I am a lifelong fan of soccer. I was raised in the sport by a soccer family and watched every World Cup I could. In high school I was definitely part of that rivalry between football and soccer players. But then I spent a number of years in Japan and developed an appreciation for Sumo. I could not help but notice that many of the up and coming stars of the sport were Americans who grew up playing football. This ultimately led to a deeper appreciation for the sport I eschewed since I was first on an AYSO team. That, and the fact that it was almost impossible to catch a football game in Japan I actually started to miss the sport.
After I returned, I re-experienced football with a fresh perspective and was blown away by the utter drama of this sport. Now, as the US Women's team plays Japan for the World Cup, I realize I can pretend no longer. As far as a spectator sport is concerned, football is vastly superior to soccer. I say this knowing full well that doing so will make me the black sheep of the family, but I cannot lie to myself and the world any longer. If I learned anything as a villain, it is that it is important to be honest about where your allegiances lie and that you have to betray your family at one point. Here then is my list for why football is a better spectator sport than soccer:
1) Football is dramatic; soccer is monotonous. It is the drama of the sport that blew me away the most. Maybe it was the way the timing resembles sumo: there is a quiet time where the opponents face up to each other followed by an explosive instant wherein everything is resolved. In short, football is dramatic because it stops at every down. As a Brit, GK Chesterton was undoubtedly a fan of soccer so it sort of pains me to use his words against the popular European sport but soccer resembles the mind of the progressive who believes change is good because it is change. Chesterton questions this superstitious faith in change by remarking that continuous "progress" is really more like a broken record going round and round, stuck in a grove. Real progress comes in explosive epochs and moves forward. As proof of my analysis, I would like to point out that soccer fans become noisier and more involved in the set up before corner kicks, penalty shots, and to a lesser extent throw-ins.
2) Football is war (and war is cool); soccer is galavanting. Because of the system of downs used in football, there is ample time for situational analysis and strategizing. This, and the inherent violence in football make it more like war than any other sport. On the other hand, it is rumored that soccer has its origins in conquering clans kicking around the severed heads of their fallen foes. Talk about grandstanding!
3) Football has diversity; soccer is generic. Imagine an uber sport that combines the best athletes of various sports: a sumo wrestler, an Olympic sprinter, a soccer player, and pitcher. In football each player is a different category of battlefield unit; you have a field general, heavy artillery, fast attack, or armored tanks. So different are their duties on field, that they are more like a ragtag band of players from different sports than they are members of the same sport. While in soccer, with the exception of the goalie, the fullback and the forward all practice the same basic skills with no real distinction regarding their build, physical capabilities, and mental acumen.
4) Football has checks and balances; soccer is an elitist oligarchy. It is perhaps the legalistic nature of the sport that baffles non-Americans most about soccer. There are several referees on the field in addition to the linemen. On top of that, coaches can risk being charged a timeout by contesting calls made on the field. This usually leads to a review by yet another layer of officials who are ensconced high above the field in a booth and the use of slow motion replay analysis to determine the correctness of the call. Truth and justice matter here. In soccer, the referee is not even required to explain what his call is. Was it hands? Slide tackling? Or did he just think the player did not recycle enough of his trash? Nobody knows. And in soccer, it is none of our business.
5) Football is for men, by men. Like I said, this sport is violent. It crushes, maims, paralyzes, and even kills its participants. Attempts have been made at various levels to create a women's league but about the most successful version involves ladies playing in their underwear. I think it is important that we men retain some corner of the world that is our own exclusive domain -- places like men's clubs, the priesthood, and football. For the most part you do not even see women try this sport -- it plays too much to the unique capabilities, strengths, and charisms of men.
6) Football is more gender inclusive. Surprise! Because even though the gridiron is the sole domain of manly men, this sport does have roles for women to play as well -- the cheerleader. And, while not every team has cheerleaders, it can easily be argued that due to the vastly differing nature of the different field positions mentioned above, cheerleading can be considered just another position in the team. After all, because plays have to be called, fan noise is a real factor in professional football and cheerleaders (and for that matter, the fans themselves) are an integral part in keeping the fans engaged. This is one sport where every one does more than just spectate, they get involved in the game in ways that matter.
7) Scoreless at the half?! Not only does football have a diversity of player positions and play off a variety of skills, is has numerous ways in which points can be scored. The women's US vs Japan World Cup was something few football games are: scoreless at the half. This is a very rare occurrence in football but the type of tedium you commonly find in soccer matches. What is more, the more powerful the teams are, the less likely any points will be scored until the last few minutes of the game.
8) Football is American. What could possibly be more singular about this sport than the mere fact of its singularity? Enjoyed by only one nationality (but ironically a nation of immigrants) and played by only one nationality (albeit a conglomerate of many nations), its seed finds no fertile soil or purschase in any other country. The ranks of pro teams are full of descendants of the Vikings, Goths, Samoan warriors, Zulu, mujahadeen, samurai, and knights, yet the ancestral homes of these very same warriors cannot duplicate the successes of the American progenitor. Maybe it is the expensive equipment, the complicated rules, or the lack of room to play. Or maybe it is because every other nation is crippled by their lack of freedom, their lack of vibrant and multinational culture, or their hatred of gender differences. All I know is that I would rather watch football than soccer.
Now, do not get me wrong. I still like to play soccer. I find it far less dangerous for my physical health and it is an exciting sport once you are on the field ... but what self-respecting sport is not? My point is not that football is the best sport in the world, but the best sport to watch.
Finally, I would like to congratulate the Japanese women's team on their stunning upset. おめでとう日本！