I hate soccer, and I'm tired of being made to feel guilty about it. So there. I feel better now. Call me an ugly American, but please don't try to sell me the World Cup. I'm glad the blamed thing's over, so newspapers and magazines can start using the space they devoted to this endless yawner—was every final score really 1-0; wasn't there a 2-1 donnybrook in there somewhere?—to more exciting news. Such as softball scores. Or jai alai results.
For at least 20 years, maybe longer, I've been hearing that soccer is the coming sport in this country. Soccer advocates shrilly point out that more kids play soccer than play Little League baseball. Maybe so, but adolescent participation has definitely not carried over into adult interest. That's why there is no major U.S. pro soccer league worth talking about. And that's why TNT, the cable channel that carried the English-language telecasts of the World Cup, earned an average Nielsen rating of—what else?—1.0, which is about as bad as it gets.
Whenever these points are raised, soccer buffs, who are about as tiresome as reformed smokers, act as if our lack of interest in the sport proves that Americans, instead of being the world's most sophisticated sports fans, are uncultured dunces. Or, as the argument always goes, how come soccer is the No. 1 sport nearly everywhere else in the world? Doesn't that prove there's something wrong with us? That we're too lazy or too arrogant to give soccer the respect it deserves, just as most of us are too lazy or too arrogant to learn a second language?
Baloney, I say.
Soccer's global popularity has a lot to do with economics. To play soccer, all you need is a ball and a field, and I can appreciate the simple virtue of that: Nobody has to buy bats, helmets, gloves, pads or the other accoutrements of American sports. But that's why soccer is not only the most popular sport in most underdeveloped countries, but also the only sport.
As for the so-called soccer boom among this nation's youth, that also can be easily explained. Soccer has proved to be very useful in the important area of keeping the sons and daughters of yuppie America off the streets, out of the malls and away from MTV, at least for a few hours a day. You have noticed that soccer hasn't exactly taken hold in the inner cities, haven't you? And that the American kids who play the sport generally are white suburbanites who aren't tall enough, strong enough, fast enough or skilled enough to play football, baseball, basketball or tennis? Now, you moms who drive the station wagons to those dreary games, be honest. If Junior weren't out there bouncing that silly ball off his head, wouldn't you really rather be doing something—anything—else?
I'll concede that soccer requires conditioning and dedication, but so do jogging and mountain climbing. Those sports don't spin the turnstiles or light up the Nielsens much, either. When all is said and done, the reason so many Americans are turned off by soccer is that it's B-O-R-I-N-G. Americans love scoring, be it in the form of home runs or touchdowns or slam dunks, and soccer doesn't have nearly enough of it. Why, if it weren't for those ridiculous penalty-kick tiebreakers after two hours of play, most of the World Cup teams would still be playing.
We also like patterns to our games, with clearly discernible times of offense and defense, instead of all that milling around that we see in soccer. The sport most often compared to soccer is hockey, but that does hockey a great disservice. And what about strategy? We can think along with the manager or coach in baseball, football and basketball, but if there is a game plan in soccer—and experts insist there is—it remains a secret to me even after the game has blessedly ended.
And how about those European soccer fans? Wonderful, aren't they? The biggest upset in the World Cup was that nobody was trampled to death, although 246 English fans did have to be flown home at the expense of the Italian government after they battled police in Rimini. Given the choice between going to a soccer match in England or a professional wrestling match anywhere, I would take Randy (Macho Man) Savage and his crowd every time, even if the matches are fixed. At least the wrestlers will give you a few chuckles; they won't put you to sleep; and you have a good chance of getting home alive, even if you sit at ringside.
Don't take my word for it. Ask the TV networks whether they would rather have the best soccer game in the world or a rerun of last week's wrestling card in Peoria.