It's one of those rare sun-draped days in Fall and pedestrians in Glasgow's famous Kelvingrove Park hear a unique clamoring from the public football pitch. It's Farsi, the language of Iranian asylum seekers who have gathered to take on the locals in the World's Game. Amin (pictured) and his team don JOMA brand red kits, stretch their legs and run a brief warmup before challenging the Scottish locals to a pickup game. The Iranians have played together for months, and each player knows their role well. They spread across the field, jibbing each other consistently about girlfriend woes and missed passes. I know this only because Amin translates for me occasionally when the ball flies over the fence and must be chased.
I wear number 9 today, like Fernando "el niño" Torres, one of my all-time favorite players. But instead of El Niño, I am mostly just called "Luge", the Persian pronunciation of Luke. As far as verbal communication goes on my end, I imitate the apes, talking through hand signals mostly and grunting indistinctly to call for the ball. The play is fast, and for an American used to playing hand sports, I feel like a fish out of water amongst all the foot skill around me. But none of that matters when Hamid crosses the ball into the middle and I head it past the outstretched arms of the opposing keeper for the first goal of the match. It's smiles, hugs, and painful back slaps all the way back to midfield for the restart; no translation needed.
This was 3 weeks ago and Amin is now perhaps my closest friend in Glasgow.
At the time, it was just a day of pickup football in the park, but on a grander scale it was finding the common ground between us on which we could stand together. Now we meet up often, mostly to laugh and sometimes to cry. We laugh as I teach him how to describe his family tree in English and he laughs while coaching my footwork, saying "as a child, you learned to speak with your hands, I learned with my feet. You must learn again". We cry because his story of fleeing Iran is heartbreaking and trusting God as good is hard sometimes.
There is much more to tell but suffice it to say that I'm grateful I went that Saturday, put on the smelly number 9 kit, and unwittingly found a friend in Amin, the Silver Wolf.