Author Topic: Football Is From Mars, Soccer Is From Venus  (Read 1088 times)

Offline David

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Football Is From Mars, Soccer Is From Venus
« on: April 25, 2007, 08:57:28 AM »
As hard as it is to remember, 2007 is a World Cup year in soccer.

This year it will be the women's national teams celebrating a World Cup (to use FIFA's preferred phrasing) when the qualified teams gather in late summer in China and play until only one remains as champion.

For male soccer fans in the U.S. these are difficult times: While we share in the national pride at the great success of our women's team at World Cups past, we know too well that those same successes have played a big part in our continued perceived status as the lowest form of sports fan in the U.S.

The painful truth that male soccer fans in the U.S. live with everyday is that here, (American) football is from Mars and soccer is from Venus.


"Not enough scoring," said the dean of urbane sportswriters in the U.S. of the girlish game of soccer one day after the 2006 men's World Cup was head-butted into sports history. The ultra-erudite man-of-sports-letters spoke as one half of public television's nightly newscast "debate" on the question of soccer's lack of a fan base in the U.S. On the other side was the publisher of a U.S. magazine devoted to soccer; contra and pro, respectively.

"Everywhere I went it (the men's final) was the topic of conversation, it was water cooler conversation," the pro side offered. "I won't say that it is the same as in Germany or say France," she conceded, brow knit, "but soccer has arrived in America."

It is important that the pro side in this post-mortem on Germany 2006 was female, while the advocate for other U.S. sports was a male who closely resembled an advertising icon from the pages of Playboy magazine, circa 1958. Clearly the gender-identity of soccer in the U.S. is feminine even on the elevated and intellectual airwaves of public broadcasting, while the anti-soccer side is masculine. Soccer is L.L. Bean and bicycle helmets; football is Orvis and birding vests.

"Americans have proven over and over again that they don't like soccer," said the man with the paternal, authoritative voice. "Too much emphasis on defense and not enough scoring."

Both sides seem convinced of the popularity of the game in France, "French" having become a euphemism for "unmanly" in U.S. popular culture in recent times. It makes a nice symmetry for the U.S. press though: The U.S. invades Iraq, Lance Armstrong is Tour champ, and our country loves its own very masculine brand of football exclusively; France, on the other hand, casts votes in the U.N. against the U.S., Tour officials try vainly to discredit Lance with drug tests, and the unmanly men of France love the sissified sport of soccer.

Reality is rarely a simple matter of opposites; so Philippe Gardent, a French national, is an emerging star at linebacker in NFL Europe -- the U.S. pro football venture in Germany and Holland -- and may transfer to the NFL as early as 2007. "Venus to collide with Mars!"

Of course, the final match of the 2006 men's World Cup did little to separate "France" from "soccer" in the minds of those in the U.S. who love to hate the game, ending as it did with the furious sending off of Zinedine Zidane. The image of France's World Cup superstar--hero to millions of his countrymen, and an icon of French tolerance--head-butting an opposing player became the aforementioned skeptical U.S. sportscasters' favorite "highlight" for weeks to come.

And the U.S. team's own failures at Germany 2006 gave plenty of fuel to those who seem so devoted to repelling the game from our borders. "I guess the U.S. is the lone world superpower," a friend said to me after the Czech Republic embarrassed Bruce Arena and company, 3-0, in its World Cup opener, "but still not a soccer power."

Sometimes it seems a matter of pride that we are bad at this game. We are like men who deny being able to dance lest we seem feminine, or women who deny knowing how to cook for the same reason. The more incompetent "we" are at this sport the more manly we must be, and of course the tremendous success of the U.S. women's national team since 1991 has done little to help soccer's image of girlishness in the U.S.

Early in 2007, MLS, the U.S.'s men's pro soccer league, excitedly announced the transfer of Real Madrid, and former Manchester United, star David Beckham to the league's L.A. franchise. European fans summarily decided that Becks had never done anything of note anyway, and good riddance. The English in particular had already turned their attention to another Man-U standout: Wayne Rooney. Rooney is a bruising presence with a completely un-Beckham-like hair style that would make him fit in as comfortably in the stands at Old Trafford as he does on the field.

And this is the cruelest truth for male soccer fans in the U.S.: not only are we considered sissies by our fellows at home, we are pretty much disdained by our European counterparts as well.

"Football (everyone else's word for soccer) in the U.S. is not so much important," said Chelsea coach Jose Murinho on the eve of his club's arrival in the U.S. in late 2006 for a promotional tour.

"But the coaching and the intent are there," he concluded sympathetically. There, there, little men, he seemed to be saying, don't feel inadequate, it could happen to anyone.

Even to those whose passion we might share, we are like -- dare I say it -- Julia Child attending le Cordon Bleu. We can pay the freight and maybe make a decent souffle, but our status as a true "French Chef" -- c'est ridicule, c'est incroyable, c'est insuperable!

And we are easy targets to our American brethren from south of the Rio Grande.

A while back a representative of Televisa, the Mexican company which provides programming to the U.S. Spanish-language network Univision told the story of German soccer legend Jurgen Klinsmann's relocation in retirement to southern California.

"You know," this American said, "he plays sometimes in a small, local league and no one knows who he is." He chuckled, "Only in the U.S. could such as Klinsmann live privately."

The lack of empathy from our American-but-Spanish-speaking cohort was made even more public however, during the 2006 World Cup coverage on Univision and its sister network, Telefutura. Both featured Budweiser ads portraying U.S. male sports fans as ballcap-wearing, unilingual know-nothings.

With nowhere to turn for reassurance of our manhood, U.S. men who love soccer have done what we have had to do: resigned ourselves to living privately with this shame.

We have no colors (nor any "colours") which we can wear publicly. We avert our eyes when the television in the sports bar flashes Champions' League scores. We resist the temptation to explain to those gathered why a "side" could lose a "leg" and still "advance".

And as the inevitable shoe ads air during this summer's Women's World Cup finals, we will bite our lips when one of the guys passes us the hot-wings and says, "Ronaldinho? Is he the one with the gap in his teeth? My girls would know; they love soccer."

Offline Alan

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Re: Football Is From Mars, Soccer Is From Venus
« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2007, 10:25:44 AM »
Ironic that in the USA, 'soccer' is seen as a girls' game.  Try telling that to Mike Newell . .

When I was at school we used to see girls from the nearby school on the bus with their lacrosse sticks, and we thought it was a nice game for them to play.  Now, on Eurosport, you can see men playing lacrosse in America, it's pretty violent and quite a surprise to see them smashing their sticks over each others' heads. 

So it comes down to what people are brought up to expect.  In the USA they need to be persuaded that men can play 'soccer' while in Europe most people don't yet expect girls to be playing football.  Not for much longer, if they read . .

Alltid. Uansett.