With the recent news that CBS will be broadcasting a few of the upcoming Champions League fixtures, including both legs of Liverpool-Inter in The United States, it seemed like an ideal time to pitch to soccer curious fans everywhere, but especially in the USA. There is no time like the present to get into the world’s most popular sport. With more matches available live on streaming networks, what used to be the biggest hurdle to becoming a fan is really just a few clicks away now.
Still On The Fence? Let’s dispel a few old arguments:
1. There Isn’t Enough Scoring
This is usually the biggest complaint thrown around by non-fans. “The games are so boringggg.” “Most games no one scores.” “Nil-nil is a dumb result.” etc, etc. I’ve heard them all at various points from variously drunk or soon to be drunk people. The problem is, this really isn’t true at all. In fact, according to some research, the scoreless draw happened less than 6% of the time in matches in England’s top divisions over the last few years. That result happens far less than usual and when a match is scoreless going into the later stages, the tension level rises. In the same way that a scoreless pitcher’s duel in baseball leads to increased tension with each at-bat or a low-scoring American football match played in the snow is usually a war of field goal kickers, not having a bevy of goals can still lead to an absolutely amazing match.
As each team tries to dig in further, it can often come down to one mistake or one moment of individual brilliance to break open the game and steal the result. At its core, we all watch sports to see these moments unfold and in fact, a lack of goals doesn’t at all mean a game has been boring. Sometimes a team is wasteful when it has chances or a goalie is just on another level but the games that are truly just two teams not risking anything and grinding out a scoreless draw are increasingly rare.
2. The Players DIVE
Yes. Some do. But diving is no longer the domain of soccer alone. It’s becoming practically an acting award bonanza in the NBA at this point.
Is it still completely annoying? Of course it is. I don’t know a single person who is a fan of a player diving and slowly but surely, they are being caught when it happens, though not nearly enough of the time. Plus, it is always a fun time to give or take stick when a player goes for the dive and is caught. The jeers from the crowd usually ring out for the rest of a match and sometimes follow the player around their whole career.
Some will argue that diving and feigning injury is pure gamesmanship, that it is ingrained in certain footballing cultures and there is merit there. As with any competition, any edge is going to be exploited and players will forever look to get away with everything they can in the name of winning the ball, a foul or the game. Still, especially in matches that have a worldwide audience and multiple refs and cameras trained on it, the high profile dive is being met with more yellow cards than just shouts from the crowd.
3. There Are Too Many Teams
This is a daunting problem to be sure. In what is truly a global sport, saying all the best players are not concentrated in one place or one league can make it very tough to know where to give most of your attention. This though, is a blessing as much as it can be a curse. As mentioned above, there are more matches available than ever before. This means there are more skilled players, goals, saves and take-ons to be seen than ever before. Thanks to social media and especially Twitter, even the most remote game can be seen by millions if one moment of genius occurs. For someone just looking to get into the sport a little bit, probably the best bet to start would indeed be the Champions League, as it has the highest collection of global teams and superstars all meeting in one tournament outside of the World Cup itself.
Watching what is widely considered some of the best teams of the world from an assortment of European Leagues is a great introduction to the faces, tactics and philosophies that make the sport such a joy to watch. I know for myself, I enjoy sometimes tuning in to watch a team from a league I’m not tracking as much, say a Dutch or Portuguese team and taking in how they set up and attack. It can sometimes feel like you’re discovering a state secret to watch a lesser-known team really dominate in a match and then dare to dream they can bring their abilities to the biggest stages.
For the week in, week out the excitement of league and club teams, my best advice is to just watch matches and see who you vibe with. There are obviously some teams that have gigantic fan bases already and no fan wants to feel like they are bandwagoners, but if you do find a squad you seem to be drawn to, do a little research into them and then just jump right in. Any sincere fan will be met with open arms so long as they acknowledge they are new and willing to learn and enjoy. What fans in any sport find most annoying is the fan who actually doesn’t seem to know much beyond a few talking points they either looked up or heard somewhere and still decides their opinions must be loudest of all. Rather, observe first, talk to and listen to other fans of your prospective team and take it from there. Above all else, have fun rooting. Learn the history, the songs, the rivals because that’s where so much of the joy really comes.
4. Anyone To Root Against?
Almost every sport has a few players or teams that everyone loves to hate, whether it’s the Yankees or Cowboys or Lakers. Teams that both have a long history of success but also an elitist mentality where they KNOW they deserve every benefit. Soccer is certainly no stranger to that, whether it’s with super teams such as PSG or Man City that have used a huge influx of money to construct their squads or a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut like Bayern Munich that wins their league and pillages the squads chasing them of their best players to remain on top. These are teams where greatness is expected and yet, they are not inevitable all the time. Upstart teams such as Lille have found ways to usurp the crown in past years and some surprising squads like Freiburg or Real Betis have made strong starts to this current season. Likewise, the current misery that Newcastle finds itself in, despite a huge influx of cash, shows that just money alone doesn’t guarantee results, but it certainly can help.
Thanks to the constant turnover of players and owners, few teams are on top forever. Most recently, Barcelona went from world-beaters to struggling as it lost the mighty Leo Messi and now is floundering in an attempt to rebuild. Though it’s women’s team is a sight to behold, with the incomparable Alexia Putellas in all her glory at the moment.
All of that being said, there are two groups that have a way of unifying all soccer fans: FIFA and the horribly misguided Super League Founders. Both of these groups represent the things all fans can agree is the worst: chasing money for its own sake. Though they often couch their decisions based on “The fans”, don’t be fooled in the least. The people in these positions are interested in their own bottom lines before anything else. Thankfully the Super League died almost as soon as it was announced, with the fans of most of the clubs involved in open revolt against their owners. FIFA however seems hell-bent on trying to crank more and more product out of their teams and players. With the new idea of a bi-annual World Cup on the table as one option, they will at every turn try to create more and more content, regardless of player health or overall quality. As fans, it’s a double-edged sword in the biggest way, as more matches mean more for us to enjoy, but at a diminished return and with a higher risk of injuries to the players.
So as you decide what teams to root for and what rivals they have, also remember that there will always be the looming presence of this shadowy cabal of people who deserve the real ire as they try to kill the golden goose over and over again.
5. It’s Too Complicated
Anything new can seem almost impossible to understand at first. And soccer has its fair share of terms that seem beamed in from another planet to the layman: counter-pressing, false nine, 4-3-3, and the like. Tactics play such an important role in the game in the same way that offence versus defensive schemes dominates American football. Yet, get past all of the planning and it still is really about players. Game changers that can wreck even the best formation or take one opportunity from a free kick or penalty to undo an entire team’s effort.
All of it will begin to make more sense the more you watch but they aren’t required to enjoy a match at all. Fundamentally, soccer remains a simple game, two teams attempting to put the ball in the net of the other. Everything else is the intricate dance of individuals and fate trying to unwind itself into a result.
Soccer’s rules really aren’t any harder to understand than baseball’s or rugby’s but approach it with an open mind and/or a friend or two willing to take the time to explain things when they happen in a patient way and you won’t go wrong. Plus, with most matches happening in the morning or early afternoon in the USA, it still frees your nights up for whatever else you want to do.
2022 is upon us, with so much uncertainty still looming. However, what is certain is that sports will continue to give us unexpected joys and heartbreak. It’s part of what makes living worthwhile after all, that desire to feel anything deeply. To be present and witness what is happening all around you and if you choose to participate yourself in it. If you start tuning in and following soccer now, by the time the World Cup rolls around in the winter, you’ll be ready to banter with the best of them and can make your own pitch to non-fans on why they need to get on board.