I saw it swell and pulsate. There was something mesmerizing about that huge vein of his. I watched it and watched it and watched it. Eventually my eyelids began to sag. They clopped shut and I dozed off …
“CAL JUST SCORED!” my Dad screamed.
I jerked awake in a daze.
“Who? Did he use protection?”
I rubbed my eyes and looked up at my Dad. His face was tinged with sadness. It was bad enough I’d fallen asleep during a game at his alma mater. But the fact that I didn’t even know where I was or who was present, was beyond hurtful. We watched the rest of the game in relative silence. He never tried with me again.
When I came to Prague to write and teach, I had no idea how big sports were here. I was hoping, in fact, that the Czechs were as uninterested in them as the city of Prague is in cleaning dog shit from its streets. After a few weeks of teaching however, I found this wasn’t the case. Not only did 90% of my students love sports, they expected me to love them as well.
“Vat is fa-vor-ite sport?” many of them would ask.
On a few occasions, I contemplated mentioning “ball-handling.” I knew, however, that the joke would be lost. Most times I just shrugged my shoulders.
“I don’t really have one,” I’d say.
This was invariably followed by an argument over which “Czech” sport I should get into. Tennis and hockey were always at the forefront. I already knew about tennis so that went absolutely nowhere. Hockey, on the other hand, was a possibility. My friend Bert who’d moved out to Prague the year after me had always raved about it. Hockey was his favorite sport because, as he put it:
“The players get hyphy as fuck and beat the shit outta each other!”
At this point, he still hadn’t been to a Czech hockey game. He was itching for the chance. One Friday a couple of my expats friends called me. They told me they had two extra tickets to a Slavia vs. Sparta match that evening, and would a friend and I like to come. I told them “yes” and called Bert. I could hear him on the other end soiling his boxers as I gave him the news.
“You’re gonna fuckin’ love it, Felm!” he said. “Hockey is like no other sport. None’a that bitchin’ ‘first down, referee,’ bullshit. Just fools gettin’ up in each other’s grills and givin’ head shots. It’s baumish!”
I feigned a measure of excitement. I’d been disappointed before and wasn’t expecting much else from hockey. I met up with Bert and my other friends at 19:00 in front of TIPSPORT Arena. The place was packed and people were filing in mindlessly like herds of cattle. We joined their ranks. Everyone was stoked except me. This changed a bit when we got inside. Stands were serving real beer (with alcohol) and what looked like damn fine sausages. I ordered one of each and walked out to the bleachers. There were a lot of people there but not so many that we couldn’t sit comfortably. We took our seats and started drinking and eating. Things were progressing nicely. A whistle blew and the players slid out onto the ice. They formed two squares, one on either side of the dividing line. A man got on the intercom and announced the rival teams. The crowd cheered and booed appropriately. I readied myself for the action. I took a bite of my delicious sausage and washed it down with a swig of my even more delicious beer. The buzzer rang and the players bolted into each other. I heard clicks and smacks and grunts and huffs. It was a swirl of sticks and uniforms. Everyone was cheering and I found myself doing the same. I was really starting to enjoy this hockey thing, very very much so indeed. The clicking and the grunting continued. Then it went on for longer. I went and grabbed a few more beers. When I came back out, there was the “clicking” and I’ll be damned if there wasn’t even more “grunting.” These things of course were followed by loads of cheering. My, was it nice and all but no one was giving any “head shots” of any sort. And I had yet to see a single “fool” get up into the “grill” of another. Not that I was hoping for such things, mind you. I’m all for peace and love, but hey, a little healthy ass-beating might have been a tad exciting. As it stood, watching Czech ice hockey was kind of like watching slightly aggressive male ballerinas in uniform, perform tricks with their pucks and sticks. This is great if you’re in it for the “art” of the game. But if you’re a guy like me, who doesn’t really give much of a fuck to begin with, it’s really quite boring.
