I Skipped Church to Watch the World Cup

I have a confession to make: I skipped church to watch the World Cup on Father’s Day.

Well, technically I didn’t skip, since I watched the service from home, but it sort of felt like I did.

After a 10-hour marathon of games on Saturday you’d think I might have used church as an excuse to skip out on a game or two, but not me. I’m faithful and committed to the cause of the World Cup right now.

Our church’s main campus has Sunday services at 9am and 11am ET, streaming from our website and on Facebook. I knew there would be some overlap between the games and the message, but ours is a second-screen culture at this point, so why couldn’t I take in both at once?

As I was setting up my dual-screen viewing situation, I got a text from my dad wishing me a Happy Father’s Day. I responded in kind, and wished him a great day. He lives six hours away in Massachusetts, so unfortunately we wouldn’t get to spend time together, but it was still good to connect.

So much of who I am as a man has been shaped by my dad, and for that I’m thankful. It’s funny, I never set out to fill my life with things he filled his life with, but here I am at age 41 doing a lot of the same things he did in his forties: messing around on the guitar, serving at church, watching Red Sox games, playing golf, and skipping Sunday services to watch Serbia play soccer. (Okay fine, maybe I’m on my own on that last one.)

Bryan’s two screen set up to watch the World Cup on Sunday.

Costa Rica vs. Serbia was the first of three games on the day, kicking off at 8am. By the time our 9am service started streaming on my iPad, it was still scoreless, but right about when the kids were being dismissed to kids church, Serbia took a 1-0 lead that they would hold on to for the rest of the match.

Pastor Sam’s message was a solid one as usual, and it held my attention over the soccer game except for a brief sideline scuffle late in the second half. With a bent towards Father’s Day, the sermon focused on the lives of David and Solomon, and how it’s our job not only to correct, but direct, those we are trying to lead. It certainly got me considering the ways in which I am directing my two kids, and the areas where I need to improve.

It also got me thinking about the way we pass on sports from one generation to the next. A big reason soccer is the world’s most popular game is the passion and devotion mothers and fathers hand down to their children for their favorite club team and national team. That type of direction is so powerful in the life of a kid; it’s why sports are such a unifying bond in almost every culture across the globe.

It’s probably why I’ve never really been into soccer, because my dad was never really into soccer. We grew up watching the Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics on a little black and white television (Channel 38 as I recall) in our New Bedford, MA living room in the eighties. I still remember parading around the city block with a home made “NBA Champions!” sign when the Celtics beat the Rockets in the 1986 Finals. Those were some good times.  

Following the second game of the morning, a surprising 1-0 Mexico win over Germany, I drove to my in-laws’ house to join up with my family for lunch and the third and final game of the day, Brazil vs. Switzerland. After eating too much of our traditional Father’s Day steak dinner, I settled in on the couch with my son Parker to watch Neymar and company do their thing.

I’d like to tell you we bonded over the game and that he loved all 90 minutes of action, but it was almost 90 degrees outside, and the pool was calling his name. After about 25 minutes (including a brilliant goal from Brazil’s Coutinho) he had seen enough and decided to join the rest of the family outside. Looks like I won’t be directing him on the path of soccer obsession just yet. (For the record, while the rest of the family doesn’t quite understand this World Cup immersion project I’m doing, I know they secretly think it’s kind of cool in its own weird way.)

I watched the second half by myself while everyone else splashed in the pool, and when Zuber tied the game for Switzerland in the 50th minute it became clear to me that all of the favorites had been put on notice in this tournament. Germany had already lost, Argentina and Spain had only squeaked out draws, and even Uruguay needed a goal in the 89th minute to get their win. We could see some impressive runs by underdogs this year, which kind of excites me.

True to this tournament’s form, Brazil was only able to earn the single point as no one scored the rest of the way. Brazil 1, Switzerland 1, and another three games of the 2018 World Cup were in the books.

So that’s how I spent my Father’s Day this year. Enjoying soccer and thinking about the many different ways I can direct my kids. It was a good day of relaxing and reflecting on all the things my dad instilled in me, and all the things I want to pass on to my kids.

And what are those things I am passing on to them?

The importance of attending church (with occasional exceptions) and embracing spirituality? I hope so.

The importance of staying connected with your family? I hope so.

The importance of learning from spiritual leaders like Pastor Sam? I hope so.

The importance of soccer and the World Cup? To be determined.

“I’m going to teach my son everything I know so that he can be better than me.”

Neymar Jr.

Bryan Allain has spent 41 years of his life ignoring soccer in favor of the Red Sox and golf, the REAL beautiful game. (His words not ours). This is the account of his 30-day, all in, deep dive on the premier showcase of the most popular sport on earth, the 2018 World Cup.