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There is More to Life Than Football

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This week, instead of following live coverage of the 3rd Round of the FA Cup, or scanning the rumor mills to see who could be moving where in this January’s transfer market, I was at a hospital with family, waiting for up-to-the-second reports on the condition of a relative. Once again, I was forced to reflect upon our human mortality. Fans may occasionally recite the motto, “Soccer is Life”, or “Fill in the Blank Team is my Life”, but deep down we all know there are more important things.

At the top of that list of things has to be the people we love and care for. They are unfortunately, sometimes, the people that we take for granted the most. We never know when we are going to turn around and they won’t be there anymore. Make sure that in between following your beloved side on TV and the internet that you make time for those people in your life that mean the most to you.

The worldwide football community is no more immune to death and tragedy as are the rest of us passing our time here revolving around the sun. We’ve spun our way around the solar system once again and some of our sporting idols that were with us this time last year have left us for the Great Beyond. We build professional footballers up to be titans, invincible forces of nature, extraordinary men that sometimes have to fight back from injuries that would keep most of us on the sideline for life. But things happen, and for whatever reason we’re reminded that our time here is short.

It struck me that while we as the fan community will always remember them for their accomplishments on the pitch that there are others who will remember them as their baby boy, Dad, kid brother, loving husband, etc.. Being a footballer was just their job, granted an extremely cool one. They took off their boots after a hard days work and went home to the wife and family.

Antonio Puerta - SevillaAntonio Puerta was a mother’s son, someone’s love of their life. His death in August shocked the Spanish football world and beyond. Unknowingly, we watched with concern as he collapsed near his goal away from play, suffering from a series of cardiac arrests. He hadn’t collided with anyone, nothing struck him, but there he fell as some part of his anatomy went haywire.

As I near my 25th birthday, I’m sobered by the fact that Puerta was younger than I. At 22 years old, he barely had a chance to leave his mark on the football world. But in Andalusia, Sevilla fans will never forget the goal he scored in the 2006 UEFA Cup semi-finals that beat Schalke 04 and setting them up for their first European Cup title.

Motherwell's Phil O'DonnellPhil O’Donnell was somebody’s husband, 4 children’s father. Similarly, his death just a few weeks ago took the British football world by surprise.

At 35, O’Donnell’s career was in its December, but O’Donnell the man was heading into the Summer of life. Scottish side Motherwell looked to him as their leader. He was their captain, their rock. But every now and then even the General falls in battle.

Read more about Phil O’Donnell.

Gabriele Sandri - Lazio fanGabriele Sandri was somebody’s brother. We watched his brother’s rage as he explained to the media the tragedy of his brother’s shooting. At a petrol station near Arezzo, Sandri and his friends, supporters of Lazio, were on their way to Milan for an away match when they encountered some fans of Juventus.

As happens all too often, the words exchanged were hostile and transformed into violence. A police officer had to become involved and tragically the officer’s gun went off and Sandri was struck in the neck and died shortly thereafter. Cause of death: Hooliganism.

Obviously I’m not suggesting that Puerta’s or O’Donnell’s deaths are in any way the same as Sandri’s. My overall point is that football is just a game. What I love most about football is the passion. There is nothing like that moment when your team has fought all match and finally broken through. That explosion of joy as the ball bulges against the back of the net is matched by little else. Next I love the rivalry, the pride in one’s team over another. I get amped every time my Arsenal face that other team in North London, who’s name isn’t even worth mentioning. Sure, it’s even fun to talk about how much you hate your rival.

But every fan has to remember that it is just a game. Fans cannot let their emotions about a sport boil over into real life clashes. So what if some opposing fan calls you a bleepity bleep bleep? They are just words and nothing to fight, get shot or die over.

Football has come a long way, but as the stabbings in Rome last month remind us there is more work to be done if we are to rid the game of its extremist elements that stain the image of the sporting community as a whole. Let us remember the victims of such senseless violence and hope that someday soon we will learn our rivals are only our enemies in sport and not in real life. There is already plenty of that kind of hatred in the world.

We still have a choice. Antonio Puerta, Phil O’Donnell and the rest of the men on the list that follows did not. Let us be grateful for what they gave us. They were entertainers who played to please us. They were idols of tremendous spirit, determination, courage, and heart. Some cut down before they ever even had a chance to bloom.

We remember . . .

• January 4 — Sandro Salvadore (67), Italian footballer
• January 22 — Ramón Marsal (72), Spanish footballer
• January 30 — Sixto Rojas (26), Paraguayan footballer

• February 12 — Georg Buschner, German football player and manager

• March 1 — Fernando Veneranda, Italian footballer and coach
• March 19 — Menotti Avanzolini, Italian footballer

• April 7 — Marià Gonzalvo (85), Spanish footballer
• April 25 — Alan Ball (61), English footballer

• May 2 — Juan Valdivieso (96), Peruvian footballer
• May 4 — José Antonio Roca (78), Mexican footballer and coach
• May 13 — Kai Johansen (66), Danish footballer
• May 26 — Marek Krejčí (26), Slovak footballer

• June 13 — Néstor Rossi (82), Argentine footballer and coach
• June 24 — Derek Dougan (69), Northern Irish footballer
• June 26 — Jupp Derwall (80), German footballer and coach

• July 2 — Luigi Scarabello (91), Italian footballer and coach
• July 25 — Bernd Jakubowski (54), German footballer
• July 27 — Giuseppe Baldo (93), Italian footballer

• August 20 — Anton Reid (16), English footballer
• August 25 — Ray Jones (18), English footballer
• August 28 — Antonio Puerta (22), Spanish footballer
• August 29 — Chaswe Nsofwa (28), Zambian footballer

• September 3 — Gustavo Eberto (24), Argentine footballer
• September 9 — Helmut Senekowitsch (73), Austrian footballer and coach
• September 11 — Ian Porterfield (61), Scottish footballer
• September 14 — Ambrogio Valadè (70), Italian footballer
• September 27 — Bill Perry (77), South African footballer
• September 27 — Horst Podlasly (71), German footballer

• October 8 — Fulvio Zuccheri (48), Italian footballer
• October 26 — Nicolae Dobrin (60), Romanian footballer

• November 5 — Nils Liedholm (85), Swedish footballer and coach
• November 13 — John Doherty (footballer) (72), English footballer
• November 23 — Óscar Carmelo Sánchez (36), Bolivian footballer

• December 29 — Phil O’Donnell (35), Scottish footballer

Source: Wikipedia.

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Joe Groff was a starting member of the roaming pack for the AYSO Golden Eagles when he was only 5 years old. He played for just one more year until he took time to focus on other sports such as basketball and volleyball. His Peter Crouch size helped him excel in those sports, but after high school he was burnt out. During his time working for the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia, he fell in love with football and the Arsenal who he has followed ever since. In between watching and playing footie Joe manages to study Law at Pepperdine University, where he hopes to publish other articles on fun stuff like the "overly broad interpretation of the Necessary and Proper Clause". He captains the Law School's intramural soccer team.