The Sports Economist has an interesting article on broadening the appeal of football. Apparently, PJ O’Rourke has spoken, and us football fans “need to admit” that scoreless sports ties are boring.
I hasten to add, I cannot agree with that sentiment, even if it was uttered in jest. Admittedly, goals are nice, but even the most open and exciting of games can actually finish goalless due to the infrequency of goals in football – a factor which gives it its appeal. We’re not talking about basketball where the points gradually add up to give an overall picture, nor rugby or American Football where many points are awarded fairly frequently. Part of football’s enduring appeal is its uncertainty, and that is built up by this relative infrequency of scoring events. It means poor teams like Switzerland can upset the odds and beat Spain.
I have to admit, and this may well sound somewhat anti-American, that my ultimate concern for football is not that it becomes as popular in the US as traditional sports are there. Maybe I’m part of this quaint European bias that FIFA has, or perhaps it just reflects the feeling in Europe – which I try and distance myself from much of the time when it tends towards anti-Americanism.
My concern is that games are not as marred as the World Cup Final was by cheating. That game could have finished 5-4 and I would probably still have felt unhappy with the match given the antics on show. My concern is also that to a large extent, justice is done: Not just divers are punished, but play-acters too, the players that roll and writhe around until the other player gets booked, that balls landing over the line result in goals being given, that offsides make use of Hawkeye or some other technologically-aided means. This doesn’t mean that the talking points will disappear and nor does it mean that any of the excitement need be taken away from football (nor that breaks are created for advertisers) – if that is indeed FIFA’s motive for not exploring these possibilities so far.
Finally: There’s a great advert by an American company that mocks many classic suggestions for American-ising the game that finishes with the slogan: “You do the football, we’ll do the beer”. Football fans don’t want all games ending in a result (no added-time multi-ball), we don’t want games ending 7-6 or 9-7 or whatever. What bothers us are wrong decisions and cheating.