Fourteen months ago, after witnessing plenty of banter on my Twitter feed, I plunged into the world of soccer. Soccer has become my favorite sport to follow because of the multitude of things happening off the field. Now, with the World Cup right around the corner, I would like to share fourteen items that make soccer one of the most intriguing events out there.
Rivalry is Everything One of the aspects I like the most about European soccer are the fierce rivalries between intra-city clubs. It’s something I wish more Americans had the opportunity to enjoy. Only denizens of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have turf wars over which city street belongs to whom. Many other Americans have intra-state competitions but these require drives over long distances.
More Than a Club Clubs have been a rallying point for oppressed groups. Take Barcelona, for instance. “More than a club” is the organization’s motto. The motto was most evident during Franco’s rule over Spain. Even though the Nationalist regime suppressed Catalan language and culture, the club’s successes served as a symbol of resistance to the government.
Between the Rock and a Hard Place One of the most intriguing stories to emerge from world soccer was Gibraltar’s entry to UEFA. For nearly a decade, Spain’s soccer authority had denied the British territory entry into European soccer. The government of Spain has felt that the United Kingdom stole the Rock away from her. However, common sense prevailed and UEFA admitted Gibraltar, although the body promised to keep Spain and Gibraltar as far away as possible.
It’s All Politics, Including the Ugly Politics European soccer grows in popularity across the world, which has led to an influx of foreign investment. However, some of those who make financial stakes in soccer clubs do not share Western values. For example, Atletico Madrid has a partnership with Azerbaijan, the so-called “Land of Fire.” However, Atletico’s success highlighted Azerbaijan’s failure to uphold human rights. FreedomHouse graded the “Land of Fire” poorly in the way the government treated its citizens.
Philadelphia Fans Are Nowhere as Bad I think Philadelphia fans are owed an apology by anyone who calls them the worst in sports. Yes, there are violent incidents involving, in particular Eagles fans. However, many NFL fans across the United States are guilty of these practices. But this climate pales compared to what European fans have committed (again, just a subset of the overall community).
Relegation Is Where the Fun Is I was more interested in relegation than promotion in the Premier League this season. It’s something I wish that American sports had. (Why are the Houston Astros, Florida Panthers et al. still here?)
US Supporters Clubs Across major US cities, there are supporters clubs of European teams. In Philadelphia, there are supporters of English, Scottish, German and Italian clubs. I attended a few Champions League matches with the Manchester City Supporters at The Bard’s in Philadelphia.
Hey, What Happened to Lacrosse? A few years ago, I expected lacrosse to become the fifth major sport in North America. Major League Lacrosse brought a team to Philadelphia, and we’ve all seen the Halloween costumes for lax bros. So what happened to lacrosse? Why aren’t ESPN, NBC Sports and Fox Sports 1 fighting over MLL rights? The Barrage folded and the City of Brotherly Love does not have an outdoor lacrosse team. It does have an MLS team. Speaking of which…
Local Governments Sometimes Make Bad Decisions Field of Schemes details some of the problems the City of Chester has faced since the Philadelphia Union came to town. The MLS squad hasn’t revitalized the impoverished municipality like the city was promised. This is in addition to abandoned construction projects.
Ain’t No Such Thing As a UK National The United Kingdom is the largest country without a national soccer team. The absence is so bizarre, Wikipedia even has an article dedicated to its nonexistence. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland deeply oppose integrating themselves with England. During the London Olympics, England competed as Great Britain, with no players from the other Home Nations.
Just One Goal Can Make a Tournament Tahiti lost to Nigeria 6-1 at last year’s Confederations Cup. However, “for Tahiti it was cause for joy.” The national team is in the bottom half of the world rankings, and was the smallest team to participate in the tournament. To score a single goal in an international contest was and remains the high point of soccer for the Pacific island nation.
Kent Brockman Must Have Been On Ambien The Simpsons writers mocked the beautiful game as being too dull in a 1997 episode. The scene is an archaic stereotype of American views as now the sport has become more popular in the Land of the Free. And it appears the football community has forgiven our favorite animated family. Seventeen years later, FIFA and FOX partnered in an episode where Homer became a referee at the 2014 World Cup. (Yes, the Simpsons did return to Brazil.)
Let’s Get Real It’s pronounced ray-Al. “Real” is the Spanish word for “royal.” In 1920, the King of Spain gave the Madrid Football Club his blessing to use the adjective. (Side note: I had no idea there was a King of Utah.)
Israel Plays in UEFA The Israel Football Association has been affiliated with UEFA since 1994. Middle Eastern politics drove Israel from the Asian Football Confederation in the 1970s, and the national team spent time competing against Oceania squads before aligning itself with Europe.