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Thread: Why America Never Fell in Love with Soccer

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    Why America Never Fell in Love with Soccer

    Why America never fell in love with soccer

    By James Montague, CNN

    London, England (CNN) -- It is still regarded as one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history; the day the U.S. shocked the world.

    In the group stages of the 1950 World Cup finals in Brazil, center back Walter Bahr marshaled his collection of semi-professionals (mainly postmen and miners) to a 1-0 victory against arguably the best team in the world: England.

    The victory over America's former colonial masters created headlines around the world, but one of Bahr's overriding memories of the event was the lack of interest it caused back home.

    "The only person who met me at the airport when we flew [back] was my wife," recalls Bahr, who was a high school teacher in his home city of Philadelphia at the time.

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    "England was the king of soccer, everyone thought they would be in the final but the papers had nothing in there. The Philadelphia paper, I still have a copy of it, it has a two inch column. I don't think I did a single interview about the World Cup until 25 years later."

    While the rest of the world reacted with stunned disbelief -- legend has it several British newspapers didn't report the score at first, fearing that it had been mistyped and England had really won 10-0 -- back home Team USA's exploits had been met with almost complete indifference.

    A clear illustration of the long, and not always happy relationship the U.S. has had with soccer.

    As almost every nation on Earth embraced its rapid spread around the globe, the U.S. remained one of the few, resolute outposts of abstention. But why has it been so difficult for Americans to take soccer to their hearts?

    Colonial legacy

    Part of the answer can be found in soccer's parentage. While the British were using colonial missionaries to spread soccer, the U.S. chose instead to invent its own national pastimes, in a bid to aid nation building.

    "In the 1880s and 1890s the game was being exported by English missionaries, or mercenaries as some would see it, to the U.S.," explains David Wangerin, author of "Soccer in a Football World: The Story of America's Forgotten Game."

    "Soccer was pushed out by the rugby variation [of the game], Americans thought it was their destiny to devise games on their own without relying on the old country. There was no interest in games that were seen as un-American. That persisted right up to the 1970s."

    So when the newly codified version of association football, or soccer, arrived on America's shores, a different type of football was already evolving. The U.S. universities of Princeton, Yale, Harvard and Columbia each played their own versions of the game, some using their hands, others using their feet.

    But it was Harvard's rugby-based rules that largely won out in a historic meeting between the colleges in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1876, rules which would eventually lead to the game's distinctly "American" character with its touchdowns, snaps and lines of scrimmage.

    Immigrantinitiative

    "There was a desire amongst immigrants to fit in," says Wangerin. "Multiculturalism wasn't high up on the American agenda back then. You wanted to fit in so you played American football."

    By the turn of the 20th century, soccer was being kept alive by immigrant communities in pockets along the east coast, concentrated in cities like New York, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

    Teams were usually attached to big factories, like the successful but short lived Bethlehem Steel FC, and by 1921 a small professional league -- the American Soccer League -- had been set up. For a young Walter Bahr growing up in Philadelphia, and at a time when the American national team finished third at the very first World Cup in 1930, there was only one path to follow.

    "In my neighborhood, Kensington, only two sports were played baseball and soccer, and baseball was for the summer," recalls Bahr. "Philadelphia was divided by ethnic groups and a lot of it was based on what work was available. My neighborhood was a textiles area, so we had a big British influence, Scotch and Irish too. St. Louis had a lot of soccer through the Catholic Church because they had an order of Irish priests and kept the game going in their parish."

    Part-time passion

    At 15 he joined the Philadelphia Nationals and, after the interruptions of the Second World War, won three league titles with them before being selected for the World Cup squad destined for Brazil. But the part-timers found it difficult getting any kind of playing time before the tournament.

    "In 1950 we played Besiktas of Istanbul, in St. Louis. They beat us badly, 5-0. It was a tryout as much as anything, and then we faced an English select team with Stanley Matthews playing, in New York, and they won 1-0. Those were the first times the World Cup team played together. The next day we left for Brazil. It took us two and a half days to get down there!"

    After the team's shock victory against England, Bahr went on to enjoy a long career as both a player and a coach, but the victory against the old rivals failed to seer soccer into the public consciousness.

    "We never had our own stadiums so we played on baseball fields like Ebbests field," says Bahr. "In 1953 we played an English select team. It was only three years after the World Cup, the same teams that played in Brazil, at Yankee Stadium on a Sunday. But the Yankees had final say on the games; if it was bad weather they had the right to call it off in case we ruined the field. There was a torrential downpour that morning and they postponed it until Monday. Only 7,000 turned up in the end."

    The awkward alien

    Normal service had been restored, England winning 6-3 in front of a half empty stadium. The American Soccer League limped on in various incarnations until the 1980s, briefly tussling with the superstars of the North American Soccer League for supremacy. But soccer could never quite shake off its tag of being an alien, foreign game.

    "Soccer won't ever reach the height of baseball or [American] football and it probably won't be as popular as ice hockey," suggests Wangerin. "But it will find its place. One analogy I've read is that soccer will be more like a boutique coffee shop, rather than a massive supermarket."

