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Yankee doodle went to Rustenburg

June 10, 2010

Despite decades upon decades of peace and harmony, deep in the recesses of our national DNA still lies a certain series of genetic code which doesn't exactly make us predisposed to understanding or really liking what the British think of us as a nation.

On Saturday for 90 minutes in a stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa those long forgotten feelings will surface again, but not on a battlefield in Lexington or Concord or down in the swamps of New Orleans.

Rather it will be on a soccer field in the FIFA World Cup.

While this game between the country which handed us most of our national identity has no resemblance to the conflicts of generations' long departed, there is a lot of dignity and respect on the line here.

For you see, England is the birth place of soccer. It still holds enormous amounts of cultural sway in the way the sport is presented the world over. It's like us with rock music. We invented it, others perfected it, yet it's still very much ours and we wouldn't have it any other way.

From that perspective, England certainly doesn't want its national heritage smothered by a bunch of "septics." Even though we've qualified for the last six World Cups (England hasn't), the way we play and interpret the sport is viewed with outright hostility in jolly 'ol England.

For instance, just last week, fans of the Liverpool soccer club stood outside the gates of their stadium and burned an American flag in protest of the club's American owners. Now of course they have a reasonable gripe regarding their club's financial situation (they're deeply in debt), yet to go directly after a national symbol illustrates the seething anger and resentment residing in the public consciousness over there.

While our country has tangled with the red coats on the battle field, there really hasn't been much of a rivalry in the athletic arena as our national sporting interests have diverged greatly over the centuries. We play baseball. They play cricket. We like NARCAR. They dig Formula One. We watch basketball. They tune into darts and snooker.

Perhaps our greatest sporting moment between our two nations came on August 27, 1869 when Harvard University famously challenged Oxford University in England to a rowing race on the River Thames.

It is said that one million London residents turned out for that race, while back home millions more awaited the word on who won via newly installed transoceanic telegraph lines. And it wasn't just those near Boston who cared deeply about Harvard's result. It was said that 21-gun salutes were planned in cities across the country in the event that Harvard won.

It didn't.

Our last - and up to this point only - meeting with England in the World Cup came in the 1950. While we famously won the match 1-0 with our bunch of polished semi-professionals, it didn't mean a whole lot. Our national soccer program entered a 40-year black hole after that game, while England retooled itself and eventually won the 1966 World Cup.

The lesson here?

Don't put too much emphasis on one result.

But then again, a victory over England in a meaningful contest would definitely put U.S. soccer on the right track to perhaps winning this cup. More importantly it might sway the international attitude that pretty much assumes we really don't know what we're doing when it comes to soccer on the big stage.

At an absolute bare minimum, a victory would mean our fans in the stadium would get to sing 'My Country 'Tis Of Thee' over top of 'God Save The Queen' in the dying moments of the game.

That alone would be worth it.

Cup turbid

Expect a favorite to win this tournament. Spain and Brazil are head and shoulders more accomplished and organized than the rest. Anything can happen though and with a cup being played on the African continent for the first time that goes doubly so.

Be warned. The vuvuzela (the plastic horns that fans in South Africa blow) will be present throughout the entire tournament. At best there will be a constant hum on your TV. At worst it will sound like a hive of bees in moments of extreme excitement.

The worst team at the Cup? Everyone thinks North Korea might fit that bill since most of their players play behind their version of the Iron Curtain, yet New Zealand is likely to be that team.


The players and coaches on the team have already made plans to take side golfing excursions while they're in the country.



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