Friday, June 02, 2006

I'm Ready For Some Footie (A Fan's Perspective)

by Count Olaf
I may be the only one here who feels this way (and that's OK), but I'm not sure that any other event instills national pride/patriotism in me the way the World Cup does.

Maybe it's the fact that the US has always been the underdog coupled with bygone days of playing soccer growing up, but I am absolutely beside myself with anticipation about what's going down just a few days from now. I've been sending my friends the video and the US Soccer Attacks countdown from Nike Soccer for the past few weeks. I'm psyched about the "Don't Tread On Me" campaign....even to the point of considering buying a jersey for $80!

The Olympics come close to giving me a "proud to be an american" feeling, but it's nothing like the Mundial every 4 years. My heart beats faster and faster everytime I see that Gatorade "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" commerical on TV. When watching the aforementioned Nike "Joga Bonito" video I almost get choked up when the players salute the crowd.

How I wish this could be something that brought the nation together....other countries practically shut down when their nation is playing an important match. Over here you might find a blurb in the last page of sports section about the Men's National team making it to the 2nd round. It's CRAZY! I read something on FOX sports (here and here) that summed it up nicely: America only wants winners. We only root for what we're good at. Just making it to the tourney is a godsend for most countries - for us unless we're playing in the finals, don't even bother me. We just don't understand the privilege it is to even make it there. France won the thing (beat Brazil even!) in 1998 and couldn't even score a goal in 2002. It is a tough sport to stay consistently good at as a nation. Which makes Brazil's record even that much more amazing. (my Mom was born and raised in Brazil, so I start rooting for them when the US is out....not too soon, I hope)

Elsehwere, it's a completely different mentality. Other nations wrap up every socio-political-religious issue into a football match. Which seems kind of silly, I know, but sports often do bring people together. In the weirdest ways...

In 2002 with the cup in South Korea & Japan games were not on at normal times here. In the 3rd round with US vs. Germany I woke up at 3am to watch the hard fought match until 5am to see us go down swinging in a 1-0 decision. It was awesome, but I admit that I got a little depressed. I remember reading internet items about how it felt like you were in some sort of cult staying up late or waking up early to watch a game halfway around the world. And you couldn't talk about it with many people because America doesn't "get" soccer. It was a good feeling to know that other people were losing sleep over the tourney like I was.

It's still so bad here that Hasbro is marketing this game ( overseas only. They won't touch the US because no one would buy it. But here I am trying to get it from AmazonUK and they won't ship it to me! BURN! I'm an amateur monopoly collector and amateur soccer's my dream!

Anyway, all this is to say "GO USA". I'd love to be over there with Sam's Army in the stands, but a trip to Germany just isn't in the cards. I'm pumped and excited to see what happens to us in the Group of Death.


Blogger Brian said...

I'm glad you wrote this.

Not a huge soccer fan myself, but I very much respect the awesome standing of the World Cup in the rest of the world. It's a great event, and I wish I could get into it more, but I've never been able to.

6/02/2006 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

Good luck and good vibes also to our Swedish and Australian members of Gone-Elsewhere and their respective entries into the tournament!

6/03/2006 01:38:00 AM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

I'm with Brian. I find soccer to be a dull game to watch, can't get into it. I saw a report on ESPN this morning about the rampant racism by fans of European soccer. Bananas are routinely thrown at black players. Who would think that Americans are actually more civilized in this area than Europeans?

6/05/2006 07:20:00 AM  
Blogger Professor Wagstaff said...

With soccer, Australia has been like America in that it's nowhere as popular as it is in the vast majority of the world. Partly because we have an indigenous brand of football (aka as 'Aussie Rules') which is enormously popular in certain sections of the country, including the state I live in (Victoria).

The fact that 'Aussie Rules' and various forms of rugby that are popular here and are all much more physical games then soccer is a reason I think for the lack of popularity it has, as it's often been portrayed as a soft, dreary sport (especially by the mainstream press).

Having said that, there's been a growing undercurrent of popularity for the sport in recent years (the English Premier League is very popular here) and what was required for that sentiment to burst out was for Australia to finally qualify for the WC, which of course they did this time.

Ever since they did that, the publicity and coverage that soccer has gotten in Australia was enormous, and has grown to new heights in the past couple of weeks or so. For example, a nothing story about the Australian players leaving Australia for the last time before the WC was treated as a major news event. Every second ad you see or read has the 'Socceroos' (the nickname for the soccer team) tied into it in some shape or form.

