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Russ’s angels

More from the Lemley family of California, in answer to an earlier question I posted:

My youngest daughter (5) plays soccer, and my oldest (8) doesn’t. (My oldest is more of a bookworm.) My youngest played her first year last year, liked it, and she’s going to play again next year. (The leagues play in the fall.) It’s pretty low-key, like “here’s the ball, and you go this way … not that way, this way.” She has fun with it, and we play in the backyard from time to time. The hope for her, and most girls her age, is that they have fun with the game and keep playing for as long as possible.

What this little report illustrates is why “soccer” has done so well. It’s simple. You just need a ball and a willingness to have fun kicking it this way and that. This is not a capital intensive game. You can practice it anywhere, and wear just about anything while you’re doing it. Hence the legendary successes that can be achieved by countries who are failing at virtually everything else. Argentina’s economy is a global embarrassment just now, yet they are among the favourites to win the World Cup. And hence football’s capacity to spread. “Soccer” is catching on in the USA, even as the more unwieldy and expensive “American” version of football (which is more like our rugby) fails to ignite over here or in mainland Europe, except as a way to entertain US expats.

By the way, the USA ladies team are the world champions, no less. (I heard a Channel Five commentator on US baseball mention this last night.) And in general, it seems that, like Russ’s daughter, most of the Americans who get interested in soccer get interested in playing soccer. Over here “football fever” has tended to mean millions of couch potatoes or travelling fans who merely watch soccer, a numerical fact reflected in the TV adverts which have in recent years become sodden with a truly depressing worship of football fandom. Hurrah, say these adverts, for the “real” fans, who waste their entire lives getting worked up about the results of games in which they do not play, and who might on the basis of this mania be persuaded to buy this or that beer or snackfood and thus sink even further into bloated immobility. Now I like to watch football myself, but please don’t tell me that this is the most profound thing I do. Happily it seems that my sense of being insulted and patronised rather than befriended by these adverts may be quite widely shared, and that this era of British football watching emotional excess may be fading. Most of the adverts in this genre that I most hate were actually on TV a few years ago rather than right now, and meanwhile “ITV Digital” has discovered that there are limits after all to the televised football appetites of Britain. But how much more pleasing it would be if “football fever” meant Britain’s football clubs each having a dozen amateur and youth teams playing every weekend.

What’s the betting that some time during the next two decades the USA wins the World Cup? And what’s the betting that when they do, most of the USA hardly notices?

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