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Day 116 – Dude, Soccer (An Open Letter to The World’s Football)

June 27, 2010

Dateline: Shanghai, China – Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dear World,

Your game sucks.

You wouldn’t know it from what we saw last night, though. World Cup is televised in China in the middle of the night, yet here in Shanghai people crowd around televisions at bars, restaurants, and dance clubs for 3 a.m. games. It’s not just ex-pats watching their home teams either—most of the throngs are Chinese people watching games between countries that aren’t them.

The question has to be, then: why hasn’t your football (or what we Yanks call soccer) caught on in America?

Oh, there are the mundane platitudes why Americans are lukewarm. These include (without limitation): the long stretches of players running around the field just so they can kick the ball out of bounds; the scores so low that 2-0 is considered a “blowout”; your broadcasters’ decision to show slo mos of players and coaches emoting instead actual football plays; the fact that the French are (usually) good.

Americans can forgive all those ills, though. We still watch golf and baseball for God’s sake. You won’t find sports more boring or that have more useless close ups of face pimples than those.

No, the things that make your game suck are Things That Shouldn’t Be in Any Sport. What makes your sport unwatchable are things that belong more in a poorly written school play than a clash of athletes.

Let’s look at why, to Americans, your game blows more than Hurricane Katrina.

Problem #1 – Your world class players–the elite of the elite–behave like girly men.

First thing you have to understand is that we Americans like our athletes tough. We admire perseverance through pain. We love to see grit.

Just look at the athletes we respect. Isaiah Thomas for grinding out an epic fourth quarter in the finals on a badly sprained ankle. Tiger Woods for winning the U.S. Open on one leg. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier for nearly punching themselves to death in Manila. Hockey players for spitting out blood and teeth so they can go back on the ice moments later. Shoot. In our football, players regularly play with broken limbs and ruptured tendons. Tape that shit up, rub some ‘Tussin on it, and get back out there and hit someone in the mouth.

Our athletes stand in for gladiators. They are “warriors” who “battle” their opponents. They stand tall through pain. If someone bloodies them, they glare and hit back harder. They don’t weep until they stand victorious or lie vanquished on the field. When they do have the gall to shed a tear, they never live it down. Just ask (two-time NBA Champion) Adam Morrison.

Your players, on the other hand, behave like pansies. Touch a soccer player on the back and he falls like he’s been shot. On his way down, he will look to see if Mommy ref is watching. If she is, your player will wail out in pain. If not, he will get back up and run after the ball. This is not the behavior of a warrior. This is the behavior of a toddler baby boy.

Hell, our little American kids who play your football are tougher—how many do you see rolling around on the ground in tears just because they got kicked in the shins? None, that’s how many.

You know why? It’s because they’re not “professionals” in your “premier” leagues. They don’t know that they’re supposed to flail instead of bracing themselves. Our little boys don’t know that they should be acting like every touch is from Death himself. They don’t know that they’re supposed to fake it for the ref.

An American looks at your athlete rolling around on the ground like he’s severed a leg when he just tripped over his own feet and says, “If I wanted to watch people cry out when barely touched, I’d go to a Pentecostal healing. (The Holy Spirit compels you!) If I wanted to watch a ‘sport’ where acting decides who wins or loses I’d watch figure skating or ballroom.”

And guess what—Americans watch more ballroom competitions than your football. Dancing with the Stars would kick a Euro Cup finals game’s ass in the ratings. You know why? Because Carrie Ann Inaba has more balls than your athletes. Because we can’t take your pros seriously when they cry more than our pee wee amateurs.

Until your men start acting like our little boys, our country will never respect your game.

Problem #2 – You don’t care whether the team that wins is the team that actually won.

You don’t care about who actually scored. You don’t’ care whether a rule was actually broken.

France kicked Ireland out from the World Cup tournament because of a handball that everyone on Earth except the referee saw and FIFA, your world organization, shrugged and said, “Part of the game.”

Tonight, England scored a goal that everyone on earth but the referee saw. Argentina scored a goal because one of its players was offside. At the press conference, FIFA actually said, “We are not qualified to comment on the officiating,” then buried its head in the sand by banning future replays of bad ref calls on stadium video screens.

Here’s the problem for Americans. We love justice. Just look at our overdeveloped litigation system. We want the people who deserve to win to win. We spend billions of dollars figuring out who actually did what, then reward and punish accordingly.

