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Football is a universal language: A Champions League final experience like no other

Emma Duffy remembers watching the 2018 Champions League final while volunteering in Honduras.

THE 2020 CHAMPIONS League final should have been this weekend. Here, Emma Duffy looks back on fond memories of watching the 2018 decider in Honduras.

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The long days are broken up by short games. Up at the crack of dawn, and off to work. Digging trenches and laying pipes with the sun blazing down on severely-burnt Irish skin. Blood, sweat and tears, at times, but it’s smiles that shine brightest.

It’s a universal language in these rural Honduran communities.

Smiling and football certainly break down the language barrier.

pic The May 2018 Water and Public Health Brigade after a game of football with the Honduran community of El Saucito. Source: Global Brigades DCU.

I’m lucky enough to have volunteered on two Water and Public Health brigades to this beautiful Central American country, both with Global Brigades — a non-profit health and sustainable development organisation.

My first taste came in January 2016 and I was eager to return when the opportunity came around again in May 2018. The work is tough, but the memories made, people met and friendships formed will last a lifetime.

Much of those precious memories weren’t of time spent building water systems — so these people can have running water in their homes for the first time — latrines, and stoves; they came on break times. The children of the communities, in particular, were fascinated by us gringos and all they wanted to do was play.

image1 With local kids on the 2016 brigade.

Communicating through broken — and our very poor — Spanish wasn’t impossible, but everything was much easier when a football came into play. It’s crazy to think that a battered, barely-hanging-on piece of leather united people from completely contrasting backgrounds in such a way.

It’s so clichéd, but football most certainly is a universal language.

The children kicked the ball barefoot, imitating the likes of Ronaldo and Messi, as they ran rings around their new Irish friends. Mostly boys, they couldn’t exactly understand how the girls on the brigade knew how to play football. They wore Real Madrid and Barcelona jerseys with pride, and all you had to do was point to the crest to strike up  warm conversation.

image2 Kids playing marbles in El Saucito.

Real and Barca were the two most popular teams too, understandably, though a few mentioned Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool — whom the spotlight was certainly on at the time.

Jurgen Klopp’s men were playing Real Madrid in the 2018 Champions League final, and the excitement was through the roof. Kick-off in Kiev fell around lunchtime in El Saucito, and the invitation to watch the match was extended to us brigadiers.

One of the better-off members of the community had a tiny television in his house, which was one of the nicest in this poverty-stricken community. We didn’t want to slack off work too much but a group of us wanted to see a small bit of the showpiece, so it was a matter of taking regular trips to watch from outside the window.

image16 Watching the 2018 Champions League final. Source: Ciara McHugh.

image11 Watching the game with Honduran Global Brigades worker and avid-football fan, Armando. Source: Ciara McHugh.

The game itself is a bit of a blur, considering how little of it I took in amidst the mayhem around me. Kids were coming and going, shouting about Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, hoping and praying that Los Blancos would beat this red, English team.

Everyone was gathered around the window, trying to catch a glimpse of the action happening on the other side of the world. For us, this was a far cry from the usual double- and triple-screening that happens back home, watching the game on the plasma screen television and using the smartphone, for one, to keep an eye on results elsewhere.

I don’t think I saw a single goal in real time. The only thing I was certain of afterwards was that Real Madrid won, much to los niños’ delight. The games on the dirtroads lasted long into the evening, with recreations of goals and celebrations on show to distract their foreign visitors from their work.

Screenshot 2020-05-27 at 23.05.55 A game of football being played - on a pitch we were brought to especially (with some dancing being done on the side).

Away from the glitz and glam of the Champions League final — one of the biggest days of football’s global calendar — these very simple things hundreds and thousands of miles away, in another world almost, summed the sport up.

Football is all about the people who love it, and the game brings these people from all around the world together. We’re easily united through this special, universal language.

I certainly learned that from my time in Honduras, and those football memories are ones I’ll treasure forever.

Here’s a video of the 2016 Brigade:

Source: Emma Duffy/YouTube

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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