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Four Things (Of Many) That Soccer Gets Right

As the son of an Englishman, I’ve been exposed to English football my entire life. My interest peaked during World Cups — especially the 2002 tournament when my dad and I traveled to Japan to follow England around during the Group Stage. The trips to Saitama, Sapporo, and Osaka cemented my allegiance to the Three Lions, an allegiance that held firm despite being drawn alongside the United States in the 2010 World Cup.

Before we go any further, don’t question my patriotism. The jokes and slants at my rooting for England got old in a hurry. I always considered myself a spiritual dual-citizen, and the Japan trip sealed my English fandom. I will watch the United States men’s national team and root for them in any other circumstance, but fandom is determined by which team will cause the greatest excitement by winning and the greatest devastation by losing. For me, that’s England. They’ve given me too many good memories, including Germany 1-England 5 (Even Heskey scored!) and Beckham’s free kick to level Greece and send England to Japan, and too many painful losses, the loss on penalties to Argentina in 1998 and Portugal in 2006.

Despite all this, soccer remained a peripheral sport, with baseball and football in the foreground, due to my lack of a constant team to follow. My dad’s hometown team, Wolverhampton Wanderers, had spent most of my life in the second division of English Football, and thus difficult to keep up with apart from minute-by-minute text commentary. However during my last year in high school, Wolves had a wonderful season and automatically qualified for the Premier League again, in a time where Fox Soccer began showing more top flight football.
This is the first thing football gets right: promotion and relegation. Owners and managers who run their clubs the right way, no matter the size, have a chance at glory in every season. Clubs who play frugal and just try to earn a profit off fans face the dangers of losing status and losing money. Teams at the bottom half of the table can’t just tank games in hopes of a high draft pick like American teams. Imagine if the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Cleveland Browns entered the final week of the season needing a win to stay in the Major League or NFL. You don’t think the owners will invest more money if there was a chance of dropping down to semi-pro status?

I guess this point leads into a second thing football got right: no collective bargaining, especially no amateur drafts. Out of all the things I’d love to see transition to American sports, this is the least likely, because it seems the most contradictory to our sporting beliefs. In England, young soccer players play in academies that are funded by professional clubs. These academies are the lifeblood for most clubs, either adding new players every year or adding funds by selling players to other clubs. The best players get a chance to play for the best clubs or make best club level money, just like in the working world. Teams don’t care if players are 16, if they’re good enough, they can play and get paid.

This point is also the hardest to make because it would ruin college athletics, the only American sporting medium that can rival European football, because it creates a genuine bond between team and fans. My interest in football rose above casual observer when I finally got to be more than a casual observer. When my Dad and I went to England for my freshman Spring Break, Wolves were sadly playing away both weekends, but we were lucky enough to go to the Emirates Stadium to see Arsenal play West Ham United. When Denilson’s early shot beat Rob Green, the sound created by the Gunners could only compare to a Clemson touchdown. Arsenal won 2-nil and I had a new secondary team to root for when they played in Europe and domestically when they weren’t playing Wolves.

My third thing is probably the most trivial, but it’s one of the things I love the most about football: the chants sung at matches. If you aren’t fully aware of what I’m talking about, go on YouTube and type in “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and listen to a crowd shot of Liverpool supporters belt out their anthem. As a Wolves fan, I hummed “We Shall Not Be Moved” for days after it was belted out at Molineux on the final day of the season. I think it’s the only thing that could be added to the atmosphere of a Death Valley Saturday: better organized chants than the chaos of the cadence count. Sadly, the only one I could think of played off the English standard “Que Sera Sera” that ends in “We’re going to Wem-ber-ley”, the site of the FA Cup Final. “Que se-ra, se-ra/What-ev-er will be, will be/We’re go-ing to Mi-am-i!/que sera, sera!”

