Socking it to Soccer

by Lynda Lambert
Monday, 12 July 2010
I watched the Cup final—and parts of many of the games that led up to it—because I really wanted to understand why the world found it so exciting.

The 2010 World Cup has just ended. As you all know by now, Spain won with, admittedly, a very nice kick into the net in the last three minutes of overtime play. Thousands of people were cheering and crying and dancing and hugging. They obviously found it very exciting and moving.

I watched the Cup final—and parts of many of the games that led up to it—because I really wanted to understand why the world found it so exciting. In the past, I had always said I found soccer a bore; but I wasn’t really being truthful.

I was like one of those people who say they hate broccoli, when, in fact, they’ve never even tried it. I had never played soccer, and the only soccer I’d ever actually watched was a match or two between 10-year-olds. I felt it was time, in fairness to those who love the game—which includes some of my friends and relatives—that I gave it a go.

So, I watched.

I found Germany rather exciting to watch, as they seemed to have a real game plan. They were always going for the goal, and made 4 in the game I watched. But in most of the other games, including the Cup final, the play seemed extremely random—a cross between the schoolyard games of Monkey in the Middle and Keep Away.

Too often, one team would take the ball and fling it down to the other end of the field, dead into the “arms” of the other team. Or, two players would be hanging back, passing the ball between them over 20 feet of open space! And what was the other team doing? Watching.

If I’d been the other team, I would have been running in and getting that ball and kicking it toward the goal. Instead of playing the ball, they played a one-on-one defense strategy, racking up multiple penalties, when just a little bit of offensive play on the ball would have done the trick.

My daughter was in London once during some kind of soccer championship, and she told me that she had asked a British native, “Why do you all love soccer?” The woman had replied that she felt soccer fans liked soccer because it was difficult. She accused Americans of only liking games that are easy. She felt American football, basketball, baseball were easy to play because the scores were often high.

As my daughter told me this, I wondered if this woman would have found a no-hitter exciting. I know I don’t. And, perhaps, this is the other reason why I was not all that enthralled by the World Cup matches.

What is the point of playing this game if you’re not to be able to make a goal?

Not only did the play seem to be random and not well thought out, but, when someone did finally get into goal shooting range, 9 out of 10 times they missed. Way high, over the goal; to the right, to the left, to the outside of the net. They seemed unskilled. What is the point of playing this game if you’re not to be able to make a goal? Heaven knows that if an American football team missed scoring 9 of 10 times they were in scoring range, they’d be in last place, not playing for a World Cup.

My opinion of soccer was changed, however, by watching the World Cup. I can now honestly say that I was bored by soccer only most of the time; the rest of the time, I was just angry and frustrated by the seeming ineptitude of these supposedly World-Cup-level players.

The world may love the game the way it is, but I simply don’t. Give me the NFL, where each team has a plan, and plays are structured and the team is always headed for the goal line, where, once approached—at least one of two times—a score is made. Or baseball, with plenty of runs and hits. Or basketball, with a 3-point shot at the buzzer from mid-court!

That British lady my daughter talked to in London would probably say that I simply don’t understand; and she would be right. I don’t. I don’t get it.

I want a game in which something actually happens over the two and half hours of my life I give to it. And soccer is not that game.

Lynda Lambert, a college English instructor, writes from Baltimore.

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This story was published on July 12, 2010.