Wednesday, June 21

5,700,000,000 people, while perhaps somewhat less right than the other 300 million, can't be wrong per se.

Dumbass, you wouldn't have to do that if you'd just use your hands!

Kanu and the Gunslingers love it more than life itself. Stranko Montana likes it OK, but mainly for the chicks. The M Zone, evidently, hates it hard, while Kyle King is content to remain merrily apathetic.

I have to confess that -- in spite of the fact that it was one of the few competitive sports my lazy, un-athletic ass could be bothered to participate in as a child -- I've never been much of a soccer fan. (The other two sports, in case you were curious, were swimming, which I was good at, and teeball, at which I sucked. Yes, the ball was stationary right in front of me and I still wasn't any good. Go on; make your jokes.) As a spectator sport, I think soccer is mostly about as exciting as watching paint dry. Check that: It's about as exciting as listening to Bill Frist describing paint drying. And yet, while I'm still never going to be as excited about it as these crazy wooden-shoe-wearin' fuckers, I have to admit that I've actually kind of gotten into the World Cup.

Now, that's not to say I've gotten into soccer as a sport. I may be just a dumb uncultured American like everyone else, but I firmly believe that if a given sport's average game has a significant chance of ending in a 0-0 tie, there's probably something wrong with it. Yet as one writer explained, that may be precisely what the rest of the world likes about it. Here's a bit from a column forwarded to me by my friend Kristen whom I stayed with in Maryland last week -- do read the whole thing, because it's excellent:

Recently, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik contrasted American sports -- which have lots of scoring and action -- with the low-scoring, defense-heavy game that dominates the world's sports scene.

"The World Cup is a festival of fate -- man accepting his hard circumstances, the near-certainty of his failure. There is, after all, something familiar about a contest in which nobody wins and nobody pots a goal," he wrote. "Nil-nil is the score of life. This may be where the difficulty lies for Americans, who still look for Eden out there on the ballfield."

He may have a point there. Not only does every sport with any degree of popularity in America have far more scoring than soccer -- even hockey, I'd be willing to bet -- every major sporting league in the country from the NFL on down has enacted some kind of rule change in the last decade or so to make things easier for the offense. Of course, if his point were universally true, basketball (particularly the higher-scoring NBA variety) would be far and away the most popular sport in the country, and I've already gone on record as caring about the NBA substantially less than even Olympic figure skating. Again, figure skating has Tanith Belbin, the NBA has . . . what, who am I supposed to be looking at? Kobe? Shaq? Um, yeah. Thank you but no.

Oh yeah, back with the gratuitous Tanith Belbin pictures . . . feels like it's late February all over again! Wake up the echoes!

What was I saying? Oh yes: Soccer, kinda boring. I mean, if the thing goes 90 minutes and there are even five goals scored -- a pretty high-scoring game by modern standards, if what I've been seeing over the last couple weeks is any indication -- that's still a lot of time being spent running around and kicking the ball back and forth without making any progress on the scoreboard. And yes, I know I'm the same guy who waxed rhapsodic about the brain-pummeling intensity of last year's Tennessee-Alabama game, in which Alabama beat the Vols 6-3 and in which the scoring amounted to a total of three field goals, but . . . well, look, if Bama busts off a 9-yard end-around, then I know they've made some progress, OK? Or if they're looking at third and 2 from the Tennessee 21, then I know how far they have to go and where they need to be. There are no such clear metrics when you're watching 22 guys running around a huge, mostly unmarked field that is in fact substantially bigger than a gridiron. That guy kicked it to that other guy . . . who kicked it to the guy with the weird-ass mullet . . . weird-ass mullet guy gets the ball knocked away by the guy from the other team . . . but now the first guy gets it back . . . and maybe some progress was made there toward somebody scoring, but I have no way of knowing, and all I really want to do by this point is drink a beer and watch some moldy-ass Orange Bowl on ESPN Classic, m'kay?

And there you have it -- I've just gotten done delving into all the reasons why I think soccer sucks, so no, I don't consider myself a fan. And yet, while I don't like soccer as a game, I think I really do like the World Cup. Let me explain.

Other than the Super Bowl, there is no sporting event (or series of same) that captures the world's imagination anywhere close to the way the World Cup does. Now, I'm not going to be one of those effete snobs who thinks everything foreign must be grand and everything American must be jejune and tacky, but be honest: If there's something that's bringing together millions of people from that many different countries, isn't that at least a little bit cool? And while millions of Americans might read the words "Ecuador v. Poland" in the paper and snicker at the obscurity of it all, isn't it kind of cool that all these Ecuadorians are going to be meeting all these Poles for maybe the first and only time in their lives? And doing so in Germany, yet another country they may never have been to?

