This is a very difficult time to love the beautiful game stateside. So why are things so bad here? There are several reasons why, ranging from women’s equality to no television coverage of quality football.
David Beckham’s arrival was supposed to spark interest in the game that so many simply don’t understand. I held out hope that with the egregious salaries that baseball and basketball players receive that the MLS clubs could lure some young players looking to make a name for themselves and not in the twilight of their careers like Freddie Ljungberg. Now that Beckham is going to Milan (most likely for good), the MLS goes back to a mockery where you can’t help but cringe every time a player takes a first touch.
Title IX has decimated the youth systems that at one point existed. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Title IX, it is a women’s rights ruling that mandates equal numbers of athletic scholarships for men and women at American universities. Because American football without a doubt brings in the most revenue and requires larger squads, schools around the nation have had to cut football (soccer) to make room for the women’s synchronized ice skating teams. Nowadays you can only find baseball teams in the south, hockey teams in the north, wrestling in Iowa. The small numbers of football programs that survive have no funding, terrible pitches, and no legitimate coaching.
In Europe, every Saturday parents take their kids to the local stadiums and they support their local clubs year round. Our Saturdays are spent in front of televisions watching our local American football teams in autumn, basketball teams in winter and baseball teams in the summer. They rarely ever go to the grounds and when they do, there are very few that have an atmosphere of even the smallest clubs in League Two. Because they never watch it, because the local schools don’t play it, the best athletes don’t care about the game, they were never exposed to it. We play five-a-side in the streets here as well, but with our hands and our goals are 10 feet in the air.
With the depth of talent and athleticism this country has, you would expect big things from our national side. With Our Best Center Halves are baseball Centerfielders, our best forwards are small forwards on the basketball courts. I realize that it’s a bit far out and an exaggeration, but can you imagine if America had the same systems as described above and our kids grew up playing football? Can you just see if instead of returning punts, Reggie Bush used his pace putting fullbacks to shame? Can any team on earth wish to defend set pieces with athletes like Lebron James and Terrell Owens lurking in the box?
The grim view of matters here gets only worse when you consider those yanks that truly have an undying passion for the game. The newer ones never had a chance. These new fans are labeled gloryhunters and are despised by lifelong supporters. They don’t know any better and it is not their fault. The only games that are seen broadly here are champion’s league games featuring the English sides. Who plays in the CL? The Top Four. If that is all the world is exposed to, you have to give them a bit of a break because we can all only go with the information presented to us, no matter the situation. It hurts, because when I started, I decided on Liverpool because I was sick of hearing how beautiful Arsenal play and you cannot identify with any of their players. Chelsea reminded me of baseball’s Yankees, with the spending to success. I hated Man. Utd. because they had been top and therefore they already had far too many gloryhunters as it was, Ronaldo’s diving was a plus. I did the typical new fan things, learned and sang “you’ll never walk alone”, made Anfeild my background on my desktop, and ran my mouth to all the United people I met. It was well into my love affair that I realized that because Liverpool and United were shown on T.V. the most, that many “fans” in the states that didn’t know anything about the game whatsoever had a Gerrard shirt. I felt used when they could not discuss why they support the club, I know what it feels like to hate the gloryhunter.
As much as I want to be part of the Kop and go to Anfield, I know that I don’t belong. I needed a club out of the top four to get behind with hopes of finding a place to be all my own. I chose Spurs because of Berbatov’s sublime touch, the way he and Keane played together, and the world class quality that Gareth Bale will become. I feel as though I may have a chance only to see Dimitar defect to the evil empire and Keane to go back to where I had come, with the possibility of Bale joining him shortly. This has made me look for a manager and a young squad that will likely stay together, Martin O’neill and Villa appear ideal. As great as it sounds I cannot do it to myself again yet I will stay true to Spurs because I believe that Bale, Bentley and Modric are world class. While that may be, the constant shuffling of managers and players in the premiership, it’s as if one that does not have a team can only be fans of players, and follow them throughout their careers. The constant pledging of futures and leaving makes it difficult to support any team. I cannot fault the foreigner that blindly claims to support Liverpool or United because they don’t know the pain that I’ve felt in my brief time as a wannabe. At one point, later in my journey, I hope to one day be adopted into a club that I can call my own. It sucks to be an orphan, and it sucks even worse to be whoring from team to team, but the knowledgeable American football fan in the states has no choice but to.
I’m not asking Europeans to feel sorry for the American, make the states sound as if they could be good, or to desperately plea for a club to come and adopt me as one of their own. All I ask is that you be thankful that you live in the football world that you do, wherever that may be.
Written by Nick Redmond
This article is a submission for the Soccerlens 2008 Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here. The competition is sponsored by Subside Sports (premier online store for football shirts) and Icons (official signed football jerseys).