One Philadelphian’s Quest to Stop Hating Soccer

Giving up the one thing I had in common with mainstream America.

Over the years, my life in the big city has turned me into a latte-sipping, pinko-yuppie hipster. But there is one thing I share with mainstream America, and that is my disdain for soccer. Who wants to see a bunch of 0-0 games with very little action but plenty of whining and crying?

I was feeling pretty good about this little thing mainstream America and I had going on. We were two peas in a pod on this one. But then mainstream America went out and started listening to that dumbass “Call Me Maybe” song, and in revenge, I decided to give soccer a shot. The European Football Championship is going on right now, so I headed down to the Bards at 20th and Walnut to see if anybody was watching soccer, and if those folks could convince me to do the same.

There was a nice little crowd at the bar, some watching the Ireland-Italy match, while others tuned into Spain and Croatia. I started by speaking with a Villanova prof named Greg who was watching the Ireland game. Originally from Seattle, he had gotten hooked on soccer at a young age. I asked him, “Why should a real American, the type who eats red meat, has a 92-inch television, and vomits on children at sporting events, watch a sport where the final score is often 0-0?” He decided to frame his answer in a way that a homer like myself could understand, in baseball terms.

“A lot of the nuance of a game, when you are just coming to it, is precisely what you miss. A pitching duel, for a casual baseball fan, well there’s nothing happening. But if you actually follow the game, and you know what the drama is, then baseball can be exciting, even though there is very little action. And I think the same is true with soccer. A tremendous amount of the game is about tactics and about finesse and strategy.”

A good answer by Greg, but then his order of “French” fries came out, and I wondered if he was really a European in disguise, trying to lure Americans like myself over to the dark side. “No,” I decided. “I shant like this sport at all, and I shall not spend another farthing in this rathskeller!” Oh no, it was happening! Soccer was turning me into a European!

I decided to talk to a female fan at the bar who was decidedly American. Her name was Marian, and she was a college student from UVA who was just in Philly for the summer. She had played soccer in high school, and that’s what had gotten her hooked on the sport. “It’s the world’s sport, and I really love the fans. Ireland lost to Spain the other day, but all of their friends were cheering and singing. I think it’s more of a group-watching experience than football or baseball.”

I turned my attention to the bartender, an Irish gentleman named John. As he poured me a Guinness (write off!), he said that for the beginner fan, “If you’re in a bar, and you want to learn about football, ask. If you’re in the right bar, not only do we show the games but if you ask me about football, I will talk to you until the cows come home. It’s the same on the other side as well. I’ve been to bars where I ask about the NFL, and they’re happy to tell me because I’m making an effort to learn. If you’re making the effort, I’ll tell you everything you need to know. Don’t be scared to ask questions.”

Buoyed by his attitude, I decided to come home and ask a few questions of Michelle Stella, secretary and charity coordinator for the Sons of Ben, the Philadelphia Union fan club and rooting section. She said that having a pro team in Philly had raised awareness of the sport locally, and like Marian, she thought the real fun of being a soccer fan was the social aspect of it. “You’re standing up, singing, chanting, cheering, whenever. It’s hard to not get sucked in. It’s hard not to have a good time. I encourage people to just try.”

I may just do that. The Union have a home game this Saturday, against Sporting KC. And I may attend. Call me a “maybe.”