In the summer of 1990, my mother, grandfather, and I decided to take a ferry from Newcastle, England to Bergen, Norway, across the North Sea. At the time it seemed like a nice idea, but that’s only because we had absolutely no clue what a ferry crossing on the North Sea would be like. After 24 hours of feeling sick, wanting to vomit, hoping to die, and thinking seriously of throwing myself off the deck into the water, I know far too well what a ferry crossing on the North Sea is like. If you can glean no other piece of wisdom from reading my blog, know this: fly to Norway.
The upside of our maritime misery was that we landed in Bergen, a lovely port city surrounded by mountains. From there we took a train over the mountains to Oslo. The train ride through the mountains was as spectacular as the ferry ride was horrible. The train itself was somewhat antiquated, but in an appealing, old-timey way. The seats were covered in a maroon fabric that at one time was probably plush but had been worn from use, and the brass fixtures were tarnished and dinged, but when it came time for a snack you did not walk to the snack car. Instead, an elderly man in a starched white jacket served us cucumber sandwiches and beer from a cart that he rolled through the aisle. Whichever side of the train you looked out showed breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and their many lakes. It was a memorable trip, and though I’m sure the trains are now modern, sleek and fast, I’m rather pleased I got to experience some of the old world splendor while it lasted.
The occasion of our visit to Norway was the 1990 WFDF World Championships in Oslo, a tournament we qualified for by beating Tsunami in the 1989 UPA Nationals. At that game, as twilight fell and temperatures dropped, my grandfather took a seat on a cold aluminum bench on our sideline. Soon after he sat down, we began our second half comeback. Thinking that perhaps sitting on that bench had started our comeback, he refused to move, even as twilight became darkness and the temperatures continued to fall. After our victory, it took some time for us to straighten him out for the walk to the car.
There were no such problems at Worlds. The weather was warm and we rolled through the pool play games with ease, crushing the Swedes, who we felt had it coming after 1988, 17-4. But the tournament was not without challenges. Playing in July in Norway, “The Land of the Midnight Sun,” we had our first experience with trying to sleep in a country where it never gets dark. We finally got the hang of it by taping black plastic garbage bags over our hotel room windows. What we never did figure out was how you know it’s time to end the waffle ball game and go home when the sun stays out all the time.
The tournament continued, and a win in the semi-finals over what might have been Finland earned us a rematch with Sweden in the finals. It also earned us a bit of controversy.
The tournament program showed the finals had been scheduled in a local stadium, something that was hardly unusual for a world championship. What was unusual was that the stadium field was artificial turf, and we weren’t told until after the semi-finals. We couldn’t believe it. How could they even think of playing a final on turf? While it’s true that some teams, particularly in winter, play on artificial turf at times (usually for practice), we never did. We also played hard, layed out often, and expected to do the same during the World Championship Final. The thought of playing on turf was very unsettling to say the least. The fact that they had not told anyone on our team of their plans beforehand was even more so.
The tournament organizers were very re-assuring. They told us the field was in good shape, Europeans often played on artificial turf, and there was no reason to anticipate any injuries or problems. We were also told that it was in the best interests of the tournament organizers, the other eliminated teams who wanted to watch, and the many fans in attendance that we play in a stadium rather than on one of the pool play fields, our only other option. Despite the logical, well-made argument that it was in everybody else’s best interest for us to do something that made us uncomfortable, we, as a group, decided to do what was in our best interest. We refused to play. Told we could lose the game on a forfeit, we still refused. Our health and safety were more important to us, we reasoned, than their trophy.
In the end WFDF blinked, and the finals were played on a grass field. We beat Sweden, winning our second of five WFDF and WUCC titles. More importantly, we stood up for what we thought was right, resisted the pressure of an organization that tried to bend us to their will rather than look out for our interests, and refused to heed the argument that the interests of all the people not playing the game were more important than those of the players. If any of you young players out there find yourselves in a similar situation, perhaps you can learn from our example. How will you find yourselves in such a situation?
Let’s just say you’ll know one when you see one.