Australia won't get terribly far but it's done wonders for the sport in this country.

Having said that, I'm not a particularly big fan of the sport myself (even though I played it a bit at school). The WC is about the only time where I follow it in any detail and even then I find it hard to sit through a full soccer match.

But like others have said, it's a great sporting event, probably the best going around currently.

6/05/2006 08:02:00 AM  
Blogger jaydro said...

I love the World Cup, too, though not to the extent that Count Olaf has expressed.

When I first got into the World Cup when it was here in '94, what amazed me was how high the level of play was compared to what I'd seen at the (mostly) amateur level. A local minor-league team here looked positively awful compared to any WC team--neither they nor their opponents seemed to have any real ability to organize plays or sustain any real offensive team play. I think that's why it looks boring to a lot of people here--we simply aren't that exposed to good play.

The WC doesn't inspire as much nationalism in me as the Women's WC does (hmmm, the American need to win rears its ugly head again?). In '94 I decided to root for the Brazilians, having always had a certain fascination with Brazil and lamenting the untimely death of F1 champion Ayrton Senna earlier that year. I got a t-shirt, a flag, and I went and hung out with Brazilians at a local soccer dome to watch the matches on a big-screen TV. That was a blast that year. (BTW, that was when I got the name Jaydro--it's my Brazilian soccer team name.)

I didn't watch it as much in '98, and in 2002 I found it impossible to follow. I hope to do better this time.

I'm not sure if this "America only wants winners" attitude has always been there, or if it's only been inflamed by the media. I used to be a devoted fan of the Olympics, but CBS and now NBC have just about completely ruined it for me with their rah-rah coverage. When I was in elementary school we went on about Austrian Franz Klammer for weeks! And I later developed an obsession for Swede Ingemar Stenmark. I wonder how much time NBC would have spent on those guys.

The things that stir the most nationalistic pride in me are NASA footage and James Garner on the podium at the end of "Grand Prix."

6/05/2006 03:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Nick said...

Only time I get into football is when the World or European Cup is on. Otherwise it's too much of a hassle. Checking up on your own team, and then the other teams to see what kind of a shot you've got, and then if it goes good for your team you gotta follow them in the Champions League (very rare for Scandinavian teams), and so on and so forth.

The Cups you make an exception for though, since the whole 'country shut down' thing is pretty much true during games. Lots of people take the day off. And like Jaydro said, the level of play (and passion! And commitment to the team! To the country!!) is not comparable to anything else.

And it's not about which country has the best (or most famous) players. Two years ago the Greeks surprised everyone (bookmakers had them at 100-1 prior to the start) when they won the Euro 2004, with strong tactics surrounding iron hard defense and strong, solid passes in the offense.

Ey and sorry I haven't been around too much lately, started working in Stockholm for the summer last week, and the place I'm at has no computer.

But Olaf, if you really, really want that Monopoly set, perhaps it could be arranged. I've seen them out on in stores here (might be in Swedish, though). Could try and see if I could mail one to you.

National day in Sweden today. 6-6-06. Appropriate. And who won in a poll of 100 000 as the most Swedish Swede? Yeah, Ingemar Stenmark.

6/06/2006 11:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Nick said...

Stenmark is my favorite sportsman too, I might add.

6/06/2006 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous lora said...

It seems odd to me that there's still so little interest in the World Cup in the U.S., since the sport has become a suburban childhood staple. There seems to be a disconnect can so much contact with the sport in childhood fail to incite some interest in later years? My niece is quite a fan, and she even covered some pro soccer games for the local paper. But she seems to be the exception, not the rule.
I don't think it's just a matter of Americans only backing winners. I think that we do have a shortened attention span as a nation...I love a pitcher's duel in baseball, but I know many people who consider any game that is a grand defensive battle to be a bore.
I hope to catch some of the Cup coverage, but I don't know how much I will see. And I don't really care who will be playing when I watch, as long as the games are good.
I agree with you, Jaydro-I miss the days of Jim McKay covering the Olympics, when it was okay to root for athletes from other countries. Between the endless human interest stories and the condescending treatment of foreign cultures, the Olympic coverage has become well nigh to unbearable.

6/06/2006 05:28:00 PM  
Anonymous lora said...

