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November, 13th 2009

Soccer (football) is not for wimps

– Liz Mair

One of my pet peeves about now living in the US is that so many people here think soccer (football) is for wimps.  I fail to understand why.  They should seriously start watching the Premiership, because stuff like this happens-- and it is not wimp-friendly.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is Roy Keane, former Manchester United defender, breaking a guy's leg.

I would say this occurred in an effort to get the ball, but actually, it being Keane, I kind of doubt it.  This was probably just for fun, or you know, a tactical maneuver to reduce the amount of opposition on the field (in a really effective way).

But what it was not, was the equivalent of a mean badminton move.  Which, strangely (to me anyway) seems to be what a lot of people in the US think soccer (football) amounts to: Something as benign as croquet, but with running somehow involved.

Last year, on a relatively quiet day at the RNC, I had a debate about this with a colleague (who for the purposes of this post shall remain nameless and description-less).  He hates soccer (football) and thinks it's stupid and not a real sport.  I obviously disagree.

We debated this quite a bit.  It was clear, in talking to him, that majority US opinion is on his side: Soccer (football) sucks and it is for wimps.  In talking to him, I also came up with a theory: In the US, as a kid, soccer (football) is a sport that is accessible to everyone.  There is basically some sort of soccer team that every kid in the neighborhood can sign up to when they're small, no matter how ill-suited they are to sports or how disinterested they are in them.  Soccer (football) is like the equal opportunity, "no one is a loser" sport.  Except that in any real sport (or anything competitive), some people are losers.  Some people don't have the chops.  But with this sport, as a kid, it's irrelevant.  Whether you're the next Zinedine Zidane or the functional equivalent of Kenny from South Park, it does not matter.  As a six year-old, you, too, can play soccer.

Now, to be fair, you, too, may be able to play teeball or little league or something.  But here's the difference-- or one we spotted, anyway.  When you get to, say, middle school, other sports come on the table in a bigger way-- football, basketball.  The ones that really aren't equal opportunity (perhaps because if you're four feet tall and weigh 80 pounds, you're not cut out to play either).  And the ones that are played professionally, big time, in the US-- and where if you're really good in middle school, and you stay really good in high school, you might get to play in college, and then get to go pro in a major league that attracts major viewership and major money, across the whole country.  Soccer (football) isn't quite there-- and it might never be if its reputation sticks.

In the UK, it's not like this.  Sure, lots of kids play.  But if you're good at age seven and live somewhere with a fairly big, well-funded football team, it's entirely possible that you might get a shot at joining a football academy.  And football academies produce people like David Beckham and Paul Scholes.  Who demonstrably do not suck (even though I still basically hate them because of their ties to Man U, a.k.a., The Scum).

I think this is different for some Americans.  For example, I am sure that if I had a kid, soccer (football) would be a phenomenally big deal with regard to that kid's life.  Let's be honest: I am one of the world's crappest players.  I am lazy, I hate running, I don't score all that frequently, and I spend a lot of time offside.  But still, I see something good and competitive in the sport-- and more to the point, so does my husband, the big Liverpool fan.  We are culturally predisposed to like soccer (football) and treat it as critically important-- like, literally, one of the five most important things in life.  I suspect this may be the case also with some families of Latin American descent, too.  But it is not the case for most, I'd bet.  Ultimately, MLS is not the NFL.  I wish it were, because I think football (the American kind) sucks.  It takes forever to play a game.  Refs make idiotic calls all the time.  Players have to go have a rest or be out for multiple games if they hurt their pinkie or something.  And there is too much padding.  It is inconceivable to me that an NFL game could ever be as fun to watch as, say, the Euro 2004 match between France and England-- especially given my ethnic heritage.  Plus, I live in Washington, DC-- home of the Redskins.  And if you want a dictionary definition of "suck," they are, more often than not, a good place to start. [intro]

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