My wife Chelsea and I quickly befriended our new neighbors, Rich and Stephanie. They seemed a lot like us — a young couple moving into a burgeoning Atlanta block to soak in the benefits of city life. It wasn’t long before we were all Facebook friends, which everyone knows is the true measure of bonding. But Chelsea and I were a bit put off by Rich’s status updates: “Can’t wait to see Chelsea tonight!” or “Chelsea! Chelsea! Chelsea!” and even “Chelsea looked good, can’t wait to rub it in!”
Needless to say, we were shocked. I was about to confront the perv, but it turns out he wasn’t coveting thy neighbor’s wife — he was cheering for something called “soccer.” Specifically, the Chelsea Football Club, from a far off land called “England.”
Now, I had heard of this “soccer” before. It was what those floppy haired, flip-flop wearing, Spin Doctors-loving high school classmates of mine played when I went home and rocked Tecmo Bowl on Nintendo.
Soccer seemed like such a strange game, aloof and confusing. It wasn’t until I spent a summer in Munich last year that any of it made sense. No doubt seeing European fandom firsthand had something to do with it. That experience, coupled with the stellar performance by Team USA in this year’s World Cup, has baptized me into a new fanaticism: European Football. My team? FC Bayern-Munich, naturally.
I’ve always been a fan of sports. I can’t rattle off stats, but I hold my own in most conversations involving a ball, a net, fence, goal, basket, field and overpaid athletes. Yet my soccer didn’t fandom didn’t come naturally. Sure, certain elements of the game were immediately appealing: cutthroat sub rules; the way that the clubs move up and down in leagues depending on how their season finished; the “get up or get off the pitch” approach to injuries. Brilliance! But it was hardly love at first free kick. I think I know why: my American sports brain is simply ill-equipped to handle certain aspects of soccer.
The World Cup is definitely raising the game’s Stateside profile, but there’s still a huge swath of the country that doesn’t get it. Maybe we can meet soccer halfway? With that in mind, here is my list of things that need to be changed if FIFA wants win over Americans:
10. Make the Clock Count Backwards: What the hell is up with the clock starting at 00:00 and going up!?! Clocks don’t go up in sports, they go down! This is what tells people how much time there is before the game ends. Without a backwards countdown, the viewer is forced to do their own calculations. That’s MATH! Americans want no part of it! Mathematics and athletics only have one thing in common — the suffix. Beyond that, they shouldn’t be mixed!
9. Get Rid of “Bonus Time”: So, the clock hits 45:00 or 90:00 and the refs suddenly pick a random number out of their ass. These are extra minutes to be played. The number is supposed to account for all the game time lost during the match. The officials say, “Oh! I see that we are technically done, but I am going to make you run around for a little while longer — until I feel like it’s done. Until it seems right.” How about this: the game ends when you blow the friggin’ whistle!
8. Mascots: The New Zealand team was called the “All Whites.” Many non-Tea Party Americans suffer from tremendous white guilt and this kind of thing offends our delicate sensibilities. There’s no way in Hell I’m gonna stroll through an American metropolis cheerleading for “All Whites.” It simply would not end well. So how about we change that to the New Zealand Whale Riders? Or maybe the New Zealand Sort-of Aussies? Has a nice ring to it.
7. Time Outs: I don’t know about you, but during sports matches, I tend to be drinking. I also tend to be drinking before the broadcast. Soccer’s lack of time outs makes it tough to pick when to go potty (this is what I call it in front of my boys). It doesn’t help that the scoring system (or lack thereof) makes me want to see every minute. I’m often heard bellowing “what happened! what happened!” over the sound of tiny tinkling (what I call “peeing” in front of my boys). So how ’bout giving me a break once in a while?
6. More Goals!: Dedicating 90 minutes (plus 30 minutes of overtime) to nonstop viewing means we deserve better than a 0-0 tie or 1-0 match. Make each goal count for 3 points, and create “mini-goals” by putting a midget in a bright orange/yellow jersey on the field. Hit this wee moving target with the ball and you get a point. That’s a freebie, FIFA. You’re welcome.
5. American Sports Announcers: “Such decent shots from long distance. Fabulous game play this half with astute awareness on the pitch.” What the hell is that!?! What does it even mean!?! European sports commentators could use some lessons from us Yanks. I mean, we can make bowling sound exciting. Yell some stuff! Scream and cry! And please, don’t ever use the word “fabulous.”
4. Put Some Stats on the Screen: I bought a widescreen television for a reason: so more stuff can go on it. Soccer’s lack of onscreen stat updates means that my kickass TV displays a buncha grass with a few white or red dots running around. Golf has more visual flair! Not to mention cable news, which has a ticker at the bottom, a story timeline on the left and weather to the right — it’s enough to make you dizzy. We have the technology: let’s make it happen.
3. It’s Called a “Field”: To us Americans, a “pitch” is something that Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax, and Roger Clemens are really good at it. Now, I know that the term “pitch” goes back centuries for you and rest of the world agrees, but stick with us on this one. We call them fields. That’s what it is. Let’s just clear up any confusion.
2. Show Me The History: Stop telling me about the goals and games of yesteryear and how defining they were to world history — show them! I don’t know what you’re talking about when you discuss Baron Von Vechten-Walshup’s dazzling goal in the 1982 Apple Bottom Cup Finals. Hell, I don’t even know who Georgie Best is, and I couldn’t pick Pele out of a crowd in full jersey and cleats! Video! Video! Video! And if doesn’t exist, get the fine folks at EA Sports to render it in video game format — we Americans can barely tell the difference.
1. Let Them Use Their Hands: OK, bear with me now. Players can pick up and run with the ball only for five seconds. They can throw the ball into the net at this time. While they have the ball in their hands, the other players can tackle and check him. If someone gets tackled or checked, the ball changes possession. Each tackle results in what we’ll call a “Wobble Nob” against the player with the ball. Three Wobble Nobs and you are out. And that is where the midget comes back to play. The little fella then takes the place of the Wobble Nobbed player and gets to carry the ball around for the remainder of the game. Of course, the opposing players are allowed to openly tackle, check, or pick up and throw the midget as they please without penalties.
What!?!? Would that be sacrilegious or something?