Maybe growing up a fan of the Atlanta Braves made me a sucker for organized crowd noise. I still love listening to an AM station in Braves Country and hearing the chant of the Tomahawk Chop in the background. Maybe it’s because when all those voices blend together it shows how similar fans of a team are, all of the fans contributing to a common sound that become the voice of their team. It’s why I’m such a sucker for the Clemson Alma Mater. There’s something about singing the same song with 80,000 other people that makes you feel at home with sports.

My final thing that football gets right is that it is the perfect length of time: year round. The season starts in July and August with the ending of the transfer window and the beginning of friendlies up until the opener in mid-August. Games are every weekend with the exception of international breaks, which just means different games. League cup games start in September and run until the end of February. FA Cup starts for real around Christmas and ends in May. Champions League gets us through midweek from September ’til December then February ’til late May. The domestic season ends in May, but there are summer tournaments every other year to fill the gap until it’s time for the next season.

For the hopelessly addicted, there really is no other sport as far as volume of games and media coverage that comes close. No matter how hard ESPN and Brett Favre try, the NFL is not a year round news story. It gets old in a hurry. Football never gets old because it always seems new. Every goal is different, every game is different, every season is different. And yet, it’s familiar enough to keep us around. Every crowd reacts the same to a goal (hands in the air) and the same to a miss — hands on the back of the head).

I wish with all my heart that more people in America cared about soccer, but scenes like the Gold Cup Final only solidified my doubts in seeing that happen. The only thing that could give soccer a serious foothold would be the continued success of the US Men’s National Team. Otherwise, people will continue to dismiss soccer as a irrelevant sport. Right after the match, a user on a sports message board thanked Mexico so that “now everyone here can quit pretending to give a f**k about soccer for another few years.”. No matter how incendiary that comment is, deep down, you know people who only care about the national team switch off their soccer interest as soon as the Yanks’ performances fail to impress.

All we can hope for is that the interest level continues to rise, slowly but surely, as the younger generation is exposed to its beauty more and more and the stigma of an inferior sport fades slowly into the distance.

Until then, let’s just enjoy our little secret: the beautiful game.

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33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. SeminoleGunner

    June 29, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Enjoyed the article, it’s great to see another big college football fan around here.

    I totally agree that American college football is the best comparison to the European soccer experience. It’s always disappointing for me to see soccer fans drawing comparisons to NFL crowds, when the true rival to a European soccer atmosphere is college football (particularly in the south).

    Best of luck getting the chants started at Clemson games. I figure we probably already do enough of that at Florida State.

  2. Pakapala

    June 28, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    So many misconceptions in this article about american sports that I don’t know where to start but luckily I don’t need to correct anything because I think Robert and Keith above have covered pretty much all that I wanted to point out.

    Look I don’t see why some feel the need to bash american sports in order to make a point about how great the game of football/soccer is. Maybe it’s the “niche sport” complex; I wonder if some fans of rugby in the UK act like that towards football/soccer or cricket. In any case it’s OK to love different sports for their differences and be fine with that. More importantly it is OK for football/soccer leagues in other countries to be set up differently then in England. That’s OK too! Ask Mexico, Argentina, Belgium, Holland, among others. At some point they have tried to mold their leagues exactly as it’s done in England only to see it go down the drain, then they decided to try things differently; the same way MLS had to learn from what can and cannot be ported from English league, also what can and cannot be ported from successful leagues of other sports in this country.

  3. Tom Hingley

    June 28, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Good article, but I take exception to the concept that relegation means turning semi-pro.

    You’d have to be relegated about 4 times before you got anywhere near semi-pro!

  4. Keith

    June 27, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    BTW the Bosman transfer is pretty damn similar to the CBA. Players can freely choose where to go after their contract ends.

    The draft is a different thing entirely but I’ve never heard anyone before now bash a draft system. Teams with the worst record get a chance to take the best player, making the league overall better. Crazy Americans pushing for league parity and the Brits loving an elite 4 that never lose. Seems backwards to our political systems.

