By Jason Menard
With the World Cup final upon us and dozens of games in the books, I can comfortably state one thing – soccer fever may be rampant, but try as I might, I appear to be immune to its effects.
I have watched several of the World Cup contests to date. Sorry, let me change that. I have attempted to watch several of the World Cup contests and I have been successful at enduring several consecutive minutes of action on a semi-regular basis.
Note I said enduring, not enjoying.
I have seen great feats of individual skill. I have viewed displays of dexterity and footwork that are so beyond my ability to perform that I stumbled off the couch just thinking about how they were done.
I have seen crisp and beautiful displays of passing and teamwork. I have witnessed elation and utter dejection.
And still I don’t care.
In addition to all of that, I’ve seen long stretches of nothing. Back and forth play in the midfield with nothing resembling a chance. I’ve heard announcers work themselves into an apoplectic lather praising a shot that ended up 13 rows in the stands. I’ve seen grown men drop to the ground like they were shot by a sniper, rolling around in apparent death throes after being gently brushed by an opposing defender.
It’s safe to say I’ve seen the best and the worst that soccer has to offer. And still it doesn’t move me.
The sad thing is that I really, really wanted to be affected by this sport. After all, this is not just a game – it’s a veritable religion for millions, if not billions, of people all around the world. There has to be a reason that this sport incites such a passion – I just can’t find it. Try as I might.
I have posed this question to others and, inevitably, I receive the answer, “Well, you’re Canadian.” This coming from second and third-generation Canadians themselves who suddenly have felt the tug of the motherland’s apron strings. Those same second and third-generation people are ignoring the travails of the Italian team and wrapping themselves in the red and white when Olympic hockey is on. But I digress.
Apparently soccer is a birthright and if you’re not born into the culture, then you can’t appreciate the sport. And there are two problems with that. One, I was somewhat born into the culture. My grandfather played soccer and was an avid fan. Secondly, if that truly is the case, then soccer has a huge marketing and branding problem and will probably never penetrate the North American market.
Successful sports continue to grow and attract new fans. The survival of a sport is based upon its appeal to a wide variety of sports enthusiasts. I wasn’t born into a football culture. I watched the CFL with varying degrees of interest, but I didn’t consider myself passionate about the sport. Now I do. I learned to love it. I quickly became enamoured with its intricacies and ground-level challenges. And, for a long-time hockey fan, I learned to love a sport played on grass almost as much as the one played on ice.
So why couldn’t I learn to love soccer? There’s no field on my birth certificate that indicates which sports I’m genetically or ethnically predisposed to, and I enjoy all sorts of sports – those that I was brought up with and those that I acquired a taste for later. So why is soccer different? Or are the fans simply elitist?
Even playing the sport doesn’t necessarily incite a long-term passion for the game. Since the 1970s we’ve heard how soccer is the Next Big Thing in Canada. Generations of Canadian youth have taken to the pitch to engage in a low-cost alternative to hockey and baseball. They’ve played the game and, by all rights, should be fans of the game on the professional level. But that’s just not the case. Most kids aren’t watching Premier League soccer on their off hours. They’re enamoured with the same sports: hockey, basketball, baseball, and football.
In the end, I’ll just have to face the fact that I’m not a soccer fan and never will be. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I still feel that there’s a big party out there – I just don’t understand what the celebration’s about.
Of course, every four years I’ll get another invitation to the party – but I don’t know how willing I’ll be to attend the festivities in the future.
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