Why you should care
Because this type of immersion could be a path to cultural fluency or muscular atrophy.
If life ever since March Madness has seemed but a hopeless litany of valid complaints, fear not. Escapism has come to the rescue in the form of the twinkling, vaguely discomfiting Eurosport that’s been threatening conservative American male sexuality since Yorktown.
Love or loathe it, it’s here. And like your unemployed adult son — the unwanted houseguest who douses himself daily in equal parts Axe body spray, Cîroc and shame — it will never leave. Soccer is here, it is everywhere, it is inescapable. And. It. Is. Glorious.
It’s a time to master a fascinating Anglophilic soccer lingo that implicitly derides skillful non-English players as “foreign cheats” for failing to “get stuck in” and “keep it tight at the back.”
On any given day this month, it is possible to watch 450 minutes (plus extra time) of actual game action and another five to six hours of pre- and postgame babble. In France, the Euros (the continent’s championship, played every four years) are still in the group phase — three games a day — while Copa America (the championship of South America but nominally including a handful of North American sides), being played right here in the USA, is just moving into the knockout rounds. Turn on your TV, your tablet, illegal internet feed, etc. and bask in the kind of willful time wasting that used to make March the most wonderful time of the year. With nine solid days left in the month, anywhere from 4,050 to 8,040 minutes of your life are just begging to be stolen.
“I had to leave,” says Luke O’Brien, bartender at New York’s Wilfie & Nell, a port of call for English and Irish football supporters. “Last time [Euro 2012; World Cup 2014] I was spending eight hours a day in my flat. I remember asking myself aloud, ‘Why are you doing this?’ but I couldn’t stop. I just kept watching.”
Just like March Madness, soccer’s appeal is that it truly offers something for everyone, even those who maybe, sorta, kinda just hate sports. For fashionistas, there’s Peru’s elegant “sash” kit; for fascists, there’s Russia; for Brexit advocates, there’s a UEFA-sponsored contest to win a face-to-face with David Guetta.
This month offers us a glimpse into the far-flung corners of the sporting world to identify new characters deserving of scorn, hatred or amusement. It’s an epic clash of cultures, pitting craven, angel-banded diving continentals against earnest, moronic David Putty lookalikes and England goalkeeper Joe Hart as he screams “God Save the Queen” into the wide-eyed, cowering faces of the children forced to hold his hand. It’s a time to master a fascinating Anglophilic soccer lingo that implicitly derides skillful non-English players as “foreign cheats” for failing to “get stuck in” and “keep it tight at the back.”
And just as in March, the games themselves are largely incidental. Sure, anyone can get excited about Germany or Spain, Argentina or Mexico — but it’s the meaningless battles between nations locked in 90-minute, slow-motion death rattles that transform you from high-functioning citizen to Zaxby’s shut-in. Matches between exotic vacation destinations such as, say, Northern Ireland or Albania. Once you’ve started watching the unfashionable matches, you’re hooked — you may as well pop that can of Pringles, because you cannot stop. You need completion. You need to see all of it. Every last one of those 450-plus minutes a day.
Sure, your life may fall apart, your career may flatline, the people you love may leave you, but accept that there is no alternative. Simply: You can run, but you can’t hide.
“I thought, if I took a trip…” O’Brien says of his recent, Snake Plissken–eque escape from New York to the comparative soccer wilderness of Vietnam. “It didn’t work, though. I watched the whole of Ireland vs. Sweden at a bar in Hanoi. If I hadn’t had a flight to catch, I’d still be there watching.”