So the 2014 World Cup begins tomorrow, in case you somehow missed all the lead-up about collapsing stadia and civil unrest in Brazil, and for Americans, that’s problematic. The rest of the world calls soccer “football,” but we have real football, the game that no other nation plays (shut up, Canada) because no one else is as rough and tough and cavalier about the risk of brain injury as we are.
So we’re perplexed when we come up hard against the fact that something big is going on in this mysterious world of “football,” something that we don’t really get at all. If we know anything about soccer, it’s that we have to drag our asses out of bed on Saturday mornings to get our kids to soccer practice, and how interesting can a game really be if it can be played by a bunch of five-year-olds?
Our sports editor at Philly Mag, Richard Rys, is a lovely man. I’ve known him for decades. He snickers every time I mention that Philly has a professional soccer team, the Union. He can’t help himself. He’s deeply steeped in baseball lore. He adores ice hockey. (Talk about boring.) He lives for the Eagles. There’s just … not enough room, in his heart or his brain, for another sport.
No wonder he thinks this way. If he’s been reading the Wall Street Journal, he saw this article on “The Problem With American Soccer Fans,” written by some jackass named Jonathan Clegg. Clegg posits that it’s okay for Americans to be vaguely interested in soccer. What’s not all right is for us to care about it ardently, because anyone on this side of the Atlantic who does that is just a big fat poseur — or, as he puts it, part of “the most derivative, excessive and utterly ridiculous collection of sports fans on the planet.” Why? Because instead of coming up with our own homegrown traditions, we ape those of indigenous soccer fans. Oh, and there’s classism in his argument, too:
Never mind that no other sport is so linked to the working class. For these fans, rooting for an English soccer team is a highbrow pursuit and a mark of sophistication, like going to a Wes Anderson movie or owning a New Yorker subscription.
American fans get things wrong. We call penalty kicks “PK’s” instead of just “penalties.” We call fullbacks “outside backs.” We call the captain of the U.S. team “Deuce” instead of “Dempsy.” How could any human beings be so dumb?
Then the Times had to chime in to further undermine the tenuous credibility of American fans with a photo-illustrated guide to “The Cultures of Fandom.” Why, America, were you wearing fake-wool team scarves at the U.S.-Nigeria match in steamy Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday? Why are you calling the field a “pitch,” you pretentious twats? Why are you singing your innocuous team songs that don’t make cruel fun of opposing players’ mothers? Why aren’t you getting properly drunk and having a brawl?
Just shut the hell up, mainstream media. Soccer isn’t some weird, mysterious foreign sport. It’s that game your 5-year-old plays, remember? You already know the rules. Liking it isn’t going to make you a hipster, or a college professor, or a sour expat. You don’t need a scarf, or to know all the songs. Soccer fans come in all shapes and sizes and colors and genders. This is the world's game.
The World Cup runs from tomorrow through the middle of July. You might as well watch; the Phillies aren’t doing anything. It doesn’t look particularly promising for Team U.S.A., which wound up in a scary-ass playoff “group” (the luck of the draw) with Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Yeah. Portugal and Ghana field formidable soccer teams. Can you name anything else that comes from Portugal or Ghana? I didn’t think so. Soccer’s really a very natural fit for Americans. It’s Democratic that way.
So adopt a secondary team, just in case — home-country fave Brazil, maybe, or Portugal with best-in-the-world star Cristiano Ronaldo, or Italy, or tiny Costa Rica or Croatia, or soccer-mad Mexico, or Nigeria or Greece. There’s no wrong way to watch soccer; there’s nothing special or arcane that you have to know (and even if there is, they have announcers who explain it for you. In English). The rest of the world will be watching. You don’t want to feel left out, do you?
Open your heart. Open your mind. I’m talkin’ to you, Rich Rys.
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