Off-Topic Rant: Football

It happens at least once every World Cup- Americans pretend to give a shit about soccer. Today it happened again. What is “it,” you ask?  Read on.

Ahem...Ladies: "The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. " -US Flag Code, paragraph D.

Ahem…Ladies: “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. ” -US Flag Code, paragraph D.

Whenever multiple Americans are pretending to be interested in soccer, and particularly if they believe that there are non-soccer fans among them, at some point they will inevitably say something like this:

“You know, what we call soccer, the rest of the world calls futbol! I’m intellectual and worldly because I am pointing out this trivial American absurdity!”

Alright, the last part isn’t typically spoken allowed but it’s definitely implied. Some of you might remember an almost identical statement lampooned in the old TV animated series King of the Hill, and as it turns out that satire was spot on because I have actually heard Americans say this long after that episode appeared. The last time I saw that statement almost verbatim was during the last World Cup in 2010. Today’s rant was prompted after I saw an author repeatedly referring to football as futbol.  Still think I’m making this up? check out this Washington Post headline: “Poll: Do football fans care about today’s futbol match?” That came up simply by Googling the words “football match.”

 

For all you pretentious American soccer fans out there, no, “the world” does not call soccer “futbol.” The Spanish-speaking world calls it that. In Brazil, where I’m told football is kind of a big deal, it is “futebol”, pronounced roughly as “foo-chee-bow.” In Germany it’s Fußball. In Germany’s BFF, Poland, it’s piłka nożna(peew-ka nozhna). In Italian it’s calcio.  Yup, the whole world except stupid, cheeseburger-obliterating America calls it “futbol!” Football is the English word, for a sport invented in…wait for it…England. So here’s a tip to show how cultured you are without coming off as a pretentious fuck- Don’t make unsolicited declarations like this unless you actually bothered to check.  Unless you’re referring to football in a Spanish-speaking country, stop calling it “futbol” and just use the English term. Try that at your next party of social event and you might notice that the other guests are suddenly far less reluctant to carry on a conversation with you. Chances are they don’t give a shit about soccer anyway.

I really liked the match where they kicked the ball around and then it ended 0-0.

I really liked the match where they kicked the ball around and then it ended 0-0.

Now at this point I know I have provoked some people by my use of the term soccer. While it’s nowhere near as pretentious as the informative American “futbol” fan, I have noticed how citizens of the United Kingdom occasionally like to make snarky comments about Americans calling the game soccer instead of football. Well shit, if you didn’t want us to call the game soccer maybe you shouldn’t have invented the term.

“The rules of association football were codified in the United Kingdom by the Football Association in 1863, and the name association football was coined to distinguish the game from the other versions of football played at the time, such as rugby football. The word soccer is an abbreviation of association (from assoc.) and first appeared in universities in the 1880s. An early usage can be found in an English 1892 periodical. The word is sometimes credited to Charles Wreford Brown, an Oxford University student said to have been fond of shortened forms such as brekkers for breakfast and rugger for rugby football (see Oxford -er). Clive Toye noted “A quirk of British culture is the permanent need to familiarise names by shortening them. … Toye [said] ‘They took the third, fourth and fifth letters of Association and called it SOCcer.’”    –Wikipedia

Look, I’m not trying to launch into one of those typical American anti-soccer rants, though I do hate the tendency of players to act like they’ve been shot by a sniper every time a light breeze from an opponent passing by tickles the hair on their calves.  I acknowledge the extreme endurance it takes to play the sport, and one could see the low scoring as the inevitable by-product of being challenging. This also makes matches more unpredictable.

What gets me sometimes is the culture surrounding soccer. American sports fans can be annoying as they live vicariously through “their” teams, but that’s just it- they diversify. They tend to hold an interest in more than one sport, and isn’t unusual to find someone who religiously follows American football, basketball, hockey, and baseball all year long. You can see a by-product of this in the ever ubiquitous advertising that surrounds us. Sports-themed advertisements in the US represent all the major sports; the only time you tend to see multiple ads involving one sport is when you’re watching that particular support on TV.  When I moved to Europe that all changed. In the Czech Republic it’s not so obvious because that country has a huge hockey following that tends to balance out the football-themed advertising. But Croatia? Nothing but football.  Russia pretty much adores all sport, particularly if they happen to be playing against the US, but still most of the advertising here is football themed. Years ago I started to think that working for a European ad agency must be the easiest job in the world. Take your client’s product, and have it kicked around like a football by some famous professional players. No good? In that case anthropomorphic, computer-rendered versions of your product will be depicted scoring a goal against gingivitis, soap scum, hard-to-clean grease, or heavy flow during menstruation.

Don't let your period give you the red card!

Don’t let your period give you the red card!

One of the other many problems surrounding football soccer is the way some of its fans treat it like the World Cup is some kind of great celebration of peace, where all nations come together to play in harmony. Bullshit. Aside from the horrible things FIFA puts countries through in order to host a World Cup, soccer has a long, historical association with nationalism and even fascism. It’s just taken as a given in many countries. Just see how soccer stacks up to other sports when it comes to associations with far-right fanatics and neo-Nazis.

Sports without historical associations with nationalism or fascism

Baseball, basketball, American football, ice hockey, tennis, NASCAR racing, gymnastics, figure skating, downhill skiing, bobsledding, biathlon, curling, running, cycling, swimming

Sports with historical associations with nationalism or fascism

Association football, AKA “soccer,” AKA “Hitlerball”

Oh look, there must be a football match today! These guys just love the celebration of diversity and international harmony that the sport brings!

Oh look, there must be a football match today! These guys just love the celebration of diversity and international harmony that the sport brings!

The whole “football brings the world together in peace” thing is the reason why I loved the vuvuzelas during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

That was the last time I had to deal with the cascade of stupid pretentious comments about how football unites the world, and as soon as people heard those plastic horns they suddenly went ape-shit. All that peace and understanding went right out the window and I laughed my ass off at reading the whiny comments of British fans in particular.

Look, I don’t hate the sport itself. Frankly I don’t give a shit about spectator sports at all. I admire all forms of athletic activity. The problem tends to come from the cultures which grow up around those sports. When I look at conflicts in Eastern Europe such as that between Russia and Ukraine, I see people treating life like it’s a football match. In fact I’ve used the term “football nationalism” to describe this phenomenon for years, originally to describe the kind of nationalism one typically associates with the Balkans or former Yugoslavia. “Your” nation is your team, and all that matters is that you beat your historical rival, even if everything around you is crumbling. You’re reminded of this when you see advertisements in Russia telling you to “cheer for our own”(болей за наших); in English we’d typically say “root for our team,” highlighting the fact that it’s just a sporting event. Politics, indeed life, is not a football match. Not all Russians are on the same team, ditto for Ukrainians, ditto for everyone.

For the reader, however, I only ask for one favor. Regardless of whether you love or hate football, please, please, help stamp out the trend of English-speakers referring to it as “futbol” or claiming that it’s “actually called futbol” whenever and wherever you encounter it. Also please do the same with people whining about the use of the word “soccer.” Together, we can make a difference.

 

 

 

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