Why Do So Many Englishmen in America Not Follow Soccer?

While soccer is growing in the United States, the fandom of an American soccer fan can still be a solitary experience.  Most people I interact with on a daily basis aren’t fans of the sport, much less enthusiastic fans who will want to chat about last weekend’s action or the more recent transfer gossip.  Honestly, this is what I expect from native Americans.

It is very different with immigrants to the U.S.  Find a person with a funny accent and they can usually tell you what club they are a fan of and which youngsters are about to break into the national team.  Whenever I travel on business, I usually have an entertaining 20 minute conversation with the cab driver about soccer and get the scoop on the Indonesian/Egyptian/Ivorian/etc. soccer scene.  Further, almost all of them are also fans of an EPL club, so we can can chat about that too.  It’s great fun and has taught me to reflexively ask, “What club do you support?” anytime I hear English spoken with an accent.

But one country’s emigrants and ex-patriots never live up to expectations. And surprisingly, that’s England.  In my profession, I happen to interact with a fair number of Englishmen and here are some responses to my canned “what club do you support?” question (all from the last ~6 months):

Englishman No. 1: “I love football, but don’t really have a club.  I just enjoy watching whoever is playing attractive football.”  Oh so that means you enjoy Arsenal or Swansea?  “When did Swansea get promoted?”  Sigh….

Englishman No. 2: “I actually enjoy rugby more. I guess if I had to pick a club, I’d say I support QPR, but I don’t follow them very closely.”  [I check] So, do you think that Harry can keep them up?  “Harry who?  I’m sorry….I really don’t follow them much.”

Englishman No. 3: “I guess I support Tottenham, but I really don’t follow them much.  You know who you should talk to if you want to talk about soccer?  You should talk to that guy over there.  His son plays professional soccer somewhere or other.”  And he then proceeded to introduce me to the father of a current MLS player with whom I had a lovely 45 minute conversation about soccer.

Englishman No. 4: “I never really followed soccer as a boy. I guess now that I’ve been in the U.S. for 30 years, I kinda follow Manchester United just because they’re on TV all the time.” Awesome, I support United also!  Isn’t it great how well RVP and Rooney are teaming up after everyone said they wouldn’t be compatible? Blah, blah, blah….  “Um, I really don’t follow them all that closely.”  Sigh….

Englishman No. 5: “I support Liverpool.” ….and he wouldn’t really say anything else.  I couldn’t really tell if he had nothing to say or if he just didn’t want to share the inner culture of Liverpool with a stupid American.

Englishman No. 6: “I’m actually from Glasgow, but I’m a huge Rangers supporter”  Thankfully he didn’t stab me in the neck for assuming he was from England – his accent was very slight – but we then had a fabulous 45 minute conversation about the insolvency of the club, the departure of all the American players, how those American players were perceived in the community, the travails of playing in lower tier Scottish football against teams made up of shepherds and plumbers….  Basically, it was exactly the type of conversation I wanted to have with the Englishmen.

One of my favorite sayings is, “The plural of anecdote is not fact.”  I clearly don’t have a huge sample of Englishmen, but I am noticing a disturbing pattern that Englishmen in America tend to not be soccer fans – or at least not passionate soccer fans who actually follow the daily doings of their clubs.  My working theory is that these guys are all 45+ and graduate educated and perhaps all that soccer hooligan behavior from the 80’s wasn’t very enticing to these guys when they were in graduate school or young professionals?  Perhaps the demographics of Englishmen who come to live/work in the U.S. isn’t in sync with soccer fandom?

So, my questions to you: What’s going on with these chaps?  Do I have an idealized vision of everyone in England being soccer fans?  Have I managed to find the only non-soccer fans from England?  Have you ever been disappointed by someone you were SURE would be a huge soccer fan?

39 thoughts on “Why Do So Many Englishmen in America Not Follow Soccer?”

  1. It’s very much a new phenomenon over here post Italia 90 and the inception of the Premier League. I think to a degree you’re right about their age bracket and the environment and atmosphere of the late 70s-80s causing them to miss out. Until Sky and the internet football over here wasn’t as pervasive as it is now. I guess that’s part of the reason.

