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August 2002
Our man in Minneapolis...
Simon Husbands

Simon Husbands looks at the reasons why football or 'soccer' doesn't have any impact in the USA.

Nottingham man Simon Husbands, lives and works in the USA. Below he analyses just why the USA doesn't like footy.

By Simon Husbands

So it’s all over – the dust has settled, the World Cup has been put to bed and we can all move on with our lives again, now that the roar of the crowds and the blood, sweat and tears of our soccer heros have been allowed to drift into the annals of history.

Why does the USA ignore football?

And one of those teams, a team that came out of nowhere to make it to the last 8 by playing like heroes, quietly returned home and slipped back into their normal lives.

USA fans
USA fans experience defeat in the World Cup.

The odd thing about this was that this team of heroes represents the largest and most powerful country in the world – the USA.

Where was the ticker tape welcome home parade, the flowers, the TV and celebrity? Where were all those things? Well, they simply were never bestowed. The reason? America doesn’t care for it’s national soccer sons.

Football and politics

Osama Bin Laden and I (and the rest of the world too) have something in common. A love of the game. Osama would go and watch Arsenal whenever he was in the UK. Maybe he saw the Gunners play Forest.

In the aftermath of September 11th, the videos showing Osama revealed him discussing a soccer dream where the Taleban defeated the US Soccer team, and one can’t help wondering if this might be a great way to solve differences.
Osama was probably glued to his TV set with everyone else for the cup.

Bruce Arena, US football coach
The US national football coach Bruce Arena, was unlucky not to take his team to the World Cup semi-final.

Governments all over the world know the power of soccer, and the power a game can have on the people – and so it’s odd that America couldn’t seem to care less.

I was brought up on footy. I would walk from our house in West Bridgford down to the City Ground, sometimes sneaking in at half time, sometimes sitting with my Grandpa, who was 90 years old before he gave up his season ticket.

The atmosphere was so heady, and I watched all the great heroes play – Bobby Charlton, Jimmy Greaves, George Best – and went to bed with a colour photo of the 1966 World Cup winners taped to my headboard.

I live now a long way away in a country where many many kids are brought up on football too – but I doubt any of them have a poster of the 2002 USA squad on their walls. And the reason for that is many faceted.

Reasons why

Firstly, soccer is not big business over here, simply because there are too many other sports that have risen in popularity over the years – baseball, American Football, basketball, ice hockey – all HUGE sports. If you’re a sports fan, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to be able to ‘do’ all the sports you could.

"These days, in the rest of the world, children are almost born on the soccer pitch, kicking stones and cans, and using jumpers for goalposts. Isn’t it?"
Simon Husbands

Soccer does not attract big money – and so young players with talent are not tempted to become soccer professionals. Audiences at the professional games rarely exceed 15,000 and games are not televised.

A big push by the Major League Soccer to capitalize on the World Cup does not appear to have worked – Americans did not like having to watch sweaty soccer players swapping shirts at 7 AM as they ate their breakfasts – it was unhygienic for starters – so the TV coverage became sketchy at best. The more games the team won, the less people watched!

Secondly – America likes winners. The team are not winners in the eyes of the nation – because, well most folk don’t know anything about them and they didn’t actually win anything. And for the rest of the world, the World Cup was a great chance to treat America like a second class nation.

Thirdly – Soccer in America has a reputation for being a ‘feel good’thing – rather like apple pie and sitting on the beach doing nothing. It doesn’t have that edge that baseball has, and therefore neither the audience.

Brad Friedel
The US and Blackburn Rovers goalkeeper, Brad Friedel.

There is that breed of so called ‘soccer Moms’ who spend a third of their lives watching little Brad play soccer, then packing him and the other kids off to the next game or practice in a never ending cycle of parental support and family values. Great for family, bad for business.

I spoke to a youth soccer referee here that loved soccer but knew absolutely nothing about the US side.

No audience, no money
I have met no Americans who followed the Cup except one guy I got talking to as we boarded a plane – it turned out he loved soccer, and used to be a youth soccer coach himself – a job he got into because 20 years ago no one knew how to do it, so he bought a book and taught himself how to play – how to kick, how to head, what offside was, and other things we soccer mad nations take for granted.

These days, in the rest of the world, children are almost born on the soccer pitch, kicking stones and cans, and using jumpers for goalposts. Isn’t it?

So how does America get to achieve world status in soccer? It all boils down to business, sadly. Once corporate America decides it can make money by promoting soccer, then it will happen – but it’s a catch 22 situation.

Talented US players need the higher wages and competition in their own homeland (a quarter of the US World Cup soccer squad play for British teams – there are only 10 professional teams in the US, recently reduced from 12!), and they need to be able to face the rest of the world with their heads held high.

Until the financial backing for wages and training and the whole hoopla of Soccer happens here, players are going to look to other countries or even other sports to give them the jobs they want – sadly, even after their performance in the World Cup, Big Business may still not care. Who wants to promote a loser?

So whilst kids in Bridgford will grow up hearing the sound of the crowd as Forest knock one into the back of the net, kids in the US play their soccer games in front of their Moms and Dads, counting down the time until they either give up playing or become seduced by baseball or American Football. The American Dream does not yet include soccer.

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