Two teams marched into a stadium. They were side by side, quiet, the flags of their nations waving next to them. The national anthems played, and the stadium erupted into a thundering chorus for one team as its traveled citizens sang proudly. The other team, silence, its citizens too poor to travel all those miles south to watch a sporting event.
But it isn’t just a sporting event, is it? It’s the only event on the planet where a majority of the world is enjoying the exact same moment, regardless of time zones or religions or races or differences. It’s night in South Africa. It’s day in USA. Ghana, though making great strides in recent years, is still a poor country, while the United States is the richest and most powerful in the world. Day and night, night and day. White stars, Black Stars.
It’s a pitch in Africa. It’s a field in America. It’s football, it’s soccer, it’s a match, it’s a game. It’s crowding around tiny analog tellies with static and lines or giant high definition wonderboxes filled with the beams of satellites. About the only things the two nations have in common is that they were both once colonies of England and that they’re both nations whose citizens are of a hundred ethnicities. Oh, and their football teams are pretty equal.
Equality – an ideal, a goal, a word full of contention by those who keep more of the pie for themselves. To have and to have not. Day and night, night and day. How many of those Ghana players kicked their first football before they owned their first pair of shoes? I can tell you none of the Americans had that problem. Coincidence of birth. Cruelty of fate.
Forty-five minutes passed, a blink in the infinity of time. The have nots were beating the haves, a goal to nil. Another blink, a tie, overtime.
The world is often confused and critical as to why the United States does not like soccer like the rest of the world, why the United States uses a different system of measurement as the rest of the world, why the United States doesn’t have government healthcare like the rest of the world, why the United States doesn’t sign UN Conventions and Treaties and Protocols like the rest of the world.
Let me ask – why does the entire world love an English game?
Five minutes, a goal. The have nots go up on the haves.
The mid-nineteenth century is an interesting time for sports. That’s when games that had been played in various forms began to have rules and organized teams. The evolution of organized association football (yeah, that’s where the word soccer comes from, for those who don’t know) in England is not that different from the evolution of baseball in the United States. In 1848, Cambridge University drafted the Cambridge Rules, which were instrumental in the spread of organized association football. There were other rule drafting efforts, and all of them contributed to the formation of the creatively named Football Association in 1863. (Interesting to note that association football, rugby football, and Victorian rules football, which developed into Australian rules football, were originally part of these meetings, so for those who criticize Americans for calling a game “football” when you don’t use the foot that much, all of these games were called football.) The world’s oldest football competition, the FA cup, was first held in 1872.
At the same time across the Atlantic Ocean, a guy by the name of Alexander Cartwright was “inventing” baseball. In 1845, he drafted the Knickerbocker Rules, and on June 19, 1846, the first organized game of baseball was played. The National Association of Base Ball Players was formed in 1857, and in 1869, the first all professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was formed (my favorite club). The National League was formed in 1876, which permanently established professional baseball in the United States.
Now, neither of these games have their origins in the country where they were organized into professional leagues. Soccer has its origins in Japan and China (we know there was a soccer game played in 611 A.D.), and a version of it was played as far back as the Roman times. Baseball has its origins in France and England, as far as historians can tell. But England perfected soccer and America perfected baseball and the rest is millions of dollars worth of history.
So why did soccer proliferate across the globe and baseball get stuck in one hemisphere?
Well, first, there’s the issue of equipment. Sort of. In soccer, you only need to have something to kick around and some twigs or cans or something to mark goals. In baseball, you need a ball and a bat and some gloves, which can be an impediment in poor countries. Except baseball is the most popular sport in Dominican Republican, one of the poorest of the world’s countries. Kids fashion gloves and balls and bats out of all kinds of things, like milk cartons, for example. It’s not all that different than what kids did in America before parental credit cards. Stickball was popular in the cities. All you needed was a stick and something round (like a wad of aluminum foil), and some jackets or shirts or books or something for bases. Nah, equipment isn’t really the reason.
Look at who the fanbases are. You know what’s amazing about baseball? Some rich guy like Bob Castellini and some homeless guy can root for the same team. But if you look across the globe at soccer fanbases, the same does not hold true. Take, for instance, Buenos Aires, where there are eight different teams representing distinct neighborhoods. You know where someone is from by the team they support. I guess the only thing comparable in baseball is the Cubs-White Sox dichotomy. To some extent, Sox fans are working class and Chub$ fans are yuppie hipsters with money to burn. (Never waste a chance to take a shot at Chub$ fans!) The haves and the have nots. Black and blue.
Oh, and there’s the whole colonialism thing. The Americans were busy killing the natives during expansion in the nineteenth century (and killing each other, too) while the British were “taming” their natives with tea time and football. The empire’s expanse was so great that it prompted the “sun never sets” mantra you hear in history classes. Colonialism. Globalization. The haves and the have nots. Day and night, night and day.
Thirty minutes pass, a whistle blows. Fans of one nation celebrate a triumph, while the others feel ripped apart by defeat. Three days prior, the nation which so stubbornly refuses to embrace the sport of the rest of the world fell in love with the game. Oh, it was such a high to have been on the brink of elimination, only to stave it off with a stoppage time goal! For a few brief days, America was part of the world, not standing beside it - that is what I will miss the most. A win, a high, glorious sunshine. A loss, a sting, a vacuous darkness.