American soccer fans are fine, A response to Jonathan Clegg (WSJ)

Normally during my lunch hour, I like to read the Wall Street Journal and catch up on daily news, markets, some tech innovations, etc (surprise, I do have interests outside of soccer). Today though a soccer-specific article came up on the front page and I thought to myself “Cool, let’s see what’s going on.”

The article was written by WSJ editor Jonathan Clegg on the problem with American soccer fans.  Clegg, an Englishman, talks about his observations of fans in New York bars and other places where people like to congregate to watch the big European matches.  As indicated by the title of the article, he seems to take issue specifically with how some of the hardcore fans appreciate the game and wishes we develop our own soccer culture independently.  Broadly speaking, Clegg has grouped his disdain into three categories: pretentious vocabulary, attire, and perception.

Again you can read the rest of the article here but I’m going to break this down point by point as I had a couple of issues with what’s being said.

Pretentious Vocabulary

They refer to the sport as “fútbol,” hold long conversations about the finer points of the 4-4-2 formation and proudly drape team scarves around their necks even when the temperature outside is touching 90 degrees.

Okay, maybe fans are discussing the finer elements of a 4-4-2 just to one-up each other in a never-ending battle to prove who’s a superior fan.

Or maybe they’re just trying to communicate their point to an interested friend who follows the sport.  If two avid gardeners are talking about a type of plant, they’ll probably want to say something more  sophisticated than “water your plants often”.  Besides,  how exactly are we going to invent our own terminology and ensure everyone understands it? We use England’s terms and pronunciation (fullback, defensive midfielder, number 10, etc.) because, surprise surprise, we speak the same language.  This point was really clutching at straws.

Attire and customs:

On a recent weekend, I went to a bar to watch the UEFA Champions League final and found myself stationed next to a soccer fan wearing a replica Arsenal jersey, a team scarf around his neck and a pair of Dr. Martens lace-ups. He looked like he he’d been born and raised along the Holloway Road. In fact, he was from Virginia.

The whole thing seemed to be less an expression of genuine fandom and more like an elaborate piece of performance art.

Alright fair enough, no one really likes posers who take it to that extreme. But by being a scarf-wearing super fan who eats artisanal toast, talks tactics, and gets over-excited for good saves while complaining about how much debt Manchester United is in, this guy is doing what Americans do with anything new they encounter: incorporate what we like, ignore what we don’t like.  Tapas and tactics? Great.  Flares and racist chants?  I think we’ll pass

Because we are a multicultural society, we do what’s natural and that’s to first study what’s going on and then see if we can replicate it with enough enthusiasm.  Grand banners just look cool to fans so who cares if a Real Salt Lake banner doesn’t have the same intimidation factor as Borussia Dortmund’s yellow wall? It’s all about having a good time.  We can expect American fans to innovate and build something that is uniquely identifiable but influenced by other cultures.  It will happen, trust me.  People get bored of doing the same thing over and over.

These soccer “super fans” are no different than people who are avid gardeners or foodies.   What we lack in tradition, we more than make up for in enthusiasm.

Perception:

Never mind that no other sport is so linked to the working class. For these fans, rooting for an English soccer team is a highbrow pursuit and a mark of sophistication, like going to a Wes Anderson movie or owning a New Yorker subscription.

This point contradicts the rest of the article.  Seeing soccer as an intellectual pursuit isn’t a problem. Hey, it might even lead to that distinct attitude towards the game, Clegg wants us to have.  Anyway, his biggest complaint is that we’re taking English fan customs and attaching ‘intellectualism’ to it.  Okay, maybe that’s just lazy cultural stereotyping, but there are ways we can approach soccer intellectually though because soccer has had rippling effects throughout history and even societal changes .  English football might be rooted in the working-class, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same everywhere else.  Even in England, the size and scope of the Premier League worldwide means that soccer isn’t exclusively a working class game anymore.

FINAL THOUGHTS/BIG PICTURE

There’s no need to apologize for taking interest in something by adopting customs.  Clegg managed to point out the snobbery in a handful of New York bars (how’s that a surprise?), but he didn’t distinguish between influence and imitation.  Right now our soccer culture is influenced by Europe (and England more specifically), we’re not outright imitating them. We’re doing what Americans do.  We absorb multiple global elements and eventually we come up with something that is truly unique.

