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Soccer widow: Another World Cup miracle

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 12, 2010 - Right now, soccer fans are talking about the butter-fingered blunder by England’s goalie, Rob Green, that gave the U.S. the game-tying goal.

I’d like to tell you a different story. It’s about the same game, in a way.

Saturday morning, when the heat outside seemed to get thicker every moment, Tom Schwarz stood inside the cool entrance at the Anheuser Busch Soccer Park in Fenton blowing his horn. OK, it was a vuvuzela, but he was blowing it just the same.

“Where else do you get that?” Schwarz asked a man and woman as they walked in, setting the horn down. The man, wearing an England jersey, unfurled his Union Jack and draped it over his shoulders.

“South Africa,” he said.

On Saturday, for the fifth game of the 2010 World Cup, my husband and I headed to Fenton to watch the first round U.S. match against England with fans and fanatics from St. Louis, a group of self-proclaimed U.S. hooligans (they were painted up and did make a ruckus,) Schwarz, who organized the event through St. Louis United FC , some Brits, lots of Yanks and two men who’d made history 60 years before on the pitch.

Frank Borghi and Harry Keough, now in their 80s, played for the U.S. in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, along with three other St. Louis men. In the game against England, the U.S. won, 1-0. It became known as the Miracle Match.

In the last few weeks, I’ve learned a lot about St. Louis soccer history, how far back it goes, how much it means, and how that U.S. team did what they did, mostly thanks to the recent airing on KETC of the documentary “A Time For Champions.”

Though I’m still new to this history, the 250-plus people gathered at Soccer Park weren’t. Borghi and Keough signed autographs on DVDs, shirts and soccer balls. They gave interviews to a team from Reuters. And Keough, who arrived early, sat down with the Beacon for a quick interview. His son, Ty Keough (a soccer great in his own right,) happened to be arriving through a side door and joined us.

Like his team 60 years before, the elder Keough hoped today’s U.S. team would just play hard, and they did.

During the game, I was watching the two elder players sitting together under the camera’s lights nearly as much as the game itself. They never sat alone for long, always had children and parents and young people requesting pictures and signatures. Martin Tyler, the announcer in South Africa, mentioned that two of the players from the 1950 game were watching the match in St. Louis at that moment. Around the two men, the once tame-seeming banquet hall roared and booed and rose and fell with each goal and each promise of a goal.

And among the fans, many standing against walls or seated on the floors, were Keough and Borghi’s families. Keough’s clan wore blue jerseys with their family name on the back. During halftime, the two got a standing ovation.

Soccer is a simple game, the two Keoughs agreed when we talked. But if you added up all the salaries of England’s players, Ty Keough said, it would far surpass what the U.S. players make.

It also didn’t matter, not at Saturday’s match, and not 60 years ago. The U.S. didn’t win as Keough’s team had, despite my hopes for the full-circle ending. Watching Borghi and Keough, though, I hope today’s team will someday have another kind of victory. I hope that, in 60 years, they’ll gather with friends, wives, children, grandchildren, fans and strangers to watch a great game. I hope people will know them. And I hope those people will celebrate them like Borghi and Keough were celebrated today.

It is true in soccer that one game changes everything, and I’m sure Rob Green is fretting over that right now. But watching today’s game, I realized there’s more. Borghi and Keough didn’t just win one match, but have given their lives and careers to soccer, from the teams they played on to the people they coached.

Today, we were surrounded by the results of that, and it wasn’t so much a miracle as just another testament to the beautiful game.

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