For many Americans, the World Cup is always half empty. Football, or as we actually call it “soccer” does not have the same status in the US as it does in most other parts of the world. During any of the “Cups,” my indifference to soccer adds one more measure of distance between me and, well, everyone else in Croatia.
In the rest of the world soccer is played by the poorest of the poor. This makes sense given all you need to play the game is a ball, point A and point B. No fancy equipment is required. Yet, in the US, soccer is largely a white, suburban sport. We even have the national caricature of the “soccer mom” which is typically a white, suburban woman, middle class, who drives her kids to soccer practice and soccer games in a large SUV.
It’s for Babies and Babes
Soccer in the US is a sport for little kids and girls. The idea of football hooligans and tough football fan clubs is a little bit amusing from an American perspective. Our major fans are parents cheering their seven-year-olds on at the sidelines of some field on an early Saturday morning: to go cups of coffee in hand, blankets to battle the October chill, and folding lawn chairs to sit on. Or it conjures a team of suburban girl high-schoolers. Terrifying. Bad Blue Boys? In the US it would be more like the Bad Blue Babies, or the Bad Blue Babes.
For Americans soccer is just too simple to be considered a proper sport. We like to complicate our leisure activities. Look at baseball. Soccer’s rules are easy: kick the ball into the goal and score. Whoever gets the most points wins. Now Baseball: the pitcher pitches the ball, the batter can swing and A) hit the ball; B) miss, in which case it’s a strike, and three strikes are allowed; C) not swing, determining the pitch is out of bounds in which case it’s a ball. And you get four of those. What? And I didn’t even mention scoring, outs or innings.
And a Touchdown
America’s true national past time is American football, a game that is rarely played with one’s feet and with what could barely be called a ball. This game is complicated: there are things called downs, a line of scrimmage, and big beefy dudes bashing into each other. Not too mention points are scored in intervals of six for some reason. Except the extra point, that’s only worth one. Huh? Exactly.
An Elegant Game
Though many of my compatriots see soccer as too simple, one thing I’ve learned to appreciate after living Croatia over the years, is the game’s elegance. The constant flow between the two teams, the ball being batted back and forth, back forth creates a quiet, rising tension. Not unlike that of a couple who has yet to kiss for the first time. The ball dances dangerously close to the goal, hesitates, moves back, comes forward again, until finally: SCORE! In that moment you are awash with sweet relief and heart-swelling triumph.
And since soccer is almost meaningless in the US, it causes me no moral dilemmas or divided sense of duty supporting Croatia in Brazil this year.
A hrvatski zet raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I am frequently shocked, confused, and pleasantly surprised about the differences between life in America and life in Croatia. This blog is an attempt to understand many of those differences. As a member of the English staff of the International Program of Croatian Radio - on the Voice of Croatia, I’m hoping to explain Croatia to the English speaking community, and maybe explain some of the English speaking world to Croatians. I also write another blog with similar themes called Zablogreb.