Friday, February 6, 2009

Why Football (soccer) is so Great

So, I write about sports pretty often, and occasionally soccer, or football, as the cool kids call it. I would write about it more, but I'm not sure my readers would be so interested. But, I love football so much, as it is pretty much the best thing in the world and I thought I'd tell you why, or moreso let you into my reasoning and why it is so great to me.

Ok, a lot of people in the US, don't like soccer, and that is fine. They find it boring and see it as unamerican. Well, here is a bit of an answer to that, but it also my strengthen some people's reasoning for not liking it, as much of my evidence comes from Europe.

Why is football (soccer) so great?

1. Worldwide Appeal

No other sport can compete in terms of being a global game. Basketball is stepping up, but can't really compare. Soccer has amazing worldwide play and fan support. There are leagues in pretty much every country. Even North Korea plays, or at least did play.
It goes far beyond that, though. If you know about football, you can get along with pretty much anyone in the world. It is a common ground. Kids in Africa, old men in Mexico, tribesmen in American Samoa, workers in Iceland all love football. Names like Rooney, Henry, Ronaldo teams like Arsenal, Man United, Barcalona, AC Milan are rooted on by all. Teams in England have players from the US, Mexico, Togo, Egypt, Bulgaria and pretty much every country in between.
People in Zambia pay 50 schillings to sit on a mat and watch games. Kids in the slums of Brazil make balls using tape and runner bands and whatever they can find.
1 billion people watch the World Cup finals.
Yes, you cannot compare the worldwide appeal, fan base, leagues, players, globaliztion of soccer to anything else in the world.

2. League Structure

This one could also be number 1. The way soccer leagues around the globe are set up is FAR superior to American sports leagues.
Most countries have a multiple tiered league system. There will be anywhere from 3-5 five professional leagues under a central control, pretty much one huge league, with a number of non-professional tiers below that. And what makes it so great is the relegation system. The worst teams go down to the lower leagues at the end of the season and the best teams go up. This makes things immeasurably more interesting. Every game counts no matter who is playing who at what time. Things at the bottom of the league are often times more interesting than at the top. So instead of tanking to get a draft pick the teams at the bottom are fighting to stay in the upper leagues.
There is also room for small clubs to move up. Results are the only thing that matter. Wigan and Fulham, now in the Premier League were in the 4th level just 10 years ago. And big teams that don't perform are now in the 3rd level.
It just makes things way for interesting. Face it, the Brewers of the 1990's didn't deverse to be in the Majors. And do the Lions deserve to be in the NFL? No way.

Cup competitons are also cool and make football great. Within each season there are various Cup competions (tournaments outside of league play) in which part of a league or in some cases the entire country compete. This is professional and non-professional alike. Think of a huge NCAA tournament with every college in the nation competing, only there is no seeding, spots are picked like lottery numbers. So MATC could play Duke. This my sound like a lot of blowouts will take place, but with every blowout there is an upset or an almost upset or two of the best teams meeting in an early round. Just a few years ago 5th tier team Exeter City tied Manchester United at Manchester United and then got to host them in the tiny stadium. Football! Cups allow for unpredicatiblity in a sometime predictable sport.

And then there are the Champion's Leagues where all the winners from a continent from the previous year play in a tournament. It pits the best in the world against each other and shows who is truly the best in the region.

3. Local Ties

Despite #1 football is also still very much a local game. Each club has a youth team as well and a under 16s and and under 18s and often times, despite the influx of foreign players, these local youth players make the 1st team. Most of the higher level teams will have a few local players who have been there since they were kids. And as you get lower and lower, there is more local involvement. Craig Counsell is the only local player I can think of for the Brewers in the last decade.
And even more important is who you support. You support the team from where you are from. Many people have had season tickets for generations. Fathers take their kids to the games and then later the kids take their kids. Local pride is key. London alone has about 10 teams in the professional leagues. It is easy here; we all root for the Brewers and Packers, but image if Waukesha, Racine, and Beloit had teams as well. And there is no rooting for multiple teams.
You can't root for say Marquette, UWM, and Wisconsin. You love one and hate the other. One of my biggest pet peeves in NY and Chicago people that like all there area teams.
But people live and die for their local clubs, no matter what division there is instense support. And when local teams play each other, it is and event to say the least. Moving teams to make money is unheard of.

4. The World Cup

The World Cup is the world's best sporting event. I don't think there can be any argument. It only takes place every four years, which makes it more important, and it is truly a world event. Everyone attempts to qualify. Places like Togo and Cote d'Ivoire had national holidays and, get this, cease fires, when they first qualified for the World Cup. Qualification goes on for TWO YEARS prior to the World Cup itself. It is watched by more people than anything else in the World, makes heroes out of known and unknown players, shit, someone was killed for scoring an owe goal. In most countries the World Cup effects politics, economy, and even war. WOW, worthy of the name.

5. Passion

Just listen to audio of a team scoring a goal. Listen to the crowd go CRAZY in the background. The only thing I can compare the intensity of a European football game is the student section and a big college football game, but in Europe, the fans aren't drunk, they just love the game.
It will make a grown man cry or make a grandfather yell "F--- Off!"
Teams are diveded by city, neighborhood, religion, ethnicity.
It will bring kids out of the slums.
It will put a country or city on the map.
But most importantly, it is an integral part of daily life.


Brian said...

If I wasn't a fan already you might have sold me on it. Photos of Ahmadenijad and Swedish girls can't really be denied.

Friendly reminder: Yanks vs. El Tri Feb. 11.


Daniel said...

I want to second your praise of the aformentioned photos. I also want to correct Tony. We use Kwacha in Zambia and it costs anywhere from 2000 to 4000 kwacha to catch a match on a reed mat in a cinder block tin-roofed house.