I went shopping with my grandson for his Little League needs. He said, “The Louisville Slugger aluminum bats are on sale today. They’re only $180.00.” I checked. He was right: $180.00 – on sale. That’s when I had the epiphany. I know now why soccer is a world-wide phenomenon: It’s cheap. The only equipment you need is a ball. Is that why it hasn’t caught on in the U.S.? Not expensive enough for our First World tastes? Would people rather go into debt for football or hockey equipment, that is outgrown each year, not to mention travel and meals for overnight away games, or is it something else? How can you love a game like soccer that ends with the score tied at 0-0, and one team declared the winner on penalties?
Some say: Just give it time. It will catch on over here. Right. That worked out well with cricket, the metric system, warm beer, and kippers for breakfast, didn’t it? Soccer just doesn’t capture the American fancy: It’s foreign. One father said he’d only attend his son’s soccer games if DNA proved he was the kid’s biological father. That’s cold.
Some say they should add excitement to the game by making the teams play it on ice skates. Others think it would be more fun just to sit on the field and watch the hooligans brawl in the stands. I even read where Cambodian Buddhist monks were permitted to watch the World Cup soccer finals only under the condition that they not cheer or get excited. I can’t see Buddhist monks getting upset over a soccer game, but I have seen soccer games where the fans came close to a riot.
I read about the Chicago Tribune Reader’s Challenge 192. They asked readers, “How would you change the game of soccer to win over more fans in the U.S.?” They got lots of answers. Here are a few of their reader suggestions along with some others I have collected along the way:
1. Make each goal count for 6 points, like football, so we can kid ourselves into thinking it’s a high scoring game.
2. “Soccer” sounds like spousal abuse. Like “base”, “foot”, and “basket”, soccer needs a name with “ball” in it. How about “netball?”
3. Instead of that wimpy throw over the head, the ball should be inbounded using an air cannon.
4. No running around and hugging after a score. That’s really suspect.
5. Have a half-time show, starring Barbara Streisand.
6. Create a new variation of soccer using a bowling ball. Allow the players to throw the ball to each other; let them run with the ball and have the opposing players try to get the ball away from them and even tackle them and – oh, wait – we already have a game like that.
7. How about letting the winning team rule the losing team’s country for four years?
8. Maybe charge fans $100 to park. They’ll think something’s going on inside they can’t afford to miss.
9. How about keeping the drama queens under control? Have you seen the incidents where one player brushes against another and the “victim” falls to the ground, screaming in excruciating pain, hoping his aggressor will be handed a penalty card? Come on, I’ve seen ballet dancers suffer harder knocks, get back up, and hit their marks.
10. And how about a bit more common sense in the “conservation of energy” department? They run around the field all through the game and, when they score, they run around some more, scream, rip their shirts, jump on each other, and do slides on the grass. Why don’t they just rush headfirst into the metal net frame and be done with it?
Maybe we need more soccer anecdotes to capture favorable public attention:
Bonus #1: The LA Times reports that Italy’s most popular soccer star, blond Francesco Totti, is tormented by fans who claim he is not too bright. He is the butt of countless jokes. This is the latest: Totti bought a jigsaw puzzle. He bragged to a reporter that he completed it in 6 weeks.
“Is that good?” asked the reporter.
“I am a genius,” replied Totti. “Right on the box it said ‘2-4 years’!”
Bonus #2: After Germany won a big match in Berlin, the stadium crowd sang the German National Anthem, Das Lied Der Deutschen, for the first time since 1944. The American, British, and Russian teams maintained a respectful silence. The French team surrendered.
Okay, it’s unlikely that soccer will replace any of the popular American sports, at least in this country. We have enough sports already to spend our money, energy, and time on for the sake of the kids, or their parents, or both. In any case, it’s become Big Business.
Sometimes I wonder what the kids really think about all this.