    1. Some of it also could be socio-economic. All the Englishmen I know are successful professionals and successful professionals everywhere are less into sports because they’re so devoted to work (thus their success). But, still…..I’m not as passionate about the Dallas Cowboys as I used to be, but I could still carry on a decent 15 minute chat about the merits of Tony Romo.

  2. how does it explain then that every single stadium in every single town in england is at its full every single week. it’s not the same in spain, or italy, where you can see half crowded stadiums when small teams are playing (in italy even milan doesnt bring so much crowd). here in us you have to be a really good fan of the sport to assist to a mls game

    1. “how does it explain then that every single stadium in every single town in england is at its full every single week”

      It may appear this way, but it’s not really true. Many lower table clubs are not selling out league games, and even larger clubs don’t sell out some domestic cup matches. It’s hard to see on TV but there are plenty of empty seats in England.

    2. That’s kinda my point. My disappointment is that Englishmen living in the US don’t seem to have that same passion that the folks back home do.

  3. “Do I have an idealized vision of everyone in England being soccer fans?”

    Yes. Its just like assuming all americans like nascar, american football, baseball, or basketball.

    1. That’s a good point. What percentage of people in England actually identify as being a “soccer fan”? Here in the US, I think it’s reported as 59% of Americans are “fans” of the NFL. I’m sure there is a huge gender divide there, so it’s probably ~75% for men.

  4. Quite the over reaction, this article. The responses you received are quite common in England let alone America. Not everyone English has to like Soccer (Football), as huye said “Its just like assuming all americans like nascar, american football, baseball, or basketball.”

    If the article had references to conversations to English folks who have moved the the US, arrived as huge Soccer fans and then drifted away from it in favour of the NFL or NASCAR, then we’d have a conversation about that, and something must be done. But it’s not.

    Rugby, Cricket and Darts are HUGE in the UK, yet not every transplanted Brit in the US has an interest in those either. Are you going to write an article on crickettalk.com (note: not a confirmed website) about that too?

    1. No Stephen….I’m just reporting on an odd anecdote.

      I mean, I could go to the local Mexican restaurant right now and start a fight amongst the kitchen staff by beginning a futbol discussion. Half of the staff are Club America fans and the others all like Guadalajara —-> Passionate argument. I can talk to them about young American players who are playing with Mexican clubs. If I go to the local Greek restaurant, they have AEK scarves up all over the place and you can chat about everyone in the place about Greek soccer.

      But, every time I try to chat up an Englishman in the US about a league I actually follow, I get this disinterest. It’s just weird. I think there could be a socioeconomic factor: the Englishmen I know are all well-to-do and well-to-do people everywhere tend to be less interested in sport because they are busy with their career. But, that still doesn’t explain it all…..

      Anyhow….not trying to say that there are no Englishmen in the US who like soccer. I just can’t find them. :)

  5. I once ran into an Englishman who was working in America who bragged to me that he had never watched a soccer game in his life. He wore it like a badge of honor. In this particular case, I think it was a class issue, where he was trying to be perceived as being “above” the riff-raff of soccer fans.

    But judging by the ticket prices these days, I think the difference between the classes is less of an issue as it’s hard for lower class people to afford to go to matches.

    The Gaffer

  6. Fun article. I have not experienced this phenomenon, but I love the way you’ve written up the conversations as they remind me of conversations I’ve had over the years.

    The only British person I frequently talked the game with was my daughter’s soccer coach, a life-long Liverpool supporter who would follow the games live on his smartphone during the girls’ games while his wife took over coaching duties. Great guy and excellent coach… even in moments of split attention.

    For some reason, I have had experiences similar to this article with Australians, who oddly I run into on a regular basis. Australians in education… go figure. I guess I just always assumed that if you had an accent you followed EPL… not the case. They love that rugby.

    I do value having an Everton supporter in my department, as it is always fun to exchange reviews and jabs while collecting papers from the mailboxes.

  7. Good article. I certainly see the points. I have met a fair share of both types of Englishmen, those who do follow soccer and those that don’t.
    I certainly see the stereotype being a decent one to comment on. In my own case I feel like I am an anomaly of my own. I have spurned American football for watching English and often have people ask me about games or teams that I haven’t kept up on in years.

