By Genghis Goldberg
Here's a little something to consider for all you folks who've been trying to watch the World's Greatest Sporting Event-otherwise known as the World Cup-over the course of the last week. The following is a short list of some of the official mascots of the World Cup in the latter half of this century. 1990 Ciao: an abstract object (Italy)·1986 Pique: a chili pepper (Mexico)·1982 Naranjito: an orange (Spain)·1978 Gauchito: a boy (Argentina)·1974 Tip and Tap: two boys (West Germany)·1970 Juanito: a boy (Mexico)·1966 World Cup Willie: a lion (England).
An abstract object, a chili pepper, an orange, a boy, two boys, a boy, and a lion named "World Cup Willie"...Is this sports or a NAMBLA convention?
Tough question, and one thing's for sure: you'd never be able to figure it out by watching the game in question, called either soccer or football depending on whether you have a life or not. In fact, we at the eXile feel that this week, during the very heart of World Cup 1998 in France, is the right time to finally come out and say it: soccer isn't a sport. It's an exercise in mass denial, a desperate attempt by the runner-up nations of the world to protect themselves from the spread of American consumer culture by clinging to a pastime no rational person would consume.
Soccer didn't always suck. About a thousand years ago, natives on the American continent played a sport that was prophetically named pasuckuakohowog-we're not making this up-which featured teams of up to 500 people apiece playing on fields one mile long. Players kicked balls toward a goal just as they do in modern soccer. Unlike modern soccer, however, they wore warpaint and committed atrocities upon their opponents, using weapons and breaking bones as a matter of routine. Whatever your feelings were about atrocities, there was one thing you had to admit about pasuckuakohowog: it was interesting to watch. Something happened during the games. Unlike...
Even the British played interesting football at one point. In the 11th and 12th century, football games were so lawless and violent that the game became the subject of repeated royal bans. But now...
Now? Now the European game of football has become so effete that the days when it was physically taxing are recalled with horror by its proponents. The following is an excerpt from the official Web Page of the 1994 World Cup, in a section outlining the history of the game's equipment:
"The Original Soccer Ball"
Broken bones! God help us!
Of course, even this newspaper isn't crude enough to suggest that any sport without violence isn't a real sport at all. On the contrary, there are dozens of competitive sports, ranging from basketball to tennis to volleyball, even to team handball or chess or even checkers, for God's sake, where artistry is an ample visual substitute for force. But all of those sports have one thing in common: something happens during the games.
Nothing happens during a soccer game. Nothing, that is, except the audience's infinitesimal drift in the direction of still greater loneliness, despair and irrelevance. Tune in to the World Cup this week on Russian TV or Eurosport, and you'll realize that that's what European football is really all about. It's Europeans getting together en masse in big parks to whine about not mattering anymore.
As a culture, this is all that Europe has left-gathering around to watch a shockingly boring and precious little spectacle performed by fruity little guys with nauseating haircuts, sticking up its collective nose, and proclaiming a great love for the "best game in the world". All its other great ideas this century-social democracy, titles, interlocking alliances, military independence from the United States, existentialist literature-they lost their resonance ages ago.
So football's all they've got. It's their only way into the headlines. And it still sucks. Here are nine reasons why:
1. Soccer Haircuts
Ever wonder why Western Europe's population is in decline? Well, let's ask this another way... Would YOU fuck a guy with a soccer hairdo? Do you know ANYBODY who would?
The sad thing is that there are probably just as many men with soccer hairdos in America as there are in Austria, which may explain the overall declining birthrate of the White European. Women cannot ovulate if they live with a man who's got Loser tattooed on his head.
2. Guys who writhe around on the ground in pain for two minutes, then get up and run off like nothing ever happened.
We here at the eXile don't know about you, but most of us were raised by our American parents to never cry, even when we're hurt. As for crying when you're not really hurt, that was a punishable offense for most of us around here. I myself was grounded for it, forced to spend two days at home with slant-eyed old Granny Goldberg.
Europe, on the other hand, is a culture that actually encourages its best athletes to whine and cry like babies. Not promoting machismo is one thing. But raising a whole generation of turds is another. If it were our kid, Europe would be grounded. And beaten with belts and brushes.
European football, on the other hand-which professes to be a heavily proletarian pastime and a great spectator sport-is a game that still only produces a victor in about 55% of matches. Even at the World Cup, a tournament so rare and important it occurs just once in four years, with nations facing each other as rarely as once in a century, the game's organizers have done nothing to ensure a victor in the early rounds. As a result, the game is plagued by ties-which, as the saying goes, are about as satisfying as kissing your sister.
None of us here at the eXile can figure out why the World Cup can't be played without ties. Soccer people generally talk about the game being too physically stressful to play sudden-death overtimes, which would force players to stay on the field for an indefinite amount of time after regulation. If that's true, how do professional hockey players manage during the NHL playoffs? It's just as tough to score in hockey, and physically about ten thousand times tougher to play. The abovementioned Roberto Baggio would probably have to be hospitalized if he were forced to so much as watch one major-league hockey check, much less actually experience one. And yet: there are no ties in playoff hockey.
