Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Soccer 'boring' only to those who don't know the game

Every four years, people around the world watch the World Cup tournament. Americans call the game soccer; to the rest of the world, it is football.

Many Americans call it something else: boring. Among them are journalists – including some who work here at the TH. (In his column the other day, Ken Brown took his shots at the game.) They admit that they don’t know much about the game. Then they go ahead and prove it by writing about it.

I don’t expect to change any minds by offering a contrary opinion, just as I hope that viewers and potential participants won’t be turned off by their criticism.

(If there is criticism to be dispensed, start with the United States’ lackluster performance in a 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic on Monday.)

I first attended a soccer game 30 years ago, but I really started to pay attention to the game in the late 1980s, when my older son signed up for the local American Youth Soccer Organization program. I volunteered to officiate, and I expanded my involvement from there. Officiating remains a hobby.

American criticism is nothing recent.

In 1967, sports columnist Jim Murray told his readers, “Soccer is a game in which everyone does a lot of running around. Twenty-one guys stand around and one guy does a tap dance with the ball.”

In 1994, Chicago columnist Mike Royko dismissed the global popularity of the game: “All that proves is that most of the world is too poor to build bowling alleys, golf courses, tennis courts and baseball fields. There's hundreds of millions of poor people out there who still ain't got indoor plumbing, but that don't mean there's something great about an outhouse. Soccer is boring. I've never seen a more boring sport.”

The common complaint is that soccer is low-scoring.

To those who don’t know much (or anything) about the game, that criticism is predictable. There is more to the game than scoring. In soccer, the athletes do play defense.

Do the critics just want to see the scoreboard numbers spin like the display on a slot machine or gasoline pump?

If it requires many scores to hold your attention, then soccer is not your game. Arena football, perhaps? I read that the championship game on Sunday was a 69-61 nail-biter.

However, while some of the critics are suggesting the game is a cure for insomnia, more and more kids are getting involved in soccer and enjoying the game. What is boring about that?

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