I looked over at Bert to see how Czech-style hockey was grabbing his fancy. He was slumped over in his chair, grabbing his cock. I nudged him awake and asked him what he thought.
“Sucks,” he said. “Let’s get outta here.”
After that, I was done - done with watching sports, done with even talking about them. When students brought up the latest game between whomever, I changed the subject. When they asked me what I thought of so-and-so’s recent steroid-use scandal, I yawned. My patience was lost. My interest had flat-lined. I was more inclined to discuss toenail fungus removal than I was any sort of sport. This went on for a good while. Eventually, I forgot about sports entirely. They became the stuff of wallpaper. They were as much a part of my life as a freckle on my asshole. The thought of having a favorite sport was inconceivable. I had favorite bars of soap, yes, but a favorite sport? Hmph!
On a Tuesday like any other I had a private lesson with a student named Ivan. I walked into his office and found him sitting at his desk and fiddling with his computer. He said “hello” without looking away from the screen. I said “hello” back and asked him what he was doing.
“Vatching game,” he said.
I rolled my eyes and set my crap down. I figured he’d be a minute. I took out a book started reading. Ivan interrupted me.
“Come to here and vatch dis,” he said.
Not wanting to be rude, I rose from my seat and walked over. I was expecting to see hockey or tennis or soccer or whatever. But there on the screen was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It wasn’t quite hockey and it wasn’t quite tennis, it wasn’t quite soccer, but there were balls involved as well as guys on bicycles (of all things). Two players in different uniforms were riding around what looked like a basketball court. At either end was a goal net, with goalies posted lengthwise on their bikes in front of each. The players in the center were adroitly batting a ball around with their front tires. Their aim was to knock the ball into the opposing team’s goal net. On a few occasions, the ball was kipped into the air. A player invariably responded by head-butting it towards a goal net. I was fascinated by this weird little game. When halftime hit, I asked Ivan what the hell it was.
“Kolová,” he said.
“Yes. You don’t know it? Dis is wery famous Czech sport. And it is original Czech.”
“What exactly does that mean?”
“Vell OK, not original Czech becos’ I fink some Germany man inwented it. But vee have most famous players bratři Pospíšilové (The Pospíšil Brothers), and dey vinning verld championship twenty times.”
“Jesus, that’s a helluva thing. Is there even a stadium around here?”
“I don’t know. Dis vhy I vatch it sometimes in Youtube.”
That night I got on the net and did some research. I found out that Kolová or “that which is of the bicycle” was invented in 1893 by a German-American named Nicholas Edward Kaufmann. The article said Kolová is popular throughout Central and Western Europe. There are even players hailing from countries as far away as China, Japan, and Malaysia. The rules of the game are simple:
1. Only two players to a team – one on the court and one at the goal.
2. Players on the court can only hit the ball with their heads and bike wheels.
3. Players at the goal can hit the ball with their bike wheels and any available appendage.
4. No player is allowed to touch the ground with their feet.
This last rule may sound tough as hell, but players’ bicycles are specially rigged for optimum balance. To keep from tipping over though, players occasionally have to bounce up and down in place.
As Ivan had mentioned, the most famous players in history were the The Pospíšil Brothers. Nationally, however, the Germans hold the most world titles at 32, whereas the Czechs come in second at 25. This fact made me smile a little. I’m not hugely connected to my German side, but I do have a modest measure of pride for it.
I’ve since decided that if anything, Kolová is my “favorite sport.” Not that I give a fuck about following it or anything, but I appreciate its uniqueness and its ability to survive for over a century on this fickle planet. I might even consider going to a game. I won’t promise to stay awake or sober through the whole thing. But I will promise to go happily, and for me, that’s saying something.
Note: I reserve the right to occasionally alter the character names, descriptions, and/or event details in my posts for the purposes of identity protection and “fluidity of story.” If this puts a kink in your panties, read someone else’s blog, homey.