    • tonyspeed

      June 27, 2011 at 6:15 pm

      You have chosen the wrong analogy. Sports are not like politics, they are like business. If that is the case, then the draft system with its attempt to even out the rewards is like socialism or communism. The PL which rewards teams for their success by allowing them to buy good players is much like capitalism. So the draft system is directly counter to the capitalistic system america supports.

      • Keith

        June 27, 2011 at 9:40 pm

        I think both analogies work. In either case both sporting systems replicate what we’d expect more from the other country.

  5. Keith

    June 27, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Sorry but this article is sh*t. This is British elitism smashed into the sport you love. And despite the fact that it’s not a perfect league you can’t admit it because it’s BRITISH.

    What do you mean the Gold Cup only solidified your feeling on soccer not succeeding in the US? Did you see the game in DC? Or the fact that people actually showed up in Detroit to a US Canada soccer match? Come on. Right now soccer has a ways to go to catch up to football, basketball, baseball, and hockey but I think its definitely growing. The US is massive and every sport took decades to become more and more popular. It’s not like in the 1890’s football was the most popular sport. Barely anyone played and nobody watched it. It was only found on college campuses. And being a college student in DC (previously from Michigan) I can tell you that 1. soccer is growing 2. that every sports fan I know in DC also enjoys soccer 3. that my school doesn’t have deals with a basketball team or football or hockey team but we do have 1/2 off tickets to see the DC United play and 4. finally Europeans are getting off their high horse about soccer being god’s gift and when they do it makes it more tolerable and even entertaining. I first started watching soccer when someone on ESPN actually explained why it’s so hard to score a damn goal and the tactics behind the game. But for years nobody in Europe gave a damn if Americans liked soccer and they basically told us to take it or leave it. It was a perfect game and we uneducated fools didn’t have the class it took to enjoy. Once that stigma left soccer became more tolerable and I can tell you today soccer is going to keep growing and growing here.

    “Owners and managers who run their clubs the right way, no matter the size, have a chance at glory in every season.” Bull sh*t. Wigan runs it team nearly perfectly. Thats why they’ve been in the EPL for 7 years straight. But have they won anything in this time? Dave Whelan and Roberto Martinez have performed miracles competing on shoestring budget and with a 1/2 empty stadium. And what do they get in return? 16th place in the final standings due to a last week miracle, a 4th round exit in the FA Cup, and a 5th round exit in the Carling Cup. But don’t worry Whelan you “have a chance at glory every season”. So let’s look at how they’ve done in the EPL recently? In previous years Wigan has finished in 16th place, 11th place, 14th place, 17th place, and 10th place. So despite the fact that they’re amazingly run they’ve gotten worse in the standings since they first came up. Two years in a row they finish one spot out of relegation.

    Also, if well managed teams do well then badly managed teams shouldn’t, right? That’s why both Chelsea and Man City were relegated and have to cut costs. That’s why Manchester United barely survived relegation because of a Bebe goal. Yes, I see. It doesn’t matter if you can buy a World Cup rosters worth of players because management trumps money.

    “These academies are the lifeblood for most clubs”. Haha. Well if you mean these academies are the lifeblood for OTHER clubs your right. Otherwise West Ham would have been terrific this year with Carrick, Ferdinand, Lampard, Joe Cole, and Glen Johnson. I think that alone should refute that point of yours. By the way, Ajax is calling and they want to play in this crazy would you live in so they can get back Van der Sar, Babel, Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Elia, De Jong, and Suarez.

    Since Blackburn’s EPL victory all of three teams have held the cup since. Amazing parity. Since Abramovic bought Chelsea only 3 teams besides the Big 4 have finished in the top 4 spots. One of them is Man City who followed the Chelsea playbook and bought (yes they did – I’m not debating if that is okay or not) and the other two are Tottenham and Everton. 3 teams in 7 years have broken into the top 4. Out of 28 positions, 3 of them were filled by a team not called Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool.

