“The Americans upset the English last night!”
“Oh, what did we do this time,” I inquired.
“I heard it on the radio," my friend continued, expecting me to be happy to hear the news. He knows I'm patriotic, and knows Í'm a sports fan.
"The United States upset England!” he said. Only then did I realize that my friend, who is Hong Kong Chinese and not particularly interested in sport, was talking about the World Cup. Apparently everyone in Hong Kong was talking about "the big upset". Soccer has a big following here.
As the game started at 2.30 in the morning Hong Kong time, I hadn't cared enough to take a taxi to my favourite drinking hole in Sheung Shui to watch the game on cable. But I did care enough to check the Internet before leaving home that morning to find out the results.
After everything else was out of the way . . .
“The Americans didn't win,” I told my friend.
“It was a tie.”
Heads I Win, Tales You Loose
Did my friend really misunderstand the broadcast? Was the announcer making a clever play on words? Or was it possible that in a sport in which ties are common that when the underdog ties the team that is favoured, it can be called an upset?
I really don't know!
I have tried to make heads or tails of the world's most popular sport for ages. I do, after all, live overseas, and it would make me more popular. But for the life of me – as much as I love my baseball, my basketball, my ice hockey, and what we call football – I simply don't understand the attraction of what everyone else in the world calls football, and what we call soccer.
It is not that the Americans don't like playing soccer.
From what I have read, an ever increasing number of Americans are, in fact, playing it, and the reason is simple. It's not nearly as dangerous as our version of football. Given the choice, I personally would rather play soccer than what we Americans call football.
Unless you have masochistic/sadistic tendencies, why would you want to engage in an activity in which painful knee injuries are almost a given?
Participation vs Spectating
While we Americans might enjoy playing soccer, we don't especially enjoy watching other people play soccer.
At the risk of upsetting the rest of the world (with the possible exception of the Canadians, the Cubans, the New Zealanders, and the Japanese), we find soccer a bit boring.
Yes, you read that right. We find it boring!
Don't bother sending me angry emails to inform me that you find American football boring.
I know you do! And I have heard it all before! There are too many interruptions. The rules are too complicated. There is not enough action on the field.
Blah, blah, blah . . .
With soccer, you say, there are 90 minutes (correct me if I am wrong) of "non-stop" action – except, of course, for half time.
I am assuming, of course, that you have half time. My interest in watching a match was never sustained long enough to get that far.
Some how, I don't find watching men in desperate need of a haircut and shave running back and forth across a pitch exciting.
It holds about as much interest for me as putting a golf ball on a tray, tilting it from back and forth, and watching it go left and right.
Zzzzzz . . . . .
How Do We Hate Soccer? Let Us Count the Ways
With apologies to Elizabeth Barret Browning (my 12th grade English teacher, Mrs. Wyatt, whom I dearly loved and deeply admired, would be so proud!), let me clarify what it is about the World's Most Popular Sport (a.k.a. the Beautiful Game) that we Americans find a bit boring (and/or annoying).
- Fake Injuries We really hate it when somebody plummets to the field, feigns injury in a desperates attemp to exact a penalty kick, and then trots off unscathed with a silly grin on his face as though he has done something really, really clever.
- Violence in the Stands I'm not saying it never happens, but most of our fights occur on the rink, on the court, or on the field – but mostly on the rink. Certainly not in the stands. As our good neighbors to the North, the Canadians, put it, “I went to a fight and an ice hockey game broke out.” That's the way it should be – between players of opposing teams, but not among the fans. We also find the trashing of other people's cities a bit uncivilized. When one of our teams wins a championship, we can get a bit unruly (it does happen), but if we trash a city, it's our own, not someone else's.
- Incessant Singing of Ridiculous Songs At high school football games, we used to do cheers. They were usually related to what was going on on the field. They were meant to urge our own team on or distract the other team. We would chant things like “Hit 'em again, hit 'em harder, harder!” or “We want a touchdown, right now!” Other than the cheerleaders, I'm probably the only student at Skyline High School that knew all the cheers by heart. As much as I enjoyed doing that at high school, I find it extremely annoying to listen to that incessant drone of singing that has nothing to do with the game. Is anyone even paying attention to the action of the pitch?
- Colours That Clash I'm a Virgo so perhaps I'm the only sign of the Zodiac that notices, let along cares, so I can't claim that this bothers all Americans, but why do the goalies' uniforms bear no resemblance to the rest of the members of the team? I understand that you need to distinguish the goalies from everyone else (strange – this doesn't seem to be a problem with ice hockey, whose rules are pretty similar to soccer's), but why couldn't they simply reverse the team colours or something? You know, home/away vs away/home? Or perhaps they could wear a silly hat … or they could hang a big sign around their necks that reads, "Goalie".
- Scores That Are Too Low Who doesn't get off on the adrenaline rush when his own team scores? Who doesn't hate the disappointment when the other team scores? Either way, it is the rush of emotion that counts. No matter how you cut it, games with scores of 1 to 0 or 0 to 1 leave at least one side going home without at least that one fleeting moment of ecstasy.
- Games That End in Ties This is the biggie! With baseball we have extra innings. With basketball, we have overtime. With our version of football, we have sudden death. I want to experience the ecstasy of victory or the agony of defeat. What is the point of having a game in which there are neither winners nor losers? Why not simply say, “The United States and England both showed up”?
- Exception to the Rules Okay! You allow ties. I accept that. So why not do it all the way? We find it downright ridiculous that suddenly the rules change for the title match, the only match – when all is said and done – that really matters. All season long, you allow ties. But not now. A winner has to emerge. Why not with all the other games? So you institute this penalty kick system, which has nothing to do with the way the sport is normally played. If you allow ties the rest of the time, the championship match should also be allowed to end in a tie. And then we could all enjoy watching the ridiculous spectacle of fans from two different teams emerging from the stadium hand in hand, chanting, “We're numbers one … and two!"
- Racism Now it's time to get serious. I am as politically incorrect as the next person, but it boggles my minds that racist chants are allowed at soccer matches. It happens in Europe, it happnes in China, and I don't care what my good friends tell me, it's NOT funny . . . When the home crowd starts chanting hurtful slogans against players because of their race – or making insulting noises … they should be given a warning. And if they persist, the game should be called to an immediate hault, and the home team should have to forfeit it.
Copyright: Michael Taylor Pictured: the United States National Soccer Team Photo Credit: Voice of America