Wednesday, June 09, 2010


I must be getting close to the four-year anniversary of when I began this blog--I can remember that some of my early posts involved World Cup, watching the games on Univision since that was the only channel I could get with rabbit-ears that was showing the games live. Four years later, I still have the same TV set (9 years old, I guess--it was a wedding gift, so it's easy to remember when we got it...), the same rabbit ears, though a converter box is hooked up between the two. And I still have my blog...

Slate has an article up today on the secret history of soccer, about how soccer in the roaring 20s was actually very popular and growing in some parts of the US, with teams like the Brooklyn Wanderers, the Patterson Silk Sox, the New Bedford Whalers. Had events fallen differently, had childish infighting not plagued some of the owners and the like, perhaps it might have ended up rivaling the then nascent professional football and basketball leagues.

But then, as Dave Eggers points out in the excerpt (also on Slate) from his book The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, [EDIT: actually, it's an excerpt from that book, and it's by Eggers, but the book as a whole is a bunch of essays from many writers] would we soccer fans really want the sport to be that popular?:
If you were soccer, the sport of kings, would you want the adulation of a people who elected Bush and Cheney, not once but twice?
OK, maybe not... But it is interesting the very different connotation being a soccer fan in the US has vs. being a football fan in, say, the UK. The impression I get, anyway, is that football fans in the UK often end up with a similar stereotype to that of North American football fans here (a bit dense, dumb jock/fratboy/cheap beer mindset,etc.--not that I think US football fans really are all that way, as I sometimes enjoy the sport as well, but that's the stereotype that gets perpetuated on TV), whereas here being a soccer fan is usually associated with a more artsy and cultured, a sport, as Eggers' book implies, for thinking fans. More likely to enjoy a good microbrew or an expensive single-malt during the game, not a Bud Light. If soccer had enjoyed growing popularity through the Depression and ever since, I imagine that stereotype would be very different.


Lauren Michelle said...

Not to mention the stereotype of overseas soccer fans, where mob mentality and literal murder are what make the local news.

I gotta say, as a devout hockey fan in the United States, it DOES stink to have my favorite sport be a clear second tier, so I can't get behind Eggers' argument. Hockey is next to useless as social currency. It's difficult to find on TV at all, much less if you'd like to go to a sports bar and there happens to be spring training on. (And how's that for insult--a vast majority of people south of the border would rather watch pointless training matches than the preliminary rounds of the Stanley Cup championship.) Also basketball, which I personally find boring and obnoxious--how does one take a team sport seriously when points frequently go into the 90s, and a single player can win a championship by himself?--overlaps the hockey season completely, so there's always competition for attention there.

Basically, it's difficult to find other people who get excited about what I like, and that's sad sometimes. There's no (or very minimal, in the big Original Six cities) swell of community around hockey down here, no big public emotion for me to participate in. And I think that's the sad thing about US soccer, too... practically the whole world is fully engaged in this shared cultural experience, and we're basically not. Makes me unhappy.

A couple of years ago, I happened to be in Austria when they were hosting the European soccer championship. The annoyance of public monuments being covered by soccer crap aside, it was pretty fun to be in the midst of the swarms of fans from all over Europe who'd come to cheer on their country, dressed in ethnic garb. Spanish fans in bullfighter costumes. Swedish fans in viking helmets. German fans blocking entire thoroughfares, sitting on the street and pouring Sprite into their beer. It was cute and kind of heartening. That's the good kind of nationalism.

Daniel Ausema said...

You could always move to Detroit--self-proclaimed Hockeytown, USA. I know, that's pro hockey, not college. Still, while it still took a backseat to other sports much of the year, it didn't feel that far beneath them. Hockey always gets its bit of the TV sports report here in Colorado, and some of the universities do well most years, so people do talk about hockey, even if not quite as prominently as in Detroit (and hatred of the Red Wings is especially strong among hockey fans here...).

I count myself a fan of soccer because I love the sport, but I don't stay up on the schedules or famous players or anything. Not having any kind of cable TV means I'd have to follow everything online, and I'm just not that invested in it. I followed Barca pretty closely after coming back from Spain, but soon the players I'd watched had all moved on or retired. Maybe if Michigan had had an MLS team when I was in high school and the league began I'd have gotten attached to it. Colorado has one (the Rapids), but they get much less coverage than even hockey does, and I don't go down to Denver much, so I've never watched a game. It sort of makes me sad--I'd love to cheer for them.

Lauren Michelle said...

When I was flying back to Florida a few weeks ago, I was sitting in the airport watching ESPN during my layover. The pundits were talking about what a shame it that the Chicago Blackhawks were finally ascendant again, an Original Six team making a Stanley Cup run after decades crushed under the tyranny of bad ownership, and yet all the Chicago news outlets could talk about was the possibility that LeBron James might get picked up by the Bulls. So, at least somebody on TV cares, but not the city itself... maybe they will now that they've won it.

I think I'm in enough trouble in the job market without moving to Detroit--no offense to them, it must be awful--but yes, the fandom does exist there. The men's college hockey Final Four was there this year, and if nothing else there'd be some Wolverines or Spartans fans. Minneapolis and Boston are the true college hockey hotbeds of America, but at this point I'm most likely to end up in Seattle... and then I think the University of Denver would be the closest hockey school. :P

Denver was in the same NCAA tournament regional as Cornell last year, but they never played each other because both were eliminated in the first round. I did get to watch both teams lose, though... I may also give up on real life again and try to get into Denver's PhD program for 2011. That'll solve that problem.

You have to wonder how people like David Beckham feel about coming over here to play soccer. Sure he makes buckets of money, but nobody gives a damn. I guess it must be worth it to him since he made the move, and pros in any sport play on unwatched teams all the time, but... I don't know. I would think, growing up in a place where soccer is such a big deal, it must be pretty demoralizing to come to a place where it isn't at all. Maybe that's how Canadian hockey players feel.

As for the Colorado Rapids, it really is too bad that local teams can't even get local coverage. Major League Soccer might be slightly ahead of Major League Lacrosse in that regard...

Daniel Ausema said...

Lacrosse is big here in Colorado for some reason (it was a growing sport in Michigan when I lived there, but I still associate it more with the East Coast). I wouldn't be surprised that the Denver lacrosse team gets slightly more coverage than the Rapids...