Your World Cup Refresher

We soccer "haters" need to sit out the next round.

We soccer “haters” need to sit out the next round. Apparently.

This time, even conservatives are ganging up on Americans who don’t care for soccer.

Including right wing Breitbart, which ran a piece titled WORLD CUP: American Football is a Sign of the Nation’s Decline:

Every four years, large swaths of the world pause to enjoy the World Cup, a tournament of the 32 best national teams in soccer. Like clockwork, American sports writers and fans mark the occasion with loud commentary about how “stupid” they find the sport. Barrels of ink are spilled and vocal cords strained assuring everyone that our “football” is better than soccer and, more American. Project much?

Setting aside whatever Freudian motivations necessitate such screeds, perhaps the question merits consideration. Is our “football” more American? I wish it weren’t true, but, sadly, I’m afraid these writers and fans are probably right.

Professional football in the US is, after all, a government-protected monopoly. A rapidly growing city can’t just field its own team, but must first get approval from the cartel of football team owners. These cartel members can also usually count on taxpayers to foot the bill for building their stadiums. This cartel also ensures that teams can enjoy staying in the league regardless of performance. In the English Premier League (soccer) and most other leagues, the worst performing teams get thrown out of the league every year, until they can earn their place back. Americans of an older generation will remember this concept as a meritocracy… Et cetera, et cetera, harrumph.

And Hotair, currently featuring the essay Conservatives shouldn’t hate soccer just because Europeans like it:

World Cup 2014 is upon us, which means you can count on two things: First, Team USA will lose to Ghana. (Oh, that didn’t happen this time?) Second, some conservatives will argue that soccer is a socialist game and they want nothing to do with it.

Of course soccer is socialist. There are … teams! They’re … Europeans! And the announcers even use the collective plural — as in, “England are playing well today.” Which is just wrong.

But soccer reflects conservative values better than baseball or football — two games I personally love and watch far more often than soccer. Here are four reasons why…

The body of the piece enumerates the reasons, which are cleverly done to be sure, but the more interesting part is the comments section here. Read it for fun. There are lots of reasons people don’t like soccer, but in aggregate it would seem to be more about the game than the politics.

Why I’d remind you that I have some credentials of at least longevity on the subject. I wrote about the World Cup beginning in 2006. I slightly updated my perspective in 2010. That year, I even invited hockey fanatic Puck Punk to live blog a soccer game. Plenty of laughs. Not much of what you’d call hatred.

Don’t think I’ve ever hated the game for reasons political or otherwise. For example, I wrote about the 2008 Euro Tournament and offered suggestions about how to make the sport better.

Mighty ESPN also sank as low as devoting hours and hours of its precious airtime to the 2008 European Soccer Tournament. Worse, we actually watched some of it. Mrs. CP got a modest kick out of watching the hated Orangemen of Holland lose in the closing moments to Russia while I was mostly busy grilling burgers outside. And, then, on Sunday, out of a pitifully unfounded hope that something interesting would happen in the Italy-Spain quarter-final, we actually watched our second soccer game in one weekend.

The shame of it. What can I say? I am personally fond of Italy. There was nothing else on. The weather map insisted we were under imminent threat from severe thunderstorms all afternoon (which never came). And, yes, I should have known. As Instapunk regulars know, this site has assessed the appeal of soccer in some detail. But I, personally, had never sat there and watched an entire game of world-class soccer.

You’ll never know. Words are inadequate. They played the entire 90 minutes of regulation with no score. Then they played two 15-minute overtime periods with no score. For the math-challenged, that’s two full hours of “sport” in which nothing whatever happened. There are no ‘plays’ to speak of. One team starts out kicking the ball down the field, passing it to one another as if they have something in mind. But the other team always takes it way from them before anything can happen, and then they do exactly the same thing. Every once in a while two players make contact, one of them falls down and begins shrieking as if he’s just been hammered into the turf by Brian Urlacher (no f’ing way, Jose) and the ref gives the guy who touched him a ‘yellow card.’ Then there’s a ‘free kick,’ which is about as free as all other things European; the kicker faces a solid wall of opposing players between him and the goal. So he kicks the ball over their heads, over the goal, and into the crowd. Then they start again.

The only entertainment value is a kind of expanding wonder. What do they use for highlights on TV news/sports coverage? Crowd shots? Clips of players rolling around on the ground pretending to be hurt? Refs dealing yellow cards as deftly as Vegas poker sharks? All those kicks that go way left or way right or way o-o-o-ver that gigantic net? What statistics do the soccer encyclopedias compile? There’s nothing to count or keep track of that might be a finite accomplishment or ‘play.’ Number of pointless steals of a ball from the opposition? Number of pointless losses of the ball to the opposition. The ratio of pointless steals to pointless losses? And what do their career statistics look like? A Hall of Famer like Beckham makes history by scoring, like, uh, three goals lifetime? And, uh, he played 19,000 hours of goal-free time in regulation?

I don’t know. I don’t know why the rules are systematically designed to prevent scoring. I don’t know why players and teams are disqualified in the next game for routine fouls committed in this game, thus preemptively destroying the purity and fairness of tournament competition. I don’t know why the rules deliberately remove the suspense of a down-ticking clock by adding unknown quantities of penalty time after regulation play, thus ensuring a built-in, premeditated anticlimax. I don’t know why hundreds of thousands come to watch and weep and wail and sing and cheer. I don’t know why I watched.

Somebody eventually won. On penalty kicks. Which, as far as I’m concerned, they could have done without wasting 120 minutes of running around futilely on the field beforehand.

