When people think of me, they think of sports, right? Ok, no, they don’t. I am the least sporty person in the world. But after seeing the 300th commercial for the beginning of the English Premier League on American TV, I thought I might dip my feet in the water and see what all of this nonsense is about. I’ve been exposed to American sports for my entire life, and have been thoroughly bored and annoyed by them for that same length of time. But I don’t actually know much about British sport, so I may as well give it a small chance, in case football (soccer) really is so fabulous. Maybe British sport is just better? Anything is possible. So let’s discuss the differences. But please excuse in advance all the mistakes of vocabulary I am going to make during this post. I can barely remember the proper terms for American sports, so if I say field when I mean pitch, do not murder me via angry comments. This entire post is written with tongue firmly placed in cheek, so don’t take it too seriously. Be gentle.
Sport vs Sports- Linguistic differences are so strange sometimes. In the UK, you play sport or you watch sport. In the US, you play sports or watch sports. Where did the s go/come from? I suspect it was taken off sport
s so that it could be added to maths.
Another linguistic fun fact: As much as Brits decry us for saying ‘soccer’ instead of ‘football’, soccer was the original term and it was British in origin. Soccer was called ‘association football’, to distinguish it from other types of ‘football’ that were played at the time (including Rugby–then called Rugger). Association football was shortened to Assoccer, and then just soccer. So, it’s not an American thing. Legend has it an Oxford student coined the term in 1863. That being said, football makes more sense for a sport where you are only allowed to use your feet than it does for our US football, where you primarily use your hands.
And to confuse everyone even more, the Brits often shorten football to ‘footy’, but the Australians call Rugby footy. How anyone has any idea what game they’re playing is beyond me. But this blog is mostly about the UK, so I’m not going to delve into Aussie sports now.
In the UK, there are two sports that are in the upper-echelons of popularity: Rugby Union and Association Football (soccer). Of those two, Football is the clear favorite, but Rugby is quite popular in certain geographical areas.
Rugby is very similar to American football, with one big big difference:
It’s crazy dangerous. At least 110 players have been paralyzed during a game. There are arguments to be made that all the padding US Football players wear adds to the amount of force that comes crashing down on opponents, but I’d still rather have a helmet if it was me.
The time of the games is different as well. American football games last approximately 500 million hours, but a big chunk of that is resetting and stopped time. In Rugby, they don’t stop the clock unless someone’s injured and unresponsive. It’s a lot more fast-paced, and there’s a longer playing time. That means leaner, meaner, faster guys. Much faster than American defensive players, who generally run 5-10 feet and then bash into someone with all of their weight. It’s a different skill set. To be honest, I’m not interested in either sport.
Other sports in the top 5 include Cricket, Tennis, and something Wikipedia refers to as Athletics. I believe this is what we would call Track & Field. But really, if you’re talking UK Sport, you’re talking about football. Unless you’re me, then you’re talking about Quidditch.
So let’s talk soccer/football. There are some things that make it recognizably awesome and the pinnacle of athleticism. I can’t believe some of the crazy kicks and headbutts they do to get the ball headed toward the correct goal. No American sport has that kind of gymnastics (except maybe gymnastics). And the crazy amount of running? Your average baseball player barely runs during a game, your average American football player might run a little over a mile during a game. Compare that to the 7-8 miles a soccer player runs during a match, and you see why they all look like Adonis.
On the other hand, there’s a large percentage of games that end with a score of 0-0, and that sounds pretty boring to a spectator. No wonder they get so excited when a goal finally happens.
The UK version of the NFL/NBA/etc. is the Premier League. For the first time (ever), anyone in American watch any match in the season. They will be airing the big matches on NBC sports, and then live streaming the rest on their website. Apparently we have better access to the entire league’s games than the Brits do. Perfect time for a novice like me to get started with footy. They even have several resources to pick your club and charming commercials with Jason Sudeikis. The most important thing about picking your team is that you can never change it. This is a cardinal offense and I believe they still punish you with a day in the stocks in any proper English village.
