by Kent Sterling
As is always the case, people seek status in being among the first to discover how cool something is. Soccer enthusiasts are looking down their noses at the World Cup fans who show up in bars every four years to watch Ecuador play Albania or Cameroon play Chile – four countries 99% of Americans couldn’t point out on a map.
The transient fans don’t know a corner kick from a push pass, but they know it’s fun to drink beer and yell, so they show up to crowd out the year-round soccer followers who show up early at the Chatham Tap to watch English Premier League games with a warm Guinness. The real fans know Europeans who play not named David Beckham, and they hate the johnny and joanie come latelys who relentlessly ask why there is a rule banning the use of hands.
“It just doesn’t make sense, that’s all,” they say. “Imagine how much fun soccer would be if players could catch and throw the ball!” Even I wince.
I played soccer in high school, and watched “Soccer Made in Germany” every week on PBS – mostly because I dug the announcing skill of the great Toby Charles – so I’m no newbie. When I played soccer, nobody but reasonably athletic kids so undersized they couldn’t play football played soccer, but I worked hard at it.
And you know what, without context, soccer – like every other sport – is boring as hell. Go ahead and watch the St. Louis Rams play the Carolina Panthers. If you don’t have money on the game or aren’t from St. Louis or Charlotte, good luck staying awake. Try not napping through nine innings of the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners. If the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks played on ESPN, it would owe the Nielsen Company viewers.
The World Cup brings context to soccer that otherwise does not exist, and those who show up to watch because everyone else does might just decide that soccer is a great game and that the food at the Chatham is top notch. They might return to watch Liverpool play Arsenal.
Soccer snobs should welcome them instead of moaning about haters or lemmings who can’t be bothered to pay any attention other than during the summers following a Winter Olympiad.
Those who whine about the lack of scoring are free to believe what they like. My favorite baseball games finish 1-0. Announcers call them “a connoisseur’s delight,” because only lovers of baseball understand the intricacies of the game enough to enjoy them. Of course, that’s silly. A baseball game can change with every pitch and swing. With soccer, you don’t need to understand the game at a high level to be thrilled by a 0-0 tie because every possession could bring a good chance for a game-winning goal.
Intractably surly soccer fans would be wise to think of the sports in which they have little interest and apply some empathy to the knuckleheads only searching for a reason to day drink. Welcome them. Patiently answer their questions. High five them when they excitedly offer their hand. Shed the attitude and enjoy yourself.
For those arrogant mopes who continue to angrily yelp about soccer haters, get over yourself unless you love hockey, baseball, football, basketball, field hockey, softball, tennis, and golf. Soccer isn’t for everyone, but it is for more and more of us.
As for me, if they keep score, I’m in. That’s all the context I need.