In the end, however, the Ami will be judged not by Poppers but by staider characters, like the diehard fans, a lot of them men in their 50's, who turn out on a frigid night to watch Hamburg's amateur team play a side from Holstein, up near the Danish border. Most of the soccer they see is, to put it politely, robust, with the ball banged hopefully up the middle and chased with more fury than style. Once in a while, however, one sees a play that belongs to a more sophisticated level of the game. It can take the form of a long, low, defense-splitting pass that comes from out of the home team's half to find an unmarked attacker lurking out on the wing. Or it can come from close range, a ball chipped precisely onto the foot of a target man in the middle.
Each time, though, it comes from the same source—a stocky, dark-haired kid who wears the No. 5 shirt of the central defender. This kid, who learned the game in Southern California, plays with an almost frightening intensity, his eyes continually scanning the other players, plotting their changing positions. His sparse, intelligent interventions in the play can hardly affect the outcome, especially with the ground frozen into green concrete. The unmemorable game ends in a 2-2 tie.
But make no mistake—each of Caligari's plays was noted by the hard-core observers on the sidelines, the real experts. After the game, as the teams file off the field, comes a splattering of applause and a few shouts. Later in the locker room Caligari says, "You hear them calling out, 'Paul! Paul!'?"
"So what?" says a visitor from abroad.
"To them I'm not Der Ami anymore, not just a curiosity. I'm a player."
He can say that again, in German or in English.