24 May 2006

Why England?

It's a question I get asked a lot, usually right after "why soccer?" I grew up in Texas -- I was supposed to love the other football, the one with linebackers and four quarters and the marching band coming out in silly hats to play the halftime show. I was born and raised in a town that lived for all that; my dad always fell asleep to the Cowboys game on Sunday afternoons. But for me, it never really took. People explained the whole first-down thing to me again and again, but it just slipped from my brain like Algebra II. So people hear I like soccer, they get a little bit confused. They hear England, they get even more confused. And the question is always "why?" Why soccer, why England, why not the USA?

Well, the answer to those is really linked. I fell in love with this sport during the 2002 World Cup, and England is the team that made that happen. I got sucked into the whole Group of Death, especially the Greek drama surrounding England/Argentina. I learned about the Hand of God and Beckham's red card in 1998, and started to figure out just what stoppage time and the offsides rule were all about. I needed a team to follow, to obsess about and record their matches, and England provided that for me. I got into soccer because of England; in focusing on them, I learned to love the sport. And here we are today. (Liverpool came a little bit later, when I figured out where Michael Owen played in the regular season. Yeah, it's not really the best reason, but it stuck.) The two can't really be separated in my mind -- I can love other teams, like Spain, but England will always be my first love. And, like every horrible romantic comedy teaches us, you never forget your first love.

A lot of times, though, when people say "Why England?", they're really asking "Why not the US?" I've been told, in all seriousness, that I must be a bad American or hate my country if I didn't cheer for their soccer team. And, my political leanings aside, I more often than not cheer for the US to fail internationally. I'll be thrilled if the US don't make it out of their group this summer. This isn't because I hate America, loathe Landon Donovan, or anything like that. It's really because every single bit of soccer coverage in this country is like "YOU MUST LOVE THE US OR PERISH." There's also a mile-wide inferiority complex that the team and the media try to cover up by pointing to the FIFA ranking and how a lot of the players play in Europe now, so, you know, they must be good now. Well, um, or not. That aside, though, I don't do well when things are shoved down my throat. Tell me I have to like something, and I'll probably not like it, just to prove a point. (Yes, I was a difficult child.) So, it's really nothing wrong with the US on its own terms. I just resent the hell out of everyone on ESPN telling me that I need to support the US in order to be a good American. England's been my favorite team for as long as I've been a fan, and nothing that anyone can say will change that for me. Try to convert me all you want, but the best you're going to get is a smile and an "uh-huh." And on a bad day, I'll call you a dumbass.

And really, if someone like Nick Hornby can decide to switch teams, why not?


kebmodee said...

hey man, i grew up in texas too but i still support the us team despite the atrocious soccer coverage. for tonight's game, balboa was alright but dave o'brien was crap, pretty much as you describe. there are good american or at least american sounding announcers on fox sports world but espn goes with shite announcers regularly. hence, i watch lots of soccer in spanish. take it easy and enjoy the cup!

ynba said...

Yeah, I wish my Spanish was better; it would probably make watching games a lot less painful. I hope they don't have O'Brien doing a lot of commentary during the World Cup. As much as I make fun of their Champions League commentators, they're a little bit better. No matter what, I'm definitely going to enjoy the Cup, don't worry. ;)

Lever said...

How strange is that? I asked Why America?

Funny thing is that I supported England as a kid before realising that I was born in Scotland and grew up in England. So my own loyalties were torn as I tried to support Scotland against overwhleming English odds. But now I've succumbed to the fact that I am just SO damned English that I can't get away from it :)

Oh, and I'm a West Ham supporter too >:| ;)

And thx to my friend Scrawl who emailed me the link to your post :)

ynba said...

Hee. I suppose it's easier to avoid the US team here, since most media only cares about once every four years, if that often. Great post on your blog -- have I seen you commenting on Deadspin before?

(Don't tell anyone, but I kinda like West Ham, too. They were awesome in the FA Cup final.)

Lever said...

Yeah, you lot have your soccer and your football all mixed up ;) If you do well in this World Cup I'm sure the sport will get a bit more attention :)

Deadspin? Mmmm, probably not, but I dunno, I do get around a bit :)

It's OK, all the Liverpool fans gave us a masive amount of credit for that match - since we were relegated 3 years ago, we lost our class players (Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Jermain DeFoe, Glen Johnson) and we've only just come back up with players who were in teams that were only good enough for the 1st division (what used to be the old 3rd then 2nd division) Until we paid GBP7M for Dean Ashton, the others were all "bargain bucket" footballers, so we did OK considering :)