World Cup a slapstick tableau for American sports fans

The World Cup is a beautiful thing. Really.

Europeans, South and Central Americans, Africans and Asians obsessively worship football (known as soccer here in the states) and their economies are on a productivity plunge this month as fans glue into the TV broadcasts of the cup games from South Africa.

But red-blooded American sports fans — those of us schooled in U.S. football, basketball and baseball — are squandering a delicious opportunity if we brush off or outright ignore the World Cup.

Remember I said it’s beautiful? It is, but in amusing, entertaining and absurd ways. Please do yourself a favor. Watch at least one World Cup game start to finish. In many ways it feels like you’re viewing a cheesy sports movie:

- The British announcers. This is the best part. These are skilled craftsmen, and like many literate Brits they have full-featured vocabularies. It’s simply entertaining to listen to their game calls. Watch out for the color analyst with the molasses-thick Scottish accent, though, it is unintelligible.

- The star players. Most of the really big ones have one-name monikers, such as Ronaldo. These dudes are treated like celestial personages. Michael Jordan couldn’t hold their socks, by comparison. The announcers speak of them in awed tones and credit them for being the real powers of “The Beautiful Game.”

- The coaches. This is hilarious. They’re all global mercenaries. England’s coach is an Italian who is paid $9 million and sits on the sidelines in an overdone European suit. The Ivory Coast coach used to coach two top European teams. They sit more as bored spectators, comatose compared to the typical U.S. professional sports coaches.

- The fans. I’ve been watching World Cup matches chiefly in a patriotic fervor, wishing the U.S. side to a shocking sweep of the competition. Two Elvis impersonators were in the stands as the American team took to the pitch against Slovenia on Friday. But our fandom pales to the feverish hordes from the other nations, who pack the bleachers and always are on tight watch by stadium police. Deadly riots and stampedes have a sorry place in football lore.

- Far from the least, the vaudevillian gameplay. They don’t stop the clock. The referees, the players and coaches are cavalier about it. This leads to comical, almost constant flopping by players from ephemeral fouls. The savaged player rolls and moans, killing time while emergency workers trot out to spray quick-freeze on supposedly mangled body parts. Finally, EMT types in bright vests stroll out to offer a stretcher, at which point the allegedly violated striker hops up and ambles off to the sidelines under his own power.

- Strategy. U.S. teams go all out from the opening play. But the top teams of international football appear to play especially conservatively in the first half, then attack in the second half. And draws are cherished. It’s all quite unseemly.

- Intimidation. Fans’ vuvuzela horns droning through the matches are intended to rattle opposing teams. Really? Interestingly, researchers say the hideous racket can lead to permanent hearing damage.

- Vengeance is swift. Despite the almost non-American, lacksadaisical pace and lazy attitudes during the games, the soccer announcers and the fans often quickly turn on the unlucky player who commits a major blunder. The English goalkeeper who gave up a fumbling goal to the United States in the open game was rabidly pilloried by the announcers, who guaranteed the man would endure a lifetime of shame for the goof. Fans have been known to show up at airports to throw vegetables at defeated returning national teams. Stumbling teams easily may implode — case in point, this year’s French side, which lost its first two games and then refused to practice before their next match.

Thankfully, one of football’s few similarities to major U.S. sports is, of course, that everyone despises the refs. We are the world!

Have a beautiful tournament.

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10 Responses to World Cup a slapstick tableau for American sports fans

  1. Doug Gibson says:

    I am really into it this year. I used to be a soccer fan three times every four years; the Olympics and both World Cup(s). But Real Salt Lake has moved the game way ahead in interest and I enjoy The Outlaws and local college teams. One constant of soccer is that, except for penalty kicks, a goal seems to come suddenly and out of nowhere.

  2. Di Lewis says:

    Bah.

    The Scottish accent is really not that thick and totally understandable.

    What coaches are you looking at?

    Fans = AWESOME!

    Yes. They don’t stop the clock to overanalyze and inspect every single thing that happens. Does that mean some people take dives and some bad calls are made? Totally. But it also makes the game more exciting and more real. And the time is added onto the end. In my opinion way better than the many time-outs of basketball and CONSTANT stops of football.

    What’s wrong with strategy? And a hard fought for tie is far more interesting than some game where one team totally demolishes another.

    Intimidation. Well the vuvuzelas are an African thing, not a soccer staple. But what game doesn’t have intimidation and people trying to psych out the other side.

    Lackadaisical pace and lazy attitude? THE WHOLE GAME IS ACTION!

    In the end though, I just don’t understand the crazy people that don’t like this sport… Weirdos.

  3. Kevin says:

    This may well be the worst article I’ve ever read. The writer obviously has no clue about what football aka soccer is about, and the tone in the article is quite offensive to fans of the game. Is Mark Shenefelt really that arrogant as to think the rest of the world and many people in the US are stupid for being passionate about this game? If anything, you should wonder why people in the US look more forward to commercials than the game at the super bowl, or why they fall asleep during baseball games. Where’s the passion in that?

    • Mark Shenefelt says:

      @Di and @Kevin, I obviously outsmarted myself with this post. Personally I am a big soccer fan, and a fan of the major American team sports. The post was intended to prod soccer-dissing American fans to actually watch a World Cup game, and even if they still hate soccer, get some entertainment out of it for other reasons. But the satirical approach whiffed. My bad.

  4. Paul says:

    @Mark: Thank you for the clarification. I was going to go on a rant about how if it isn’t an American sport, it ain’t any good or something. Honestly the match against Algeria provided 2 of the most heart-stopping hours I have endured in my life. As my office mates and I (yes, we had a pretty good group of people gather once my boss figured out we were all just watching it at our desks) hung on every missed opportunity and explode with excitement when our team finally prevailed.

    I’m with many others here – I don’t see what is not to like about the game. Bob Bradley has shown that coaching can make all the difference in the world (see the 3 goals in the Slovenia match with his halftime substitutions). This cup has shown us how quickly even the best teams can fall into holes from which they cannot recover when they fail to maintain discipline for the full 90 minutes (see Italy), and just how much drama a goal in stoppage time can provide. Go USA!

  5. Mark Shenefelt says:

    @Paul, Right, that Algeria game was blessed torture. And so was the Ghana match Saturday — until Ghana scored in extra time and there was nothing blessed about it. This morning I watched Germany trounce England. Not much drama but some great scoring.

  6. I hate that the US lost to Ghana..It really hurts..but there is always 2014

  7. John Tipton says:

    Wow. This is the lamest bit of writing I’ve come across in ages. May a zillion vuvuzela’s serenade you. Sheesh…

  8. No home is complete without a recliner seat just like it can be said that no sports fan is truly a sports fan without having a custom leather recliner chair. If you truly think about it, having a recliner chair is just as American as having a car.

  9. Throughout the year, baseball, football, and basketball seasons can respectively be in session, allowing fans to experience their favorite games wherever they are.

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