Soccer’s Many Virtues

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I’ve been pondering the reasons why soccer is getting more popular in the United States and why, in the rest of the world, it’s so popular, it’s called football. I’m told that in some remote, third-world countries, fans start chanting “SEC! SEC! SEC!” and no one even knows why.

Yet, inexplicably, vuvuzelas have not shown up in Baton Rouge. Actually, they’re so 2010, and that’s yet another great development. Perhaps it’s because they sound like drones, and drones seem much deadlier now.

I didn’t write this blog to ridicule soccer, though, traditionally, burned-out sports columnists while away the World Cup writing satirically about exciting nil-nil ties, while here in South Carolina, we’re too busy satirizing ties with paw prints on them.

This could fly right over the heads of my worldwide audience.

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I really like soccer. I’m not trying to be funny when I add that I like other sports – baseball, football, auto racing, hockey, basketball – better. I only like golf better than soccer four times a year, and soccer is about level with tennis in my, yes, “power rankings.” (You may recall that I’m not a big fan of that term.)

Herewith is a list of items I love about soccer (or, for the non-domestic part of my worldwide audience, football).

In soccer, the leaders realize the folly of making sure officials get the calls right. They realize that the fury of getting screwed is much better for the sport than the simple satisfaction that accompanies justice. In Baltimore, the Colts aren’t even there anymore, but fans still raise hell about a ref calling a field goal attempt by Don Chandler good when a great deal of evidence suggests that it sailed wide.

That was in 1965.

If FIFA started using replays on World Cup officials, people all over the globe might stop overthrowing their governments, and how’s civilization going to cope with that?

My guess is that fewer fans head for the exits early because, like me watching from home, they have no idea when the damn match is going to end. Not even NASCAR has gone this far in juicing the ending. The omnipotent officials seem to be saying, “Over? It’s not over till we say it is.” It dispels the Senator John Blutarsky myth. Obviously, he became a soccer referee.

If the World Cup wasn’t in Brazil, just where would Kobe Bryant have to go right now?

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I have a special rooting interest because Clint Dempsey, the United States captain, is, like me, a graduate of Furman University, and I can tell because we both have rallied around “our dear alma mah-ah-ah-ter.” Shortly after Dempsey broke his nose Monday, I saw him drink from “wisdom’s fountain pure.”

I also like Belgium because the Belgians, like Clinton High School, are the Red Devils, which means they also have their very own words for the Notre Dame Fight Song: “When we die, we’ll burn in fire, for the glory of old Clinton High.” I wish I could confirm that the Belgian team sings its alma mater this way – “Here’s to our old Clinton High School, it’s hell, it’s hell, it’s hell …” – but I don’t speak German, Dutch or French, which Belgians do.

What I like most about the World Cup, though, is that every team plays to expectations. The South American players seem brilliant and undisciplined, Germans are technically proficient, African teams are great fun to watch, and the English look as if they had a few pints beforehand. I hate to reinforce stereotypes, but that’s precisely what soccer itself does.

In the National Basketball Association, the practice known as “flopping” is controversial. Soccer players make basketball players look like rodeo cowboys. Dick Fosbury never flopped like Algeria’s defenders.

I also like the way all the reserves wear photo vests on the sidelines, the better to pose for selfies.


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