It was a pretty chilly day in the month of March. The rain was pouring down at a steady pace, making the weather even colder. It was a perfect day to sit inside and enjoy a cup of coffee while watching your favorite show but not for my roommate and me. We were already running around the intramural fields warming up for our game later that night which was cancelled later due to “bad weather conditions”. It had never actually happened before, but whatever. Although it was freezing, we still practiced. While I was taking some practice shots at the goal, trying to find a way to beat my friend standing in the middle of the goal post, a girl drove past by us on the adjacent street shouting at the top of her lungs, “SOCCER SUCKS”. Now I didn’t have any problem with that, but I did want to tell her, “It’s not soccer girl, its football.”
I was raised in a land where cricket is a religion (no, it is not like Baseball!), and cricket players who played for the national team are treated like Gods. People really pray to the other 3 million Gods in India for them to win every game they play. So in this cricket-frenzy nation, I have no idea when football started to grow in my life. I have tried most sports and the reason I started loving football at an early age is because it is beautiful. All we need to play football is a ball and some imagination, that’s it. No pads, no equipment, no specialized fields, nothing – not even shoes! It’s the purest of all sports. We can play it anywhere, anytime with anything around. It is a game that can spontaneously erupt based on the desire to play, and that is the reason I started loving it at an early age. Even though India has never qualified for the FIFA world cup and will never be able to do it in next 50 years, it still became an important part of my life.
After moving to America to pursue my higher studies, I came across the American Football, and as a sports enthusiast, I liked the game. It took my uncle a lot of effort to make me understand every small detail of the game, but it was all worth it. However, there was one thing that really surprised me. Americans don’t like football (or soccer). I tried to find the reason behind it, and got some responses, but most of them made no sense to me! Then I realized that they didn’t hate football, they were just ignorant.
Some of the arguments that I was included in were:
- Soccer is for little sissy boys
That’s the argument that I heard most from the people I talked to. Soccer players dive and act like they are hurt. They’re not real men. All I could do at this response was laugh! Trust me; anyone who has ever played soccer knows soccer players don’t prance around like divas, shying away from the physical contact. The amount of pulling, elbowing, physical and verbal abuse is a lot. Moreover, it’s not a sport that’s about physical contact. Since when did sports start to be all about showing physical strength? The amounts of physical injuries I’ve personally had while playing soccer are too many to keep track of. It’s no pads, no protection. All-out war. That’s soccer’s answer. You wear protection.
- Soccer is boring
When a game ends with a score of 0-0, you can understand why someone would call it boring. But putting a point on the scoreboard in soccer is much harder to come by. Players will get hacked, fouled, shoved, and then they still have to have their wits about them enough to shoot and score. When a goal is scored, it’s a cause for a celebration. But the reason doesn’t just lie in how uncommon scoring might be. It’s all about patiently trying to break the opponent’s defense while preventing them from scoring. The breakthrough may happen at any moment in the 90 minutes that a game is played. Imagine a loose ball is bouncing around in your team’s penalty area, and your heart is pounding and your eyes are wide with anticipation. There’s a small respite as relief sets in when you see the ball getting cleared. And that same anticipation grips you when your team has a good scoring opportunity for themselves. It’s such a high level of tension that when they do score, the emotional outburst is greater that it is for any other sport.
Not to offend anybody, but I personally think American football is just a commercialized sport which includes 5% action and 95% standing around waiting for the commercials to end. I agree it takes a lot of creativity for the passes to be completed, it is a very tactical game, there’s a lot of scoring going on around the whole game, and it takes a lot of physical strength to play the game at its best, but in my opinion, it can never match the majesty of Wayne Rooney’s overhead kick, the dazzling dribble of Ryan Giggs, the perfection of a David Beckham pass, or the proof, in Lionel Messi, that a small man can fly with the angels. To make an opponent fall takes brute force; to outwit him with your feet requires genius. Plus, it’s all the more pleasurable if you can see his face.
The sense of nationalism that Soccer creates cannot be matched. The World Cup is an event that any country has the opportunity to play in, and it brings various cultures and peoples from around the world together. First and foremost, soccer is the most popular sport around the world. It’s a celebration of enjoying the same sport no matter what country a person hails from. Moreover, it’s the only sport where the best team can lose. In this game, no team is more powerful than the other. Best example would be Ghana beating USA in the World Cup twice. This is the game where poor countries can prove their point and leave an impression on the world. And to do that, it definitely takes really good skills.
Bouncing a ball with your hands is natural. Catching a ball with your hands is natural. Try it with your chest, knee or foot. Not easy! That’s because controlling a ball with the feet is much more challenging as it is not a natural body movement. Therefore, it takes a lot of patience to be able to do even some of the simpler things in soccer, like passing or shooting properly. When you see a pro-football player making an amazing catch, it’s true it would be difficult to replicate, but it’s possible. However, trying to replicate some of the quick-footed juggles that pro-soccer players do would be downright impossible, even for some seasoned soccer players. In addition to that, every man on the pitch while playing soccer has to be in his best physical condition. They go for 90 minutes or longer, running the entire time without any breaks. American football is 60 minutes. Theoretically, the players only play half the time since offenses and defenses change out. Furthermore, a play in football lasts around 5-10 seconds. Once it’s over, players get to rest for around 30 seconds. However, by the fourth quarter of a football game, often times you can see fatigue in the players. While they are also tired in soccer matches, the players still play, and with just 3 substitutions allowed in the whole game, the best players are strong until the very end. Just to sum this up, Matt Damon said in one his movie, “Any moron with a pack of matches can start a fire. Raining down sulfur takes a huge level of endurance. Mass genocide is the most exhausting activity one can engage in…next to soccer.”
When the players put so much effort to take their game to the next level, how can the fans be behind? The Super Bowl may have an astonishing figure of 100 million viewers in the last game, but the UEFA Champions League Final’s viewership crossed the 500 million mark in 2012 that was played in Munich. American football games are fun to attend. I personally went to every home game this season. People are pretty obsessed with their teams, and it shows. But compared to soccer, football atmospheres are nothing. I’m not saying this. It shows even when you see those games being played. The thing soccer fans do differently is singing their team’s chants. It creates an intimate moment between the fans as they come together as a single, strong voice to cheer their team on to victory. Not only chants, soccer fans are the most creative fans around the world. Their creativity can be seen in the way they all come together to represent their team in the stadiums. And don’t forget about the soccer hooligans. Cannons, smoke flares, drums and outrageous enthusiasm. This is how every international and league soccer game is played.
When talking about fans, how can one not talk about the number of female fans that soccer has? Well, there’s a solid reason for that. Soccer has the most attractive athletes! If a questionnaire was handed to every woman in the world which asked who the sexiest male athlete is, chances are that David Beckham of England and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo would dominate the list. The thing about soccer is, it doesn’t drastically change a person’s appearance other than allowing the person to be in his top cardiovascular condition. So unlike football, you don’t have to put on weight or be super tall. Soccer simply has regular guys and girls at their peak of physical conditioning.
That’s the reason why soccer is the most popular sport in every country. Seeing Europeans, Africans, Asians and Americans play against each other makes one think that, despite of the differences, they are all the same. They all have the same understanding of the game that no amount of economic progress, technological advancement or population size can correlate to the probability of being crowned champions. That’s the beauty of soccer. Players of different backgrounds and cultures express themselves in one language on the field, the language of the beautiful game.
And it’s not soccer, its football.