A big reason Americans love sport is that justice is usually served. It’s the one place that the winners and the losers should be clear. If a ball goes through a hoop more times for one team, then it wins. If a player catches a baseball, it’s an out. If a ball crosses a line, that team scores. It’s simpler than real life. It’s fair. We Americans like fair. If the system is unfair, we change it.

The way your game is played, fairness and what’s right and who wins don’t matter. You’d rather bury your head up your own ass than admit the wrong team won. You’d rather whimper that “no referee system is perfect” than admit that your current system is a pile of monkey turd. You don’t want to find ways to better determine who actually won; you’d rather “protect tradition” and keep things the crappy way they’ve always been.

Americans hate stupidity for stupidity sake. We can’t stand repeated unfairness just because the people in control don’t want to change. We would rather stab a duckling in the throat than say that something is right just because it’s the way it turned out.

You, on the other hand, don’t give a damn. On your sport’s biggest stage, you refuse to find better ways to discern right and wrong—to discover who actually won or lost.

We think you are idiots for this. If we wanted to watch competition where the outcome has nothing to do with what actually happened, we’ll just watch reruns of the WWE. And we do.

So what’s the solution? How do you make your sport palatable to Americans?

Well, first you need to hang all those fools who are running FIFA. String up the most backwards set of chimpanzees ever to put on ties and appear on television. Start with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, a simian who’s actually argued that he’d support a revised refereeing system so long as it was “simple and perfect.” Wow. So the only replacement you’ll accept for your steaming pile of dung is Angelina Jolie? That’s awfully generous of you.

We realize, though, that mass murder is probably out, so how about just fixing your game?

World, despite what Monkey Man Blatter says, your game doesn’t need perfection, it just needs better. To stop your players from taking dives, hand out red cards after the match accompanied by video evidence of girly man behavior. Your refs may miss it during the game, but watching the video after will ferret out if a player’s faking. If he does, make sure he can’t play the next meaningful game.

Or, do what a Canadian friend suggested and shame the players. Before each game, show a video reel of the most egregious dives taken by players on each team. Humiliate them into manhood.

Or, after the match fine them (a lot) for diving.

Or, be as free with the yellow cards when it comes to diving as you are when it comes to fouls.

Do something, dammit.

For problem number two, why not give your refs a little help. You expect too much of them as it is. You want them to decide—from 30 yards away while in a full sprint—whether a guy tripped over himself or if he was pushed. Whether a guy got kicked in the shin or he fell over the ball. Whether a player took a dive or if whether he was fouled.

Your refs deserve better. They shouldn’t be put in impossible situations.

Give them a hand. Put more referees on the field. The pitch is gigantic and you only have two refs at a time watching the action (each sideline ref covers only half the pitch). Put two more refs on each half. Or put one more out there roaming. Or put two at each goal line. Or do all of the above.

You know how many refs a basketball game has? Three (i.e. as many as in your game). And all three run the length of a court that is the size of a postage stamp. Tennis, with an even smaller court, has almost three times as many judges as you do. You’re telling me that your game, played on a field the size of a Tokyo zip code, doesn’t need more eyeballs?

And replay. That’s been around for 30 years and you still can’t find a way to implement it? What about two challenges per coach per game and only on plays that would result in a goal being allowed or disallowed. Make it so that the call on the field is only overturned when there is clear evidence otherwise.

You’ve already foolishly rejected technology that puts a microchip in the ball and shows whether it crossed the goal line. Your reasons: 1) that only ADIDAS has this tech and 2) that you want the game played the same way from youth leagues to the pros.

Whaaaaaat? Can’t figure a way to muscle a shoe company to license their tech to other companies? Or that you shouldn’t spend more money and try to be more accurate when countries play each other than when my niece plays in her munchkin kiddie league? Lunacy. And you wonder why we Americans don’t want to watch your “beautiful” game.

Some of us do still love your game. It reminds us of basketball—one of our favorite sports—except played with the feet. The movement, the cutting, the picks, and the search for open space is very much the same. When a team is working in harmony, basketball and soccer are fluid and beautiful improvisations. When played right, they are poetry in motion.

It’s becoming increasingly hard, though, for the loyalists amongst us to make a credible case to our fellow countrymen. Your game is more about acting than athletics. It’s more about tradition and foolish pride than determining who actually won. It’s becoming more farce than football. It’s all so un-American.

