To be a bit more serious about it, and having thought about it some more, I think that my fellow Brian (Linse) is probably right to talk about “soccer”, and that I should stop calling it “football”. In fact I think we should all stop calling anything “football”, without qualification, unless the context makes it entirely clear which variety we’re talking about. There are just so many different varieties. American, “Association” (soccer!), Gaelic, Australian Rules, rugby (union and league), and many, many more I’m sure. Soccer/football is, I now accept, one of those conundra that require that English – English English, I mean – be spoken differently, by the English, in order for us to make sense elsewhere in the Anglosphere.
In Germany, they call soccer “fussball” with the “ss” being done as a Germanic squiggle, a word I smile at. And in the noted American TV sitcom Friends, what we here call “table football” is called “foozeball” (guess spelling). What’s that about? ( I don’t mean: horrid Americans bleah!!! I mean: what’s it about? Why “fooze”? Is it some weird USA-German thing?)
Christopher Pellerito‘s comments earlier today about the relative dullness of the soccer that Americans get to see make a lot of sense. Here in Europe we note big differences in the national styles of the different national soccer leagues. The Italian league is shown regularly on British TV, on Channel 4, but I – and many others I talk to – can’t stand it. It’s too slow. It’s like watching a cross between soccer and armchair philosophy. Hugely skilful, and no doubt hugely diverting to play, but not, for me at least, any fun to watch.
The British Premier League has recently gone from muddy cloggers to world class with the arrival in Britain of a mass of foreign players. A big moment in recent British social history, never mind sporting history, came recently when a British premier league club – I think it was David Carr’s Chelsea – fielded a team for a Premier League game with no English players, or even British ones. I rather think we have the European Union to thank for this. The Premier League has always been fast and furious. Now it’s also very skilful.
However, the ultimate in pace and skill may be the Spanish League, if that wondrous Real-Barca game was anything to go by, which maybe it isn’t.
Interesting thing about France, though. They undoubtedly have the best soccer team in the world just now. Zinedine Zidane (who scored a very clever goal for Real against Barca on Tuesday) is probably most people’s current pick as the best soccer player in the world. But, their league is financially rather feeble, and French clubs seldom figure in the later stages of the European Champions League. I think this may be an African thing. Much of the French team these days consists of players of francophone African origin. And African men, I rather think, and in contrast to white couch potatoes like me, love to play but don’t get nearly so excited about just watching. And the original French French have never been that keen on merely watching soccer, compared say, to the British, the Germans, the Spanish or the Italians. Which is why there are so many superb Afro-French soccer players now playing in Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy, especially in Britain, and especially for Arsenal (the top London club, on course to win this year’s Premier League title).
Brian Linse may also be pleased to know that I also like to watch American football – cheerleaders, million dollar one-off adverts and all – and bitterly regret that Britain’s Channel 5 TV, which has extensive and often live and uncut American football coverage right up until the Superbowl, has stopped showing the Superbowl itself live, on account of Sky TV (Rupert Murdoch’s British and European satellite TV operation) having bought that. C5 only shows a few highlights a day later. The good news, for a cheapskate like me who doesn’t like paying for pay TV, is that Sky, having given “ITV Digital” such a roasting recently, is cutting back on its sports spending in the manner of a victorious army easing back on its ammunition budget. The England home games in the Six Nations rugby have lately only been shown in full on Sky. But now the Six Nations is reverting to being shown in its entirety, live and uncut, by the BBC, for which hurrah! And maybe C5 will also get the entire as-it-happens Superbowl back. If so, double hurrah.