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The Lighter Side of Incineration

In Which I Reveal My Views on Soccer to a Breathless Audience


The New Republic analyzes Borges on soccer:

In his lifetime, he saw elements of fascism, Peronism, and even anti-Semitism emerge in the Argentinean political sphere, so his intense suspicion of popular political movements and mass culture—the apogee of which, in Argentina, is soccer—makes a lot of sense. (“There is an idea of supremacy, of power, [in soccer] that seems horrible to me,” he once wrote.) Borges opposed dogmatism in any shape or form, so he was naturally suspicious of his countrymen’s unqualified devotion to any doctrine or religion—even to their dear albiceleste

Soccer is inextricably tied to nationalism, another one of Borges’ objections to the sport. “Nationalism only allows for affirmations, and every doctrine that discards doubt, negation, is a form of fanaticism and stupidity,” he said. National teams generate nationalistic fervor, creating the possibility for an unscrupulous government to use a star player as a mouthpiece to legitimize itself. 

This is a pretty good summary of what many bourgeois Germans think about soccer. To them, too, flag-draped cities and mass 'public viewings' uncomfortably recall the Nuremburg rallies, of individuals sinking rapturously into the blissful Wir-Gefühl (We-feeling) of ideological consensus. Add to that the bloodless siege of marketing that surrounds every World Cup, and you have a perfect storm of mass culture and consumerism, enough to curl the toenails of any self-respecting turtleneck-wearing aesthete.

But let's not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Stuffy Germans turn up their noses at lots of stuff that's really fun, like cheap liquor, guns, porno, naked sledding, dope, tabloid newspapers, and sex with 60 kilos of ground beef. If you studiously refused to enjoy everything they studiously refuse to enjoy, you'd end up as dull as they are.

So Europeans who proudly despise soccer do so because it's favored by beer-swilling chavs. Intriguingly, soccer has the opposite reputation in the USA. It's a complex, oustside-the-mainstream, English, low-scoring game which people from Europe and developing countries are hella good at. This makes it fair play for hipsters and Europhiles. Further, it requires no expensive equipment and isn't dominated by freakishly tall or muscular people.

No, Americans who dislike soccer because they find it boring and / or pointless. The Simpsons, as usual, has this covered (unembeddable video here). What do I think about soccer? Speak for me, bullet-points:

  • Yes, the masses' obsession with soccer is tiresome and alarming, and the cliche that soccer is a religion in country X is beyond tiresome. Whenever I hear that country X is soccer-obsessed, that the nation stops functioning and planes drop from the air when a game is on, that mothers are having the names of the latest stars tattooed on their babies' eyeballs, I think: "Good God, what a bunch of lazy sods. Why don't they think up their own games?"
  • However, the mere fact that many people who love soccer are mindless clods doesn't mean I must hate it.
  • And in fact, I rather like it. If you learn the rules and pay a bit of attention, a good soccer game can be totally engrossing. This World Cup, in particular, has offered up some thrilling games so far -- think of the epic second half of Germany v. Ghana. What's most mesmerizing to me is the continuous flow of the game. And soccer also seems to be a bit more competitive than many other sports. Sure, there are occasional 6-0 blowouts, but team that are clearly less talented than their opponent can still stage tremendous upsets.

So I will be there tomorrow in Boui Boui Bilk watching America v. Germany, drinking copiously, and cheering on the American team.

But my face won't be painted in red-white-and-blue -- that's strictly for morons. 


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I have to admit that I never understood American Football (to be honest I never really tried). I watched Baseball when I spent a year in the US and it was kind of interesting once I understood the gist of it. However, it is a slow and rather eventless game and I don't understand how someone can find soccer (overall) boring and Baseball exciting. This is probably just familiarity and habit.
Of course, familiarity and habit are important and in soccer-loving countries almost every male (and many a female) has played the game in some fashion, sometimes with an empty coke can (or an old tennis) ball on the schoolyard.
There can be terribly boring soccer matches, but there can be very exciting 0-0 matches. As someone mentioned above, a main feature that makes soccer exciting is that it is a low scoring game where little mistakes, luck etc. can often decide a game and therefore underdogs often stand a reasonable chance against a champion.


Just to prove your point

Junger Gott

Your post very much reminded me of an observation an American friend of mine once made about soccer. It goes like this:

Soccer is pretty boring and lifeless for basically most of the time and most of the games. Unlike streamlined "American sports" such as football, baseball, basketball, you are not guaranteed to be at least moderately entertained when you decide to watch some game. After all, what other sport is there in which the absence of any recognized score for the entire alloted time of the game is not a freak occurence, but rather something that happens with depressing frequency.

However, if there is a lot at stake, and the game is close ("a big game") , there is no other sport that is nearly as exciting and engaging as soccer. That is due to the uninterrupted flow of the game and the simultaneous involvement of all the players on the field as well as due to the low-scoring nature of the game in which any tiny mistake or any one-off attempt any second might have tremendous impact for the result.
Nations accustomed to soccer know this, and like a drug addict are prepared to wither the rather drab majority of soccer matches in the everlasting hope to see and feel one of the rare rewarding moment at a big game that they may savor for the rest of their lives.

You seemed to echo this feeling, Andrew.

CN Heidelberg

Most people I knew in Germany had no problem with football, but my language skills weren't nuanced enough to pick up everything. I was surprised when I arrived in the UK and all the arty/hip types were like "ewwwww World Cup, everybody shut up about it" etc. Just so the opposite of the US, and this was a difference I hadn't considered. But it does make sense. You don't see the arty/hip types in the US caring about the Super Bowl much. The World Cup/football/soccer has a whole different vibe in the two places.


I, still American, will be rooting for Germany. The US team seems to be emerging out of underdog status to respected team. But America wins everything -- and when it finally conquers the World Cup too, I fear my interest in the tournament will disintegrate.

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