There's just something really appealing about the international-brotherhood aspect of the World Cup, even though the sport itself really doesn't appeal to me much at all. Basically it strikes me as kind of like a typical Georgia football Saturday, only lasting an entire month and bringing together people from literally all over the globe. And if this month-long tailgate also brings together fine young ladies such as . . .

Brazil, U.S., Switzerland, Croatia: Yahtzee.

. . . then who am I to say "that sucks"?

So yes, I watched from Bohemian Hall in Queens as the plucky Ivory Coasters played overdog Argentina to within an inch of their lives. I watched from Dulles Airport on Monday as my Slavic homeboyz from the Ukraine beat the ever-living crap out of those filthy-rich oil barons from Saudi Arabia. I watched during Father's Day brunch in Alexandria as my other Slavic homeboyz from Croatia battled to a scoreless tie with Japan -- which, OK, in all honesty was kind of a shitty match but at least had the redeeming factor of being broadcast on Univision, whose World Cup coverage isn't afraid to be almost maniacally energetic and is also liberally dosed with the kind of Latina chicks hot enough to make you want to throw rocks at the girls in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue . . . well, here, I'll let Kanu tell it. (Correction, that was a guest post from Orson Swindle. Kanu's own equally edifying words can be found hyah.)

Anyway. Football -- American football -- will always be king with me, and I'm certainly not about to start loving fútbol just because a few billion other people do. But even if you don't love soccer, I hope you find something to love about the World Cup, because it involves a bunch of people from radically disparate countries coming together to compete with one another without killing each other, and these days, that's a blessed relief indeed.

And just like that, thousands of conservatives suddenly soften their stance on immigration.

Oh, and the girls. Did I mention them? You can at least get excited about that, can't you?


Anonymous said...

I fell in love with the World Cup for all the reasons you mention back in the 90s and the Cup was in the US but I was in Ireland working with real football fans. The entire country would shut down. Even though my American bred business instincts said we should be working our asses off, I'd find a pub in the middle of the afternoon in Dublin and watch Ireland battle whoever to a nil-nil result. What I find exciting about the game is being with people who are excited about the game.

I was in the "sports" bar at the Taj Majal Hotel in New Delhi last weekend. Mexico vs Iran. It was me, a group of 30 or so folks of unknown origin, 5 Indians and the staff working. I have to be on the side of the Mexico since they're from North America in the same way I'm always for the ACC (Terps), NFC (Redskins) and the American League (Orioles). They're enemies during the season but brothers in the post season. It became obvious within the 1st 20 minutes the 30 folks were all Iranian (that and the Iranian flags painted on their faces only noticed later). It was fascinating to watch the rise and fall in their emotions as Iran tied but ultimately lost to Mexico. They were a great crowd who obviously loved the game. The Indian bartender was amazed there were so many Iranians in Delhi well enough his bar.

For all the reasons you mention I go to Redskins, Ravens, Terps, Navy, Nationals, Orioles, Wizards and Capitals games on a regular basis. I've been to 1 DC United game (or match I guess) and have no plans to got to another.

Kanu said...

Excellent writeup D, very well said.

I really respect your position - it seems that Americans try hard to fit into one of two camps: the soccer rules and if you don't agree then you are just a simpleton who doesn't get it or the football rules! sissy soccer sucks balls! camp. It seems that most casual Americans, when exposed to soccer, feel compelled for one reason to define themselves as a member of one of these groups. But not D Gizzle.

I appreciate that you aren't afraid to carve out a place in the middle, essentially that you don't care for the game but find yourself strangely drawn to many of the things surrounding it, like the insane passion of the fans and the 32 flavors of beautiful women who are actually INTO the sport, not just there to see and be seen (like those FSU bimboes, for example).

I hope you caught my long-overdue FYI about one of the most widely used soccer chants in the world being the tune "Go West" by the Pet Shop Boys - at least that is something (its after your comment over at DAB).

Oh, and that was Swindle - waaaaayyy too eloquent to be the words of Kanu. But if you want my words on why you should be on Univision, then go here:

If there are any public viewings in B'ham, or you get hipped to a footy pub where lots of people congregate to watch matches, then I recommend that you go check it out if you don't have any other plans - GREAT place to meet women, and the easiest part is done for you - what to say to start a conversation. Just say something, anything, and be blown away by their interest, knowledge, passion, and of course beauty (but beware of the Euro-mullet having boyfriend as well).

