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21st century soccer
name calling - by ian plenderleith
Guess what, football fans, over here in America they call football soccer. Now don't get too worked up, it's only a word, although I know from past experience that some followers of football/soccer can get mighty worked up that in this part of the world the game is recognised under a different moniker. It has prompted long discussions on the websites and letters pages of respectable publications, and liberal-thinking scribes have got themselves all hot and bothered about this very crucial semantic issue.
Why do Americans call football soccer? Get ready for another huge shock. It's because they already have a game called football, and it's been around for quite a long time. In order to diminish confusion, therefore, they call what we know as football by another name which by now, boys and girls, we already know is soccer. It's that simple.
The reason that football fanatics get so worked up about this can perhaps only be explained by their mothers or their psychiatrists. However, it is vaguely connected with the fact that the British, even within their more enlightened circles, remain chronic chauvinists, especially when it comes to America. Without very much evidence at all to back it up, besides some cathedrals and castles built several hundred years before they were born, Brits believe that they are superior. That is why they get enraged when they hear Americans talk about elevators and sidewalks. Those must be the wrong terms, because they are the terms that Americans use.
And, despite the fact that the US soccer side walked all over England in 1993, and in 1999 beat the German national side twice (3-0 and 2-0), we British still do not seriously believe that Americans and football can be taken seriously. Their league is not over a hundred years old, you see, just like their cathedrals and castles weren't built in the Middle Ages. In Britain, as still happens with the English cricket team, many still believe that some inherent combination of pluck and tradition will allow the team to be victorious because we were the first to be good at it.
When was the last time England beat the German national side twice in succession? Of course, they will have the chance to do that with ease during the qualification round for the 2002 World Cup. Once more the great British qualities of battling and graft will be brought into play, this time with the help of two World Wars to invoke the requisite warrior atmosphere. But one day what little skill and luck that is left is going to run out.
Meanwhile in America you can see across the gardens and schoolyards of suburbia exactly that which has disappeared from the British landscape. Not just goalposts and pitches, but thousands of kids actually playing on them. At the Catholic school opposite my daughter's playgroup I see five year-old-girls passing and dribbling, every afternoon. The Kid Next Door shuns his older brothers baseball net to kick a proper leather sphere into his own posts, with both feet and from all angles (though he couldn't get one past me, ha ha). The renascent league has had its teething troubles, and press coverage remains pitiful, but this time, I hope and feel, soccer is here to stay.
US reader Brian Jenkins, a convert to our kind of football, wrote to me apologetically: "I know it's kind of pathetic to see our "style" of "soccer" being played most of the time on a Football Field (marked off every 10 yards, 100 yards long etc...) but don't give up on us yet. Watch the youngsters play football [by this he means soccer - Semantics Ed] as they mature."
Actually, American Football is absorbing enough to keep me interested through its myriad ad breaks, and there is no reason why Americans should spend any more time apologising for it than Britain spends apologising for having the royal family and the Spice Girls. More to the point though, in ten or fifteen years time the US is far more likely to be a force in world soccer than any of the home nations, although it may need the emergence of a genuine world class figure to trigger off the much longed-for wider recognition among US sports fans (sorry, Roy Wegerle wasn't it).
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