  8. Not footy, but footy…..

    I met a Kiwi a few years ago and was all set to have a great rugby conversation. Turns out he didn’t follow it at all. After I picked my jaw up off the ground, I wept.

    1. It was, not anymore. It’s seen as a fashion accessory by the chattering classes. Particularly in North London at that hushed opera bowl.

  9. same story for me… I’ve stopped asking if they’re football fans. I’ve had brits listen in on conversations I’ve taken part in and interrupt with, “jesus! you yanks know more about the epl than me and I grew up there!”

    …and I can’t stand american football. makes sense since i grew up here right?

    1. I have to say…..I’ve really soured on American football myself. I watched a game the other day on the treadmill and found it really boring with all the stoppages in play and commercials.

      I suspect that it’s like anything else: the subset of fans that will take time to read a blog like EPL talk are the fringe of fandom who care to be a little more educated. And since the internet lowers boundaries, there’s really no reason people from anywhere in the world can’t be well-educated about the EPL.

  10. I am an Aussie lived for about 5 years in London. As an Aussie, we have sport in our blood – we follow pretty much all sport and will have an opinion on everything.

    On moving to London I had expected all the blokes at work to be the same – all into sport. But most (mainly because I am in IT) don’t follow ANY sport (they are into art, opera, theater, food, books – stuff most Aussies are not into.) But the ones who are into sport normally only follow 1 sport, and that sport depends a lot on what school they went to. Football (soccer) is by far the most popular, but the other sports are (in order of popularity) Formula 1 car racing, rugby, cricket, darts, snooker, rugby league

  11. England is a nation blighted with the class system.
    Football (soccer) is the game of the common working man. Rugby and cricket are the games of the educated professionals. Its the educated professionals that emigrate to the USA from England. 80% of the soccer fans would not be able to get visas to even visit America for a vacation let alone be allowed to live there.
    In other words, the englishmen you meet in the USA are not very representative at all of the common man on the streets of England.

    1. I get your point, but citizens of the UK don’t need a visa to visit the US…..unless you’re saying that 80% of the soccer fans have a criminal record. 😉

  12. It is a strange phenomenon but I don’t believe it’s restricted just to Englishmen. I’m English and extremely passionate about football but rarely get the chance to talk about it as the subject hardly ever comes up in routine conversation wherever a person comes from.

    An Italian restaurant I used to visit was littered with Italian national team pictures. They would never talk about football unless I broached the subject then they’d all come alive. The cooks, waiters, busboys even the Mother would come rushing out of the kitchen and start throwing their arms around and arguing so passionately that sometimes I don’t think I ever get any food. An American Doctor I know is an absolute rabid follower and extremely knowledgeable. He gives you 5 mins of medical opinion then takes the opportunity for an hour of engaging football chat. A lady cashier from Ghana at the local grocery store and a female medical student from Nigeria I know will talk endlessly about the African players in the EPL if you bring up the subject of football first. That also goes for all the South Americans I’ve chatted to.

    Football is dwarfed in the US by the home grown sports and is still largely considered as this curious “foreign sport”. Even though each weekend it becomes the most country’s most popular played sport when hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of kids (mainly girls) go out and play in endless tournaments. I’ve been to many of them with perhaps 20 or so teams and yet the vast majority of the parents only have vague ideas or simply know nothing about the game.

    Sports conversation is largely dominated by men and football or “soccer” seems to be considered as more of a girls sport in the US? The reverse is true of course. Ask me about the history of baseball and the conversation would be very stunted, so why would that person bother?

    1. I wouldn’t say that it’s perceived as a girls’ sport in the US, but some unkind things are said about it. It doesn’t help that the soccer season in high school is at the same time as American football. So…..there is (sometimes) an attitude that the big, strong, manly men are playing American football whereas the weak, girly men are over playing soccer.

      I think that attitude is changing over time, but you still hear lots of: there isn’t enough scoring, why are they rolling around in pain when they barely got touched, etc.

      It is getting better as TV and the internet allow people to watch more and more soccer.

