As a typical American sports fan, I see Soccer as a sport in distant sixth place in the grand hierarchy of North American Sport.
The top two are obviously Baseball and Football (the pigskin kind), followed by Basketball and Hockey.
Then comes, surprisingly, auto racing, which has made tremendous inroads in the last ten years, in my opinion. Never mind that I despise the "sport."
Then soccer. Maybe. And largely on the strength of its grassroots presence, i.e. youth soccer.
I've never been to the UK but I don't need to go there to know exactly how fervent the soccer (hereafter referred to as football) following there is. I didn't have to see Bend It Like Beckham or watch the World Cup. I already knew, it's just a fact of life.
But here it's just a distant sixth.
In my personal view, however, it's probably a tight third, right above American football and below basketball and hockey.
I started watching English Premier League football as a way to fall asleep. I don't mean that to say soccer is boring, but it is hypnotizing. There's something relaxing and absorbing about watching 22 players weave and flow on the field, alternately finessing and attempting to destroy a ball.
There are lots of things I love about football:
- Crowds in nearly constant song and uniform reaction
- Aforementioned weave/flow/finesse/destruction
- Unbelievable skill and vision displayed by some of the true greats.
- It's like hockey, which is my favorite sport
- It's the only truly global sport, transcending national, religious, geographic and economic boundaries.
And there's a couple things I don't like about it:
- Diving. Dear Lord, it's the most frustrating thing to watch a replay of a questionable call and see exactly how obvious a dive the play was. It absolutely plagues the sport and is the reason that it will probably always remain a sixth-place sport in the US
- Scoreless draws. It's too hard to score. In some matches, goals are so few and far between that you can actually play a whole game without one. That seems like poor sports design to me. The object of the game is to put the ball into the goal, yet you can play a whole game with neither side accomplishing that goal a single time. Hardly intuitive.
- Football players yell at each other too much. I mean teammates. Sometimes a keeper will make a save and then turn and scream as his own defenders. I'm sorry, it's just stupid to try to embarass your own teammates during a game. Sometimes I imagine that I would punch my goalie in the face if he started yelling at me that way during a game. You don't see that in the NHL, that's for damn sure.
Notice that I've said I'm an EPL fan, not just a football fan. That's true. I don't follow the MLS, or Bundesliga, or Serie A, or any other of the international legion of football leagues. There are enough celebrities and talent in the EPL to keep me interested, and with the bonus that I can understand the language of the announcers.
I also enjoy watching the US National team. Why that doesn't translate into an MLS enthusiasm, I'm not sure. But I'm just not interested. I watched McBride with gusto during the World Cup. I was excited when I found out that Brian McBride was going to play football for Everton of the EPL, and thus Everton has become my adopted favorite team in the EPL. However, I've never watched a single MLS match of the Columbus Crew.
There must be some other mystique about the English league that we don't have here. Maybe it's the crowds. Maybe it's just cultural retardation.
Next year I will be taking my first sabbatical, and my wife and I will be travelling to England, which I lovingly refer to as the Motherland. I hope to see an Everton match at Goodison Park, if it hasn't been demolished by then.
In any event, I have to go now. I'm watching a repeat of last week's Arsenal versus Bolton Wanderers match.