The On Deck Circle

The unofficial home of Real Talk

Imaginary Player - Where the White Boys Dance

Posted by Blake Murphy on June 10, 2008

This article has been submitted by Trevor Smith.

Disclaimer: The following is a sermon on the grace and glory of soccer. It comes from someone who played his entire youth, with only marginal success, and someone who, in an ode to every bad cliché possible, awoke to its brilliance while on international academic exchange. I present that failing openly, as to put my lacking expertise into perspective so that you cannot use anything against me I haven’t give you myself.

“I Will Possess Your Heart”- Death Cab for Cutie

Last Saturday, the 2008 UEFA European Football Championship kicked off in Austria and Switzerland. For the majority of North American sports fans, this was met with thundering silence. As I am currently residing in Louisiana, I cannot help but smirk that the pool-play portion of second-most important football tournament in the world plays out on…ESPN Classic? While every available participation statistic holds football as the most-played sport among North American youth, the beautiful game does not resonate with adults in the way baseball does for our neighbors to the south, or hockey does at home in the frozen tundra. The most basic explanation for why this (that ’soccer’ is “boring, man, nothin’ ever happens”) is terrifically flawed. A more thoughtful examination of why the game hasn’t taken root in this continent would underline the lack of international success our national teams have had, which in turn reduces their visibility and ability to permanently penetrate the mind of the American fan. One would also be wise to point out that every few years the requisite “Here Comes Soccer!” stories push the sport’s exposure, only to meet disaster, whether it be because expectations were unrealistic to begin with (such as the US being ranked in the Top 5 in the world at the last World Cup) or untimely injury (in the case of Beckham-mania). Soccer is trying to win you over. It might be doing a phenomenally poor job of capturing your love, but it is trying. Hey, a billion people can’t be wrong, can they?

“Soliloquy of Chaos”- Gang Starr

Sure, the overwhelming majority of us testify to loving the game every four years when the World Cup has the globe in a frenzy. The Cup finals are the most widely viewed program of any kind in the world, boasting an audience twice that of the Summer Olympics. Those more enlightened amongst us will even subscribe to relishing Champions League knockout play annually, even if Russian oil-money and British TV-contracts have made the competition somewhat uneven. But I (electronically) stand before you now, singing the praises of following the world’s most played sport with consistency and care. Doing so does not make you un-American, or a European elitist. Loving futbol does not mean you cannot love football. Following the game might shed new insights toward political and economical events overseas, but that is not the reason to watch. It may globalize your perspective on society as a whole, but that also is not why it is enthralling. Believing in soccer might even give you new ideas around tribalism, but that doesn’t matter either. All that does is that the game is bloody brilliant.

“Here’s What They Think About You”- Re-Up Gang

As noted above, the most common and simple explanations for why soccer is not more beloved relate to misconceptions about the game itself. The beauty in watching an attacking mid or a well-timed counterattack are lost on the majority of the audience. The general population only understands goals, or near-misses, to be worthy of excitement or interest. The thought is that a scoreless game must be an incredibly dull one. This is simply not the case. Too many eyes are wowed by the fact that Beckham’s lone appearance in New York last season ended in 5-4 loss. Having 9 goals scored in a football game is not a sign of anything but poor defense and brutal keeping. There is beauty in football even without shootouts and goal-whoring. An inspired cross that leads to nothing is still inspired. A backheader that goes wide should still raise one from their seat. A direct that sails still holds the crowd in anticipation for its potential to be great. If nothing else, that is where the beauty lies in soccer: the anticipation of what will happen next. In a most Zen-like way, the goal itself is never as satisfying as the run it took to get there. It is about that 90 minute journey, and the ebb and flow of the match that gets you towards the final whistle.

“Salute Your Solution” – The Raconteurs

There is a significant problem with saying you like soccer today in North America, which is that a surprising majority of others claim to do so as well, to the point that it would be impossible for everyone who claims to love the beautiful game to actually do so with the financial state every MLS team is in outside of TFC and LA. On his truly fantastic site,,Christian Lander contends the following

“Many white people will tell you that they are very into soccer. But be careful, it’s a trap. If you then attempt to engage them about your favorite soccer team or talk about famous moments in soccer history, you are likely to be met with blank stares. This is because white people don’t actually enjoy watching soccer, they just like telling their friends that they are into it.”

While written with humor in mind, Lander strikes an important point. It is rare that someone goes abroad and doesn’t return singing the praises of how great soccer is. They will stay committed and “into” the sport for a brief period of time after they return, and will also choose a side (usually Brazil) when the World Cup rolls around. All of this is true. All of this reeks of false enlightenment. It is an indictment against one’s fanhood to admit that they were won over by the sport while on exchange, because it basically means you have filled out the stereotype of a naïve, idealistic traveling sports idiot. I am such an idiot. While I followed the game before I went abroad, I immediately amped up my fanaticism and attended as many AC Milan games as I possibly could afford in person. The difference is the groundwork for my love of the game had been laid on the bedrock of 10 years of playing, and thus my love affair with it has continued well past the anniversary of my coming home.

