Thursday, July 10, 2014

There's a Soccer Born Every Minute

With apologies to all who call it football, futbol or ‘the beautiful game', I am writing today (after a brief five year hiatus) about soccer, as World Cup 2014 is about to come to merciful conclusion.

 So the Spanish disappointed, as did the Italians, and yet again the English. The Americans were OK but never a legitimate threat. But soccer skill and acumen is apparently plentiful in the German DNA.

Unfortunately for the team from Germany though, German DNA has also been plentiful in Argentina since about 1945. How painful it must be for the English to watch a final, rooting against BOTH teams.

Much like the Olympics, I looked forward to the tournament at the start but within a week was thinking, “when will this thing be OVER?”

Now we can look forward to the next World Cup in four years in Russia. And we can be thankful … thankful that it is not for another four years.

 Apart from taproom owners who enjoyed an increase in mid-afternoon drinking, the World Cup is generally greeted in America with the enthusiasm one reserves for C-SPAN highlights. I’m not saying that soccer is devoid of devotees in America. Indeed an entire generation has now grown up playing the sport.

When I was a kid, if you drove around on any given Spring or Summer Saturday morning, you would invariable hear the ‘ping’ of aluminum striking a baseball coming from the nearest little league field. Now on Saturday mornings you only hear the moans of a diving soccer youth lobbying for a foul call.

 But as adults, soccer can never penetrate our mainstream. It’s not because soccer is as boring as some make out a nil-nil draw to be. Indeed there are strategy and tactics to observe if one is roughly acquainted with the off-sides rule or the difference between a direct and an indirect free kick.

The reason soccer will never be the new NFL is two-fold. Firstly, the sport has one statistic. Goals scored. Far as I can tell, that’s it. Can’t lead to much excitement for a ‘fantasy soccer’ league with one lousy statistic.

But more importantly, the clock never stops. No stoppage in the action means no commercial breaks. No commercial breaks means no commercials. No commercials mean no commercial revenue. No commercial revenue means no television. No television means no interest. In England, soccer is broadcast on the BBC (a non-commercial, state-funded network).

Soccer is king in England. They invented the bloody sport for one thing. They even managed to win the World Cup … once … a LONG time ago … back when the ball was made of stone I think.

That's Got to Hurt
I am confused though. In the Olympics, England competes ... not as England ... not even as The UK ... but as Team Great Britain and Northern Ireland ...  which is by the way what the UK is … The United Kingdom of Great Britain (meaning England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland.

But in soccer, theoretically at least, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland could each qualify for the World Cup. So this potentially could increase the chances of a UK team winning four-fold as opposed the one squad they ship to the Olympics. Given the (lack of) success of those four countries though, would it not be in their interest to compete as one nation and draw from a larger pool of talent?

I mean, you see only one USA team on the soccer field (pitch, ground whatever you want to call it). You don’t hear them say, “Well South Carolina has qualified by knocking out Iowa. But Montana continues to struggle in their match with Delaware.”

 I do admit a certain geo-political ignorance to international sports competition. For example, in the group stages round of the World Cup, I heard that Iran lost, 3-1 to Bosnia and Herzegovina. And I thought, “well no wonder they lost. Iran had to play against Bosnia AND Herzegovina. That hardly seems fair. At least let Bosnia and Herzegovina play against someone like Trinidad AND Tobago. That sounds at least more balanced.”

So now the World Cup moves on to Russia in 2018. Russia, the country that hosted the Winter Olympics in a SUMMER resort town, that actually had to BUY snow and have it delivered to Sochi.

Seriously though , I do wish the Russians well. This will be the first World Cup hosted in Eastern Europe. And that alone, is pretty exciting stuff.

Perhaps they can re-purpose that one stubborn Olympic ring that wouldn’t light up and make it into a soccer ball.

They are building many new stadiums across the country for this. And that will be great news for some local economies.  In an effort to minimize travel though, they are only using venues west of the Urals. So sorry Vladivostok, no new stadium for you.

They are building a stadium in the city of Samara though. Samara is a large though little known (outside of Russia) city on the Volga and one that I have a special place for in my heart. It is hometown to my wife and my wonderful extended family. I have been there twice … once in summer … once in winter. Like Napoleon before me, when it comes to Russia, I recommend the summer.

The only question that remains though, is who will Russia invade immediately following the World Cup? The Ukraine? No … been there … done that. That’s so 2014.

Hmmm… I like the idea of them invading Germany for a little payback. Might be biting off a little more than they could chew though. The whole Germany being part of NATO thing is sure not to go unnoticed. No. It’ll probably be something smaller, closer to home and easier to gloss over.

Sleep with one eye open Belarus!