Maybe I was fooling myself, but I thought with the unprecedented coverage of the World Cup in the American mainstream media — much of it intelligent and insightful — that we’d moved on from simple soccer-bashing. And then one stumbles on something like this “World Cup Primer” by Chris Erskine at the Los Angeles Times :
In soccer, there is a lot of falling down, most of it on purpose. As a nation, the Italians fall down the best. Portugal also falls down a lot. When the Portuguese collapse to the ground, it is almost operatic. Cellos play. Madame Butterfly sings. Guys in leotards look forlorn (as guys in ‘tards always should).
In fact, falling down well is one of the most important skills in soccer. By falling down convincingly, a player can sometimes fool the referee into calling a penalty kick. Penalty kicks are like free throws, in that they are remarkably easy. Winning a game on a penalty kick would be like winning a basketball game by drawing a charging foul in the second quarter.
So as you can tell, the referee plays a critical part out there on the pitch (the field). To qualify as a referee for a World Cup match, you must be extensively trained and legally blind. If you can distinguish day from night, ketchup from mustard, John Malkovich from Jennifer Garner, you see far too well and would be considered ineligible to be a ref for the World Cup. Because the ref’s job is so vital to the outcome, there is only one.
The ref is assisted by two linesmen, whose main role is to run in a dorky fashion up and down the sideline to determine who knocked a ball out of bounds. This is virtually inconsequential, but they do it anyway.
The most important call a linesman makes is probably offsides. When offsides is called, there is usually lots of jumping up and down. It is almost as exciting as an actual goal, which you will almost never see.
Singing and conga drums are also important elements of soccer. The stands of a World Cup match are like a nightclub, but there is more nudity and drinking. Out on the field, players are fond of removing their shirts after scoring. This might be the best part of soccer. In real life, most people undress, then score. In soccer, it is the other way around.
Yeah, this is an actual column in a major American newspaper in 2010. But perhaps the biggest sign of progress is just how dated it feels — even the commenters can’t even be bothered with it, one witheringly asking “A hack’s a hack, whether in soccer or writing. Did you recycle this one from 1986?”
Note to newspaper editors: it’s not worth it, it’s not even bait at this point (oh, OK, you did earn a link).