Most Americans love England in some respect. They might be Monty Python or Doctor Who fans. They might think London is lovely. They might admire the country’s love affair with a sport that spreads to four professional leagues and scores of semipro and amateur leagues all wrapped up in a neatly organized pyramid. They might think the English are generally better educated and more reasonable, though that could be a stereotype that fails to account for, say, booing an opponent’s national anthem.
What we don’t like the English insistence that, as great-great-grandchildren of the people who wrote soccer’s rules and successfully exported them to the world, they must know better than we do. About everything.
That insistence has faded. The Premier League is built on foreign talent and, in many cases, foreign coaches. American players in particular are much better respected today than they were 15 years ago.
Yet we see vestiges of it on the Web, along with vestiges of all other prejudices. Just check the comments on Paul Gardner’s Soccer America piece quite rightly questioning why David Beckham wants to drag his long-battered body over for a couple of months of being knocked around in the Premier League.
The commenters — clearly unaware that Gardner is himself English and was writing eloquent pieces about FA Cup finals before they were born — don’t address Gardner’s points. They simply refuse to believe that “someone in America” would dare to criticize anyone as brilliant as Beckham.
One doesn’t have to have been raised on Match of the Day and disgusting meat pies to understand the following:
1. A minor point: Beckham would actually be a good candidate for an Olympic overage spot, just as Brian McBride (a player the English might recall) lent his experience to the 2008 USA squad.
2. For those who clearly didn’t read the piece before commenting: The issue is not that Beckham has been limited by playing in a low-quality side. The issue is that Beckham takes off on these loans and comes back injured from playing too many games. He’s not young. He needs to give his body a break. And regardless of what you folks think about MLS, Beckham thought enough of it to sign a contract and pledge himself to playing here, and it’s high time he lived up to his words.
3. For Patrick Cormac — this may seem petty, but if you’re going to complain about education, you should consider spelling “nouveau” correctly. And you should realize that whatever complaints people have about Gardner, he’s not exactly “nouveau.” One of his most brilliant pieces is an account of the 1953 “Matthews final.” A first-hand account.
4. For Jeff Jefferson — Americans did not invent the word “soccer.” The English invented that word to distinguish the game from other codes of football. Americans aren’t alone in calling it “soccer.” Say “footy” in Australia, and you’ll be greeted by a gaggle of men chasing after an oblong ball and trying to maneuver it through three giant posts at either end of a massive oval.
Frankly, it appears that these folks could use an education not just about the realities of the game in the USA but the history of the sport as a whole. Perhaps they should start with Gardner’s book The Simplest Game.
Gardner, in his decades in this hemisphere, has come to the position that the USA should take more inspiration from the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries in the Americas than from Europe, particularly as the USA becomes more Hispanic through immigration. His critics would say he belabors the point. But if you’re going to base your entire response on an appeal to authority, you’re going to lose.