We Aren't the World: Why America Resists Soccer Imperialism

We Aren't the World: Why America Resists Soccer Imperialism

Demonstrative enthusiasm for European football stands as a popular passive-aggressive way that Americans announce their superiority vis-à-vis the rubes next door.

Like smallpox, Nazism, and Cliff Richard, soccer is something that Europeans should have kept to themselves. We’ll instead take The Beatles, Cervantes, Sophia Loren, Heineken, Samantha Fox on Page 3, and your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Please don’t hate us for asking for Posh Spice’s autograph instead of her husband’s.

From Alexander the Great to King Leopold II to FIFA, continentals exude a mania to make the world Europe. Faced with this sports imperialism, American quislings from across the ocean cry “conquer me.”

The World Europe Cup resumes Thursday after a merciful four-year respite. Labeling the “World Cup” the “Europe Cup” may unfairly exclude South Americans. But labeling it the “World Cup” unfairly ropes North Americans into something only a few of them pretend to care about. Americans celebrate the World Europe Cup the way many Englishmen celebrate Easter. It’s a perfunctory ritual in which the pressure to go along comes from getting along. Englishmen may say the prayers, and Americans may say “the pitch,” but it’s a rote performance that doesn’t come from the soul.

People play and watch soccer just about everywhere. But people play and watch basketball and baseball all around the world, too. Unlike baseball’s World Series–a true global melting pot that–which has featured players from Venezuela, Japan, Canada, Australia, Korea, and points beyond, in the World Europe Cup only teams from Europe and South America really challenge for the championship. Since the tournament’s 1930 launch, just eight countries–Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Italy, France, Germany, England, and Spain–have captured the World Europe Cup. No finals has featured teams from outside Europe or South America. Just once in the history of the tournament, in 2002, has even the third-place match featured a team from another continent. And just three venues outside of Europe and South America have hosted a World Europe Cup. From Buenos Aires to Brussels, Lisbon to Lima, Rio to Rotterdam, Planet Futbol sings “We Are the World.” Must the soccer-indifferent outposts play along to their collective delusion?

The sport’s pace makes baseball look seizure-inducing in comparison and its players score about as much as Andrew Dice Clay in a lesbian bar. European football, as the geographic modifier suggests, does not permeate the American cultural consciousness. The New York Times, heretofore not known for speaking as the voice of the ‘Muricans, recognized this when it published a look at well-behaved wannabe football hooligans transplanting the folkways of overflowing stadiums across the Atlantic to half-empty ones here. The Times identified them as “the ones wearing European-style fake-wool team scarves, even though it was sweltering outside. They were the ones behaving as if they were a single din-producing organism whose job was to surge, shout and sing themselves silly with European-style chants. They were the ones talking about the pitch (field) and the kit (jerseys) and the supporters (themselves) and who, when compelled to use the word soccer, were putting it in invisible quotation marks.”

There’s something terribly inauthentic about Americans earnestly impersonating Spaniards and Frenchmen. Why stop at the lingo? Why not adopt an Antonio Banderas accent or don a Parisian beret? The Americans who normally are loathe to participate in collective demonstrations of patriotism zealously indulge in the stadium spectacles of nationalism, but only in deference to the internationalist spirit of the World Europe Cup. The Europeans who imagine the game as a global common denominator do so from a parochial cosmopolitanism that imagines the universality of the local passion. Perhaps the U.S.’s World Europe Cup indifference exemplifies the true meaning of American exceptionalism.

From my earliest memories, the soccer quislings have insisted that the kicking sport would soon overtake baseball and football. Like the intricacies of the metric system, Americans had best brush up on corner kicks and the misbehavior leading to a yellow card if they hoped to remain relevant in the Brave New Soccer-Ball-Shaped World. Someday soon Americans would become like everyone else–only more so. I drank the Kool Aid, figuratively (and literally on the sidelines), one season prior to reaching the age of discretion.  

Soccer inspired at seven the alien phenomenon of not reflexively wanting to hang out with my much older teammates, who, uniformly bereft of siblings, lacked basic social skills. At this age, older automatically meant cooler–but not on the soccer field. The players who excelled seemed to be announcing their aversion to baseball, basketball, football, and hockey. The ones who struggled viewed practice and even games as terrible intrusions on time better spent playing Dungeons & Dragons. More grating than the child participants in the sport were their parents, who gave soccer field parking lots the appearance of Saab dealerships and methodically dictated orange-slice duties to other parents as they monitored their equitable distribution at halftime.

Had I been born a century sooner, I would have realized that the advance party for the soccer invasion understood their countrymen as poorly as they understood themselves. European football stormed American campuses in the years following the Civil War. American college kids added uprights to the goalposts after liking the idea of kicking the ball over rather than into the net. They squished the orb into a prolate spheroid. They quite rationally picked up the ball and ran with it. The name remained the same but the game didn’t, which puzzles Europeans. Their football prohibited violence on the field but demanded it in the grandstand, which puzzles Americans. The postbellum college students loved European football so much that they combined it with rugby and turned it into our national obsession.

The best thing about soccer as a kid was playing. It offers fun, a great cardiovascular workout, and footwork skills that other sports reward but don’t instill. It requires little in the way of equipment. Their football isn’t as complicated as our football, so kids pick up the game on day one of practice rather than in the final game of the season. In its simplicity lies its popularity. And it’s better than being fat, a feat American children excel at accomplishing.

So, yes, fellow Americans, if only for the next month: watch soccer, cheer soccer, play soccer. Just don’t play a European.

Daniel J. Flynn, the author of The War on Football: Saving America’s Game (Regnery, 2013), edits Breitbart Sports.

Photo credit: Getty Images


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