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Real America or Real Madrid - Does President Obama Make us a Soccer Nation at last?
By Steve MacClare
November 11, 2008


     Sure as I am that none of your attention ever deviates from football, some of you may have noticed another event monopolizing the world's attention last week. After some discussion and after reading several articles online, ranging from the well researched to the awful, I decided not to dodge the issue and address the big question. "Does the election of President Obama have any consequences for soccer in the USA?" 

     Some bloggers and columnists have set out the case for the prosecution by referencing Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s comments about being in the “Real America,” when campaigning in small towns in the mid-west. I think it’s fair to assume when she thinks of her real America that she isn’t dreaming longingly of the view from the top of the Space Needle or going bar-hopping in Capitol Hill before taking in an indie film at the Northwest Film Forum. She probably isn’t imagining the Empire Supporters Club with its multilingual chants supporting the New York Red Bulls either. 

     Both Seattle and New York are solidly in what the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart referred to as “Fake America,” made up of those parts of the USA not in Governor Palin’s “Real America.” Now firstly it has to be said that her comment was both stupid and offensive. I’d be a coward of a columnist to baulk that conclusion. Our big cities are American enough for her party when there’s political capital to be gained from threats to them. (Admittedly there isn’t room in a soccer column to list all the really daft stuff that’s been said over the last year; although as I can see Ballard from my house, can I be Ambassador to Stockholm please?) 

     But let’s go along with Governor Palin’s ideal of this Real America for now and see what role soccer plays in it. Steven Wells writing in England’s left-leaning Guardian wrote “And then, of course, there's still the lingering suspicion that soccer is somehow not part of the "real America.” That's a phrase we've heard a lot this past few weeks, from the prim, smirking, well-lipsticked lips of Republican attack dogs such as Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman.” 

     There I think he does strike a chord. Maybe not in the Pacific Northwest, but I have heard in my travels the view that soccer is somehow less American than the sports played only in this continent. Soccer is seen as yet another European plot to de-Americanize our culture by the back door. And in the minds of those who believe this, America is better embodied by the Republican Party and in the places where that party draws its core votes. A generalization? Perhaps, but I’ve never heard a Democrat say it. So is a victory for the Democrats also a victory for the ‘Soccer’ Party? 

     The counter argument says this is mostly rubbish. All the MLS franchises are in big cities because that’s where the people are, and big cities are Democrat for a whole slew of other reasons. You can’t really refute this argument either. Sure, it’s not as sexy or smug as the opposite, but the few facts it leans on are indisputable. 

     Let’s entertain a point of view from this side of the pond. Patrick Goldstein in a LA Times blog addresses the issue head-on in an interesting piece entitled: ‘Would Obama's election make soccer a major league American sport?’ (  

     He had lunch with Sounders FC’s majority shareholder Joe Roth and writes, “Roth made the tantalizing case that the new popularity of soccer in America has a lot in common with the groundswell of support for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.”  

     He quotes Roth as saying "If you took a map of America where Obama is strongest and laid it over a map of where soccer has its biggest appeal, you'd see an incredible overlap. The blue states on both coasts are very soccer-friendly as well as huge areas of support for Obama, whereas the center of the country is full of people who are the enemies of soccer and Obama -- white, 50-and-over guys who listen to talk radio and only care about football or basketball.” Now Roth is a self-confessed Obama partisan, having been a supporter when the more obvious repository for a Hollywood producer was the Hillary Clinton camp. This, as well as the deep pockets he emptied to bring MLS to Seattle, entitles him to a fair hearing. Goldstein further quotes him as saying, “Soccer's fastest growth is in liberal, better-educated cities, places like Seattle, Portland, Boston, Vancouver, Montreal and Los Angeles. All you have to do is look at the MLS crowds -- they're young, they're noisy and they're not that different from the youthful spirit you'd see at an Obama rally." 

     Certainly the market agrees with Joe. World Soccer Shop was quick to launch official Nike USA 2008/09 soccer jerseys featuring the newly elected president and vice-president of the United States, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. All Obama shirts feature the candidate’s last name and the number 1 or 44.

     Meanwhile back to Wells in the Guardian and a quote which I believe maybe proves the opposite: “The Republicans are at a loss. They keep punching the "real America”, "small town", "psst, he's black" buttons but nothing happens. Because real America has moved on. They sip lattes on Main Street. They like to think they're colour-blind. And godamn it they've been chowing down on arugla in the Midwest for decades (only they called it "rocket", who knew?). And, of course, their kids all play soccer.”

     Follow this theory to its logical end and Wells appears to be claiming that it used to be the case but no longer is. The whole “Real America” thing was 20 years out of date in the first place especially as epitomized by its hostility to soccer.

     Personally, I very much wanted to believe it was true. Most of us Europeans lean left in an American context, and certainly a large majority of Seattleites voted for Obama. I also want to believe that Sounders FC will storm through this city and become the water cooler topic of choice for thousands because we’re all so damn intelligent and global minded. But I’m just not convinced.  

     Soccer will succeed in Seattle because it’s a great game, it’ll succeed because the Seahawks organization could market umbrellas in the desert, it’ll succeed because regular TV exposure on KING5 will circumvent the print media’s disinterest and of course it will succeed because Sounders FC are going to win games. There isn’t a “Real America” that hates soccer and a fake America that loves it. As the man says, there is only one America, “the United States of America.” Now Barack, as for this business of being a West Ham fan …  

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© 2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise accredited




© 2006 All content property of European Weekly unless where otherwise accredited