Later this evening, the United States will play England at Wembley (8pm BST/BBC1) in a friendly match between two countries who have a love-hate relationship with each other. But in this war, the battle is waged off the pitch rather than on it.
On the pitch, the competition between the two sides is waged fairly. The American players who play in the Premier League will have more of a desire to win the match so they can rub it into the faces of their English compatriots. The English players will have a lot to prove to new manager Fabio Capello, so overall the match should be entertaining to watch as long as it remains competitive. Most importantly, it’ll be played in a clean manner.
Off the pitch, it’s a different story. Being an American who lived in Britain for 14 years, I’ve experienced the complicated love-hate relationship between both countries. There are so many Anglophiles who live in the United States and love the English way of life (the football, the beer, the fish and chips, music, TV shows, movies and royalty). And there are many Brits who love the American way of life (the TV shows, movies, rap artists, fashion, fast food and gadgets such as Apple’s iPod).
But right in the middle of all of this is also a relationship of hate, which isn’t felt by everyone but definitely exists. It’s part politics and part football. And, without a doubt, it’s more fierce off the pitch than on it.
Politically speaking, George Bush’s shock and awe policy in Iraq has generated a lot of negativity among people around the world which is aimed at the United States. Of course, Britain was America’s biggest ally in the war against Saddam Hussein, so it shouldn’t feel exonerated. But the war has created a bitter taste in the mouths of so many people worldwide.
Part of that anti-Americanism has spilled over into football and specifically the Internet — whether it’s message boards, blog comments or articles by renowned journalists (Martin Samuel from The Times has been a prime target for U.S. fans because Samuel often harshly criticises U.S. football; It’s this feeling of general press bias that upsets many Americans). Some of the friction between football fans in the U.S. and U.K. has been downright venomous.
The battle off the pitch between U.S. and English football fans comes down to pride. English journalists, pundits and soccer fans have, for too long, looked down their noses at U.S. football whether it’s been the national squad or Major League Soccer. It’s an easy target for the Brits who make jokes about the “Mickey Mouse League” and tease Americans for inventing the word soccer to label the sport we love, when most of us intelligent people know that the term originated from England not the United States.
A lot of friction from Americans is because they’re sick and tired of their national team and clubs being made a joke. They feel that their country and its football teams should be respected more than they currently are, and that many of their football supporters are very well educated about the sport and not all of them fall into the trap of being stereotypical American males who are macho, dumb and eat and breathe the mindnumbingly boring NFL.
Many Americans feel that Brits are jealous of them and their way of life, that Brits are ignorant about the level of football in America and that Brits perceive themselves to be superior to Americans.
Of course, most of this is true. Whether Brits choose to admit it or not, the fact is that most people in the UK consume an American culture. Whether it’s the American TV shows on British television, the fast food culture of pizza and hamburgers, the American music you listen to on Radio 1 or and the American-influenced fashion that you wear, the British culture is morphing into the United States of England every day.
This hypocrisy is what infuriates many Americans. Brits consume American culture and respect it, but Brits don’t give football played by Americans the respect it deserves.
Thus sets the stage for the England against USA friendly scheduled for this evening. If you see the Americans playing with a style of zest and verve that is uncommon in friendly matches, now you know why. And if the U.S. can pull off a shock and beat England, expect to see a tirade of “I told you so” from Americans across the Internet in the days and weeks to come. This is something that American players and fans would love more than anything: To earn and receive the respect that they deserve.