Like a social drinker or smoker, I’m a social soccer fan, which means that I’ve watched some of the World Cup with a passing interest. This, however, is a nice post about why soccer is great, and it made me rethink some of my latent, usually unstated qualms with the sport:
Re the infrequency of scoring: Nick Hornby, in his wonderful soccer memoir “Fever Pitch” (highly recommended), has a wonderful list of the ingredients that go into making a truly great soccer game, the kind of out-of-body ecstasy that soccer can induce and which all soccer fans understand. Some of the ones I recall (I don’t have the book with me): home game for your team; home team wins, 3-2, after trailing 2-0; outrageously bad penalty call against your team [followed by a missed penalty kick by the other side].
So it is absolutely true: if you’re losing a soccer game 2-0 with 10 minutes to go, you have a mighty slim chance of winning, and you are almost certainly going to be walking out of the stadium depressed and disappointed. But . . . it does happen. Teams do come back. And if this is the game in which it happens, you will never, ever, forget the experience of watching it. It will be roughly equivalent to having sex with all of the other fans, simultaneously.
In 1999 Man. U scored two goals in the last 4 minutes of a Champions League Final — unlike the World Cup final, which will be watched by ten times more people than watch our “Super Bowl,” the Champions League final is watched by only 4 or 5 times more people than watch our Super Bowl. It’s kind of a big deal. I’m not a Man U. fan — but I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to be a Man U fan in that stadium that night.
You might have to watch many, many games before it happens. You may go a lifetime and only experience it once or twice — or, god forbid, never. That’s why you go to a lot of games — to be sure to catch it when it happens.
This is probably true for no hitters and, say, an unassisted triple play, but beyond these two rare occurrences (the latter is actually the rarest thing in baseball, having happened only twelve times in all of Major League history*), there is a lot more in baseball to keep you satisfied. Just this weekend I watched Curt Schilling strike out five batters in a row (before blowing the game in the seventh). That was cool — and it actually sent a slight — just slight — shiver up my spine that reminded me why baseball basically rocks. And why sometimes soccer seems a little bit of a downer . . .
Question for the Professor, though — why must there be penalty kicks at the end of a tie game? It’s one of the things that bums me out the most about soccer. (The 1994 World Cup final was l-a-m-e.) One of the most rad things about hockey is the playoff games that stretch six or seven periods. The players are dead tired, busted and those games are sweet to watch. Why not play sudden death into eternity? The players would have to get tired at some point and let a goal go by, so there’s a built-in escape, and it’d be freakin’ epic to watch! You could even allow unlimited substitutions, which could keep players fresher.
*I actually was at the Yankee game in 2000 when Oakland’s Randy Velarde made an unassisted triple play, the eleventh in history. Although it was amazing, it happened very fast and was almost anticlimactic**.
**Witnessing this wasn’t at all like “having sex with all of the other fans simultaneously,” so maybe soccer fans are on to something . . .