I’m generally not one to promote proselytizing, but I found this old pamphlet in an antiquarian bookstore in southern Maine. It was written by St. Dickie of Assisi F.C., a reknowned football missionary and Premier League devotee who travelled throughout North America in the late 20th century, bringing the love of English association football wherever he went. This is his advice to other missionaries following in his footsteps.
When spreading the joy of football in the North America, you will find many obstacles in your path, but despair not. For I’ve seen the work become easier in the time I have been here. For instance, each year, more and more natives have seen the light and can now be found watching football in this country’s many Irish and English pubs. They are eager to soak in as much of the beautiful game as time and broadcasting rights will allow. Many have even made pilgrimages across the sea to visit the great places of worship. From Fratton Park to Anfield, from St James Park to Stamford Bridge, they have seen the game and all of its glory first hand.
You can look to these American converts to aid you in bringing the love of football to others. Whether helping you teach the matchday hymns or helping you explain the intricacies of the sacred offside rule, these new supporters will be there to echo your passion and inspire the football spirit within others with cheering, song, swearing and adlib dissection of the referee’s many short-comings.
I have distilled the challenges of such missionary work in America to three main obstacles all stemming from aspects of the game that are rare in popular American sport.
1.) Low Scoring Matches
As with many sport enthusiasts, Americans love action. On this continent, spectators often equate action with high scorelines. American football games regularly end in double-digits and basketball games are known to get into the hundreds. In baseball, a batter can create multiple runs at once if there are already men on base (See also: The Grand Slam).
Thus, an association football match with, say, a 1-0 scoreline can confuse those unaccustomed to watching the sport. My favourite way to overcome this barrier is to compare such a match to a baseball pitchers’ duel. When opposing pitchers are both preforming their best, a baseball game can go hours without a single run. Americans consider this a thrilling, special occasion. Compare this to two English defenses each shutting down the other’s offense. It becomes a great match to watch because of the suspense. When will the run be scored? When will the away team sneak a goal in? In both cases, specators are on the edge of their seats. A great example to relate one sport to the other.
If that doesn’t work use the following conversion chart to explain the true value of a goal:
Baseball: 1 run = 1 run
Basketball: 1 basket = 1, 2 or 3 points (depending on the circumstances)
American Football: 1 touchdown = 6 points (plus an additional point if the extra kick is scored)
Association Football: 1 goal = 100,000 guiltless orgasms (if scored by your club) or 100,000 black holes sucking all life out of the universe (if scored against your club).
Fans of American sports are used to seeing somebody win. In most cases a game will not end in a draw. Americans will endure overtime and embrace the practice of “sudden death” before they walk away from a fixture unsatisfied by a level scoreline.
To relate to this, explain that association football sometimes has extra-time and penalty kicks to determine the outcome in matches where a draw is not acceptable.
For all other occassions, I like to turn back to baseball once again for an inviting comparison.
In a level baseball game, the teams will simply keep playing until someone can take the lead. Even when nine innings are reached, the players will continue into extra innings, sometimes playing for hours until a result is achieved. This is bearable in baseball where there are plenty of calm moments. The action is not all out for the five hours and the specators can relax, travel to the restrooms, purchase food and beverage, talk about everyday life in between plays. The noise of the crowd at a live game will tell them when a great play is ensuing and they can bring their attention back to the action. If they are at home, a similar signal comes when the announcers end a fifteen minute conversation about shoe laces to resume talking about baseball. Spectators might be tired at the end of an extra-innings game, but they probably won’t lose their minds. Unless of course it is a playoff.
In association football, however, an invested supporter is emotionally wound tight and mentally stretched thin for nearly every minute of nearly every match. Each play, each pass, each dispossesion, each attempt on goal, has the football fanatic’s knuckles turning white and stomach clenching itself into a fist. A football fan can survive two hours of stalemate, but to endure four or five? If matches didn’t end in a draw as needed – if they always went on and on until a result was achieved - most supporters would have heart attacks by the time they turned 25 years of age and there would soon be nobody left to support football. Out of necessity most matches must end after 90 min to ensure the supporter survives to watch the team the following weekend.
3.) Lack of Commercial Breaks
In America the sporting event is not only a chance to live and die with your favourite team – it is a chance to learn about all the fast food meal deals, car insurance plans, four-by-four hemi-laden trucks, sexual performance enhancing drugs and upside-down rotating hanging tomato planters that could be all be yours if you are willing to max out your credit cards. The televised commercial is entrenched in the culture. Baseball goes to commercial every half inning and every pitching change. Basketball goes during the longer time-outs. And American football goes during every other stoppage in play - about every few minutes plus every time the quarter-back gets a wedgie (See also: problems with spandex).
Because of the ease with which television commercials can be injected into these sports, American advertisers (and broadcasters) have long pushed the sports with the most breaks as the games to watch. Association football with its lone commercial break at half-time has always struggled to compete for attention in this environment.
There is of course plenty of advertising in world football. It simply takes a different form. Players wear their sponsors on their shirts and ads run around the sides of the stadium on electric billboards. The competitions themselves take on the names of sponsors: Barclay’s Premier League, the Coca-Cola Championship.
Explain to potential converts that this is a good thing. That the reduction of commercials means more uninterupted action. Imagine if this was applied to other television programmes… a viewer is watching the daytime soap operas:
This week on MasterCard’s The Young and The Restless:
Jim enters the house and grabs Mary roughly by the arms. She puts her hands on his chest, careful not to cover up his Verizon Wireless logo.
Jim: Mary, I must have you! I don’t care who knows it!
Mary (pulling away): Oh, Jim! We shouldn’t! Mike could be home any minute!
Jim: I don’t care! My passion for you is unending… much like the Energizer Bunny…
Mary: Oh Jim!
Mary tears open her blouse, revealing a sexy red negligee, brought to you by Carlsberg. Jim moves toward her… but as he is about to pop a Mentos and lock into a passionate kiss… Mike bursts into the room…
Mike: What in the name of new Kentucky Grilled Chicken is going on here?
You get the idea.
Ultimately, through time and exposure, I truly believe association football can find its way into mainstream sporting culture in America. The thrill, the suspense, the beauty and athleticism of the sport all have universal appeal. These things make the best games in America’s favourite sports great as well. It is simply a matter of getting the uninitiated hooked under the right circumstances. The passion the converted already feel is no accident and it is highly addictive. One can feel an overwhelming football curiosity spreading throughout this land. America may be only one or two crusades (see also: World Cups) away from tumbling toward the widespread acceptance the rest of the world enjoys.
Until then, brothers and sisters, keep the faith and keep up the good work.
Brother Dickie of Assisi F.C.