    For now, though, Bahr and the handful of surviving teammates must manage the many interview requests from U.S. magazines, newspapers and TV networks eager for their story ahead of June's World Cup finals in South Africa, where the USA will once again face England. Was he surprised by all the attention he now gets from the media?

    "You can say victory has a thousand fathers," laughs Bahr, paraphrasing former U.S. President John F. Kennedy. "But defeat is a bastard. That's an old one for you."
    Interesting, and it really reflects the classic American attitude of rebellion.

  2. #2
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    Funny, I don't hate soccer because of some kind of rebellion tactic against Europe.

    I hate soccer because it's a boring ass game.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ven0m View Post
    Funny, I don't hate soccer because of some kind of rebellion tactic against Europe.

    I hate soccer because it's a boring ass game.
    ignorance

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    Because we could afford not too.....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ven0m View Post
    Funny, I don't hate soccer because of some kind of rebellion tactic against Europe.

    I hate soccer because it's a boring ass game.
    In H.S. as football, hockey, and baseball players we used to rip and make fun of the soccer players some of which were good friends and in a town that was consistently playing for or becoming State Champs. After college I began watching Italian, and English Soccer, what a big, big difference from H.S. and Red Bull soccer, our American soccer is a total joke, but European soccer usually is Great. I like to watch Italian soccer mostly.....

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    Quote Originally Posted by Apache 51 View Post
    In H.S. as football, hockey, and baseball players we used to rip and make fun of the soccer players some of which were good friends and in a town that was consistently playing for or becoming State Champs. After college I began watching Italian, and English Soccer, what a big, big difference from H.S. and Red Bull soccer, our American soccer is a total joke, but European soccer usually is Great. I like to watch Italian soccer mostly.....


    Soccer was hugely popular at my high school, and always got a pretty big fan draw. We played for a lot of state championships too.

    Our school appreciated winning, and athletic prowess, and domination over other schools, so the players were never ridiculed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ven0m View Post
    Funny, I don't hate soccer because of some kind of rebellion tactic against Europe.

    I hate soccer because it's a boring ass game.

    I understand that Soccer is not going to be as popular in the States as it is, well anywhere else really.

    What I don't understand is this kind of aggresive hatred for it. Why is it that there are a lot of people in the US that just need to interject the "inferiority of soccer" into every discussion?

    It's almost xenophobic, IMHO.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Turk View Post

    It's almost xenophobic, IMHO.
    I think that's actually the point that the article was implying.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jet Hustle View Post
    ignorance
    It's not ignorance. This is an issue that US soccer fans have had for years, if sports fans don't like soccer, they immediately cry "ignorance".

    SOccer is boring if you weren't exposed to it on a high level. Same with most sports, (Baseball, especially).

    I wasn't much of a soccer fan growing up, but like some Americans, I got into it more after the world cup in 1994. Now that EPL, La Liga, and Serie A are all available television, I watch fairly often.

    It's a lot of effort to commit to a new sport, and many people don't have the time or energy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Batmans A Scientist View Post
    It's not ignorance. This is an issue that US soccer fans have had for years, if sports fans don't like soccer, they immediately cry "ignorance".

    SOccer is boring if you weren't exposed to it on a high level. Same with most sports, (Baseball, especially).

    I wasn't much of a soccer fan growing up, but like some Americans, I got into it more after the world cup in 1994. Now that EPL, La Liga, and Serie A are all available television, I watch fairly often.

    It's a lot of effort to commit to a new sport, and many people don't have the time or energy.
    i just don't buy the argument that soccer isn't popular because it's seen as "boring." you said it yourself, baseball is boring. baseball is the most boring sport. yet, america loves it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Batmans A Scientist View Post
    It's not ignorance. This is an issue that US soccer fans have had for years, if sports fans don't like soccer, they immediately cry "ignorance".

    SOccer is boring if you weren't exposed to it on a high level. Same with most sports, (Baseball, especially).

    I wasn't much of a soccer fan growing up, but like some Americans, I got into it more after the world cup in 1994. Now that EPL, La Liga, and Serie A are all available television, I watch fairly often.

    It's a lot of effort to commit to a new sport, and many people don't have the time or energy.
    Bingo. Really... I watch and go to The Yankees and as much MLB games as I can. I watch every second of every Jets games, and as much of the NFL and College Football as I possibly can during my free time. That doesn't include..... Ok. let me stop right now. Soccer is just not that good. It's not as good as the big 4 Sports. Period.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Megalomaniac View Post
    i just don't buy the argument that soccer isn't popular because it's seen as "boring." you said it yourself, baseball is boring. baseball is the most boring sport. yet, america loves it.
    It's one of the reasons. Most sports are boring if you don't really know what's going on. Almost every american understands baseball (and not just what you can see) because we've been watching baseball since a young age (and in a lot of cases our parents did too). But if soccer had that kind of history in the US, then it would be popular too.

