European Futbol is better than American Football. That’s something I never thought I’d write, think, say or feel. But, it’s true.
I’ve never been a soccer guy. I grew up playing baseball and basketball. While the soccer team was practicing, I was busy running cross country. In trying to watch or follow soccer games, I found them to be boring snooze-fests. Hockey, for all of its lack of actual scoring at least had mean beating each other up. There was “action.”
As a dad though, I’ve been watching both Cora and John play soccer. They started out in the kickers program and have quickly moved into “U” play. Cora, in particular has really taken a shine to soccer and it to her. She’s very talented and certainly better at 9 than I ever was, at any age. I marvel at her skills, her work ethic and love for this sport.
Each year, I pick 3 new things to do or learn. In 2016, one of those 3, was to pick a soccer team, follow that team and root for that team, in hopes I would become more inspired and knowledgable. I figured, at worst, I would be able to understand the game better, which would help me appreciate what Cora was doing on the field.
Never did I expect to become, not only, smitten with soccer, but to see it as superior to watching American Football. Before I get to the rationale behind such a proclamation, let me explain how I got here.
Two of my very good friends are die hard soccer fans. They support Chelsea and Liverpool. Several work colleagues are also fans of teams in the English Premier League. Specifically I work with or have had the opportunity to work with fans of Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal. All of that made choosing the Premier League over other soccer leagues, quite easy.
So we have a league! But, we need a team. By default, any teams my friends and co-workers were supporting, were off the table. Half the fun in picking a team is the shit-talking and to pick a team someone else was already following would make that time-honored tradition more challenging.
Thus, I turned to the internet. I googled, “which Premier League team should I follow?” This lead to several quizzes. I took somewhere in the neighborhood of half a dozen quizzes to help narrow the field and hopefully lead to an obvious choice. The sum of these quizzes lead to a clear choice: Manchester City. In fairness, I would say, Arsenal routinely bubbled up as a choice that fit my answers.
After sharing the quizzes with several people, along with my answers, they understood how I arrived at Manchester City.
- They don’t have a storied history
- In soccer, money matters, and they have war chest
- They’re routinely in contention for the championship
But, they also rock the UNC Tarheel color of powder/baby blue. It was like fate.
So, Manchester City it was. I had a league and I had a team, but I knew nothing. So began my training, so to speak…courtesy of my 2 friends. For the first game of the Premier League season, I found myself at a bar around 6:30 AM, with my friend. We drank beer, ate breakfast, I asked questions, he answered, I asked more questions, he answered more, we drank more beer. 2 hours later, the game was over. We won. I was hooked.
Let me explain why I now believe soccer/European Football is better than American Football/NFL.
- There are NO commercials in soccer. None. Zero. They play 45 minutes of uninterrupted sport. They break for 15 minutes. They come back for 45 minutes. Think about that. No freaking commercials.
- Because of #1, the games never last more than 2 hours. An NFL game would last 2 hours (very unlikely), it could be 3 hours…it could be more. You never know.
- There’s constant unpredictable action. The keyword being, “unpredictable.” If it’s 3rd and 12 from your own 15, what do you think your team is going to do? I can tell you. A safe hand-off, a screen pass, or a designed roll out. What will the defense do? Easy! They will most likely back off, play safe, and ensure a punt will happen. It’s 100% predictable. Yes, things can happen, but for the most part, the game is scripted.
- Now, let’s talk about action. In a NFL game, where does the action come from? On the offensive side, you could argue it’s only with 4 players. The QB, the RB, the WR and the TE. That’s it. Defensively? The MLB, DE and CB. Realistically, on any given play, at most 6 players are involved in the action, so to speak. In soccer, sure, your Strikers do the bulk of the scoring, but every single person is involved in passing the ball, tackling, attempting an interception, playing for the counter-attack and so on. In the same way that West Coast basketball can be high energy with every player involved (think a Phoenix vs Golden State game), soccer is that, all the time.
