Football In America

Actually, I’ve been trying to stay low whilst the British commentariat work through their various problems with the sporting life of the United States, but when even Simon Barnes gets involved with this piece of shame-inducing drivel… and I’m saying, if you find this funny…

(I don’t really understand why Brits care so much about sport in the US. Especially the US adoption of the British coinage “soccer”, which I remember in common use in the ’70s over here, to distinguish the game from their native sports. And why, in particular, do we resent the lack of a British-style league culture over there? Given that football is being played by more people than any other sport, given that they, rather earlier than the Brits, have made something of womens’ football, why do they have to import the idiot parochialism and deadly rivalries and hatreds of European/South American club football when their own way with these things is a) different and b) a whole lot less violent? Makes no sense to me – except when I look at it all as not really being about sport at all.

Let us be positive. Google is still your friend, but you can use the search engine of your choice. Let’s pick two huge nations with no football tradition and dig up the scores of articles that must surely exist to place alongside the Barnes. You know the genre well enough if you’ve been reading the papers this week.

India, and Indonesia. Mocking articles about their sporting life and inability to understand football. Must be loads out there. Links in the comments, please.

10 Replies to “Football In America”

  1. Not a great article, particularly the silly ‘sak-hurr’ bit. I’ll take issue with a few things though:

    You say, “Given that football is being played by more people than any other sport” – I don’t think this true, most internet searches I do say it is basketball. It might be “played by more young people” and that perhaps is the rub – the US Embassy gives figures that 80% of them are under 18, and in Slate Dave Eggers (it was the World Cup) that about 88% of those give it up when they become adults (This is more down to giving up sport, I expect, than soccer per se). Also 40% are women (not sure of total or of those under 18).

    So the actual number of adult males playing it, which is where the big TV money and international success would come from, is not comparable to the other major sports.

    I don’t think this particularly matters, but it surely it does in the circumstances of David Beckham going to LA to try to encourage the game in America. He can’t be there to try to encourage children of both sexes playing it, as they already do. So he must be there in order to encourage the professional male game, I’d have thought, and even the league structure.

    This article on soccer has some interesting stuff, including the information that ‘And this year the league announced its first ever TV rights deal, estimated to be worth between $15m and $20m a season’.

    On India and Indonesia, I don’t think any exist. But I couldn’t find any from Indian or Indonesian journalists either, which is not the same with respect to America and soccer. If you want mocking and silly, try this

  2. Here’s one about Japan which is pretty bad.

    Fifa’s affair with Japan revealed as unrequited love
    The Daily Telegraph (London); Jun 4, 2002; Mark Palmer; p. 07
    Full Text:
    (Copyright Daily Telegraph Jun 4, 2002)

    A SPECIAL World Cup edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? was shown on Japanese television the other evening. One contestant was asked how many players made up a football team and replied: “23”. It would have been an interesting exercise in research if he had opted to ask the audience.

    Then, a woman was shown a picture of David Beckham and asked his nationality. “French,” she said. That really was “quite remarkable”, as John Motson would put it, given the Beckhamitis in Japan.

    But, then, football is still a minority sport in this country, well down in the pecking order from baseball, golf and sumo wrestling.

    Even so, there are plenty of perfectly bright people who are keen to tell you that soccer one day will replace baseball as the most popular national sport.

    They must be the same sort of people as those who insisted that soccer in America was going to become the big new thing after the United States had hosted the 1994 World Cup.

    Actually, they are the same people. They wear Fifa blazers and speak English with pan-global accents and one day they’ll award the World Cup to Australia to open up another market for T-shirts similar to those here that say: “I love football”.

    Japan doesn’t love football. When the country was awarded the World Cup after agreeing to share it with South Korea, the nation’s capital didn’t even bother to apply to become a venue city.

    It might have been a smart move. Given the perilous state of Japan’s economy (the country’s credit rating was slashed by two notches this week, putting it in the same league as Botswana, Cyprus and Slovenia), the last thing Tokyo wanted was a financial albatross hanging around its neck.

    Tomorrow, Japan play Belgium in their opening game and there’s a good chance the match, unlike yesterday’s Brazil-Turkey game, will be on terrestrial television.

    It’s possible that some bars in Tokyo might be good enough to show it on their tiny screens.

    I hope Japan win and that there will be a surge of interest, a bit like there was four years ago in France, when the opening round went almost unnoticed but passions were roused in the latter stages when it became clear that the French were contenders to lift the trophy.

    The difference this time is that the hosts might just go down the Saudi Arabia route and lose to Belgium by a sack-full.

    Bringing back Gary Lineker or someone of his ilk would be one solution. The Japanese like the idea of famous players from the West coming over for a final pay-day because, well, they like famous people.

    The truth is that the J-League, founded in 1993 and comprising two professional divisions, has been in decline in the last few years, with teams merging in an effort to keep up appearances and swell attendances. This World Cup is meant to stop the rot.

    Which is not to say that there aren’t some fervent football fans in Japan.

    Makoto Aihara runs a bar in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo and is showing every game on a huge screen, offering drinks on the house for every goal that Japan scores.

    “Football is the perfect sport for the Japanese personality,” said Mr Aihara. “It allows us to get very excited, very angry and very happy all in a short space of time. The problem is that we have to find our own football culture. We need a Japanese David Beckham.”

  3. Fans are concerned about possible US success/hegemony because it would damage their mana, their “spiritual” power. What do you do when the bricks that make up your identity are taken away? You await spiritual death or take up… you see there is no other sport that fits there.

  4. PS Check out the film Matti Per Il Calcio about the use of football as therapy. That’ll cheer you up. If I was young enough I wouldn’t be watching football I’d be playing it (badly). I’d rather be able to play than have a season ticket to White Hart Lane.

  5. Sorry, Matthew, that was my English: I did mean to refer to “more people under 18” playing football in the States, not people in general.
    That’s interesting about the J-League.

    Pierre – I’ll chase that film down – thanks for letting me know. You’ll have read the recent success football has provided in helping people with various forms of schizophrenia.

  6. My father called it “soccer” because, as I’ve mentioned before, his school played two football codes and called them “rugby” and “soccer”. Aussies presumably used to call it “soccer” to distinguish it from their other three codes. I don’t understand this precious, indeed twee, mocking of “soccer”: is it ignorance, oafishness, or a desire by jessies to sound more proletarian?

  7. Matthew – I love that article. One of those where the unspoken assumption is “we’ve reached the end of history: this, now, is the climax”. They clearly didn’t see Steve Redgrave coming.

    Dearie – yes! The Australians also use it. That doesn’t get referred to often in these discussions, does it? From your list of reasons for mocking, I pick oafishness and ignorance..

  8. I might have misunderstood it, but this article from 1914 in the Times about Theodore Roosevelt’s lecture on his trip to Brazil, given to the Royal Society in London, has him saying in a lecture that “what we call Association Football and you call ‘soccer'”. Which if anything seems the opposite way around to normal thinking.

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