By Taylor Holland
JULY 13, 1998:
What the World Cup needs now is not love, sweet love, but more half-witted ruminations
by a relatively malinformed American fan. Uh ... no. But here it comes - with fair
warning - whether you like it or not. So, to avoid both further adieu and being labeled
a cynic by lay critics and negative armchair publishers, here are some positive
things culled from sporadically watching recently televised broadcasts of The Most
Popular International Single-Sport Event in the History of the World.
This team wears hazardously orange uniforms which can be considered a Dutch treat.
Like the Houston Astros of the 1970s, or the pre-1997 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Holland's
sunny attire temporarily blinds opponents and doubles as hunting gear in a pinch.
The Dutch fans, who appropriately refer to themselves as The Orange Club, shuttled
15,000 fans to the South of France for their game against Yugoslavia and proceeded
to masquerade around the stadium in freakish Eiffel Tower-shaped orange foam hats
while humming tunes akin to "Auld Lang Syne." This bunch reminds me of
Nebraska Cornhusker football (American football) fans, who also don freakishly
bright clothing en masse and are willing to travel up to 3,000 miles by any
means necessary to watch their beloved team fight it out on a kempt, green pitch.
The New York Times predicted that the Netherlands would win Le Coupe du
Monde '98. They were wrong.
- Mononames. Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Romario, Leonardo, Giovanni, Bebeto ... Um ...
Renaissance painters? No, Brazilian soccer players. Who, incidentally, have the certain
luxury of having to carry only one name, à la Madonna, Prince (sic), and
Elvira. Speaking of Ronaldo, I could do without the coverage of his girlfriend daydreaming
about shopping while trying to look interested as Ron scores yet another breakaway
goal against lesser competition. Yawn.
- Team USA. I know everyone is ashamed of them because they're boring
and they suck. But hey, forget about it! No one in the United States cares about
soccer, remember? We should be proud that we can even field a competitive team with
this bunch of suburban momma's boys. I rest easy at night on the assumption that
we could abolish football (American), basketball, and baseball, and funnel all of
our best athletes into less-profitable sports (like soccer and swimming) and handily
win the Olympics and the World Cup alternately, every two years, forever. I think
it's safe to say that as far as athletics are concerned, our leftovers are better
than most people's meals. But 32nd place is going to be about as good as it gets
as long as the NBA, NFL, NHL, and Major League Baseball share a warm, cozy bed with
Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, and Michael Eisner, while FIFA sleeps in a cold, damp,
dirty doghouse called France.
- The Beautiful Game. That's what Brazilians call soccer. It takes generous amounts
of grace and strength to play el fútbol at the highest level.
Running at full speed and leaving your feet to lightly tap a motoring ball off your
tiptoe over a ready goalie's outstretched hands (with English) is so much more deft
than connecting on a deep post pattern or an Alley Oop jam, it's stupid. The shin-kicking
melee in which I unwittingly participated as a child on the dusty, wind-swept plains
of Oklahoma it ain't.
- Continuous Play. A Guinness-guzzling, rugby-loving Irishman once pointed
out that football (American, silly) is more boring than labor negotiations, because
it stops more often than it starts. He's right. The beauty of continuous play is
that the tension builds. You can't take your eyes off the game for two seconds
or you might miss the only thing worth seeing. Like coitus, the tension builds and
builds and builds until... goooaaallll!
There are, however, many things that continue to baffle me about the World Cup.
Like, how come I haven't seen any celebrities in the stands? Isn't this the most-watched,
highest-profile, like, sporting event in the world? Where's Elton John? Gerard Depardieu?
Rod Stewart? Catherine Deneuve? It's a total sham that they let so many average Joe
fans from these small, shit countries into the stadiums when FIFA could be
showcasing global luminaries and giving the world a star-studded gala rivaling only
the Orange Bowl halftime show. [Ed. Note: Chronicle music editor Raoul
Hernandez says he spotted Mick Jagger in the stands at Falkland III: England/Argentina.
However, we must question the sanity of a man who claims that French goalie Adrian
Barthez and Rob Halford of Judas Priest were separated at birth in much the same
way as Paraguayan goalie Jose Luis Chilavert and punk frontman/poet Henry Rollins.]
One more thing: How did "The Wave," an idiotic stadium ritual originating
at University of Washington home football (American) games in the early Eighties,
ever make it to World Cup '98? Soccer fans have so many silly songs, chants, dances,
hats, flags, and funny instruments to play with and sing to, it seems like overkill.