Astronaut Mike Dexter said...

I did catch your comment about the soccer-chant usage of the Pets tunes -- the Pet Shop Boys, ironically enough, being yet another thing the rest of the world loves but that the United States mostly just doesn't seem to get. (Their new album, by the way, hits the U.S. next Tuesday, and don't think I haven't already ordered my special-edition copy.)

Nicole said...

I started to leave a comment on here in response and addition to your thoughts on why Americans hate soccer, but it got kind of long and so I just put it up as a post on my site. Feel free to come look.

Anonymous said...

The Brazil fan is so hot, it hurts.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

I'm getting into Drew Carey's coverage on the Travel Channel- The Sporting Life.

He snags a media pass and goes to the games to photograph them. For fun, and for himself. He's obviously a soccer enthusiast, but mainly just talks about going to the games, talks to the fans, and about photographing the match. Not so much about the standings or scores.

Just a guy who gets to be immensely involved with one of his passions.

Oh, and beer is often involved.

Kanu said...

Doug- thanks for the link update, but there is a html page break at the end that is preventing the link from working and depriving our good man Ben of women hotter than the one that is already hurting him...

Next time you are in Borders, pick up that book Thinking Man's Guide To The World Cup and read the foreward and the introduction - a few pages each, they touch on the feelings you are articulating in this post about the most compelling bit not neccessarily being on the field.

Kanu said...


I'm watching Brasil-Japan on UNivision, where you can really hear the crowd noise better than on Disney.

31st minute, and Japans fans are singing something Japanese at the top of their lungs to the tune of "Go West".

I just thought that you needed to know that.Next time anyone says shit to you about PSB, you can use this as ammo.

Anonymous said...

Lately the big excus... eh, topic on sports talk radio stations is how all the best young American athletes are all steered toward Football, Baseball and Basketball. And in a way I can see that, it probably is somewhat true. I mean, have you actually seen DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan or Claudio Reyna? I think I could break all three over my knee... at the same time. But I digress.....

My main problem with US soccer is our lack of a real league. Oh we have one, but it sucks. Bigtime. Partly because the world stars know it sucks. If we could just steal a Beckham or Ronaldinho or two (pay whatever it takes, even if they are overrated like Beckham, the name's still important) more would likely follow and we'd get better. But for now MLS will continue to suck partly because world class players avoid it like the plague, so our national teams will continue to suck as well. The few Americans who have gone to Europe usually struggle or are just mediocre at best. McBride is about the only one we have who is actually respected by World soccer fans and his teammates at Fulham in the English Premier League, which is by far my favorite and the most fun League to watch IMO. Check out the Chelsea's and Manchester United's and Arsenal's and Liverpool's on Fox Soccer Channel sometime next season. Great clubs, world stars, fans always singing, terrific league. I also like their promotion and relegation incentives...

The last step to help our national team(s) is to pull an England and hire a real coach, no matter the nationality. Bruce Arena is a joke. Some of our best players were either on the bench, or playing out of position for much of the world cup. Sure, shitty refs didn't help our cause, but it was pretty lost to begin with, especially right out of the gate like that. England hired a Swede, I suggest we hire a Spaniard or something. Anything's better than a fat, clueless New York Yankee if ya ask me......

Nicole said...

Kanu - "The Thinking Fans Guide To the World Cup" is must read, regardless. The essay on Brazil is brilliant.

Nicole said...

Oh, and Bruce Arena reminds me of a bad high school football coach, beer gut and all. The man has unintentional comedy written all over him.

Wes Wolfe said...

Speaking of CFB, it's a hell of a lot easier watching a low scoring game. The US-Ghana match made me physically hurt. However, watching the Bama-UT game on TV and the Cotton Bowl in person (which some national jagoff called the most boring game ever) had my attention from beginning to end. After all, a 5-yard run means a hell of a lot more when it's tied or you're down by three. Getting the ball over the middle of the field means shit in soccer when some jacked-up African playing for more money than he's seen in his life does an amazing sliding tackle, takes the ball and humiliates your keeper.

And hooray for field goals, so even inept offenses can score. Yay.

Wes Wolfe said...

Oh, yeah, and hooray for boobies. Especially foreign ones.