Certainly it had to be the British who popularized the sport around the globe. As Brittania was ruling the waves and an empire on which the sun never set for centuries, seafarers, settlers and even the prisoners England deposited on foreign shores must have taken their soccer balls with them. One might think that the degradation of colonialism might also have included all things British, but apparently the former subjects were loathe to give up their futbol. Kick out the king, colonial governors, perhaps tea and crumpets, yes, but not a round ball and a netted goal.
The non-use of hands is what strikes me as odd from the get-go. Those headers have to hurt, and surely a ball that’s been kicked 60 yards high into the air smarts a bit on a human noggin, not to mention the possibility of a concussion. What would be so wrong in allowing players to catch the ball and immediately drop it? You’d still have to kick the ball into a goal.
And speaking of scoring, or lack thereof, I have a hard time getting excited over a “thrilling nil-nil tie,” which seems to excite commentators to no end. Hockey, which also allows ties as a matter of course, is truly not yet must-see TV for most American fans, especially when even NHL finals overlap the NBA playoffs and Major League Baseball’s regular season. Perhaps, for soccer, something as simple as getting two or three points for an actual goal and maybe one point if the shot glances off the posts surrounding the net would boost some results and make it sound as if there’s more scoring than there actually is.
Then there’s the flopping and flailing. Having watched more than a few NBA games during the recent playoffs, I thought professional roundballers had perfected the art of falling on the floor after contact with an opposing player and claiming all manner of foul.
Even the best in the NBA can’t hold a candle to the futbol floppers. Just incidental touching on the soccer field is enough to lead a midfielder to an Academy Award nomination. As these fakers grimace in pain, you expect to at least see a compound fracture or an arm ripped completely out of its shoulder socket. Even when players do really get hurt, as when two or more jump for a header and bash each other’s foreheads together, until real blood is shed or brain matter is spilled, a viewer need not take the injury seriously.
Tournament advancement is another puzzler. If there’s one thing the mathematical calculations of the different winners and losers in each World Cup Group have shown us, the formula for college football’s Bowl Championship Series is simple. I’m pretty sure no one really knows which national soccer team is moving on until names are drawn out of a hat.
Perhaps the biggest problem with futbol, though, is the lack of time outs. No commercials. And no commercials means no bathroom breaks for viewers, nor trips to the fridge, nor time to heat up the pizza rolls in the oven. And then, even when it looks like the half is over, seemingly arbitrary added time is tacked onto the finish. Nobody knows how many additional minutes are allotted until it’s posted. Scoreboards should keep track as the match goes along so both teams know how much longer they need to play. (And bladders would know how much time they need to hold out.)
Before the next World Cup four years hence, I will try to understand the allure of soccer. To be sure, watching the U.S. matches this year was exciting at times. And I would have tuned in this weekend had they made it that far. But, especially over the July 4th holiday, as a proud American, I have to say, if there’s a Braves’ game on TV opposite a World Cup match-up, for now I’m sticking with baseball.
Bill Lewis is a freelance writer in Marietta.