From the vantage point of a seasoned football fan Euro 2008 has been great for no other reason than that we can see every match live on TV at home. The Championship has brought us great football and a relief or dare I say a diversion from the unattractive football being played by some managers in MLS and by the US National Team. Euro 2008 has brought us high drama, new stars and some cracking football.
However for the masses of casual football watchers in this country, one national team is synonymous with European and world football: England aka the Three Lions. The Three Lions and English Football represent for many Americans our orientation with the beautiful game outside this continent. Without England, the competition seems incomplete, and worse many among us were stripped of the most natural side to support. The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom as well as the special feeling our peoples have for one another makes the first European Championship available on American Television bittersweet. Our nations whose collective efforts have made the world the free and commercially open place it is today has made us in many ways one people with one world view. While differences remain and will always remain, Americans by and large feel a much stronger kinship with the British than any other foreign people.
ESPN’s ratings for the European Championships while not horrible, are far lower than they would have been had England qualified as expected for the finals. American fans in many cases cheer for the Three Lions even above our own national side and find competitive soul mates in the spirit of sport the English demonstrate on the football pitch. The fact that the American side has hardly a player that could compete to find a place on the Three Lions is a fact not lost on many U.S. based fans, as is the lack of identification many Americans have with the nations that are actually competing at the Euro finals. The poor standard of the US National Team has been a motivating factor for many to support England as their first choice international squad. For me this is somewhat distasteful but is a fact of the growth of the game and access to English Premier League matches here in the US. The most popular non-Mexican club sides in the United States are in fact the “big four” Premier League teams, and this makes the identification with England even stronger. While I do not share this identification personally, I respect and understand it. Sadly, ESPN’s ratings thus far for the tournament while respectable have reflected this preference among many in our soccer community.
The European Championship provides arguably much better football than the World Cup: But without England present, many American football fans have casually watched matches or skipped the event entirely. Many who have watched the matches have no side to root for and are thus less emotionally vested in the results. Besides, the most recognizable European players on American soil are by and large English, so American fans are being forced to discover new stars. While this maybe a good thing overall for the growth of the game, more interest and passion would be present were the English involved in the championship.