    In the NFL, we had Green Bay (owned by the fans) beat the Pittsburgh Steelers last year. Before that it was the New Orleans Saints over Indianapolis Colts, the Steelers over the Arizona Cardinals, the New York Giants over the New England Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts over the Chicago Bears, the Steelers over the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots over the Philadelphia Eagles. In 7 NFL years we’ve had 10 different teams in the final. Of 14 spots only the Steelers, Colts and Patriots have made it back more than once. Since 1967 (modern NFL) 28 of the 32 teams have won the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh Steelers have won it the most (6) since 1967. So 6 times out of 44 chances means that the one team has accounted for 13.64% of all Super Bowls. Since the founding of the modern Premier League (1992) Manchester United have won the league 12 times (Titles 8-19) corresponding to a 63.18% chance that in any year from 1992-2011 the winner was Manchester United. Very exciting league.

    If you like crowds chanting why don’t you look around more than just in SEC territory? The south doesn’t want to admit it but the Big 10 is where it’s at. If you look up on wikipedia the biggest sport stadiums after one in North Korea and one in India the Big 10 dominate biggest sports stadiums. Growing up as a season ticket holder of Michigan football. Being 1 in a crowd of over 110,000 is amazing. Especially in August when the crowd is 100% maize (yellow). But Michigan (109,901), Penn State (107,283), and Ohio State (102,239) are number 3, 4 and 7 in worlds biggest arenas and we’re all in one conference. Michigan hockey fans are constantly rated the most hostile crowd in the US.

    Clearly you don’t get the NFL because no team wants the #1 pick. It’s way too damn expensive and right away the player you pick is going to cost as much as signing an elite player. So no team tanks to get that pick.

    Also, no MLB team tanks for a high draft pick. First off, in baseball most teams don’t see their draft pick for 3-5 years. Imagine saying that Wigan would tank to draft a U-17 player. Does that make any sense?

    BTW, soccer tries to make itself a year round story too. Otherwise transfers that have a 90% chance of never happening wouldn’t be news. You say every goal is new but it’s the same in every sport if you get the sport and actually watch more than the Sports Center Highlights.

    This article is total sh*t because your assumptions of american sports are wrong, you hold up point A for soccer (which I normally call football but in this post with American football it’s too complicating) and say see this is why soccer is good and then don’t mention point A for other sports. All sports market year round, for god sakes hockey tries to in the summer. Additionally, the scheduling? Really, scheduling makes you a fan? What about football where you play once a week and if you lose once in college your probably out of the Championship race. Twice and you lost your division. How about basketball and hockey playoffs with the best of 7 format. That’s incredible to watch and I dare any hockey fan to say any of those 7 games are boring. I have the same pit in my stomach for all 7 games as I do when I watch a UEFA champions match.

    Drop the soccer elitism. Its whats ruining soccer.

  6. Robert

    June 27, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    I think collective bargaining and the amateur draft need to be dissociated from one another in our assessment thereof. I do think the draft is an unfair way of assigning players to teams in American sports, but collective bargaining was a hard-fought battle with the owners for the opposite result: free agency, which most sports did not have at their inception. It took player strikes in both MLB and the NBA in order for players to move freely.

    In addition, CBAs, which are currently under attack in the NFL and NBA, guarantee that teams actually do spend a minimum amount of money on players (both individually, as in a minimum wage, and on a macro scale–I believe owners in the NBA are compelled to spend $2 billion on player salaries yearly). The amateur draft is a holdover from a previous era, in which teams did control the destinies of players for the entirety of their career.

    In the current lockout in the NFL, owners are working tirelessly to redistribute $700 million to $1 billion of player salaries into their own pockets, and have ceaselessly raised ticket prices on fans. Collective bargaining is designed to stop attacks on players; it should not be discarded wholesale by fans of any sport. In the US, players are facing a downturn in salary, while in Europe, footballers’ power is evident in their wages and their ability to demand transfers and spending. They are entirely different, but collective bargaining isn’t the cause of the attack on players. Indeed, the owner of the New York Giants actually argued that if the players “won” the ability to play football for a living, then the owners would simply end the minimum wage scale, which would put the quality of the sport at risk for players and fans.

