It’s football time again. No not that pointy ended American football, the round type we call soccer and the entire rest of the world calls football, because the primary way of interacting with the ball is with your foot. Being one of those guys who usually identifies sports by the equipment, the difference between Football and Voetbal seemed obvious to me.
Voetbal hasn’t caught on much in America. We call it Soccer, and while we do have a league of teams that draw more fans than the entire populations of other World Cup nations, it suffers from being associated with political correctness. Soccer was popular with the political correctness movement in the 90s, because games often ended in a draw, and “everybody won.” Not enough people were good at the game, so there was the equality of mediocrity. Individual merit won out in the end, “winning” could not lose its appeal in a nation built on competition.
American football is a brutal sport, analogous to war. Each play has a defined beginning and ending, every movement designed to move the ball from one end of the field in a straight line to the other end. This might explain why America has done so poorly in wars during the last half of the twentieth century. The path to victory is rarely a straight line.
American football is the source of injuries on a routine basis, but studies are indicating that head butting a soccer ball does as much damage as head butting another player. Both teams have eleven players, but the dimensions of a soccer field are more flexible than an American football field, FIFA rules allow a length between 90 and 120 meters (100 to 130 yards) and a width of 45 to 90 meters (50 to 100 yards). Were it me, I would train on a larger field to improve endurance. Just sayin, England…
Fans (derived from the word “fanatic”) are probably similar everywhere, my limited experience with fans of American football turned my lack of interest in the game even more sour. There is a rivalry between Philadelphia (The Eagles) and Dallas (The Cowboys), but my disinterest in the sport prevented me from noticing when I first moved to Philadelphia. Over the years I picked up on it, another Philly thing, hatred taking the place of jealousy over the Cowboys’ winning record. One afternoon my companions’ son was watching a football game (I was cooking) and I heard him cheering. I asked if the Eagles had scored, and he said no, a player for the Cowboys had broken his leg. The Eagles were not even playing the Cowboys, he had seen the news on the ticker across the bottom of the screen, and it evoked more joy than his own team scoring a goal. I can not fathom that level of being a fan.
Emma, having been born in Philadelphia, was a natural fan of the Eagles, but on the odd instances we watched a Cowboys game that did not include the Eagles, she would cheer the Cowboys. Most of our friends knew our origins, and also knew my lack of interest in sports, but on the days the Eagles played the Cowboys they acknowledged the difficulties (which did not exist) in our household.
A survey by the New York Times showed an interesting aspect of football fans. Of the nineteen countries surveyed, sixteen (84%) thought Brazil would win. Americans thought America would win, displaying not only American nationalism, but also a lack of understanding of the game and our place in it. We also display our level of self loathing, as America is the team most Americans will be rooting against (actually a very tight race there, with only 5% against America being the highest total of nineteen possibilities).
All of these issues culminate this afternoon, as Belgium and America face each other in the World Cup. With sixteen teams left, it was a surprise America could make it this far, and a twist of fate they would be playing against Lieve’s home country. Not that either of us are vested in football (futbal, voetbal, soccer…), but we will likely go out and watch the game. Americans are not terribly interested (and will lose all interest if the American team loses), so there is a good chance we won’t be the only ones cheering the Belgian team.
Our biggest challenge is finding a bar that will have the game on with a good selection of Belgian beers…