McDonald's is marketing a FIFA World Cup meal, which consists of a deep-fried chicken sandwich (I think it's the McChicken), french fries, a soda, and a free sundae. I suspect that this meal is not the dinner of choice for most of the competitors. I guess that McDonald's couldn't resist a tie-in, no matter how random.

6/06/2006 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger jaydro said...

That's nice to hear about Stenmark, Nick.

Out of curiosity I wasted too much time trying to find a non-eBay Monopoly World Cup Edition for sale--it is amazing how they've conspired to keep this out of North America. I will definitely go out and buy one of those World Cup cans of Gillette Mach3 shave gel (the cans are dimpled like a soccer ball).

The phenomenon of kids' soccer in the US started building in the '70's, when soccer boosters confidently predicted all those kids (and it's even more popular in the suburbs now) would go on to be soccer fans. The NASL pro soccer league back then soon collapsed, and more have come and gone, though MLS is still around, and yet the kids continue to play soccer in huge numbers. The only thing is--they seem to all quit when they turn 13. The whole phenomenon seems ripe for study, and it probably has been, but I haven't read of it.

6/06/2006 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

I played as a kid, but quit ... well, about the time I was 12 or 13, I guess. You're right, it's interesting how that works.

I would speculate that the reasons are twofold. One, that's just about the age that the kids who aren't very athletic lose interest in playing.

Two, and this is more of a chicken and egg kind of thing, but it's about the age that the kids who are very athletic start to think about playing pro sports. With no big-time soccer in the US, soccer loses its appeal, and they turn more seriously to basketball or baseball or football.

So either way, soccer loses its appeal for a huge majority of American youth.

I think I actually quit soccer for a combination of the two. I wasn't very good, and the level of play was higher than my skill level. But I also started thinking it was silly to waste my time with soccer when basketball seemed like a much bigger deal. So I decided to suck at basketball for two years before giving up my playing career for good.

6/06/2006 06:30:00 PM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

I remember Jim Rome doing some riff on this play soccer until jr. high and then grow up and move on to real sports. He was (and I assume still is) a soccer hater. Whatever.

There seem to be plenty of sports that many people are willing to play that have no life after college. I wonder why it's probably the most popular sport for youngsters and then most drop off?

For me, I know I could only play soccer outside of school until High school. And once I played there I stopped playing outside of school. Then college came and I just stopped altogether. But my interest didn't stop.... I wonder why the general interest fizzles out? I can understand less and less people playing as they get older, but why isn't anyone interested?

On another note...please leave a post if you find any interesting World Cup marketing tie-ins (thanks lora for the McDonald's thing and jaydro for the shaving cream...didn't know about those). It would be fun to compile some sort of list. We already know we can cross Monopoly off of North America's list....

6/06/2006 08:00:00 PM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

oh...and you can buy the monopoly from Australia ( if you're willing to pay $45 in shipping. Comes to $92! What a steal!
I'll keep searching....

6/06/2006 08:12:00 PM  
Anonymous lora said...

A friend of mine played soccer into his 20's because his employer had a team. A lot of his coworkers were from overseas, so that probably influenced the creation of the team. And I just remembered something I saw on Sunday. I passed a field full of men who appeared to be in their 30's and 40's who were getting ready for a soccer game. It struck me as unusual, where I don't give a field full of 30-year-olds playing baseball a second thought. There is always somewhere for a mediocre baseball or softball player to find a team that will welcome him. I don't know if the same is true for a soccer player who is just playing for the fun of it. This might account for some of the migration away from soccer in the teens; if you're not good enough for your school team, where do you go?
By the way, Jaydro, your post brought back a fond memory for me. When I was in 6th grade (1976), two of the players of the New Jersey Americans pro soccer team came to my school, and they gave away game tickets. I went to the game, had a great time, and even got to meet the players and get autographs after the game. I wonder if the newly dubbed "Red Bull NY" does the same kind of outreach?

6/07/2006 05:55:00 AM  
Blogger Jackrabbit Slim said...

If you come across a group of men playing soccer, dollars to doughnuts that they are of foreign origin. I work with an Englishman who lives here and he is in a soccer league with fellow expats.

6/07/2006 07:20:00 AM  
Blogger Count Olaf said...

Great article on the trials of qualifying/playing outside of the US

6/08/2006 05:31:00 PM  

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