Soccer is the most important non important thing in the world.
This is what a friend of my Uncle Phil’s said when they were discussing what soccer meant to people from a soccer crazed country.
The first time I was introduced to the passion of soccer was when I visited London through my church youth group. Gazzamania was in effect with the great Paul Gascoigne still being very popular. It inspired me and I became a Tottenham Hotspur and international soccer fan because of this visit. The passion for soccer that I saw there is greater than our passion for football; it’s that big.
Everywhere you would walk there was a kid playing soccer. It was so much fun. Their skill levels were much higher than ours but we enjoyed their passion and it was infectious.
As an American though, I still don’t get soccer totally. I hate the flopping when players act like they’ve been shot by a high powered rifle, and then after a foul is called they jump up to start playing again. The lack of scoring doesn’t get to me, but it’s the lack of scoring chances that does. In hockey a 1-0 game can be exciting because there are so many scoring chances. But in Soccer there are some teams that in 90 minutes of play, may only get 5 shots or less on goal. I’m also honest. Let’s face it; the U.S. men’s team is not a soccer power and probably never will be. Remember when the women’s soccer team won the World Cup? Our country went crazy; for a short time. The women’s soccer league eventually folded. We wanted to be the best on the world stage; but it wasn’t a passion. The best male athletes play other sports.
My uncle Phil has two friends that are from much different soccer cultures. Hinco and Silvina are friends of his who are now Americans but both grew up abroad until meeting and marrying. Hinco is from the great soccer country of the Netherlands, and Silvina is from Argentina, another soccer power.
I have always been a closet fan of the Netherlands because I love their personalities. A proud but laid back people, they seem to have a great way about them and and they go through life in a good way. Their love for soccer is epic though and the proud orange of the Netherlands always plays a role on the world soccer stage.
Hinco grew up in a small town near Amsterdam where he eventually moved. As a kid he remembers being picked up by his friends older brother and driving around town waving orange flags after the 1988 Euro Cup championship. (To many the Euro Cup is as important in Europe as the World Cup. The Euro Cup is also played every 4 yrs and is played 2 years after the World Cup). He said that Orange is the Dutch National color (thanks to William I, Prince of Orange, the 16th century founder of the Dutch Royal Family). People were in the streets and in pubs everywhere sharing in the Celebration!
Hinco explained that soccer was a part of the culture. As a kid he would play until dark in the field near his home. His grandfather enjoyed soccer through his local club. At an amazing 96 his grandfather was crowned the clubs longest serving member.
In college his passion grew and soccer was a way of life. His dorm mates would talk soccer and learn more about the game through talking and sharing with each other. Just like what Americans do during march madness and the college basketball playoffs, he and his friends would have soccer pools during the World Cup and Euro Cup. They would talk soccer for hours on end discussing the players, the teams and the strategies.
In Hinco’s opinion, he feels that the U.S. is more than happy with football, basketball, and baseball. He doesn’t feel that will change any time soon. The rest of the world would also like that to continue.
In Argentina, soccer is life. Just like most South American countries, their fiery passion for life is seen in their unquenchable love of soccer. From the great Diego Maradona (some still feel he’s the greatest soccer player of all time) and now to Lionel Messi, you can’t think of international soccer without thinking about Argentina.
What blows me away when you talk soccer with people from a soccer country, is that everyone seems knowledgeable about the game and it’s history. The pride and passionate feelings run deep, and Silvina is no exception.
Silvina grew up in San Juan, Argentina. In Argentina, you are taught that the love of soccer is borderline religion, and for some it literally is a religion. Growing up, kids would play soccer anywhere; in lots, in streets, and in fields. And if kids didn’t have a ball they would make one out of wrapped up socks or whatever they could use.
Like most South American countries, the fans are as colorful as the players. The fans (Hincha’s) are as much a part of the game as the teams. Their singing, dancing, chanting and drum playing use as much energy as the players. Soccer fans have no rival when it comes to passion. In America if you add NFL passion and patriotism, now you have soccer.
The international success in Argentine soccer can rival anyone’s. They have won 2 world cups and many felt if Maradona had not hurt his ankle in 1990, they would have won another one. (They made the finals in 1990 losing to West Germany with many international fans questioning several controversial calls in the match against Argentina.)
They have won the Copa de America an amazing 14 times and their under 20 junior team has won a record 6 FIFA World Cups and many other championships. Their success is amazing.
Silvina said that after the 1986 World Cup, the goal of every great young player was to be the next Diego Maradona. In a 3 minute span in the 1986 quarterfinal against England, Maradona made the 2 most famous goals in World Cup history. The famous “Hand of God” goal along with what was voted the goal of the century by FIFA in 2002, when he dribbled half of the field through 5 English defenders while making an amazing shot to score what would be the winning goal. It would take years but Lionel Messi is now on top of the soccer world with many thinking he’s the best player playing right now.
Silvina agrees with me on why soccer isn’t that big in the U.S. First we aren’t that good at it and have had little international success. Most great athletes choose to play in the more glamorous sports like football and basketball. Remember how soccer crazy our country became when the women’s national team won the world cup? They even started a short lived league from it. America loves a winner.
She also brings up some great points on why soccer is not embraced by American sponsors. Look at the Super Bowl. If someone ends a sentence there is a commercial. There are so many commercial breaks that the game is nearly 4 hours long. The pre-game shows; which have just as many commercials as the game; are 7-9 hours long depending on who the network is. There are many more opportunities to make money for corporations. Corporate sponsorship means more marketing. More marketing means more fans.
When you watch the World Cup, you will not see many commercials. In fact during the game you will rarely see any breaks. They will promote the sponsor while the game is going on, saying that the continued broadcast is being sponsored by whoever paid for the add. As a fan I love it but if you are a corporate sponsor, there are not many opportunities to make money during the game.
As an American, I don’t think we will ever get to the point of loving Soccer as a country. I do think though that over time, we can learn to love and enjoy it more. It’s fun to watch the excitement and passion of the people during the games. In San Francisco with so many diverse cultures, many local bars are buzzing with excitement and soccer passion during the World Cup.
As Americans that aren’t into soccer, we can as a people respect and enjoy the passion and enjoyment that soccer has brought to the world for so many years. During political battles and personal pain; through natural disasters, wars, world strife, and civil unrest; Soccer has been a healer to millions where even enemies take a break from the madness and enjoy the greatest sporting event in the world. So I tell Americans to lighten up and don’t judge. Smile, put on your ethnic colors, and enjoy in the party. The World Cup 2014 is on!