The Prawn Sandwich Brigade’s World Cup Panel

With less than two weeks to go until the World Cup kicks off, we the editors at Prawn Sandwich Brigade have had differing opinions on how the tournament should play out.  Rather than write separate articles, we decided it would be better to answer four overarching questions, panel style.  Our guest panelists were Arvind Srinivasan (twitter handle @sidewayspass) and Karthik Narayanan (twitter handle @thedarkhorsefc).

If you like the format of this, or just have general comments about the blog, either tweet them @PSBfootyblog or email as at PSBfootyblog@gmail.com

Continue reading The Prawn Sandwich Brigade’s World Cup Panel

Belgium: Football’s Next ‘Golden Generation’

This is the final part in a series of World Cup favorites.  Articles on Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany, and Italy can be found here

A dark horse isn’t a dark horse if everyone believes that they are a dark horse.  That’s exactly where Belgium is and this is the reason why I’m doing an article on them as favorites.  Over the last three or four years, several brilliant young players have come through to bring Belgium back to the international spotlight.

Continue reading Belgium: Football’s Next ‘Golden Generation’

Italy: Road to Redemption

As we gear up for the World Cup 2014, the Prawn Sandwich Brigade will be looking at this year’s favorites to win it all in Brazil.  These articles highlight the differences from four years ago, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each team.  This is Part 5 in a 6-part series on the bookmakers’ favorites. Articles on Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany, and Belgium can be found here

In World Cup years, we usually attempt to base how good a team will be based on where most of their players play their club football.  It’s a pretty good strategy for broadly assessing the favorites; however,  it would be a mistake to do this for Italy since all their likely starters come from the Serie A which has been roundly criticized for being on the decline, yet this is a solid group of players that will be very difficult to beat.

I said it before with Argentina, the best teams are not formed with the best 11 players you’ve got.  Team cohesion matters almost as much and Italy have it.

Continue reading Italy: Road to Redemption

Spain: Subtle Changes Needed

As we gear up for the World Cup 2014, the Prawn Sandwich Brigade will be looking at this year’s favorites to win it all in Brazil.  These articles highlight the differences from four years ago, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each team.  This is Part 3 in a 6-part series on the bookmakers’ favorites. ICYMI, here’s Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy, and Belgium 

Spain always tend to get written off for one reason or the other, but this current generation is one of the most successful of all time.  As far as I’m concerned, this is the greatest team I’ve ever seen (I’m only 21 but what’s your point?).  What’s more interesting is how they’ll defend their World Cup title.  They have most of the same players from 4 years ago, but will need a slightly different approach.

Continue reading Spain: Subtle Changes Needed

Germany: Putting It All Together

As we gear up for the World Cup 2014, the Prawn Sandwich Brigade will be looking at this year’s favorites to win it all in Brazil.  These articles highlight the differences from four years ago, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each team.  This is Part 4 in a 6-part series on the bookmakers’ favorites. Articles on Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Italy, and Belgium can be found here.

“Football is a relatively simple game.  Twenty Two men chase a ball for ninety minutes and at the end of the day the Germans always win.” – Gary Lineker

This quote was funnier 20 years ago as Germany never used to have the flashiest stars, but appeared in more World Cup finals than any other nation.  This year no one is overlooking them and many believe that Germany will finally put it all together and win their first major trophy since 1996.

Continue reading Germany: Putting It All Together

Argentina: Balance, Fortune, and Hostility

As we gear up for the World Cup 2014, the Prawn Sandwich Brigade will be looking at this year’s favorites to win it all in Brazil.  These articles highlight the differences from four years ago, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of each team.  This is Part 2 in a 6-part series on the bookmakers’ favorites. Part 1 can be found here

Argentina are the pantomime villain of football.  In many ways they’re like the Duke Blue Devils. But no one can deny that this side are seriously good and are vastly improved from the crazy-shenanigans of Diego Maradona’s reign 4 years ago. Continue reading Argentina: Balance, Fortune, and Hostility

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