  13. A random sample of 6 is likely insufficient for statistical significance. It sounds like most of these conversations took place at the local country club rather than a pub. More likely, what you are experiencing is classic British under-statement. We invented the game. We don’t need to shout about it. It’s enough that when someone asks you who you support a simple “United” or “spurs” or “Millwall” is enough to demonstrate your knowledge and passion for the game.

    1. Well….these guys are all what I’d call “successful international businessmen”. And, I freely admit that a six doesn’t even come close to statistical significance.

      And, you could well be correct. They are reserved guys and perhaps they just didn’t feel like talking about the sport with a silly American.

  14. As several people have alluded to it’s kind of a class thing over here (England) but it’s not easy to define, more of a state of mind perhaps. I work with plenty of guys who are from working class type backgrounds but now have upper middle pretensions, almost none of them are football fans. On the other hand I regularly hang out with a bunch of guys who were educated at top public schools (Private fee paying schools) and they’re all football crazy and hate rugby (which they were forced to play at school).

    I’d also agree with the comments that the average guy over here isn’t that into sport but paradoxically we had the best attended Olympics & Paralympics ever and huge numbers of us travel overseas every year to support our Cricket, Rugby, Football and Olympic teams. no other country in the world comes close to travelling support. Also try getting a ticket for any big sporting event over here…it is incredibly difficult and getting harder all the time.

  15. This headline/story is no surprise. I had the same experience in Asia. Seems to me that many of the people abroad and originally from big cities don’t bother much with television, let alone watching sport and specifically footy. But, that doesn’t sound much different to what you find among urban, educated Americans either.

  16. Another thing to consider is there is a rare breed I call “professional English people” in the US. They touch down on American soil and suddenly become way over the top English and act in a way they think Americans expect us to act. Not acknowledging football is one of the traits they enjoy exhibiting. It’s hilarious and sad at the same time.

    1. Yeah…..I could see that. I don’t THINK that’s the case with these guys, but I could be wrong.

      But….I have met the type: ex-pats who feel as if they are some sort of unofficial spokesperson for their country.

  17. I was in a Mexican restaurant recently, wearing a EPL jersey and one of the waiters asked me if I would play soccer with him and his friends behind the restaurant every Sunday? They have a weekly game..

    1. That’s what I’m saying: The Mexican guys are pure soccer fans.

      Although the guys at our local restaurant got very prickly after we beat them as Azteca last summer. I decided not to eat there for about a week. :)

    1. They had great things to say about Bocanegra. They loved what he did as a player and also really appreciated how he handled his exit from the club. I mean….he actually played a few games for them after they got demoted and didn’t do a lot of complaining about it. They didn’t have much to say about Edu that would be surprising to a fan of the USMNT: he’s athletic, but is a little sloppy in possession. And Bedoya was hurt, so they didn’t know much about him.

  18. You have to look at the class issue and school system 40 years in England.

    Most people who would have gone to university in England during the 70/80s would have gone to private schools or Grammar schools prior to university.

    Neither of these types of school play football/soccer. They play Rugby and Cricket, which are seen as upper class sports in England.
    Football has always been the working class sport in England.
    This is not so much the case any more, tickets for football games are expensive nowadays and kids from all backgrounds have more opportunity to go to university than perhaps they did in the past.
    But if you were speaking to people in their 40’s who were university educated and quite posh then they probably went to a grammar school or private school and have probably never kicked a football in their life despite coming from England.

    1. I’ve suspected this might be the case, but figured that an American trying to draw generalizations about English class structure was playing with fire. I’m sure it’s a nuanced enough situations that I’d never be able to do it justice. :)

  19. Or to put it another way

    If they sound like Hugh Grant they would have gone to a Grammar school or private school and played rugby and cricket.

    If they sound like Steven Gerrard then they would have gone to a normal secondary school and played football/soccer

    it’s the class system and school system that still exists today although not quite as much as it did in the past.

  20. As other peeps have mentioned…Up until the 90’s Soccer was pretty much confined to the working classes, with Rugby usually the sport of choice for the more affluent.

    There were also large Rugby regions in the UK…Area’s like the West Country were predominantly Rugby.
    Soccer was pretty much frowned upon at my school in Dorset and it was Rugby twice a week….Love both sports by the way….Was amazed to find a Rugby Club down here in New Orleans :)

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