Remember that scene in Harry Potter when Harry is trying to talk to Cho, and Ron interrupts to inquire (very loudly and bluntly) whether Cho has always been a fan of the Tutshill Tornadoes, or if she just started supporting them since they began winning. Lucky for Cho, she’d been supporting them since she was six, or she would have been in trouble. Same principle applies to Premier League clubs. Of course, if you live in the UK, geography determines a lot of who you support, but we don’t have that luxury here. It’s a big decision, and one I’ve taken quite seriously.
I’ve decided to support West Ham. It’s the only football club mentioned in Harry Potter, so that was …pretty much my whole decision-making process. Other things I know about West Ham: Smithy from Gavin and Stacey supports West Ham. That’s good(ish). Green Street Hooligans, a terrible Elijah Wood movie, was based on West Ham fans. That’s really bad! Their nickname is the Hammers. I’m Switzerland on that one. West Ham’s celebrity fans include John Cleese and Barack Obama. Good. They also include Rod Stewart and Katy Perry. Not as good. Yep, that’s all I know about my chosen team. I am such a sports fan. Wait, I also know that they’re not that good. I’m fine with that, since I prefer to support underdogs. I could never support Man U. It’s clearly the Yankees of the Premier League. Also, while I’m comparing football to baseball, Arsenal is clearly the Red Sox. Remember that Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore movie, Fever Pitch?
About the guy who was obsessed with the Red Sox? Well, it was originally a British movie (with Colin Firth) about a guy obsessed with Arsenal. So, if you’re a Red Sox fan, Arsenal is your team.
If you’re more inclined to back a winner than I am, here’s an article about the top 5 most-likely winners (Arsenal included). Pick one of these and you will have a good chance.
If you’re not quite as informed about football as I clearly am, the IT Crowd has taught me how to fake it. Just visit bluffball.co.uk for your best tips on how to sound like you know something about football.
The most important lessons include: If Arsenal is playing, you can always say ‘the problem with Arsenal is they think they can just walk it in’. And, start every football conversation with ‘did you see that ludicrous display last night?’ That lets people know that you are an expert.
So, I have a team and some basic vocab for those inevitable water cooler conversations. What else do I need? Some basic knowledge of the sport? Well, I’ve seen Bend it Like Beckham. Done. I know all about the offside rule: The French Mustard has to be between the teriyaki sauce and the sea salt.
If you haven’t seen BiLB, and you need the most basic primer about soccer in the history of the world, here’s a website designed to help grandparents understand this newfangled sport all the suburban kids are playing.
Also, it’s important to know how the league works. The top 20 teams are in the Premier League, but the bottom 3 of that 20 are ‘relegated down’. Below the premier league are other leagues of middling and lower-level. We don’t really have anything like that in the US. It would be like if the White Sox did so badly that they were no longer Major League and were ‘relegated down’ to AAA baseball. The good part about this is if your team is not so great, they still have some nail biter matches later in the season, as they might be fighting to keep their place in a specific part of the hierarchy.
The top 4 spots in the Premier League qualify for the European Champions league, so you get a lot of international competition that we also don’t have here. And then every four years, you have the World Cup. I watched the last World Cup, and my only memories of it are drowned out by the sound of vuvuzelas. God those were awful. Anyway, the next World Cup is next year. To turn to yet another Harry Potter reference, it’s very similar to the Quidditch World Cup. Countries compete, so England tends to bring together its best players from professional teams, as does Italy, Spain, etc.
The amazing thing about soccer is that everyone plays it. it’s the main sport in almost every country except America. So you can have these massive Olympic-like events where the best players in different countries are competing against one another. I think that’s awesome. Far better than the Super Bowl, for my money.
The Premier League has a really long season. I mean, I feel like all sports seasons in the US are too long. NFL Football is starting again soon. Already? But the Premier League goes from August to May. That’s crazy long. No wonder they’re all in such good shape. Anyway, I can’t guarantee I will be a major soccer fan by the end of the season, or that I will still be watching by then. I’m not a sports person, by nature. But, I’m giving it a try, and that’s…more than I would normally do. You should too.
If you think this was a terrible post about sports, from a typical ignorant American, then…you’ve got a point. But! I’m not representative of American soccer fans, and it’s not just Americans who don’t know about international sports. Take, for example, this video of a (brilliant) Irishman commentating Olympic sailing, and then call me uninformed.
Or take heart that I’m just as ignorant about American sports as all other kinds.