- Because we live in the United States and for me, more specifically, I live in the Central Time zone, the games are on at 6:30 AM, 7:30 AM or 8:30 AM. Occasionally, they’ll be on at 10:00 AM. Games are generally played on Saturday or Sunday. What does this mean? Well, go back to #1. It means that by 8:30 AM, most game days, the game is over and the WHOLE day is still in front of me. Think back to college and your early morning tail-gating experiences for BIG games. That’s soccer, every weekend. You’re having a beer at 7:00 AM. You’re eating sausage, eggs and potatoes. You’re talking trash. You’re in your shirt or jersey and everyone knows what team you’re rooting for.
- This brings me to the people. I have watched Bulls games, Braves games, Rangers game and Giants games at bars. They’re fine. They’re fun. Perhaps the best bar experience was watching the Cubs World Series games at Chicago bars. The energy was there. But, it should be, it’s a World Series game. In all those experiences, I never made random temporary friends or felt a connection to other people at the bar. When you show up at a bar for your Premier League game, you instantly know who your friends are. They’re wearing the same colors as you. They welcome you in. They share in your anguish and if they’re fans of the other team they will in fact talk trash to you. The people make it fun. They make it worth getting up early for.
- Where as the NFL last 22 weeks or so, with 16 games, 1 bye and of course the playoffs, your soccer team plays year round. The Premier League is 38 matches, with roughly a 1-match a week pace. But, they also play in other tournaments. Your roller coaster lasts nearly an entire year. You’re pulled in for nearly 52 weeks. You care for 365 days.
Now, the above, while all true, does not mean soccer is perfect. In fact I have several gripes or things that still drive me mad.
- Too many games end in ties. I’m a big believer of wins and losses. The NBA and MLB have this right. Hockey and the NFL, do not. Every game should end up penalty kicks, if needed, to determine a winner, just like it happens in major tournaments.
- Your team’s jersey or kit as they refer to it (along with the shorts) changes every year. Literally, every year. Sometimes it’s a subtle change, sometimes it’s a major one. I could see how this is incredibly frustrating for fans. At the same time, this brings in boku revenue to the clubs, which help ensure NO commercials. So, yeah, I get it, but I don’t love it.
- Related to #2, this is sorta funny; they don’t have baseball caps. Think about it for second. Whether you follow the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL or a college team, the fitted cap is an iconic way to show who you support. They don’t do baseball caps. They do scarves. Scarves? WTF?
- You could argue that the concept of “Any Given Sunday” is a good thing…or a bad thing. If you have Durant, Curry and Klay and you’re playing the Sixers, you’re going to win 99 times out of 100. If you’re the Cowboys with Zeke, Bryant and Das, you’re going to win 99 times out of 100 when you play the browns. But, even when you have Suarez, Neymar and MESSI you can lose to Tottenham (aka a team who is very solid, makes the playoffs, but never wins the championship) 50% of the time Maddening.
- There are so many strange rules. The most puzzling is that a soccer field need not be the same length and width. You can play a team in January and play on a field that’s 100 meters x 70 meters, then play a team in February with a field that’s 110 meters x 64 meters. Could you imagine playing on a smaller field in Dallas and a bigger field in New England? Huh?
So that’s what I got. I’m sold. I can’t believe it took me this long to get invested. Something people have asked me is why I got into it? It’s a good question. I know I covered a portion of this in the intro, regarding my daughter and her interest and proficiency. But, there is another reason. In the same way, I took a wine class and golf lessons so that I could be more involved in professional settings outside the office, soccer delivers on the same need. If you find yourself in any city across the world, at a conference of business meeting and think you have nothing in common with anyone in the room, I assure you will, if you follow soccer. Bring up a recent game between your team and another or Mess vs. Ronaldo and instantly you’ll have a connection.
While it’s not the sport of kings it is a worldly sport with universal appeal.