Season and tournament reviews A round-up of World Cups, Euros and the club seasons from 1998 to 2014. Updates to follow after the 2018 World Cup for a four-year perspective.
Why I love soccer
When I play, I love the feel of the ball at my feet, the feel of seeing a passing angle and delivering the correct pass, and the feel of either finessing or blasting the ball into the goal. I love the competitive tension of having to hold a lead over the last ten minutes, the hard work and personal strength that go into that.
When I watch, I love soccer because of the simplicity of the scoreline, the varying styles of play that emerge from the various cultures, the angles and speed of thought of one-touch passing and the identities of the players.
We learn the identities of the players (and therefore the collective identity of teams) and compare how their styles contrast with each other as they play. One athlete’s grace and foibles can lend his/her team a character that would not be present without him, such as the identity of defensive solidity that the best defenders give their teams, or Barcelona’s complete inability to cover Lionel Messi’s absences.
Each team’s identity also builds as certain adverse (or ecstatic) results are compiled each year. Sometimes there is redemption and sometimes teams get so close only to repeatedly fall short in unbelievably, stomach-churningly identical ways . This collective agony subsequently affects the lives of the players and supporters, some of whom internalise and personalise failures they have nothing to do with.
Soccer fans are unable to acknowledge the massive role luck plays in such stories, in which a championship (and subsequent narratives about “Having the right stuff”) can be decided by the simple act of a ball bouncing to the right or left side of a pole. Luck can play a terrible, brutal role in the result of a soccer game that it doesn’t in other sports. A team can win a match on its one attack for the game, such as Greece’s 2004 European Championship title (or not even, in the case of penalty shootouts), unlike other sports where overwhelming attacking will automatically have an effect on the scoreboard.
In this way soccer can be a scaled-down version of life. In life and soccer, there is one player in the glamour position backed by an entire team of worker ants supporting him for minimal credit. Moments within a match – or within a critical juncture in life – can depend on tiny little factors which inexplicably lead to success or failure. Didn’t marry that woman? You should have called her when she was sick that one day. Didn’t win? You should have passed the ball a second earlier.
From a narrative perspective, soccer can be the same as politics and other, wider fields, or even things like a spin of a roulette wheel, except the result of the uncertain confrontation, unlike big political showdowns, is self-contained and can be attained within the designated two-hour timeframe. Since D-day is so definite and ends so sharply, unlike a wider story, soccer also offers a greater chance to witness unexpected results.
Then there is attraction to particular colours, to the gracefulness of certain movement, the beauty of seeing the ball moved along in a certain way, and the virtue and pain of the quest for excellence.
Marty Gleason 2017