You can change, though. Yes you can. When you do, we’ll be happy to watch. Till then, we’d rather watch more manly and fair competitions instead.

Gotta run. American Idol’s on.



12 Comments leave one →
  1. July 4, 2010 3:06 pm


    Why not tell us what you REALLY think, eh?

    Hehehe….I loved this post!! You express it extremely well, and I’m quite sure you’re right on the money.

    One thing you left out, though…Americans are not going to watch a 90-minute game that often ends up in a scoreless tie, regardless of its beauty. Do you remember when basketball almost died? (I know you’re too young, but there *is* history.) They put in the 30-second clock to jack up the scoring.

    I have no idea what the equivalent for soccer would be, but they have to do SOMETHING to increase the scores. An extra foot or two of height on the goal? Basketball goals are 10 feet above the floor, so why not the top bar of the soccer net? When most games end up at 6-3 or something similar, then it might become viable in the States!

    • July 6, 2010 1:34 am

      I’ll take your word for it on the near death of basketball. I’ve always thought that b-ball was evolved soccer. I think that’s part of the strength of American sports. It may take a while, but the leagues in the States will tweak the game to make the games more entertaining.

      Not sure how to increase scoring. Perhaps eliminate the offsides rule? Perhaps the MLS should experiment with new wrinkles. The league can’t compete with EPL anyway, why not switch it up to suit an American audience. It’s a thought.

  2. tutz permalink
    July 4, 2010 8:05 pm

    to comment or not to comment…

  3. tutz permalink
    July 4, 2010 8:06 pm

    VERY American!

  4. July 4, 2010 10:51 pm

    And you expected……….?

  5. Val permalink
    July 5, 2010 12:54 am

    Preach it, bro!!! i’m debating on sending your post to all my foreign friends who worship the sport and bash Americans for being too arrogant of a country to disagree with the rest of the world on its so-called greatness. Bravo, Mervyn!

    • July 6, 2010 1:36 am

      Send it. Better yet, send them a link to the post itself. I could always use more readers. 🙂

  6. July 6, 2010 9:51 am

    Interesting idea, to have the MLS be the “experiemental league”…..

    For America, it might prove to be a winner – but I suspect that in “football” circles worldwide, we would be the object of calumny (not that this would be much a change in so many areas).

    The thing is, if MLS wants to be “successful” in the country where they operate, they’d better do SOMETHING, I’d say….

    I don’t know enough about soccer to predict what would happen with no “offsides” rule – what’s your take? Would this completely mess up the game in some way (tell me how)….or would it simply make more games into 10-5 or 13-7 scores? I realize that scoring of that magnitude would “completely mess up the game” for many purists, but there aren’t enough of them in the U.S. to make the MLS “successful”, so I’d recommend that we ignore them!


    • July 7, 2010 5:12 am

      It’s just a thought. If the MLS wants to succeed within the U.S., they might have to consider providing a product that Americans are interested in watching. It may take some time, but if MLS struggles to make money, they might consider this drastic option.

      Of course, the WNBA hasn’t changed a bit even though they are, by all counts, a gigantic money drain. Inability to make money may not be enough for the owners to implement change.

      If they eliminated off sides, it might spread out the field by forcing teams to keep more defensive players back to defend against “cherry pickers.” That could open up more space on the offensive side and perhaps create more scoring chances.

      It could, though, eliminate the short passing game where teams move the ball up the filed bit by bit. They might be tempted to just lob it over the top of the defense. That would make for a less interesting game.

      You’d have to let it play out and see how teams exploited the new rule. Presumably, the offside rule was put in to eliminate some ill in the game, but I’m not paid enough to do this to do the research while I’m on vacation.

  7. inchan permalink
    July 9, 2010 10:14 pm

    actually, eliminating the offsides rule would probably result in teams packing the defensive end and limiting legitimate scoring chances to corner kicks and long shots from 40 yards out – the games would be pretty much unwatchable. you’d have to keep big numbers of guys back to protect your own goal to make sure no one could cherry pick you.

    • July 14, 2010 11:55 pm

      Good point. There must be something that can be done, though, to increase scoring chances.

      After some brain storming, I’ve actually put together a list, which I will run in a separate post.

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