Even tennis players, for God's sake, don't play to ties. In a reverse of World Cup logic, tennis players in the big tournaments-the Grand Slams-must in some cases play to infinity in the fifth set to resolve even play. Basketball players play overtimes. Even in professional American Football, a sport so physically demanding that the average pro career lasts fewer than three years due to injuries, players play sudden death overtimes and may not conclude games in ties in playoff competition.
But not soccer players. They can't handle it. It's just too tiring, running around on that big field.
4. Pompous pseudo-intellectual Europeans who become soccer fans in order to convince the public of their link to the common man.
From Newcastle fan Tony Blair to Man United fans like wussbunny Cure lead singer Robert Smith, every hyperambitious Euro-egghead in sight attaches himself to a football team sooner or later, once his agent decides the time is right. It's a phenomenon Americans can appreciate in the similarly disgusting habit their own effete intellectuals have of latching on to baseball- another conspicuous non-sport-to show that they're people, too. Loathsome Newsweek columnist George Will is the classic example. Will staggers his most obnoxiously reactionary columns with columns about the Orioles or about Pete Rose or whichever player whose name he happens to know at the time, just to show he's one of the guys.
He isn't. And neither is Tony Blair. And the worst thing is, in the age of the EU, it's now doubly important for public figures to be soccer fans in particular-it's the only way they have of being pro-Europe and human at the same time.
5. Total fucking boredom.
The following day, Bulgaria and Paraguay played to a thrilling 0-0 tie. Belgium and the Netherlands followed up the next night by renewing their heated rivalry in exhilarating goalless fashion.
As I write this, I can still hear the Eurosport commentator during the Austria match. "We've been lucky so far in this World Cup to see goals," he said. "We hope that there will continue to be goals."
Let's even excuse soccer for the moment for being invented in the age before men realized that athletes could score in a smaller goal with far greater precision and flair by using their hands, in a sport like basketball. Innovations take time, even obvious ones. We understand. But it takes more patience than a rational man should have to tolerate the means by which soccer players usually achieve their hideous goal-poor results.
Soccer just isn't fun to watch. Attacks, when they happen, can be disrupted instantly by virtually any defender who comes near the ball. Luck plays a major role in a very high percentage of the few goals that actually are scored. The general offensive strategy is to get the ball as close to the goal as possible, then lift the ball over the penalty area with a so-called "crossing pass", which the offensive team then hopes a passing player will either head or kick in the net. Once in a blue moon, a truly beautiful and acrobatic move is executed by a striker, resulting in a goal-a bicycle kick, say, or a long-range header. But that happens very rarely. The usual result is a botched pass or a near miss, a shot far wide of the posts, or a ball scooped up by a jogging or even walking keeper.
Soccer is probably the only sport in the world in which highlights of things that ALMOST happen are shown on late-night sport shows. Even with baseball, a game where an offensive player earns millions if he's successful even a third of the time, no highlights have ever been shown of a sharp foul ball, or a ball that was just a hair away from being a called third strike. But soccer fans flock to their television sets every night to watch highlights of shots wide right and missed passes, even cleanly fielded shot attempts. This is clearly not a culture much interested in the results of things.
I watched Brazil beat Scotland on the first night of the Cup. At one point, the much-heralded Ronaldo-who, to use one of the most tired cliches in 1990s sportswriting, is something like the Michael Jordan of soccer-took the ball on the wing and attempted to get a shot off. He dribbled past one defender, then a second, then got tripped up by a third before getting his shot off. Scotland reassumed possession.
Well, that was lame, I thought.
Eurosport didn't agree. They showed that little moment about six times, raving over Ronaldo's footwork.
The crowd in France cheered as well. They must be ancestors, I thought, of people who cheered their French army for almost stopping the Nazis. Hey, they had good footwork, too.
6. Brazilian players with one name.
7. The excellence of Western Europe.
Let's take the recent summer Olympics. England didn't win a single gold medal. It was revealed to be a nation of skin cancer candidates who in most sports were slow enough to be overtaken by portly Sports Illustrated photographers on the sidelines. Sports bookies in England recently placed the chances of Christ's reappearance on Earth at lower odds than a victory by a Brit at Wimbledon-and this despite the fact that the British invented the damn game.
In life as in sports, Western Europe simply hasn't been relevant since World War I. While other nations were busy developing huge masses of violent underclass degenerates-a talent pool for athletics-Western Europe was busy tinkering with its social democracies and searching for new income tax plateaus to ascend to. While Croatians were committing genocide and at the same time forging the first serious threat to the United States's world basketball hegemony, Brits were going on the dole and the French were striking for a 35-hour work week. Germans, meanwhile, were putting on coke-bottle glasses and cranking out container-shipfuls of atrocious synthesizer music.
Nations like these have no business maintaining any kind of standing in world athletics. Let people from these countries perform their natural roles: as obsequious airline stewards, nature-show hosts, bank clerks, rude waiters, makers of quirky low-grossing films, founders of discos in third-world countries, tireless reformers of inherently flawed social democratic systems, keynote speakers at meaningless business seminars. But not athletes. Let's be serious.
9. Those annoying Andean musicians.