Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC Irvine chapter.

One of my all-time favorite books, The Anthropocene Reviewed, has a chapter dedicated to the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the performance of a polish goalkeeper named Jerzy Dudek on 25th May 2005. Without giving much away, it is a beautiful story of hope and miracles. The author of the book, as I am sure many of you know is John Green, who also happens to be a huge fan of football (no, not the Superbowl football, the World Cup football). In an interview with The Times, Green said “Football is the kind of theater where the audience doesn’t know the script and neither do the players.” Now, you must be wondering why I am stating John Green in an article about my childhood. Well, let me begin by telling you all a story. 

It is the beginning of summer in 2014, and a twelve-year-old Saleena (aka me) is heading to school when she spots the bright yellow Brazilian football jersey being hung up outside a grocery store. Now, you may be wondering, why would a grocery store sell football jerseys? Well, in Nepal that’s when you the globally rejoiced event, The World Cup is going to happen soon when even grocery stores start selling jerseys. Everywhere you go, you will see people of all ages donning jerseys from various countries: Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany, France, and many more. The streets are filled with flags from all over the world. It feels like the songs “Waka Waka” by Shakira and “Wavin Flag” by K’naan has become the national anthem. From children to the elderly, everyone is asking the same question, “Ronaldo or Messi?” It feels like the start of a festival, where everyone is dancing together to the same song, to the same beat, The World Cup.

I am sure everyone knows what the World Cup is but just in case someone does not, I will quickly give a very amateur description of what it entails. The World Cup is one of the, if not, the most prestigious and loved football competitions that occur every four years. To simplify the process, after the qualification phase which takes place during the preceding three years, 32 teams play against one another in the host nation until there is a final winner. Millions of people, tune in to watch the game and the viewership has been steadily increasing, making The World Cup one of the most viewed sporting events in the entire world. 

Although I have a vague memory of my childhood, one thing I distinctly remember is the 2014 World Cup final. For the entire duration of the game, I was essentially just enjoying the excitement of other people. I had no clue how the games worked or who the players were except Neymar Jr., Lionel Messi, and Christiano Ronaldo. I did not watched any of their games, but simply new who they were because of the big hoardings people were carrying around of their faces. Despite not knowing anything about the game, I still remember the joy we all felt. For some reason, the world had all become one. During those times, Nepal had something called load-shedding, where for certain hours of the day, we did not have access to electricity. If the matches were going to occur during those times, I remember everyone huddling up in the house that had a generator to watch the game. It did not matter if you were surrounded by strangers, everyone was there for the game. 

Although most of the games during that world cup are a blur in my mind, the final match is etched in my brain. It is a story I would like to repeat again and again. A song I never want to forget. One thing that I love more than life is sleep, and this has been a fact since the day I was born.

I remember I stayed up the whole night for a match that was scheduled at the wee hours of the night. I did not have money to purchase a jersey, so I hand-painted blue and white striped on an old t-shirt I had. Let’s set the scene. Everyone is huddled together in the living room. Unlike other days, the street outside is not quiet. The whole neighborhood is awake, and the commentator announces, “The final match of the 2014 World Cup is about to commence, ‘Germany Vs. Argentina.'”

A twelve-year-old Saleena sat in front of the television with her DIY Argentina jersey to watch Lionel Messi, about to win the World Cup, or so I thought. After a long 90 minutes and then some added time, Germany defeated Argentina 1-0, becoming the World Champions for the fourth time in history. Despite not understanding any of the rules, I remember feeling heartbroken. Not just because Argentina lost but because I knew that, that would be the last World Cup I would get to watch in Nepal. I remember thinking, where will I be the next time? Soon after, I immigrated to the United States.

For me, the World Cup is not just about the game. It also marks a time and a memory of who I am now and who I used to be. I am 20 years old now and two World Cups has happened since I immigrated. Some things have changed. I now understand the rules of the game a bit better. I am older and I can afford a jersey now. One thing remains the same, however, is my love for the game. 

I am not a huge sportsperson. I would like to be, but I am just not. But, the sheer joy of watching The World Cup is something indescribable. I am not gonna lie, every four years, I have to refresh my knowledge about the rules of the game, but nonetheless, I look forward to it every time. As you all know, the World Cup 2022, finally ended this past December. Although I did not sit and watch every game with my family huddled around in the living room, I can assure you that “Waka Waka” and “Wavin Flag” still managed to fill me up with joy as they did the first time I heard it. And you can imagine, the euphoria I felt for Argentina, after what will be considered the most exhilarating match in football history. Lifted the World Cup trophy adding a third star to their jersey. 

The story is not so one-dimensional. With growing up also comes knowledge, knowledge of how the world works, or rather the messed up world we live in. As the world cup neared this year, I also began learning about the conditions under which migrant workers had to work in order to build the stadiums for the FIFA world cup. It sounds naive and almost ignorant, but prior to this, I had not paid attention to the corruption and exploitation that goes around such events. The more I learned the more it helped me understand the privilege I live in. I write this, not because, people should not enjoy a sport. I still believe in the magic of sports and how it has the power to unite people. But I write this because I think it is very important to be aware of the stories that get lost somewhere in the exhilaration and joy of it all. 

As much as this world cup was filled with happiness and nostalgia, it was also filled with the stark reality of how systems function. I hope that there is a stronger dialogue surrounding the importance of human rights. Just like it brings joy, I hope sports can bring awareness and knowledge to these dire issues so we can all work towards bringing about a change.

saleena dhakal

UC Irvine '24

“A stranger to his own home”. I remember quickly jotting this down in my journal in class as we were watching Hamlet during my senior year in high school. It’s a sentence that has resonated with me ever since. Hi, I am a first-generation college student who has been on this journey of finding her identity ever since I moved to the United States at the age of twelve. I would like to say I am nowhere close to reaching the destination but slowly and steadily I am definitely getting there. And, when I am not trying to find deep meanings out of simple things in life, you will find me either watching Friends or jamming out to One Direction, or doing both :).