UK Soccer Kicks the USA’s Balls
After Spain lifted the World Cup in July to bring the tournament to an end, you could hear Americans let out a collective sigh of relief. “That was cool,” they said, “but one month of soccer every four years sounds about right.” When it comes to the game the rest of the world calls football, some sports fans in the States just don’t get it. We have our own football, a distinctly American brand of sport that reflects the values and tendencies of our society: violence, immediacy and commercial breaks that allow us to get up and grab more food. The NFL reigns supreme over the sporting landscape in this country, so it’s no surprise that soccer hasn’t been able to achieve sustained success here. Regardless, the World’s Game offers an interesting critique of the way sports are run in the States, particularly in relation to the role that we as fans play in an industry that depends so much on us.England’s Premier League is the most watched sports league in the world. Over half a billion people worldwide tune in every week to watch some of soccer’s best teams and players compete against each other. The clubs have names like Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa, and play their games in places called Anfield and Stamford Bridge. Many of these stadiums have existed since the early 20th century, and the atmosphere they provide is breathtaking. Each club has a distinct identity characterized by the passionate songs their fans sing in unison on match days. It’s an impressive sight even on television, so you could imagine how intimidating it must be for the visiting opposition. In America, it used to be that, as sports fans, we too were attaining a genuine communal experience behind one regional or civic entity. But those days are long gone.
Take the NFL. New “state-of-the-art” stadiums have been built at an astounding rate. While these facilities enhance revenues, their designs often rob teams of any real home field advantage. Luxury boxes and suites are prioritized over proximity to the playing field, and astronomical ticket prices have forced out many of the most passionate, working-class fans. Stadium naming rights are also sold, leaving fans to forge emotional bonds with places called FedEx Field and Gillette Stadium. In America, sports fans have been reduced to mere consumers, and the teams they support mere commodities. Sure, the owners strive to win championships; but then again, nothing boosts a team’s value more than success. As for fans whose teams haven’t been blessed with such custodians, well, they’re indefinitely held for ransom. This is exactly why soccer has developed such a cult following in the States.
When the American owners of the club I support, Liverpool FC, were threatening to drag the team into bankruptcy protection and effectively doom it to irrelevancy, rather than selling their stake and accepting an offer that didn‘t meet their unrealistic financial demands, Liverpool supporters raised their voices. They staged protests before and after matches, chanted, “You Yank bastards, get out of our club!” at every opportunity, and wrote e-mails en masse to the Royal Bank of Scotland demanding they not permit any extensions on the club’s loans. The Americans couldn’t show their faces in Liverpool at the risk of serious bodily harm. Sure enough, when they were looking to refinance their loans last month, they were denied by the banks and forced to sell. Liverpool fans got their wish. Is such a scenario even feasible in the present landscape of American sports?
Indeed, many in England fear the Premier League may go the way of the NFL, with ticket prices escalating and several clubs developing plans for potential new stadiums. Just as American sports fans would do well to appreciate the values of the Beautiful Game, soccer fans around the world must not allow the negative qualities prevalent in our sports here to rob their own competitions of their distinct identities.