|By The Aimless Rambler|
It’s coming out time for me (okay, that was awkward); I’m not going to deny it anymore, I’m into it. I, myself, only have a vague understanding of how this came to be – I mean I didn’t even ever play soccer. There I was red-blooded American loving myself some hockey, football, and basketball (maybe I’m Canadian or something), and over the last five years I’ve actually found myself looking forward to Saturdays morning more than Sunday afternoons.
I think I even went through my own grieving process
1. Anger – soccer? What the hell is this shit? Why can’t that fancy pants European stay on his feet
2. Denial – I’m not really watching it, there’s just nothing else on Saturday mornings
3. Bargaining – maybe I just check the scores, but I’m not going to follow a whole game
4. Guilt – Am I cheating on real football?
5. Anger – I cannot believe I actually care who wins the FA Cup!
6. Depression – Holy crap - I’m a frenchie. Somebody shoot me before I start wearing tight fitting clothing
7. Acceptance - Sweet. The Manchester Derby is tomorrow. I’m psyched!
I think it actually started back in 2002 when the US made that highly improbable run to the quarterfinals in the World Cup. I caught myself staying up till 3am to watch the US beat Mexico to face Germany in the quarterfinals. It was compelling stuff. And then the World Cup ended. But I realized when I was cheering for a team, I kind of found myself really getting into it. So I started to poke around following the Premier League. But it was confusing as crap.
First – there are no playoffs. I mean what the hell? What kind of sport doesn’t have a playoff? If there isn’t a playoff to determine, I didn’t think it should be considered a real sport (yes, I’m looking at you BCS). Second, it seemed like there were five or six different championships a team could win. You don’t just have one winner? Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup, League Cup? Seriously, what is this kindergarten? We don’t keep score, everybody’s a winner, everybody gets a trophy – don’t want to hurt the feelings of the teams that didn’t win the league – so here you go. Can anyone win one? Hey, I want a trophy. I want to win one for the tallest and most awkward – can we set up a Tall Guy Trophy for me to win every year? That will really help my self esteem. Also, there were also no team names. You’re just Fulham? Where’s the mascot? It’s not the Fulham Knights or Fulham Hawks (both pretty cool sounding) or something? And the last problem I had was this team Chelsea - and that just kept making me think of New York, and we just can’t have that.
Anyway it didn’t stick until just before the next World Cup rolled around. I started following the US team again, and the captain of the US team was playing for Manchester City - and his nickname on the team was Captain America. I mean how perfect is that? They had a coach who’s nickname was Psycho, they were considered one of the more screwed up teams in the league, and their biggest rival was the soccer equivalent to the New York Yankees. Sold. I had found my team, now I just had to actually start to like the sport.
Here’s what soccer has going for it.
1. The British accents on the announcers make everything sound 15% cooler.
2. It’s on a 10am on Saturdays, when nothing else is happening in the sports world
3. No commercials and the game is over in 2 hours. I blame it on Fox, but the length of football and baseball games is starting to kill me; I can barely get through them. By the end of the afternoon games on Sunday, I’m tapped out on football - unless the Bears are playing I’m barely tuning in (not to mention it conflicts with Boardwalk Empire and we cannot have that)
4. The fan support is awesome. Lots of sell outs, great crowds, who sing pretty much the whole time
5. Like in hockey, you can start to see plays develop. You can see a player as he takes off on a run looking for a ball; or watch how a defender closes someone down. On TV you can almost take in the whole game.
6. There’s no salary cap, so teams can just spend silly money and establish dynasties, which makes beating one of the big teams that much better
7. Since soccer is sporting equivalent of football, baseball, and basketball rolled into one, and the loose standards of the British press (in my opinion); the coverage is phenomenal. Nothing is out of bounds. Personal life, finances, everything. Its like one giant soap opera wrapped it a sport. It’s craptacularly fantastic.
8. The game is violent man. I mean these guys are kicking the crap out of each other. And in the Premier League, the refs are often like ‘you bleeding - no - then play on’
9. Turns out some of these teams are playing the equivalent of four different leagues. Once I figured it out, it’s really cool.
10. And my favorite component. Promotion and Relegation. Every year the three worst teams in the league are sent down to the minor leagues, and the three best teams from the minor league are brought up to replace them. I cannot express enough how awesome this is. First, it keeps everything interesting for a ton of the teams even if they don’t have a chance in hell of winning the league, they still have to fight stay in the league. I mean really, isn’t it about time we booted the Pirates and the Royals (personally I’d add the Cubs to that mix) down to Triple A where they belong? You know what, your team sucks. We’re not going to reward you with the best player coming out of college. We’re going to take away your TV money, make you ride a bus and play the likes of the Wilmington Blue Rocks until you figure out how to run a franchise. We need this
It wasn’t all perfect. I did have to come to grips with this diving crap. And that shit happens a ton. Not as much in the English League as some of the other European leagues, but still. Here’s what I came to though. Trying to induce the ref in soccer to make a call when you weren’t fouled, is not actually all that different from not having a play and just chucking the ball down the field hoping for a pass interference. I actually think for about 30% of the NFL teams, their offense is so bad this actually is their strategy (I’m looking at you Jay Cutler). The diving in soccer is brutal, but that kind of crap goes on in every sport.
That’s it. I’m totally in with soccer. Let’s go City!