Wednesday, May 19, 2010
There even are places where English completely disappears; in America they haven't used it for years.
As most of you know, on June 12, 2010 in Rustenburg, South Africa at Royal Bafokeng Stadium, the United States and England will meet for the first time in the World Cup finals since the US beat England 1-0 at Estádio Independência in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in 1950. The June 12th match with England is arguably the most anticipated World Cup finals match in America since the US and Mexico faced each other in the Round of Sixteen during the 2002 World Cup finals.
Let's be honest here folks, since the World Cup finals were held in the US in 1994 two primary branches of football fans have developed in the US. To be clear, the type of football fan I'm talking about here is not an American who is an immigrant or a first generation American who grew up in a household where allegiance to the parents' national team was fostered. I'm talking about someone more akin to myself, someone who's family has been in the US for several generations and who discovered the game outside of the sphere of his/her ethnic background.
Since 1994,the growth of the internet and News Corp.'s ventures into sports broadcasting in the US, access to the English Premier League has grown exponentially. In turn, this growth of access to the EPL has resulted in a large following amongst Americans with no real connection to England. The end result being that a substantial number of American born football fans now support England's National Team over the US National Team.
Meanwhile, between the growth of Major League Soccer and the constant presence of the US National Team in the World Cup picture since 1990, a small, but vocal, group of ardent US football fans has developed in the States. The majority of these US fans are not ignorant of the game as it is played in Europe, Mexico, or South America, and while they may support foreign club teams, their heart is with the US National Team. These fans wholeheartedly support the US National Team in friendlies, tournaments, World Cup qualifiers, and, of course, the World Cup finals.
During this period of parallel growth between these two branches of US football fans, there has been some heckling, some ribbing, some light verbal jabs between the two groups, but since the senior England and US squads have not faced off in a meaningful game during this period, there has been no real cause for truly hard feelings, at least when it comes to the national teams (this piece isn't about the EPL v. MLS debate).
Since early December, when the World Cup draw occurred and the match between the US and England was announced, the tension between US fans and American England fans has grown steadily. Arguments between these two camps have popped up in bars, in blogs, on Twitter, on podcasts, and on various social networking sites, and of course that red light district known as Big Soccer.
I'm not here to argue one side over the other. I'm not here to convert those I disagree with to the side I support.
No, I'm here to ask a simple question - "Does it really matter?"
Lets face it folks, if we're totally and completely honest with ourselves, it's highly unlikely that either England or the US will be lifting the World Cup Trophy in Johannesburg on Sunday July 11th.
Since 1990, the US National Team has never been consistent when it comes to the World Cup finals. The US experience in the World Cup has tended to be horrid runs in 1990, 1998, and 2006, punctuated by a decent run in 1994 and a good run in 2002. Going into South Africa 2010, much of the talk about the US squad has focused on the match fitness of players coming back from injury and the lack of depth up front. While I don't doubt that the 23 players who will end up in South Africa would love to raise that trophy, the message from US Soccer, including the players, is that a good Cup run means getting out of the group stage. In other words, realistic expectations at Soccer House in Chicago and at the camp in Princeton are not overly optimistic.
While there are some seriously deluded US fans out there, they're clearly outnumbered by the seriously deluded England fans on both sides of the Atlantic. It's somewhat understandable in that England, the fist nation to organize the game of football (note I don't buy into the England creation theory), can still boast one of the biggest football club leagues in the world (while the club leagues of Cricket and Rugby thrive more in the old Commonwealth of England). However, this view is very myopic since it fails to recognize the fact that the top clubs in the EPL are full of non-English players. Yes, there are some English players at Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool, and less then some at Arsenal, who are on the England squad, those clubs rely heavily on non-English talent, and representation of those clubs on the England squad appears to be outnumbered by players from club teams lower on the EPL table. I will concede that Tottenham Hotspur's presence in the top four after this season gives a little more hope to England fans going into South Africa 2010, but do you really want to rely on Spurs players when it comes to The Cup? Despite England's prominence in the early history of the Beautiful Game, the reality is, on the Big Stage, on a global scale, England is good, but not great.
So what's my point? Another question - "Does it matter?"
Does it really matter if you're an American who will be supporting the US or England on June 12th?
Odds are, if you head out to your local/favorite football bar or pub on June 12th, there will be US fans there and there will be American England fans there. There's no real reason to get mad at each other, to argue, to fight. Light ribbing and insults are fine, but in the end, what we really should be rooting for is a good, entertaining match between the US and England. The kind of match that might just grow the game a little more here in the States.
You want a solution from me? Here's my solution in the end - the supporters of the side that win the US - England match buy a round for the the supporters of the side that lose (everyone buys their own drinks if it's a draw.)