    That's why the MLS is such a big deal, and the possible strike. The reality is that it won't be a top league ever, probably. But, But more fans are into soccer partially because of the MLS. Look at Seattle, they love their team there. It's actually pretty amazing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yankeejet22 View Post
    Bingo. Really... I watch and go to The Yankees and as much MLB games as I can. I watch every second of every Jets games, and as much of the NFL and College Football as I possibly can during my free time. That doesn't include..... Ok. let me stop right now. Soccer is just not that good. It's not as good as the big 4 Sports. Period.
    For you, yes. But, I could find you 100 people that would disagree. I used to care about baseball more. But I do find it more boring,and I like soccer a lot more. I never cared much for college football, except major games, and I couldn't care less for the NBA. Everyone's different.

    But I can say this, soccer is far more popular now then it was 15 years ago, and it will be most likely be far more popular in 2025 than it is today in the US.

    One of the biggest advantages that soccer has is that there are no stoppages, people complain that it's boring, but the reality is that the game doesn't stop, there are no commercial breaks during gameplay.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Megalomaniac View Post
    i just don't buy the argument that soccer isn't popular because it's seen as "boring." you said it yourself, baseball is boring. baseball is the most boring sport. yet, america loves it.
    I agree.

    I mean to a european kid someone who enjoys baseball where they scratch themselves and spit most of the time to call soccer boring is unfathomable.

    I think it has more to do with instant gratification. Don't take this the wrong way but Americans are not exactly known for their patience and love for the subtle flavors of life. You guys like everything big and now, if not yesterday.

    Soccer is not a sport like any american sport where there is a guaranteed score every game, if you really enjoy soccer you have to learn to love the subtleties. A beutiful pas, a shot from 20 yards that comes back off the bar, a marseille roulette and a beautiful 30 yard pass etc.

    I'm not sure I buy the colonial roots theory. I just think its got more to do with your fast paced culture.


    Oh and statistics. You guys are OBSESSED with statistics. They're just incompatible with soccer. Statistics mean less than the paper they're written on in soccer.
    Last edited by The Turk; 03-19-2010 at 11:22 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Batmans A Scientist View Post
    For you, yes. But, I could find you 100 people that would disagree. I used to care about baseball more. But I do find it more boring,and I like soccer a lot more. I never cared much for college football, except major games, and I couldn't care less for the NBA. Everyone's different.

    But I can say this, soccer is far more popular now then it was 15 years ago, and it will be most likely be far more popular in 2025 than it is today in the US.

    One of the biggest advantages that soccer has is that there are no stoppages, people complain that it's boring, but the reality is that the game doesn't stop, there are no commercial breaks during gameplay.
    1 They say that every 15 years...I remember the "popularity" in the 70's...

    2 No commercial breaks, no TV exposure.

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    I watched professional soccer once, and I fell asleep.

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    there's only one man who can make soccer a popular sport in the US.

    no, not David Beckham. not Kaka, not Ronaldo, and certainly not Messi, either.





    i'm talking about this beast:




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    I'm prepared to get killed for this, but here goes:

    Soccer is a dead-end sport for kids here in America. Think about it. There are exceptions --Let me make that clear-- there are exceptions, but most American kids that join soccer, did because they weren't good enough, tough enough, or talented enough to play Baseball, Football, and Basketball. OR Their parents couldn't stand the "pressure" of watching their kids fail at those sports... so they put them on a local soccer team, and enjoy the "fun" and eat oranges while their kid is aimlessly running around.

    Yes, many of them become really good at it. Play HS & maybe even College. Then what? It's gone in a flash, because there is no back-bone to the sport in America. No frickin equivalent of MLB, NFL, NBA, and even NHL.

    I actually have more to say, but gotta hit the submit reply button, and go back to work...fire away...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yankeejet22 View Post
    I'm prepared to get killed for this, but here goes:

    Soccer is a dead-end sport for kids here in America. Think about it. There are exceptions --Let me make that clear-- there are exceptions, but most American kids that join soccer, did because they weren't good enough, tough enough, or talented enough to play Baseball, Football, and Basketball. OR Their parents couldn't stand the "pressure" of watching their kids fail at those sports... so they put them on a local soccer team, and enjoy the "fun" and eat oranges while their kid is aimlessly running around.

    Yes, many of them become really good at it. Play HS & maybe even College. Then what? It's gone in a flash, because there is no back-bone to the sport in America. No frickin equivalent of MLB, NFL, NBA, and even NHL.

    I actually have more to say, but gotta hit the submit reply button, and go back to work...fire away...

    Now that's ignorance.

    Guess what? All sports are a dead-end endeavor for MOST kids. Out of all the kids playing in little league and pop warner football, how many do you think will actually make it to the MLB and the NFL? I'd say less than 1%.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Turk View Post

    Oh and statistics. You guys are OBSESSED with statistics. They're just incompatible with soccer. Statistics mean less than the paper they're written on in soccer.
    Maybe that's why I like soccer. I hate statistics. One of the most annoying things in the world is listening to a couple of baseball nerds argue about WHIP and OBP and why they can't get laid.

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