    Which, in conclusion, is why articles like this, as I have noted before, are speculative, content- and context-free, and add nothing to our understanding of the game.

  7. Stacy Richardson

    June 27, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Another thing soccer gets right is the prevalence of fair, round-robin scheduling. In most leagues, evey team plays exactly the same schedule as every other team, so the final tables are the most meaningful.

    • Keith

      June 27, 2011 at 4:24 pm

      Yeah, except a playoff format kind of negates that problem. Doesn’t matter if you win the regular season and have an easier schedule if you win the Stanley Cup.

      • Dave C

        June 28, 2011 at 1:29 pm

        I don’t think it does negate the problem.

        For example, in NFL, a team in a certain division will not play the exact same schedule as a rival in the same division. So team A might get to play a relatively weak opponent, whereas the equivalent fixture for team B might be a tougher opponent. So therefore, team A has a much better chance of reaching the play-offs.

  8. David

    June 27, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Agreed. When I tell my wife I’m watching a soccer game and will be turning the TV off at a certain time, I’m never off. Makes me very punctual.

  9. Cricketlover

    June 27, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    One other thing that soccer has got just right is the time a match lasts. Even with added time no match lasts more than two hours from kickoff to the final whistle. One can schedule very precisely around a soccer match which is something you cannot do with any of the American sports with all their timeouts, including TV timeouts. When watching a socer match you are fully engrossed in it without a break for a commercial.

  10. mark

    June 27, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    yeah, yeah… promotion and relegation sound like fun ideas for here, until you realize that owners and commissioners would never go for it, as it is a great pain in the butt to buy a team, and that the teams are franchises, just like your regular mcdonalds. also, there is more parity in american sports, most of the time, as it is not only 4 teams that win all the time.

  11. Abu Kyle

    June 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    1. there is only one sport in America where promotion and relegation is and should be possible, baseball. The draft system is pretty similar although clubs do wait until the kid leaves high school, but like Euro soccer, if they are good enough, they play. wouldn’t it be fun if teams like the Pirates of the baseball world got relegated and the Toledo Mud Hens or Durham Bulls could be promoted for winning the IL or Pacific League. Many major league players come down to AAA for rehab starts or some playing time before going back to the main team.

    • Keith

      June 27, 2011 at 4:23 pm

      Except a lot of farm teams are owned by the major league team (or they rely on them for all their players).

      Makes zero sense in baseball because the farm team is like the Chelsea reserves. When was the last time Chelsea reserves played Chelsea in the FA Cup? Or when Barcelona B plays Barcelona?

      • Brett

        June 27, 2011 at 4:53 pm

        In the 1970s Real Madrid B played Real Madrid in the final of the Copa del Rey. The rules were changed not to allow reserve or B teams to play in cup competitions in Spain.

        But to your point, minor league baseball teams are just essentially reserve teams for the majors. I would think it would be cool to have promotion and relegation, though.

      • nc

        June 27, 2011 at 8:47 pm

        Actually all minor league teams are operated by Major League teams. The only exceptions being the self explanatory “Independant Leagues”

        • Keith

          June 28, 2011 at 10:19 pm

          Operated by yes but not all are owned. I know for a fact the Toeldo Mud Hens are not owned by the Detroit Tigers owner.

  12. dan

    June 27, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Both of my parents are born and raised abroad and I was born an American. They came to this country for a reason, not to romanticize where they came from. However, I support their national teams whenever they are playing. I will support them always EXCEPT when they play the USA, which is MY country.

    You people make me sick that support countries that you probably have never even been to. Support the freaking country that let your parents come in, gave them jobs and money and a good lifestyle. Their is a reason people from around the world dream of moving to the USA, and you should be supporting the country that did so for your parents.

    • canyid

      June 27, 2011 at 1:30 pm

      Chill. We love this game, but I feel obligated to emphasize the word “game”. People can support America by being good, informed and active citizens in key political and social issues. This is soccer, dude. It’s awesome, but it’s soccer.

