This is a big old “Listen up!” to everyone who has blogged, tweeted, Facebooked or otherwise expressed his or her extreme boredom or irritation with soccer (or football or futbol, etc). If you are bored by the low score, flabbergasted by the tendency for grown men to roll around on the ground to draw a penalty, or annoyed by the perpetual passing backwards to a left full or the keeper, please allow me to enlighten you on some of the basic elements that make this game a thing of beauty.
1.) Immense Possibility. Take a cross or corner kick, for example. In one swift movement a right midfielder plants his foot, squares his hips and sends the ball sailing across the field in a perfect arch and everyone watching holds their breath because in just a moment anything could happen. As the ball nears the pitch, an equal number of his comrades and opponents are waiting, pushing, and shoving for their chance to attack or defend. It’s an exhilarating moment as some dozen people rise into the air, struggling enmasse for a piece of the action. Sure, it’d be great if the striker got to it first and headed it in for that glorious tie-breaking goal, but even if the keeper punches it up over the goal or a defender sends it rolling out of the box to a teammate, there was still this moment in which any number of outcomes were possible.
2.) Incomparable Tenacity. The Swiss goal against Spain is a fabulous demonstration of the near-inspirational sticktoitiveness of a football team. The whole play was a mess–three shots bounced around, none of them graceful, and men fell over left and right. The goal was finally made by the Swiss player Fernandes at point-blank range after the ball floated free of the keeper. But that’s not the point. The beauty is that Fernandes didn’t just walk away when the first teammate missed. He didn’t just say, “Well, so much for that. Better luck next time.” He stayed and struggled and pushed until something happened. And in this case, what happened was one of those rare and precious goals that make or break a tournament.
3.) Perpetual Motion. Seriously, all twenty-five people (I’m including the referees) on the field are always moving and at the World Cup level that motion is dizzying at times. There are the fantastic “give-and-goes” as a wing takes off towards the opponent’s goal, the fluid motion of the midfielders up and down the field, the split-second reverse of direction to throw off your defender. For the best of teams, the constant motion can look like some gloriously improvised dance to those who appreciate the game. I’m sure it just looks like a lot of work for nothing to others, particularly in a Western culture that encourages us to sit on our bums for at least eight hours a day.
4.) Radical Inclusivity. This alone might be the reason that the world (excepting certain superpowers that still haven’t caught on) loves soccer/football/futbol, etc. While it’s true that not everyone can play with World Cup skill and fervor, it is true that everyone can play almost everywhere. Let’s face it, for nearly every other sport you need a special place to play, a good bit of equipment and usually a particular body type (let’s face it, basketball isn’t usually a great sport for someone who’s 5’2″ nor is American football typically a great sport for a girl to pursue).
But for soccer, you grab something round and another friend and find a patch of dirt. And you can be tall or short, on the heavier side of things or a runt, male or female, rich or poor. You might not be amazing, but if you have the desire and can manage to run without tripping over yourself you can play. I think that makes it among the most inclusive sports in the world.
Now, dear skeptics, please go watch a game and see if you can’t spot some of the beauty in the game. If you open up your eyes and actually watch for it, you won’t be so bored. Promise.