I love watching soccer and I have loved every minute of the World Cup tournament this year. It has been an exciting tournament, particularly because all the dominate players and teams didn’t make it as far as expected. I love to root for the underdog, which is fitting for an American who loves soccer.
While I’m bitterly disappointed, as a US citizen, that the US men’s team did not qualify for the World Cup, I also cheer for the Netherlands, my ethnic homeland, who are world class contenders in soccer. Too bad the Netherlands didn’t qualify either. So I cheered for Iceland, I cheered for Mexico, I cheered for Belgium, I cheered for Brazil and Costa Rica and cheered for the underdogs and winners alike. It is more fun when your team is in the mix, but watching world class soccer in the biggest tournament in the world is still great fun.
It’s hard to know exactly how many people watched the World Cup, but most estimates are over 3 billion people, or roughly half of the world’s population. Something around 110 million watched the last American Super Bowl. The El Clasico match – a regular season game between Real Madrid and Barcelona, typically has over 400 million viewers. Now, we can quibble about more specific numbers and viewership, but at the very least, this seems to indicate that the World Cup is a global phenomenon that people around the world love to watch. It also demonstrates the global popularity of futbol. I’ve never fully understood why America is not interested in soccer like the rest of the world. As a nation of immigrants it is surprising that soccer is not more dominant. We seem to love world domination via sport in most other areas, but soccer is a glaring exception. But the popularity of soccer in the US has been growing. As the Men in Blazers like to point out – soccer is the “sport of the future” since 1972.
I love to see the international flavor of soccer – teammates from various places on the globe play together in various clubs and then play for their home national team, if they make the cut. I’ve always gotten a kick out of watching the ways that soccer players who speak various languages still manage to figure out how to cuss out the referees and make that cursing quite clear in multiple languages. I love to see the kids that walk, hand-in-hand, with the players out of the tunnels and into the stadium to the wild adulation of fans. The kids stand with the player through the national anthems. Can you imagine the glory of that moment for a young soccer player, no matter their skill level? Most countries who are serious about soccer have professional coaches for all ages of youth in order to find and groom talent from a young age. I love that soccer runs for 45 minutes (plus stoppage time) in each half. No time outs, no breaks. The manager can cheer, chastise and dictate from the sidelines, but only from the sidelines. Only a few substitutes means that the team on the pitch is responsible for shifting the momentum, making big plays, and making the small, consistent, and steady progress that wins games. The teams needs to work out the strategy and fix the problems, largely on their own, as crowds watch, cheer, jeer, boo, and burst into jubilant (and often salty language) songs. I also love that I can watch 45+ minutes of a game without commercial interruption. I love that soccer is accessible. Grab a ball and go. The pitch need not be grass – the players from Iceland occasionally played on magma and sand, after all. Whether you play on your own, working on fundamental skills, or with your friends, and learn how to read what is going on and how to communicate and react to other players, there is a reason for soccer’s universal appeal.
Or maybe all my fascination of soccer stems from my lack of opportunities to play soccer as a youth. Unfortunately, soccer was not a sport available for me to play in high school, so I have to live vicariously through others and be a great appreciator of soccer instead. In the words of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.”