I mentioned this 2002 column of mine last week in connection with the Saudi Ambassador's idiosyncratic response to it. But it seems appropriate to give it a full-blown rerun today, Thursday, as the US footie team - or "soccer", as they call it here - prepares for its samba-sultry rendezvous with destiny and a rematch with Germany, the team that did for them 12 years ago.
I'd been thinking that this time round there was more interest in the World Cup than back then. But then I went on John Oakley's show yesterday morning and the soccer banter ahead of my appearance reminded me that even Canada has an entirely different level of engagement with the sport. At any rate, that's what caught my fancy three World Cups ago, when the American team looked at one point in danger of making it to the semi-finals, and maybe beyond, despite total lack of public interest - while in England and Ireland there were millions of fans in search of a team. This essay is anthologized in The Face Of The Tiger, personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore, and proceeds of which go towards my pushback against "hockey stick" warm-monger Michael E Mann and the Big Climate enforcers:
And so the dream dies. The boys gave it their best, they played well, but it wasn't to be. They're out of the World Cup, to the bitter disappointment of their supporters.
I refer, of course, to the United States team, the first in World Cup history with more players than fans. Across America yesterday, all nine of them gathered in bars to watch the big match, only to find that the other patrons preferred to see the Golden Girls re-run dubbed into Spanish on Channel 173 or the last half of Plastering Idol on the Sheetrock Channel. Twiddling my own dial in New Hampshire, I couldn't find the game on anywhere except a French-language station from Quebec.
Is there any other sport where you can only follow the US team by watching foreign channels? No one was singing 'Ere we go, 'ere we go, 'ere we go! - even though it's by an American composer! But, cursed to be born in the US, that poor schmuck Sousa couldn't even make a living in the soccer business, forced to stick to his day-job as a conductor. In fact, all the great football songs are by Americans - Rodgers and Hammerstein ("You'll Never Walk Alone") and Livingston and Evans, whose "Que Sera, Sera" has a British lyric of endearing directness:
Millwa-all, Millwall, Millwall
Millwa-all, Millwall, Millwall
(Repeat until knife fight.)
But, aside from the music, the American contribution to soccer has been minimal, and American interest in it even, er, minimaller. Every four years, the same bien-pensants who urge the Administration to be more "multilateral" and to work through the UN also commend the virtues of the World Cup: the game is supposedly more poetic than American sports, as subtle and nuanced as French foreign policy. But Americans like their international competitions to be international in the sense of the current "international coalition against terror" at Kandahar airbase - that's to say, overwhelmingly American but with a few token Canadians. The World Series extends to the Toronto Blue Jays, but that's it.
Yet for the last couple of weeks the World Cup has been going very oddly. I didn't notice it at first because, like 99.9999 per cent of the US population, I had no idea the World Cup was even on. But once the back-issues of The Daily Telegraph started arriving, I couldn't help noticing the cup's strange approximation of the world beyond footie. No sooner had the Saudi Ambassador to London, Ghazi Algosaibi, hailed the heroism of "martyrdom operations" than his national team heroically martyred themselves eight-nil. Either that or the entire squad are Mossad Jew infiltrators.
Even more unnerving was the success of the American team. What more damning evidence could you have of the global reach of the hyperpower than for the World Cup to go to the one country that has absolutely zero interest in soccer? And, if the sleeping giant can sleepwalk its way to Number One football nation, who's to say it couldn't also sew up a Test Series or two?
Would winning have changed anything? I like to think not. In defeat, magnanimity. In victory, complete and utter indifference. One fondly imagines the news bulletins:
At the White House, aides were alarmed when the President slumped to the floor and passed out during the early minutes of the match. Surgeons operated immediately to remove the pretzel only to find there wasn't one. 'I guess I just find it hard to stay awake during soccer,' Mr Bush later reassured the American people. 'I was fine once we switched over to the Antiques Roadshow.' However, the President added that he wanted 'to take this opportunity to congratulate our team on their incredible victory over the . . . er, evildoers...'
Many famous football faces from Britain have found themselves in demand on US television. 'It's a game of two halves, Larry,' Bobby Charlton said on Larry King Live. 'Is it really?' said Larry. 'Well, you'd know better than I would. And are the helmets expensive?'
Few Americans seemed familiar with even the most basic technical terms. At a Hollywood victory party, a BBC reporter asked Richard Gere if he was planning to get rat-arsed, but the colour drained from his cheeks and he had to be helped to a chair.
What an interesting philosophical question America's lack of interest in its national team raises: if a goal is scored in the forest and there's no one around to cheer it, is it still a go-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oalllllll? One can't but feel that, like those unmanned "drones" dropping bombs in Afghanistan, the unfanned team is an eerie glimpse of the future. My prediction is that, by 2006, France, Argentina, the Saudis and maybe even England will be attempting to mimic America's winning indifference streak.
You'll Never Walk Alone - unless you're an American footballer at a homecoming ceremony.
~The above essay appears in The Face Of The Tiger, personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore, and proceeds of which go towards his end of the upcoming Mann vs Steyn trial of the centuryhockey stick. To see the response of Mark's favorite Wahhabi Ghazi Algosaibi to the above, click here.