Sunday, June 22, 2014

Watching Football in America

English football fans in Atlanta are a bit of a rarity.  There do not seem to be too many of us here.  Perhaps that is a good thing. The barmy army of beered up louts, cheering on the national side, are a nasty social by-product of our society, and not really suitable for export

Being an Englishman in Atlanta many Americans want to chat about England's chances in the 2014 World Cup.  They know that we Brits are loopy about "soccer." Last week, an American writer asked why we don't have a "Team UK like Team USA." I fixed him with a rugged stare and growled that such a thing would never be possible in the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 


Cheslea Supporter: the late Tony Banks

The late Tony Banks, when Sports Minister in the government of Tony Blair, put forward the ludicrous idea of a Team UK. He was promptly shouted down by the drunken, brain dead louts of our sceptered isleWould a Team UK mean more success at international level? Not bloody likely. Best to keep it tribal, and so it's England all the way.


Italy 2 England 1


England's performance in the 2014 World Cup this tournament? Where to begin: we didn't play too well in our opening game against Italy, did we?  The England team liked kicking the ball in that spot behind the goal WAY too much (how about that lousy corner by Wayne Rooney in the second half?) We always go into every international tournament with high expectations and false hopes.  The last time we were any good was Italy in 1990. England win the 2014 tournament?  Dream on, sunshine, what have you been drinking? But, if we did, it would have been the biggest stroke south of the border since the Falklands conflict of 1982.



In the great scheme of things, and unfair game of life, this Englishman in Atlanta doesn't really give two hoots about 11 multimillionaires kicking a leather ball for 90 minutes (plus stoppages).   I am more concerned about the referendum in Scotland on September 18th.  We might not have a United Kingdom for very much longer. And, if Scotland does become an independent country, we might even have to change our national flag. Crisis in the homeland has occupied my waking thoughts the last few months in the USA, not the chances of England making it to the quarter or semi finals of the 2014 World Cup


From the Ladybird book "The Story of Football" (1964).


But I too-and-fro because I can't let go of the subject that easily. Most Americans that I have spoken to about the 2014 World Cup express disbelief that England lost their opening game (against Italy, a side we haven't beaten since 1977). And that they won, against Ghana, a bogey team who have beaten Team USA on two previous, crucial encounters. It really is a world turned upside down.




  Team USA on the TV set at the local pub is an amusing spectacle. Propped up on the long, black Formica laminate, sucking beer tits with the paunchy and the putrid, it is quite obvious, even to an armchair expert like myself, that Yanks don't have a Danny La Rue about Football.


Man on (or whatever they say in soccer)

"Whoa! Two great touchdowns! A big win for the gipper and home run for Team USA in World Cup 2014!" The television viewing figures are up and "soccer" is finally getting some decent traction in the USA. Because of the structure, and length, of the noble game, there is no crazy advertising to blight the play, breaking up the action the way it often does with gridiron and baseball. No wonder they hate "soccer" in America, it's bad for advertising.



It's not really a game for girls anymore. Football, or soccer as they say out here, is practically mainstream. Up until 1975, "soccer" did not really exist in the US of A. That was the year when Pele got signed by the New York Cosmos. The Brazilian was brought in to raise the profile of the game.  The North American Soccer League, however, folded 10 years later in 1985. Footie in the USA had a revival when they hosted the tournament in 1994 (when England failed to qualify). But the country's professional league did not capitalize on hosting the tournament and Major League Soccer almost went under. But what puts a sport on the map is action and there were milestones for the American game. Making it to the quarter finals of the 2002 World Cup and Landon Donovan's last minute goal against Algeria in 2010. Now, in another thrilling chapter in the history of the American game, they have drawn 2-2 against Portugal. They go on, and we go home. How is that possible?


Team USA's tasty fans


I remain haunted by our exit from the 2014 World Cup. I was in the pub last Thursday to see it happen. I arrived five minutes into England vs Uruguay.  There is another Englishman at the bar, another English football fan in Atlanta!  It is quite obvious that he is English.  He is clad in ankle length Union Jack socks, a Number 10 Geoff Hurst red football shirt and has an England cap with a crusader's cross.  



Rooney's ball whizzes past the post. Then his header ricochets off the bar.   The same old bloody story. Luis Suarez from LFC scores.  Rooney FINALLY scores. Suarez scores again. Uruguay 2 England 1.


"We might be out of the cup," said the man from Suffolk, getting up to leave, "I can't take any more of this."  


Then Costa Rica beats Italy in our group.  And England go out, once again. So much for our chances in Brazil but at least I spotted another English football fan, in the pub no less, at large and loud in Atlanta.