futbol season


As the US futbol team moved from regulation into that mysterious realm known as extra time during the elimination World Cup match against Belgium, I was attending the Richland (SC) County Council meeting.

Minutes before the meeting kicked off, one of the council members found the streaming broadcast on his county provided laptop. Belgium scored and he was confused as to why the madness continued. In American sports, sudden death means sudden victory.

The two teams continued play as the Chair’s gavel opened the meeting. Like all previous meetings I’ve covered for a local newspaper in the last decade, this one opened with a prayer and the pledge.

The designated prayer reciter invited spectators to join in, a prerequisite for making such religious demonstrations legal. He thanked the Lord for choosing America as His personal fave, and asked for guidance as the council did the county’s business. It is absolutely amazing how quickly this august body will forget those pleas for Divine Assistance as soon as the discussions concerning controversial issues begin.

The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag was performed pretty close to the way it was designated in the Constitution. Most will remember from US History that some of the more secular Founders wanted the Almighty left out of the Pledge but the South Carolina contingent, with support from Ronald Reagan, stuck to their guns. Under God remains to this day.

As the excitement from pledging devotion to the flag subsided, one of the council members stated solemnly that while his cohort was praying, the US soccer team had scored a go-ahead goal. Now this wasn’t the first time a politician uttered two things incorrectly in one simple sentence, but it was impressive.

Not only did he confuse which team scored, he also missed on the timing. The initial goal was scored by Belgium several minutes before the meeting began. The council member who had actually watched the opening minutes of extra time looked confused but said nothing. No reason to antagonize a fellow honorable public official over something as trivial as facts; especially when the Lord is somehow involved.

While council members were approving past minutes and the night’s agenda, and discussing which dirt roads to pave, World Cup Fever came to a screeching halt for most of America. I’m sure there are a few aficionados who watch the event with the same fervor as the rest of us view March Madness. And there are a few posers who will continue to wear jerseys from foreign countries and speak with Eurotrash accents, if only to see if the charade is worth repeating four years down the road.

But the interest on ESPN, the morning discussions on the Today Show, and lively gatherings in neighborhood bars to celebrate the world’s favorite sport will all subside. In a week, few in America will remember what all the uproar was about.

Americans just don’t get soccer. We try. Each time the World Cup cranks up we all get excited and think this might be the year, but like Olympic hockey, our interest is tied to the national team’s success. And we just aren’t as good as Brazil, Germany, and Belgium.

There is also something fundamentally un-American about the Beautiful Game; something we can’t put our collective finger on. Like escargot, socialized health care, and Anne Hathaway, most Americans just find something unacceptable with not using our hands to play with a ball, uncertainty over a match’s finality, and getting excited over nil-nil.

Maybe one day, when the kids who play on the local playgrounds grow up, we start to produce home-grown stars, or the country becomes a little more appreciative of things that happen in other places, we might see soccer replace some of our less addictive sports. But not now, and not anytime soon. It’s just too foreign for us.

Sorry, Messi.

Image: Courtois stuffs Dempsey at point blank range to save Belgium - animated Gif by Justin Russo @FlyByKnite via twitpic from ESPN.
Mike Cox

Mike Cox

Mike Cox currently writes a weekly column in South Carolina for the Columbia Star called "It's Not a Criticism, It's an Observation." He is trying to grow old as gracefully as possible without condemning the current generation in charge to doom. Each day this task gets harder as the overwhelming evidence mounts. He currently has two published books; Finding Daddy Cox, and October Saturdays. His columns have won three South Carolina Press Association awards since 2003. Mike has three sons and two grandchildren and lives in Irmo, Sc, just outside of Columbia.

  1. Eileen Dight

    I love the Beautiful Game, but only watch international matches. The World Cup grabs my attention every four years, probably because it’s the best demonstration of the sport, but also because the TV coverage is excellent. I watch most of the matches and look forward to the best edited moments sequence at the end – it’s balletic, pure theater, don’t miss it. I’ve been a fan since 1966 when I watched the World Cup on black and white TV in England and we WON! after extra-time, goal kicks and sickening excitement.

    In the nineties while living in a tiny rural village in France I watched the locals march around the streets in triumph, chanting “On a gagne, on est champion!” loosely translated as we “We won, we are the champions!” and I relished their delight.

    In the British press this year the USA/Belgium match was described as “the best of the tournament so far”. When USA wins the World Cup, Americans will “get it”. By their performance this year, it could be next time. I’ll cheer!

  2. Will Cantrell

    I like this piece a lot.although I think I detect your tongue poking your cheek out just a bit.

    As they say, I have, since the last World Cup, evolved a great deal on soccer. I have learned the rules, learned a little strategy and find that it REALLY is a ‘Beautiful’ Game. II finally see what the rest of the world has been tallking about all this time.

    Nevertheless Mike, methinks you’re right. It’s probably going to be long while before soccer competes for our time on a Fall Saturday or Sunday afternoon. We Americans don’t typically flock to games that weren’t invented here or contests where we can’t, after limited competition, crown a group of our own, Undisputed World Champions. It also probably helps if the sport is played at Alabama and Auburn and has sideline diversions such as scantilly-clad (Dallas Cowboy) cheerleaders.

    Good piece. Will.

    1. Mike Cox

      Will, Thanks for the compliment and you are correct; my tongue was a bit cheeky. I have an interest in soccer though. My youngest son was an all-county goalie in high school in Chattanooga and I think soccer is the best game possible for kids to learn athletic competition. Few rules and lots of running back and forth.

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