“The Sky Above, The Field Below”- Explosions in the Sky

I am not the first on our site to sing the praises of football, and hopefully I will not be the last. Slowly but surely, more and more are being converted into understanding and appreciating the sport (and not just the “Football Factories” elements). While on grad trip in Cuba in February, a sizable group of us, large enough to be called a certifiable crowd, gathered each afternoon to watch Champions League games together in the mid-afternoon heat rather than remain with our friends on the beach. The reason for this was two-fold. First, there is only so much cheap Cristal Cuban beer one can consume. More importantly, there was a bond between those of us appreciating the sport. At the piano-bar, at least for those few days, there was no false interest or inauthentic viewing in the name of having others find you interesting. There was just us, the game, and Cayo-Coco burgers. And that’s all we needed.

This article has been submitted by Trevor Smith.

6 Responses to “Imaginary Player - Where the White Boys Dance”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Excellent piece, sir. Especially enjoyed the paragraph of the intangibles in fussball that people miss; attacking mids, deadly counter-attacks and to which I’ll add to of my favourite things to see in a match; the perfectly weighed defence splitting through ball and expertly timed runs to punish an offside trap.

    And speaking of well timed counter-attacks; David Villa’s second goal against Russia this afternoon… thing of sheer beauty. I’m kicking myself for picking the more expensive Torres than him in my fantasy team, though it should still prove to be a solid pick in the end.

  2. Mostafa Says:

    ^ that was me, i don’t post anonymous, that’s gay.

  3. paul Says:

    Great piece. I played soccer when I was young and thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. Having Italian grandparents, I have been bred since I was young to long for the Azzuri to be the best in the world. I was a staunch supporter and watched the ‘94 WC finals, and most of their ‘00 Euro, ‘98, ‘02 and ‘06 WC matches (the worst memories including dick licking France forcing and winning in extra time in the ‘00 Euro finals and bullshit home country Korea scoring and winning in extra time in the quarter finals in ‘02.)

    The thing with soccer is I just can’t get excited enough about it unless it’s the WC. As much as you can try to convince someone that soccer is the most riveting sport to watch, it’s just going to fall on deaf ears. It’s usually too long and too boring. And don’t tell me you haven’t wanted to punt a puppy after watching a 0-0 draw.

    Another thing I hate about soccer is that it lacks intensity and is played by a bunch of pussies. The diving is out of control. And for good reason, considering one well timed dive in the 18 yard box can win you a game. In the European Championship, penalty kicks have a success rate of 84.6%. ( Penalties shouldn’t be a guaranteed goal, resulting in referees having a greater say in the outcome of the game which could be exploitable (cough Juventus cough).

    Soccer’s great and all, it’s fun to watch some of these guys display some amazing athletic skill. But it’s more boring than hockey and it’s played by a bunch pussies, seriously, whose ideal Saturday off is tea and biscuits and getting trained on white cotton sheets in a Tuscan villa overlooking the ocean…

    I know what you’re thinking, that doesn’t sound too bad at all… but it is kinda gay.

  4. TSmith Says:

    Mostafa: I didn’t see Villa’s goal live, but the highlight speaks for itself. Filthy. And ya, expect Torres to pay off, if for no reason other than them making a deep run and getting in more matches.

    Paul, you make a great argument about what is definitely the worst part about football: the flopping. And worse yet, it has crossed over to basketball with the influx of Euros now in the NBA that played football as kids and learned it as necessary skill.

    As for the Tuscan villa, that sounds fantastically awesome actually. And while he is no Italian, have you ever seen Ronaldo’s girlfriend? AJ did a fantastically straightforward report a month or so back on the hottest footballer’s wives. Cold shower anyone.

    Also, Juventus just outright sucks at life, no argument there.

  5. Blake Murphy Says:

    I try man, I try. I try to get into it, try to pick a team to cheer for, try to follow along, but two things stand in my way:

    1) I have no real heritage. I am a little bit Spanish, but not enough of anything to justify cheering for a team on the international level. This makes international events like Euro and WC, while entertaining, meaningless to me. This adds to your point, I guess, about the U.S. needing international success for soccer to grow (except, uhh, Canada).

    2) It’s extremely difficult to choose a team to cheer for in league play. On one hand, you can be a bandwaggon hopper, on the other you can select at random, or on the mysterious third hand you can copy a friend (or choose their rival). Using this method, I’d select Chelsea (they were in three of the first four Champions League games I watched and I love Didier Drogba), but I feel like this is a cheap ‘pick-a-winner’ method.

    This is a sport where you absolutely need to have a rooting interest to enjoy the game, and I can’t develop one on two different fronts. I’ll keep trying to follow along, and I’ll be one of those casual/pseudo/fake fans you real fans hate so much…but please, how can one make the jump to real fandom?

  6. TSmith Says:

    Well, for starters, you can support Milan with me when Drogba gets transfered there in a few weeks…

    And as for the international level, you are right that thats makes it very tough. I suppose cheer for the scrappy underdog, or cheer against Italy and Brazil? But as my entire background is British, I am drawn to England, even though I actually hate the team because they are basically the Leafs of International soccer (case in point, didn’t even qualify for Euro 08)

    Don’t worry BMurph, you’ll come around

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