Iraq comes to Jordan. Or, my first international soccer match.
Note: this post was written on June 4.
Last night, on June 3, I attended a FIFA World Cup Qualifying match between Iraq and Jordan. The two national teams met at Sports City, and huge park with a variety of complexes including the soccer stadium, located in the heart of Amman. Think Boston Common meets Central Park meets Madison Square Garden meets a graveyard, but completely different.
Matt, Talal, Joe, Sam, Jon, Sean, Joey and I all went to the watch the match, but I didn’t know so many people from our program were going to be there.
At the dinner table the night before, my host brother Amir mentioned that the match was coming up. As soon as Matt and I heard, we immediately inquired about tickets. “We have to go,” I said. Matt agreed.
So, we handed over 20 JD and asked that he purchase four tickets for us. (One ticket cost 5 JD, or about $7. I couldn’t believe it. A match like this in the U.S. would probably cost upward of $50-$100. And by a match like this, I mean the U.S. national team playing another nation in a World Cup Qualifier on home turf.) Amir, Raed and Mohammed wanted to join us for the football match, so the four tickets would be for Matthew and I, along with Talal and whoever else wanted to join.
After the deal was done, I mentioned the possibility of a double byline story, and we began to discuss writing a story about the match. Jordan has never been so close to qualifying for the World Cup tournament, and the two teams have a long history between them, a rivalry that goes way back.
Who would we talk to? The coach of Jordan, who just so happens to be Iraqi. The players. The fans.
How could we get access? Invite Talal, who is such a badass and really should consider a career in journalism. He just pushes and talks his way into everything. He could also serve, as he has countless times over the course of this program, as our translator.
Could we fit in what would be our fourth story? Yes. It’s a game, I thought, and essentially a culture scene story. Quick turnaround.
We sat together in front of Matt’s computer, which I sort of commandeered away from him, and drafted our pitch to Carlene. It was almost midnight. Shortly thereafter, we turned in for the night. I woke up at 5 a.m. for a quick start to the day, and to fit in a morning workout.
About an hour later, I checked my email. Carlene responded, at about 4:30 a.m. (Does she EVER sleep!? I don’t know how she does it. Even if she was just then waking up, she has two kids with her on this trip and 16 student journalists reporting to her on a daily basis. She’s such a badass. God bless her.)
The email was simple, straightforward, but harsh. As I read the email, which was a list of 4 talking points, I began to sweat a little. Her questions were so cutting, so specific. It made me feel as though my pitch was garbage. What was I thinking? How will I ever be able to fully grasp the art of this thing called journalism that I do? Why didn’t I think of these questions?
Shortly thereafter, I heard my bedroom door creak open and light footsteps. It was Matt. He peeked into the living room area, where I was seated at the dining room table in front of my laptop. I told him that we got a response from Carlene. He just continued into the bathroom to brush his teeth and such, and I didn’t blame him. It was too early in the morning to be dealing with Carlene’s hard edits—and this wasn’t even an edit, it was just a response to a pitch.
Throughout the course of the morning, Matt and I talked, over breakfast and during our hunt for a cab, about our story idea. Why can’t we just do a story about this game?, we kept saying. Why does it always have to be so much more than just skin deep? I proposed it to Matt intending, and thinking, that it would be a no-brainer. We would go, cover the event, and just by doing that we would have a culture scene story.
As the day dragged on, my excitement for the game grew. I had never before been to an international soccer match, and the last time I saw a live match was when I was much younger. It was a New York Rough Riders game, and it was
probably definitely awful. (I’m not even sure that team still exists.) So, needless to say, the chance to catch Jordan hosting Iraq in a FIFA World Cup Qualifier felt incredible, like it was meant to be.
The story Matt and I had hoped to write, though, was not. As Carlene explained later that afternoon, Amanda had pitched a soccer story two weeks earlier, and we couldn’t have TWO soccer news stories. You know, because people around the world don’t like soccer and would hate to read two stories about it. Oh no wait, that’s just in America. The rest of the world, I would argue, probably would have enjoyed both of these stories. Amanda wanted to write about why the Jordanian league teams are not popular here, and why fans flock to either FC Barcelona or Real Madrid. It could have been an interesting story, but would have been completely different than the story Matt and I had in mind.
Oh well. Matt and I went to the game and met up with the guys, and both looked at each other moments into the first half and had a ‘fuck it’ look. We were on the same page. I put my AP notepad down, and we just watched the game, enjoyed it.
No reporting, no trying to convince anyone it was worth writing about, and no compromising on what we wanted to write. Just soccer with friends.