Essay: I Play Soccer but I Don’t Know the Rules, and Maybe That’s Alright

Horoscope editor Catherine Myer talks about her triumphs and pitfalls playing soccer in Rome.

At Loyola’s John Felice Rome Center, soccer is a big deal. Since we’re an Italian campus, the sport is referred to by its Italian name — calcio.

Every Wednesday evening, students make the trek down to the neighborhood soccer fields to either compete or cheer. Only three fields are available, so games are split into two time slots — 8-9 p.m. and 9-10 p.m. Students competing in 8 p.m. games are allowed to purchase drinks from the on-site bar, Don Orione, after their match is over.

Once all games have come to a close, many of the students make their way to Levels — a neighborhood bar kind enough to host the mass of rowdy American kids. Sweaty students cram together in front of the bar, euros crumpled in their fists, while victorious captains buy celebratory shots for their winning teams.

I’ve put myself on a soccer team without knowing the rules. It doesn’t help that since it’s intramural soccer and played on a smaller field, the rules are specialized. But what I lack in knowledge, I make up for in enthusiasm. 

I signed up for calcio with the “Why not?” mentality. All my friends were signing up, so I wrote down my name, checked the “no experience” box, and that was that. I didn’t think my sixth grade soccer run really counted for much.

Come time for the first game, I was terrified. On the list of updated rules sent out by our assistant resident director was “NO SLIDE TACKLES,” bolded and in all caps.

I didn’t know slide tackling was an option in soccer. 

“This is it,” I thought to myself. “I’m going to die.”

On the first calcio night of the semester, a girl on a different team had her tooth knocked out and my team, the Silver Sharks, lost our game by one point. 

I was suddenly a sixth-grader again — a twig of a girl, hesitant and anxious on the soccer pitch. 

My borrowed shorts were pulled up high over top of my thermal leggings, and a long-sleeve shirt was similarly padded under my jersey. Regardless of my meticulous layering, my knobby knees knocked together as I trembled from the cold. My glasses slipped down my nose.

Yep, I definitely looked like an athlete. 

When the ball hurtled toward me, I wound up my kick, swung and missed. 

Sometimes I’ll make contact, though. It’s those days that I text my parents afterward, highly exaggerating my invaluable assistance to the team. Most of the time, though, I’m a scrub on the bench.

It stings at times. Usually you sign up for sports with the expectation you’ll get to play. But I’ve taken these times to really sharpen my skills in fanatical screaming. 

Coined by my teammate Margot, my favorite cheer to holler is “Eat ‘em up, Sharks!” 

I shout strategy and advice — which is likely less helpful than I mean it to be considering the rules of soccer still evade me.

I’ll defend my team till my dying breath. The innocence of the Silver Sharks is a hill I’ll gladly die on. I’ve formed one-sided rivalries with players from other teams who dare attack my team. I’ll glare at them on campus — even though I don’t think they even know my name.

“What handball?” I like to protest to the referee. “That was clearly a defensive block.” 

I’m not even sure if “defensive block” is the correct term, but it sure sounds legitimate when I say it. 

I’ve found I really enjoy being a part of a team. There’s a certain glue that holds teammates together — unbreakable, almost. You’re tightly bound to each other immediately in the spirit of competition and camaraderie. 

“Ready for the big game tonight?” I ask my teammates. “Excited to see you on the field tonight.” I feel like a real athlete when I say it, too — which is a nice bonus. 

Even when I kick the ball out of bounds, my team cheers for me.

“Way to not let them have it, Cate,” they call. It’s like I’m invincible in these moments. 

So maybe it doesn’t matter that I don’t quite know the rules of soccer. And maybe it doesn’t matter that I’m a benched scrub more often than not. Because it’s still fun and I’m still a part of the best calcio team this side of the Tiber. 

The Silver Sharks pose for a photo Courtesy of Catherine Meyer

The Silver Sharks lost to the Pink Panthers in the first round of the quarterfinals, but interested Rome student spectators can still catch us eating up the competition in the friendly — losers’ — bracket on Wednesday evenings.

Feature image courtesy of Catherine Meyer

Catherine Meyer

Catherine Meyer