Football, the universal language

The love of football can span barriers of age, nationality, language - even a double-date with your new girlfriend.

There we both were, sitting across the table from one another as the"‘plus ones" for our respective girlfriends at the time. The fact that this man and I had never met before wasn-t the issue; the fact that he couldn-t speak English all that well was.

Conversations have a pretty tough time of generating any form of meaningful flow when one-sentence responses greet every question.

By the time I had finished my first beer, we had already covered his move to Australia, what he did for a living, his thought on Vegemite and whether they had Big Brother back in Lebanon.

I was quickly approaching a dead-end; the language barrier was proving a tough cookie to crack. Eavesdropping on the girls- conversation about the old school days suddenly seemed very appealing.

That-s until he returned serve and fired a question of his own my way.

“What you do for work?” he asked in his strong accent.

“I work at a soccer - football - magazine,” I responded while making the gesture of turning pages.

“Ah, football!” he exclaimed, eyebrows raised and the edges of his lips as close as they-ve ever been to his ears all night. “I love football.”

Bingo. Waiter, more beer please…

All of a sudden, he was full of life - I, too, for that matter. Manchester United was his team; Sir Alex Ferguson a coach he considered one of the best in the world. It was 2003 and a flashy player by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo had recently joined the club. “He do too much trick,” was his summation on United-s new No.7.

Like Barcelona-s latest recruit Ronaldinho, our conversation weaved in and out of various topics, from David Beckham-s big money move to Real Madrid to Diego Maradona-s infamous "Hand of God" incident. He had a soft spot for AC Milan, liked Harry Kewell and loved the World Cup. Rivaldo and his diving antics, not so much.

At times, the salt and pepper shakers plus some cutlery were required to help explain a point. To the casual observer passing by, it appeared as though one of us was teaching the other how to play chess. It wasn-t. In football, this is how we communicate. We were speaking the universal language.

A shared passion of the round ball would breed over two hours of free-flowing conversation. The girls were fully updated on their lives earlier in the night; we were still going strong and could have for hours.

It was amazing. At the start of the night, our foreign words struggled to generate any sort of spark and overcome the language barrier. Through football, the ice well and truly melted. We now spoke the same tongue.

In his column last week, Andrew Howe pondered “how many, if any, sporting competitions can claim a more diverse range of players taking part in it than the Hyundai A-League”.

I-d ask how many sports there were in Australia where you could meet a total stranger, not speak the same language yet somehow communicate effortlessly for hours through a common passion such as football.