Of course I do have some suggestions. I honestly believe, having watched, that there is a good game rattling around somewhere inside the boneheaded bore the current rules mandate. Adopt hockey’s penalty box/power play format (pay now, not tomorrow), jettison the yellow card/red card bullshit, and penalize fakers just as sternly as those who commit fouls. (Who really wants to watch professional athletes making deliberate pussies of themselves? Not even Europeans should get off on that…) Quit adding penalty increments at the end of regulation. And, for God’s sake, allow the fast break that makes basketball such a volatile and momentum-driven game. Let the lone superstar go one-on-one with the goalie in the heat of play on the field, as opposed to the artificial stasis of the post-game penalty-kick snore. If your game can’t be decided by being played with all players on the field, it’s not much of a game. It may be a kind of theater. But it’s not a sport.

I understand why ESPN is pushing it so hard. In the past couple of years, they have become unwatchable.

Although the network was coming off of rating highs in the early parts of 2011 and 2012, 2013 brought multi-year lows in the ratings department. In the second quarter of 2013 ESPN was down 32% in primetime and 20% in total day average viewership compared to the year before.

They used to cover sports. Now they repel sports fans with blather about gay basketball players, gay football players, big guys being bullied by big guys, concussions, N-word controversies, and fiery editorials about the (yawn) Washington Redskins. In this context, the World Cup is comparatively more interesting.

But please remember, this is not really a metaphysical issue to most of us. People are allowed to not like soccer. It’s as simple as that. If you think there’s some kind of political incentive or cultural lesson involved in what we sports fans decide individually, here’s your red card.

  1. Alfa’s avatar

    Ah, the delights of soccer. And having to wait 4 years for another world cup. Awesome.

    Just a shame it’s not a sport. The drinking and rowdiness seem to be the sport.

    But you’ve made it most amusing so thanks. I’ll never watch soccer again without thinking of IP.


  2. Peregrine John’s avatar

    Used to play. Stopped because I got tired of spraining everything. But even then, I didn’t watch it unless I knew someone in that particular match. It’s like barbershop quartet music: designed for the performers, not the audience. Dang fun to sing, but again, unless I know someone in the group, I’m unlikely to pay much mind. Then there are the oddities I cheerfully watch during the Olympics but don’t bother to track down between, enjoying them if they happen by: fencing, biathlon, etc. Actually, if fencing was readily available I’d watch regularly.

    Getting political about a game never made a lot of sense to me. I don’t hate soccer (futbol, ja ja); I don’t watch it because I just don’t care.


    1. Instapunk’s avatar

      Thanks for mentioning participation. I too played soccer in intramural sports at the high school level. We were punks even then. My team turned it into animal ball, a full contact sport. We got banned from intramural(!) play.

      But, I must admit, I was also a fencer. Foil and ultimately varsity saber. Hated épée. You had to be six foot two and every point made a bone bruise. Those were the days.


      1. Peregrine John’s avatar

        Really? Color me jealous. Man, I love saber. Just a freaking awesome sport. I never did, and with my knees in the shape they aren’t, probably never will. Still, the theory and practice of the thing is beautiful, and combination of precision and speed and strength, and a whole lot more interesting to me than épée.


        1. Instapunk’s avatar

          Someday, when nobody is listening, I’ll tell you my favorite story of my fencing career. It’s a pip.


        2. Tim’s avatar

          Thanks for this. I needed a laugh. Some of the greatest soccer insight I’ve ever read (and not just b/c of the Puck Punk shout-out).

          Another observation is that you never hear even its most ardent fans give a well-reasoned, logical defense of soccer. What are we missing? WHY is it so great? I can make a case for hockey and have done so in the past. One could also make a case for NFL football, basketball, formula 1, golf, baseball, volleyball, even curling (er…maybe). Might not be something you personally like, but one could explain what it is about the sport that’s so appealing.

          Not pro soccer, though. No one on earth can counter the arguments in this post with anything other than, “I just like it. Shut up.” And as you note, the game itself is not inherently the problem. My sons, for example, started playing soccer this spring. Watching my older one’s games was actually quite fun. It’s the terrible rules at the professional level that ruin the game.

          And yet, people across the globe go fucking bonkers for it. They have fistfights over it. They literally get crushed to death in overcrowded stadiums for it. They allegedly love it so much, yet no one ever discusses improving it. You won’t catch any professional commentator talking about making the field smaller, having less players on the field, adding a power play system, etc. Sad to see all the US pundits now rushing to embrace it, like the equivalent of showing support for whatever the latest shitty movie that post-op tranny Matrix brother is doing (Channing Tatum in elf ears & rocket boots?).

          And yes, ESPN sucks. I pronounced Sportscenter officially dead around early 2007. It had ballooned into 90 minutes (depending on which one you watched) with less highlights than back when it was never any longer than 30 minutes. Canceled my cable about two years ago, too. Couldn’t be happier.


        3. Tim’s avatar

          Case in point of how terrible pro soccer is: the US/Portugal game yesterday. Not that I watched it, but I read a recap and allegedly the “extra time”, “injury time” or whatever they call it went on rather long with the US leading 2-1. Then Portugal scored to tie it, preventing the US from advancing to the next round, and the refs suddenly blew the whistle to end the game.

          And since the refs are the only ones wielding the arcane knowledge of how much time is left in the game, nobody can challenge this. Not that anyone IS challenging it, of course. The recaps I read found nothing shady whatsoever with this result. If the clock counted down instead of up, of course, there would be little chance of any timekeeping controversy. Sure, the int’l community could still screw the US like they did in the 1980 Olympic basketball game against Russia, but imagine how much easier it’d have been to screw us if nobody but the refs knew how much time was left in the game.

          And I have to share one great video, guaranteed to give everyone a chuckle:



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