Wall Street Journal writer Jonathan Clegg gets it all wrong about U.S. soccer fanatics


Fans wave flags before the start of an international friendly soccer match between the United States and Azerbaijan last month. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Self-proclaimed English soccer fan [emphasis mine] Jonathan Clegg had some words for American soccer fans. He wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

Growing up as a soccer fan in England, I’ve witnessed my fair share of horrors. I’ve seen shocking acts of violence, overheard hundreds of abusive chants and watched Pele retire to sell erectile dysfunction pills.

Over the years, I’ve been angered, saddened and ashamed by these things. But through it all, my love for soccer remained undimmed.

But lately, I’ve discovered there’s a new scourge on my beloved game that I simply cannot tolerate: Americans.

Yes, those devoted enough to care and watch soccer in the U.S., despite it’s lack of popular cache (football, baseball, basketball and sometimes hockey hog all that here), you’re — we’re — apparently just the worst. Clegg continues:

“By my reckoning, [U.S. soccer fans] may be the most derivative, excessive and utterly ridiculous collection of sports fans on the planet.”

Let’s break down his reasoning:

1) “They refer to the sport as ‘futbol.’ “ Okay, that is annoying. But luckily most of us don’t, unless of course we’re talking about soccer in a foreign language, which we do because the United States is a melting pot, so there.

2) “[They] hold long conversations about the finer points of the 4-4-2 formation.” Oh really? You’re mad because we can talk specifics about the game? Are you also mad at England Coach Roy Hodgson. Because he’s also been known to talk about the finer points of the 4-4-2 formation.

3) “[They] proudly drape team scarves around their necks even when the temperature outside is touching 90 degrees.” Here’s a photo of some soccer fans with Arsenal’s Lukas Podolski  in London from May 18. It may not have been 90 degrees, but it’s sunny and warm enough to warrant a short-sleeved shirt, the scarf probably isn’t necessary. EXCEPT THAT IT’S SOCCER AND SCARVES ARE A THING!


(Andrew Winning/Reuters)

All of the above leads Clegg to conclude that American soccer fans are just a bunch of wannabes. Their behavior “feels like an elaborate affectation,” he says, adding:

“Instead of watching the game in the time-honored way of American sports fans — by thrusting a giant foam finger in the air, say, or devouring a large plate of Buffalo wings — your soccer fanatics have taken to aping the behavior of our fans from across the pond.”

If that’s how it works then, look at all these posers cheering for an American football team in London in 2010.


(Ian Walton/Getty Images)

The lesson here is that sports create cultural divisions, and in the age of the Internet, that does not go vice versa. Ergo, if you’re an American who loves soccer, why would you not closely follow the European leagues that attract the best players in the sport? Why would you not then read European news reports and Web sites that cover the teams you’ve come to love so much from afar? Why would you not entrench yourself in the overwhelmingly international culture that surrounds the sport?It’d be weird not to!

For American super fans of soccer, it feels strange to refer to the pitch as a “field” or call a “kit” a uniform, just as I imagine it’d feel awkward for metric-system-using European fans of American football to refer to the 50-yard line as the 45.72-meter line. Or for an English fan to call the 12th man the 12th bloke.

In other words, Mr. Clegg, relax. Be flattered that there is a devoted bunch of super fans located in a country where soccer, a sport England helped to shape, is still largely looked at as curiosity. Plus, don’t forget: Sports are supposed to be fun.

Marissa Payne writes for The Early Lead, a fast-breaking sports blog, where she focuses on what she calls the “cultural anthropological” side of sports, aka “mostly the fun stuff.” She is also an avid WWE fan.
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Marissa Payne | June 6