Michael Farrow's sports blog

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…on Soccer in a Football World – Five years on

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David Wangerin's "Soccer in a Football World" - an excellent read

With my Bob Bradley article and a couple of US soccer articles planned(about Freddy Adu and lower division soccer if you’re interested), I have been reflecting on David Wangerin’s excellent “Soccer in a Football World”. For somebody like me who likes books about sports history and enjoys a fascination with the American game, it was a very interesting. Like many people, I’ve always maintained that the two sleeping giants of the world game are the US and Australia. Both countries have a habit of developing world-class competitors when they take a sport seriously and both have yet to manage to unleash their fullest potential on the world. In the US, football was for “commie pansies” until Title IX came along and turned it into “a girl’s game”. In Australia, the game was considered foreign, often referred to as wogball. Johnny Warren, former Australian captain and ambassador for the game, entitled his autobiography , such was the depth of the prejudice he faced growing up in a rugby league heartland playing a game with a round ball instead of an oval one.

Not to ruin an awesome book but “Soccer in a Football World” paints the picture of how a sport that was popular worldwide basically blew its chances of becoming popular in the US, largely through ineptitude, at exactly the time when the US was creating a national identity between the wars. There are plenty of things I didn’t know. For instance, the 20s saw many Scots and a few English cross the ocean to play for riches unheard of in the UK, mainly due to the maximum wage. The American Soccer League developed top-notch homegrown players and professional soccer was considered a better bet at becoming an established winter sport than professional American football. However, it all slowly fell apart. The league and football association were not on the same page and self interest killed the momentum. In particular, his description of the 80s, save for securing the World Cup, is unremittingly bleak. Bar a few trailblazing American pros starting a Transatlantic trend that would later turn into a deluge, it was essentially a long waste of time for the game as we know it, although indoor football did quite well and was surprisingly influential in shaping the US sports “experience”.

The picture painted of the modern age is surprisingly rosy and, placed in the context of the book, the bog standard fan has never had it quite so good. In a way, Wangerin is right. The USSF at least had a plan in recent years, even though it has failed, a vast improvement from the thoroughly incompetent, self-interested dictators of years past. The main professional league and the soccer federation are now on the same side, fighting the same battle instead of fighting each other. The MLS’ creation and the merger of the APSL and USISL into the USL created a hierarchy of professional leagues that has never been seen before in the US. Crowds are going up, more investors want to buy into the league, there are finally a number of owned stadiums at all levels of the game with more to come, TV ratings are up for both domestic and international soccer and and some franchises are actually making money now. Compared to the NASL, where investors threw money at the game despite nobody having ever made any money, this is a very productive situation.

However, the book finishes in mid-2005. The US have qualified for the 2006 World Cup easily and they look to build on ther last World Cup, they have yet to relocate an MLS franchise and even the contraction of the Florida franchises is placed into a positive context; a move I once compared to having a tactical vomit early doors so you can keep drinking late into the night. It’s all very positive. However, the five years since then have seen some changes. I wonder what David Wangerin thinks of now. We’ve seen AEG relocating the Earthquakes to Houston, the now-rapid MLS expansion plan, profiteering mid-season tournaments like Superliga, the resulting marginalisation of the MLS regular season, the huge number of games teams seem to play, expansion into Canada and the uncertain situation in the lower divisions. I’d like to know how he feels about the USSF and the health of US soccer; two World Cup “failures”, the firing of Bruce Arena, the Sampsonisation of Bob Bradley and the failed pursuit Of Jurgen Klinsman.

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Written by Michael Farrow

August 5, 2010 at 7:07 am

Posted in Football

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. This was a Christmas gift for my grandson who is 15. He loves it! I was very pleased with the quality of the book and the contents.

    B. A. Quinn

    September 3, 2010 at 5:06 pm


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