Thanks to techsan and Lady Cibelle for their help with editing.
Balboa Park soccer stadium is located along Interstate 280, just north of Geneva Avenue in San Francisco. It is a short walk from the Balboa Park BART Station. It has been a hotbed of Premier League Soccer in San Francisco for generations.
To make it clear, the two chapters, LIFE ... HERE AND THERE and SUMMER OF LOVE are time in the past and the other four chapters are time in the present (late 1967 and early 1968).
RED CARD ROMANCE
"I loathed the game and since I could see no pleasure or usefulness in it, it was very difficult for me to show courage at it. Football, it seemed to me, is not really played for the pleasure of kicking a ball about, but is a species of fighting."
George Orwell, Such, Such Were the Joys
I was at Balboa stadium for my usual Sunday of soccer. It was warm for the early November day, but rain was forecast for later in the afternoon. The big match was between the Scots and the Greek Americans, at one o'clock. I grabbed a ham sandwich and a couple beers and walked up the ramp. These were the best sandwiches I'd ever found anywhere. The rolls were always fresh and the ham high quality. They had condiments but I liked it best with just plain ham and the roll.
I stood there for a minute trying to get a feel for the mood of the crowd. If the vibes felt right I enjoyed sitting on the front row, about six feet above the field. I would sit near one of the dugouts where I could listen to the guys talking on the bench and see the action up close and personal.
A lot of the players got to know me over time and I kinda came to be known as a neutral - that is, I wasn't into the ethnicity of the game. I mostly didn't care who won; I just loved hard-nosed, skillful fútbol, football or soccer, whatever they wanted to call it.
If the vibes were bad I would sit up on the top row, off to the side a bit. It gave me a safe spot to watch with a good overall view of the action ... safe being the key word here. Overriding my instincts, I sat down above the Scot's bench. I figured I could move at half time and be safe enough for any expected ensuing extra-curricular activities.
The game started typically enough for these two teams. Both teams regularly brought first-rate, young players from their home countries and put them to work in a network of restaurants, travel agencies and other small businesses. They would find them a place to stay, often with family members that preceded them, and give them a stipend for each game played.
The Scots typically played a hard-nosed defensive game with a tough, no-fear libero balanced by a young phenom up front who brought a grace and speed of play that Balboa rarely saw.
The libero, or sweeper, had free rein to run around the field and knock people over - he loved to take the best of opposing players out of the game. He was a stocky tank of a man with deceptive speed and a take-no-prisoners attitude. He defined the word pugnacious and was a man the fans loved to hate, with his fiery temper and equally fiery mop of red hair. After a few minutes of play he would turn bright red and his freckles could be seen from across the field. Adding an exclamation to this was his playing without his bridge showing this big hole where his two front teeth used to be.
Missing two front teeth on a child is a cute thing. Seeing this force of a defender charging at you with a committed intent of maiming you ... well, the missing teeth that made him look more than a little demented was not cute.
The Greeks played a disciplined passing game softened by the highly skilled players breaking out with great individual efforts. They had a young player, maybe in his early twenties, Theodoros Nikopolidis, who was a free kick specialist who was a wonder at getting off crosses into the box with pinpoint accuracy. Five minutes into the game, Teddy as he was known, put a low cross to the near post of the Scots, which was headed across to the far post for an easy chest-in giving the Greeks a quick one up lead.
I could see the Scottish libero looking fiercely at Teddy and I knew there was going to be trouble. I'd finished one of my beers and the sandwich and decided I'd move as soon as I finished my second beer. The Scots kicked off after the goal and Teddy intercepted the pass back up the line by the Scots defender and he held the ball, moving up slowly while waiting for one of his players to break. He made eye contact with the left wing and let go with a deep pass to the far post that was headed diagonally across the goal away from the defending goalie.
Teddy was standing there with a big smile on his face as the ball passed in front of the keeper and across the goal line. Hands on hips, standing loose and easy, he never saw the Scots' enforcer coming in late, cleats up.
The ref came running in blowing his whistle, red card waving futilely as the players started fighting and the fans came running down, too many of them jumping over the rail to the field to join the fight. I started edging away, knowing this was going to be a bad one. My attention was arrested as I saw a pixie of a girl jump over the rail to the roof over the Scots' bench. She looked to be about fifteen with a slim figure and long wavy black hair that hung halfway down her back.
I stood there admiring her fierce temper as she shook her fist and shouted imprecations at the Scots players. I'm sure that I would have blushed if I'd understood anything she said. Since it sounded Greek to me I assumed by this she must be Greek. Then she made a very un-girlish sign to one of the Scottish players standing there with a ball in his hand, away from the fray. I'd noticed this with a few of the teams. Some of the players had learned through painful experience to step back out of the way and let the fights take their course.
The girl turned, standing with one foot on the railing, and saw me staring at her. She gave me a quick grin and stepped into the stands just as the ball thrown by the irate Scot hit her in the back of the head. The ball hit her at the moment she was transferring her balance from one foot to the other and she took a dive right at me. I threw my hands up too late and succeeded only in flinging my beer right on the front of her blouse and deflecting her into the wooden bleacher seat.
The fight was getting worse, so I picked her up and ran to the side about twenty yards and sat down, still holding her. She was stunned from the force of the ball hitting her, but was starting to come around. Her pleated wool skirt was hiked high on her thighs so I pulled it down and saw a nasty cut on her knee from hitting the edge of the bench seat.
I grabbed the handful of napkins I always stuffed in my pocket for lunch and held it to her knee - trying to staunch the blood. I looked to see if she was hurt anywhere else and noticed the beer had turned her blouse and lacy white bra more or less translucent. Hell, no question, it was more than translucent. I could see that she had small but well-formed breasts with dark areolas, currently nicely firmed up from the chill of the beer.
I quickly looked at her face and upgraded my estimate of her age a bit, maybe a year older than fifteen. She had heavy black eyebrows, an oval face of creamy white with the remnants of a summer tan. Her cheeks were flushed from the fall and I presumed the high emotions she had been feeling. Her nose was small, a little upturned with a slight bump at the bridge of her nose.
With no thought of propriety or reason I leaned over gently and kissed that tiny bump. Two things happened at once: the girl opened her eyes, staring at me and a rough hand grabbed my shoulder squeezing and pulling me up.
The man attached to the clenching hand was shorter than me but burly, wide through the shoulders with a heavy build. He had a bushy, full mustache shot through with grey and dark wild eyes that made it clear to me that I was in trouble. He pulled his hand back, the callused fist looking like a boulder to me and I instinctively crossed myself ... later I realized that probably saved me from a great deal of discomfort.
The man hesitated in view of my making the sign of the cross while the girl jumped between us, jabbering at him something fierce. She pointed at her knee and her head - obviously explaining what had happened. She said something else and he shook his head no. With a steady firmness in her voice she repeated what she had said. He finally nodded his head but didn't say anything.
The girl introduced herself and her father, "I am Jacinda Nikopolidis. You may call me Jaci. This is my father Theodoros Nikopolidis. You may call him sir and smile at him."
I put my hand out to him and said, "Sir, I am Jimmy Moore. I was trying to help your daughter." The smile part was definitely weak.
He shook my hand with a great deal of hesitation and muttered something.
She smiled and told me, "He wants to know how kissing my nose was helping me." She added sweetly, with just a bit of sarcasm thrown in, "Actually, I'm kind of curious myself."
I looked at him, seeing only the impending threat and gave it a shot, "Well, Sir ... uh, well, Sir, see - well she was in shock so I thought..." I looked at her and continued, "Oh, hell. I don't know why. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I'm sorry."
.... There is more of this story ...