Why I Get No Kick Out Of Soccer

Confession: I borrowed this headline from a 1990 newspaper column by the late, great Lewis Grizzard. Though he gave his readers hundreds of wonderful columns over the course of his career, many of which I’ve kept on file for times when I need a smile, this one was among his best.

“There are only three final scores in soccer,” he wrote. “They are 0-0, 1-0 and in a real scoring orgy 1-1.” “If soccer were an American soft drink, it would be Diet Pepsi.” And “Being able to bounce a ball off one’s head isn’t that impressive. I’ve seen countless seals do the same thing on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’”

Now that’s funny.

I can’t help but wonder what Lewis would say about the 2014 World Cup frenzy. “The USA has finally fallen in love with soccer,” the pundits proclaimed. Many added that it’s about time we became fans of the world’s most popular sport.

So I tried. I really did.

It’s not that I’d never seen a professional soccer game on TV. For some reason I can’t quite understand, my son James—who as a kid played almost every sport except soccer—has become a huge fan. The television set in his home is often tuned to the soccer channel. (I take some small comfort in the fact that he’s willing to switch to the Braves game if I ask.)

Unfortunately, because James lives a hundred miles away, he wasn’t around to explain the nuances, or even the rules, of soccer during the World Cup.

For starters, I had no idea what FIFA stands for. I know TSSAA, NCAA, SEC, MLB, NBA, NFL, PGA, NASCAR and several other important sports acronyms, but—try as I might—I couldn’t figure out why the name of a soccer organization didn’t have an “S” in it. Google, as usual, had the answer. Federation Internationale de Football Association. Alrighty then.

Until I watched the World Cup, I wasn’t aware that the clock in soccer ticks up rather than down. Each 45-minute half starts with the clock at zero. Meaning that you have to be good at subtraction if you want to know how much time is left in the game. And here’s another strange rule. The clock in soccer never stops. Not for injuries, substitutions, water breaks or anything else. The referee keeps an estimate of “stoppage time” in his head and then adds it, in round numbers, to the end of each half.

Apparently, it’s okay for some soccer games to end in a tie, but those that can’t go into “extra” time, not overtime. If it’s still a tie after that, they resort to something called a penalty shootout. I never stuck around long enough to watch that segment of any of the World Cup games. It was way more fun to sit under a tree and watch grass grow.

“Yeah but,”…soccer enthusiasts say. Soccer is a great sport because all the players are lean and fit. And fans can tell what players look like because they don’t have helmets or caps hiding their faces. There aren’t many TV commercials during a soccer game. And–here’s the biggie–soccer must be wonderful because more people play it than any other sport in the world.

I have counterpoints to all those arguments. Good ones. But, as so often happens, my allotted seventeen column inches are used up. So I’ll leave it at this. I’m with you, Lewis Grizzard. I get no kick out of soccer either.

(July 20, 2014)

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