Soccer (or futbol, or football – a much more appropriate name than American Football considering they actually use their feet in this one) is the most popular sport in the world and an estimated one billion people watched the final game. People are crazy about it and I’ve always sort of wondered, “What’s the big deal?”
Well, I gotta say, I’m starting to get it. It all started on the plane to London. There were little TV screens on the back of the seat in front of you, so you could choose which of the available programs you wanted to watch. One of the stations had the history of the World Cup as seen through the eyes of the nation of Brazil so I gave it a shot. It. Was. Fascinating.
And I was hooked.
At Gatwick Airport in London, they had a big screen TV set up near our gate so I sat down to watch Netherlands and Ivory Coast go at one another. As the game went on, more and more people crowded around until finally we had a legitimate gallery on our hands. It made viewing the game all the more exciting and it was an appropriate way to watch my first game with new eyes for the sport. I just love that it’s such a big deal that the airport had set up a TV. Does that even happen for the Olympics? The Super Bowl?
Even in Zambia, we were driving through one of the slums and if there was a television in a tavern, there was no question as to what it would be tuned to. The little 13″ TV in the house we stayed in had an antenna that picked up only one station. The only thing it ever broadcast was a poorly produced news program or the World Cup if there was a game.
I suppose there are as many reasons for its popularity as there are people who tuned in to it, but one that strikes me is its simplicity in terms of equipment. All you really need is a simple ball. It doesn’t even have to bounce that great to work sufficiently. No need for gloves, rackets, bats, a hoop…or ice. (Ice, now there’s an impediment to a sport’s migratory abilities.) Just get a ball and start kicking it around. It’s actually a lot of fun.
So why hasn’t it caught on here? It seems that every one plays soccer as a five or six-year old and then we drop it like it’s hot. As far as not liking it is concerned, I’m sure there are as many reasons as there are people who didn’t tune in.
But the one I’ve heard mentioned the most is that it’s boring. “Ninety minutes and it ends 0-0? That’s boring.” I’m sure it could be, but it could also be an exciting and nail-biting 90 minutes as well. I can see why someone would be bored or unimpressed with watching World Cup games if they turned it on expecting the sort of entertainment they’re used to from watching NFL or NBA games. Those sports are intense and exciting because there is big play after big play. You don’t have to wait very long to be wowed. Soccer (and I speak as a fan with exactly nine games of viewing under my belt) is about the nuance. You can’t watch it with the same eyes that you watched the Mavs edge the Spurs in Game 7 with. It’d be like going to a symphony concert expecting to see and hear the Rolling Stones. You’d be like, “What’s up? There wasn’t even an electric guitar.”
Here’s a short-cut to deciding if you should give the World Cup another chance when South Africa hosts it in four years. When you watch a baseball game and it’s 0-0 in the top of the 9th, are you saying to yourself, “Wow! This is an incredible pitching duel!” Are you hanging on each at-bat, loving the game within a game that is every single pitch? If so, June of 2010 is just around the corner (and qualifying begins long before). If not, Dolphins v. Steelers, Thursday, Sept. 7th.