The Next Big Thing

Kick a soccer ball into the 'Net and become an athletic supporter.

The World Cup soccer tournament starts this week and runs through the end of June. This spectacle takes place every four years and, during the tournament, the entire planet pretty much comes to a screeching halt to watch the beloved sport. The people of Ireland petitioned their government to go on a month-long, five-hour Super Daylight Savings plan so that the games wouldn't conflict with the average worker's job schedule! We in the United States, however, don't give a crap about soccer, so we use this month to pull ever farther ahead of the rest of the world in social and economic development.

Actually, I think we're supposed to care about this "Look Ma, no hands" game; at least that's the message in much of the media. Why, during this past year's Fort Lowell Soccer Shootout, the Citizen ran a headline that shouted, "Soccer is the next big thing in the U.S." I found myself staring at that headline, feeling the oddest sensation. Finally, it clicked; I'd read that somewhere before.

So I went to the University of Arizona Library, looked in the microfilm and there it was! In a 1966 issue in the Los Angeles Times: "Soccer next big thing in the U.S." Amazingly, after 36 years, it's STILL the next big thing.

Oh yeah, while I was at the UA Library, I went to the Information Desk and asked where I could find a book of criticism on the writings of Aldous Huxley. That person referred me to the new Learning Center in the basement. So I went down there, into the spanking new room filled with eight buzillion computers and approached a woman seated at a desk.

I asked her the same question and she giddily typed at her keyboard for several seconds. Then she looked up and said, "That information is at this web site."

I looked at her and said, "Excuse me, but I'm old. I prefer to hold a book in my hands. Can you tell me where to find one of those?"

She looked at me like I had sneezed on her corsage, then began typing again. Several times she asked me how to spell Huxley's name. She finally looked up and asked, "Are you sure about this?"

I said, "Lady, you've got about a million books in this building, many of which are written in English. I only need one or two." She typed some more, then tried to interest me in the web site again. I told her that I don't trust the Internet because 99 percent of the stuff out there is crap.

"I would never do research on the 'Net," I explained, "because almost all of those sites are false, misleading or abridged. Some are falsely abridged, others are misleadingly false, while still others are falsely misleading." (I was doing my best to sound like John Cusack in Say Anything.)

"Besides," I told her, "a book will never go off-line, its system won't crash and some 30-year-old loser still living at home with his mom won't be able to go up to his room and hack his way into my book."

When I told that story to my friend Rob, he smiled and said, "Yeah, but books don't have porn sites."

Anyway, back to soccer. It's just plain wrong to think that soccer is ever going to be big here. Unless Pat Buchanan is right (and what are the odds of that happening?) and the U.S. gets overrun by Third Worlders, soccer will remain a minor curiosity. It's just not cool enough for Americans.

You always see these people on TV quoting statistics about how many kids play soccer in the U.S. and then they make the mistake of extrapolating that figure into something significant.

It's true that a lot of American kids play soccer and I think it's great. Soccer is a wonderful entry-level sport. It allows kids to run around, get some exercise, wear nice shiny uniforms and then drink sugar water out of a box or pouch. You have to admit that all those little kids look really cute wearing the knee socks and shin guards. Furthermore, several American youth soccer leagues are at the forefront in the battle against overzealous and abusive parents and fans. Some leagues even have a policy where spectators are forbidden to speak to the players or coaches during games.

All that is well and good, but the simple truth that the stat-quoters conveniently overlook is that while millions of little kids play soccer, the vast majority quit playing before they get to middle school. Even more drop out then, either quitting sports altogether or moving on (and up) to basketball, volleyball or football.

Soccer can be a fun sport to play because you can get a good workout. It's even fun to watch a couple high-school rivals go at it. But at the national and international level, it's a drag. The fans are ludicrous, the stakes are blown way out of proportion and the play is often uninspired (and uninspiring).

Mostly, I hate the fans. One of my friends lamely claimed that American football fans are equally rabid, but that's nonsense. Even the craziest American fan will be glued to the set during the playoffs, shouting at the TV, but 10 minutes after the Super Bowl is over, he'll sigh and ask, "Hey, is there a basketball game on?"

Just so you'll know, the U.S. is in the World Cup. Our team doesn't suck as badly as last time, when the U.S. finished 32nd out of 32 teams. The U.S. has a decent chance of getting past the first round, but then we'll get smacked by tourney favorite Italy, which despite having a red-white-and-green flag is known as "The (Big) Blue."

But if the U.S. team does get that far, millions of little kids will take to the soccer fields, run around for a while, then look up at their parents and say, "Can I have another juice box?"

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