Why (some) Americans loathe soccer

Who invented football? Though China has a respectable claim, England usually gets the credit. But G. Gordon Liddy, one of the Watergate conspirators who has inevitably become a talk show host in America, sees it differently.

“Soccer comes from Latin America," he opines. "The game, I think, originated with the south Americans and instead of a ball they used to use the head – the decapitated head – of an enemy warrior”. Course they did, Gordon. (The "G." stands for George, by the way - not, as you might expect from the quality of his sporting insight, Gormless.)

Why am I quoting this nonsense from a man most famous for a dinner-party trick in which he held his hand above a lighted candle until his flesh started to singe? Because it goes to the heart of why the self-proclaimed land of the free has never fully embraced the sport of the free-kick.

Many American right-wingers believe a theory encapsulated by Mark Thiessen, a former speechwriter for baseball aficionado George W Bush: “Many years ago my former White House colleague Bill McGurn pointed out to me the real reason why soccer hasn’t caught on in the good old USA. It’s simple really. Soccer is a socialist sport.” (McGurn, by the way, was Bush’s chief speechwriter.)

So that’s cleared that up. Because ‘soccer’ wasn’t invented on their side of the pond, many American patriots can’t contemplate the sport without “beginning to smell a big fat Commie rat”, as George C Scott’s twitching reactionary General Buck Turgidson put it in the chilling satire Dr Strangelove.

Jack Kemp, a former Republican presidential wannabe, once took to the Congressional floor to oppose America hosting the 1994 World Cup, on the grounds that gridiron was “democratic capitalism” while soccer was “European socialism”. Kemp was joking. Liddy, Thiessen and many others aren’t.

The fact that Barack Obama, a West Ham United fan, likes soccer seems sinister proof to America’s far right that the game is just a Communist plot to subvert the good old US of A.

And things can only get worse. Soccer’s image in America will surely sink lower than a lizard’s armpit after an anthropologist called Scott Atran told the Senate that a Muslim’s enthusiasm for the beautiful game is a “reliable indicator of whether or not someone joins the jihad” and that most of the people behind the bombings in Madrid 2003 played soccer together.

Atran’s scaremongering tosh – sorry, that should read "authoritative insight into the ever-ongoing War On Terror" – has even inspired stories in Newsweek. One, under the not-at-all-inflammatory headline "The link between football and jihad", swiftly followed another (by the same author) which Newsweek.com can't decide whether to call "Why Islamists Love the World Cup" or the more straightforwardly confrontational "Why Jihadists Love the World Cup".

(Editor's note: FFT.com cannot be held responsible for the content of other websites. Don't blame us if it's a turgid, fatuous, ill-conceived waste of ones and zeros.)

It can’t be long before Osama Bin Laden’s apocryphal status as an Arsenal season ticket holder is used in evidence against ‘soccer’. And sure enough, it crops up in both of David A Graham's pieces for Newsweek, which has halved its subscriber base in the last two years and can barely expect to pick up new readers from the footballing fraternity.

The round-ball game has been used as a – oh go on then – political football for almost as long as it has been a sport. But so far, to the chagrin of many dictators, columnists and rabble-rousers, attempts to link the game with a particular political philosophy, government or terrorist organisation have all come to naught.

Football is too unpredictable, amorphous and organic to be easily tailored to a cause. If Atran had been alive when actor John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln, would he have urged the government to arrest every thespian as a Confederate insurrectionist?

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