      • MiaK

        June 27, 2011 at 1:59 pm

        ^Ditto^

    • Keith

      June 27, 2011 at 4:21 pm

      Wow dude chill. As an American people like you make me sick of national pride.

      My dad was an immigrant from Switzerland and I love this country and so does he. But I don’t have a problem rooting for the Swiss nor do I have a problem with an English immigrant rooting for his dad’s old team.

      • tonyspeed

        June 27, 2011 at 6:05 pm

        Before there were nations, there were just PEOPLE. Remember, we are all humans and there are not lines when you look at earth from outer space.

    • Kyle

      June 27, 2011 at 10:50 pm

      I agree that it’s absolutely embarrassing. If you’re living here of your own free will (i.e. you’re not on some sort of diplomatic or business duty), and you choose to avail yourself of the rights and privileges of being in this country, then that should be your primary allegiance. Otherwise, you may not be “un-American” in my book, but you’re certainly less of one.

      I don’t buy the “it’s a game” bull-shiite either. Are you gonna pull for China against the U.S. because they play beautiful ping-pong? Do people of Cuban descent root for them when we play them in baseball? Or does this line of treason only extend to democratized, Anglo-saxon countries?

  13. Armin

    June 27, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Am I the only person in America who doesnt have this sense of evangelism when it comes to Americans and soccer? Maybe its from living in New York where there are tons of soccer fans, but I truly dont give a hoot if the yokels across the country do or dont become soccer nuts like me.

    • Keith

      June 27, 2011 at 4:19 pm

      No, I’m in DC and it’s loved here too but I don’t care if people in Texas or Oklahoma care. I like it but I also like hockey and most of the world doesn’t give a damn about that.

    • tonyspeed

      June 27, 2011 at 5:58 pm

      It’s probably a good thing they don’t. If it did become as popular, I think the collective buying power of the American populace would put pressure on the PL to Americanise the league. Money always talks.

      • Keith

        June 27, 2011 at 9:53 pm

        The league is already “americanizing”. The owner of Man U, Liverpool, Arsenal, Sunderland and Aston Villa are all American. What more does it take? Three of the big four are American owned.

        The league is based around money 100%. What Tottenham was the highest ranked team with an English owner? The other teams ahead of Tottenham are owned by a millionaire American family, a Russian oligarch, an Emirati oil Sheikh, and a guy who married the richest family in the US. How is it not a monied league already?

        • Dave C

          June 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm

          I think he means “Americanizing” in terms of re-structuring the league to become more like an American sport.

          Right now, there might be a few American owners, but they know that the majority of their revenue is coming from selling the product to English fans, so the league won’t change what already works. If the game ever becomes so popular that the EPL has more fans in the USA than it does in England, you can bet that the owners will be lobbying the league to introduce play-offs, soccer-bowls, all-star weekends and anything else they think will improve its popularity in the US.

  14. Dave C

    June 27, 2011 at 11:53 am

    Wow, if you thought the noise made by the fans at Arsenal’s stadium was impressive, you should try going to a ground that is actually loud sometime! 😉

    • Keith

      June 27, 2011 at 4:18 pm

      Or actually visit college football stadiums.

  15. Taylor

    June 27, 2011 at 11:21 am

    1. Promotion and Relegation: there are not enough clubs in MLS to create this system. In Europe, football is a grassroot sport and you can literally find tons of clubs with different levels of competitions. There are different tiers of competitions that are managed well under carefully thought pyramid system.
    Look at NASL (Division 2) and USL (Division 3): there are not many clubs and there is not much financial stability in those clubs either. NASL or USL clubs will have a hard time financially to compete with MLS clubs if they are promoted.
    2. I will argue with the year-round. A lot of games, especially in UCL now are meaningless. I remember back in the 80s, all games were important because once you lost, you went home. Now with the group system, it was tiring at times. The reason I love College Football much more than NBA is because CFB is only around several months a year and all games are important.
    3. Agree with Non CBA. The sports should stay like that instead of being americanized.

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