History and passion, not players, make soccer special
Posted: Thursday January 18, 2007 2:57PM; Updated: Thursday January 18, 2007 3:15PM
David Beckham may have hit the jackpot, but his presence doesn't mean MLS will become popular in the U.S.
Denis Doyle/Getty Images
PARIS -- David Beckham coming to MLS hasn't gotten plenty of publicity, but he won't save the league. Let me explain.
The soccer team Paris Saint-Germain has been around since 1970, and in that time has won two Ligue 1 titles. They made Ligue 1 in 1974 after winning a home-and-home promotion series against Valenciennes FC. Since then, they've become one of the big names in European football, but moreso because they represent one of the big cities in Europe and have a huge team store on the Champs Elysées than anything related to the quality of their football.
This season, PSG began by bumbling along, totaling a paltry 19 points in their first 18 games. The PSG supporters take their obligations very serious, so much so that they'd begun expressing their displeasure with the direction of the club by taking it to the streets. A few weeks ago, when I was planning my trip to Paris, I googled "PSG" to see if they would be playing while I was there. The first news headline that popped up was something like: "PSG Cancels Home Game After Police Kill Fan." The PSG fans had supposedly been menacing a fan of the Israeli club Hapoel Tel Aviv after a match, and a policeman shot and killed a PSG fan. Not the kind of thing that happens very often in the States.
I was in Paris with my extended family, and my parents agreed to come along with me to see PSG host Valenciennes last Saturday. I'd been to professional soccer games in Spain and England, but never France, so I was curious to see what the French soccer experience would be like. Would they have people roaming the stands selling wine by the glass? Could you get a decent croque monsieur at the concession stand? And I couldn't remember ever having been to a pro sports game anytime lately where the specter of violence was a threat.
Turned out, it wasn't much different than any sporting event in the States: a big cement stadium with worn plastic seats. (The most fantastic difference was that they had fresh espresso at the concession stands.) The bleachers were about half-full, but the end zone seats in the upper deck were crammed with supporters waving flags, singing loudly, banging drums, a surging force of life like something out of a Ricky Martin video. In front of them was a huge banner reading "Supporting Paris SG Is Not A Crime."