Where Soccer is Soccer

For all his interest in the world’s game, the American soccer fan can be surprisingly myopic. Lost in his constant defense of the game against its enemies (most of whom are probably his friends) at home, he imagines that no other country could have it this bad. On the whole, it’s an understandable impulse. It does take a special level of effort to hunch over the computer early on a Saturday morning, obsessively refreshing the BBC’s live update page of a late-season Man Utd-Liverpool match while re-aired bowling plays on ESPN2, and dredge up some sympathy for the plight of soccer in other lands.

Yet the plight exists. American exceptionalism may apply neatly to the other sort of football, but the United States is still one of several nations where the beautiful game gets the Jim Rome treatment. Soccernet recently ran an article on the reception that soccer in Australia has usually enjoyed:

For decades, the world game has been maligned in Australia as a boring, effeminate pursuit that heterosexual males should never consider playing…

Sound familiar? And, as in the United States, the bias goes well beyond the tailgate/sports bar bull session:

As recently as 2005, long-serving Aussie Rules coach Kevin Sheedy told sports fans who were toying with the idea of watching a Melbourne soccer game to ‘get a life’ while AFL [Australian Rules Football] officials were known to pop open a bottle of French champagne every time the Socceroos failed to qualify for the World Cup finals.

Closer to home, most MLS fans have treated the atmosphere in Toronto with happiness but little surprise. Canada has the Queen on its money and accents to match, so soccer was a sure-fire hit. But in all their Anglophilic fervor they forget that Canada has even less soccer pedigree than its southern neighbor. Hockey die-hards in particular treat the game with the same disdain (and homophobic undertones) that football fans often do in the States, but they’re not alone:

In other words, Hogtown’s now home to faux-Euro hooligans to go with the local club’s faux-British logo and the field’s faux-British food, specifically the chip butty, the signature as-in-England delicacy that amounts to French fries on white bread.

It should be noted that the quote comes from an article that isn’t even particularly critical of the sport or the team.

Elsewhere there is indifference or underdog scrapping against the domination of other sports (Japan). Soccer as merely soccer is not alone in the world, and neither are the trials of American fans. The lessons to be learned from the Australias, Canadas, and Japans of the world are topics I hope to cover frequently.

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