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Friday, June 09, 2006

World Cup Fever

I have it, a raging case of course, and will be watching as much of the Cup as is humanly possible. I taped all the first round games four years ago, but had an advantage as they were all at night or on in the early morning. Mrs. Fando, and the littlest Fando are preparing for the onslaught of requests to tape Ivory Coast vs. Holland, and Japan vs. Brasil. I dearly love the Beautiful Game and this is the quadrennial high point for every football (soccer) fan. The real, honest to goodness World Championship to end all World Championships.

As I've written before on these pages (posts, whatever) I am an American citizen, so I will be following the Americans rabidly through the Finals, chanting U-S-A as loudly as I did at their qualifier against Costa Rica in 2001 - which I and Mrs. Fando attended in person - and signing rousing choruses of "Over There" and "Yankee Doodle" if need be.

I will also be following the fortunes of a certain team from the British Isles, for obvious reasons, and have already gotten a huge psychological boost from the news that Wayne Rooney's broken foot is healed. Part of that boost was admittedly from knowing that somewhere, Sir Alex Ferguson was loudly grousing and complaining about his star striker being "rushed back" into play. Queen and Country first Sir Alex, right? (Well, after God, don't you know.)

The most enjoyable thing about rabidly following the World Cup in the U.S. is listening to all the sportswriters and talk radio neanderthals who simply don't get it. Some of them are good blokes who are just trying to cover for the fact that they don't know a single thing about soccer beyond that it's played with the feet, and that they're certain they will never understand the offsides rule. (Which, by the way, is simply that an offensive player be even with or have two defenders between him and the goal when the ball is played forward to them... That's it. No Calculus or Differential Equations reequired... Much simpler than, say the infield fly rule, which seems to rely on wind direction, bird migration patterns, and the capricious will of a large umpire.) You see, there's a reason that one of football's (soccer's) nicknames is "The Simplest Game."

I was listening to one such broadcaster, nice bloke but hopelessly ignorant about football (soccer), ramble on a bit about how, granted it was only a big deal in places like the Ivory Coast, and how he'd rather watch an interview with a dog than a minute of World Cup coverage. Such "brilliance" only calls attention to itself, of course. His co-partner, who is another nice bloke, went on to mangle the pronounciation of Ronaldinho's name, while pointing out that he was the most recognized athlete on the planet. If memory serves, he called him "Ronaldin-Do." Well, I'm fairly certain the 2 billion people who do watch will do a bit better with that.

With any other big sporting event these blokes would do a little research, find out a bit about the tactics and skills, and at least gain a grudging admiration for the sheer athleticism and endurance required to play the game effectively at a professional level. Soccer is one of, if not the most grueling sport to play on the planet, which is part of its great charm. I'd like to see a baseball player hit a fastball out of the air after running 4 miles at varying pace (with a mile to go, on average for most footballers).

So, ignorance is a major factor in the frustrations of these types. They don't know the game and think of it as foreign and alien, even though football (soccer) has been played in this country since before gridiron (American football) was invented, when a bunch of rugby players at university forgot the rules of that sport.

Just so you know, I happen to love gridiron and have been a Dallas Cowboys fan from an early age (and can explain the illegal shift rule to a competent level).

Worse though are the self-proclaimed good-old boys, or "true American types" (their term, not mine) who lather on abuse at football (soccer) the way rabid dogs lather on foam and violent tics. These are the types who, not content to simply profess their mystification at the qualities of the game, must resort to outright distortions and affronts to the manhood of males who play and watch. While to some extent this is not completely unexpected in a country where the women's national team has had more success than the men's, a condition I suspect will change in the next two decades, it goes without saying that someone like 6'4", 215 lb. Oguchi Onyewu (or 6'3", 230 lb Marcus Hannemann, etc.) of the U.S. team might take offense at the weasely words of such moronic sports bigots and happily pund or kick such individuals into the ground on an actual pitch.

Also, such juvenile attempts to get the goats of football aficianados are themselves grounded in an ignorance that is profoundly ironic. Gridiron, again, comes from Rugby, which was one of two versions of football, the other being Association Football or "soccer." So American Football owes it's existence and even its name to "soccer." Baseball? Baseball is a sport derived not directly from Cricket, but from Rounders. Rounders is a sport in England played primarily by girls... Not that there's anything wrong with that. However, before you broadly go about questioning the manliness of blokes who run five miles, kick one another, shoulder-charge, and have the skill to control the ball in their sport with only their feet and heads, you might want to make sure that the sport you profess a deep faithful love for wasn't directly derived from a sport where all the participants wear dresses.

Again, that's nothing against baseball itself, which is a challenging and tradition filled game, and which, played at it's highest level requires a great deal of skill and power (and the all-important ability to know how to adjust one's crotch). Rather, what's so ironic and highly amusing is that the soccer-hating cretins who invoke baseball as the epitome of manliness, while denigrating the manliness of footballers haven't a clue as to their beloved game's origins. Like most bigots, their ignorance is kind of bliss that masks their own, as David Niven put it best, shortcomings.

Go U.S.A.!! Come on England!! It's time to play some football!


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