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soccer: the greatest thing since oatmeal stout

April 11, 2011

Somehow I’ve found myself obsessed with association football, a.k.a., soccer. I can’t seem to get enough of the English Premiere League, for example, and I’m more than happy to wake up at 6:00am in order to make it to my favourite restaurant/soccer bars in time to catch all the 7 o’clock games. That’s quite a turnaround for someone who was raised on Budweiser and the NFL, and used to think that soccer was the lamest sport ever invented (next to cricket, that is).

I partially blame last year’s World Cup for this new obsession, which gave me my first real taste of soccer. My girlfriend (who used to play soccer in school and is a fan in general) and I made it a point to catch as many games as we could. I also blame it on the fact that Portland just got a Major League expansion team, the Portland Timbers (our only other professional sports team being the Portland Trail Blazers).

One of the things I like about soccer is that it’s fast-paced. There’s no commercials or breaks in the action before halftime unless someone gets hurt or fouls another player, and the action usually picks right back up. I’m also impressed by the level of athleticism displayed by soccer players in general, who basically run back and forth nonstop for two 45 minute halves, and make wicked-ass bicycle kick goals. Low scoring games can be a bit boring, but even those I find a lot more exciting than baseball.

It can also get quite physical, despite what many people think. There’s a lot of pushing, shoving, sliding tackles and collisions. (Just last month, I saw Samir Nasri, a player from Arsenal, take an awfully nasty elbow to the head early on, giving him the biggest knot I’ve ever seen, and he still played the entire game.) It’s got all the things I like about basketball and hockey (sans the ice) rolled into one sport.

Another thing I like about soccer is that it’s international. It seems like everyone has a national team, and most of those players also play for teams in the various domestic leagues, which always give me somebody to root for. Clint Dempsey, one of the guys on the US national team (who resembles a young House), also plays for Fulham in the Premiere League. Mesut Özil, one of my favourite players from Germany’s national team, also plays for Real Madrid in the Spanish Primera División. At the very least, it helps you brush up on your geography.

I also like that each team has it’s own style. Some, like England’s national team, are more physically aggressive, doing their best to outmuscle their opponents. Wayne Rooney can be a right hooligan. Others, such as Spain’s national team, have a more technical and pass-intensive style, focusing on monopolising possession. Few are as graceful on the pitch (that’s what they call the field in soccer, by the way) as Andres Iniesta.

What’s really surprised me, however, is how fast I’ve become a hardcore soccer fan. I’m not really a big sports guy, and I’ve never been that into other televised sports, but now you’re more than likely to find me at Beulahand or 442 (two local hangouts) with a pint of beer and my Timber’s scarf on shouting at the TV. (The soccer scarf, which originated in Britain in the early 1900s, is usually made in a team’s colours, and often contains the team’s motto and/or crest.)

Sports-wise, discovering soccer has been like discovering Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout after drinking Budweiser for most of my life, an experience characterized by the feeling of ‘What the hell have I been missing?!’ Who knows, maybe it’s just because I’m a bit of an Anglophile and have a thing for most things English (e.g., notice my liberal use of British spelling), but I really think soccer is a great game. I’ve gone from the stereotypical ‘uncultured’ American to an enthusiastic footie fan practically overnight.

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