The Globe and Mail's John Doyle, writing about the school inside River Plate stadium, sums it up:
The texture of the connection between the team and one part of Buenos Aires is just indescribably deep. In much of the world, soccer is like that – it’s not an entertainment enterprise. It is part of life itself. It’s not a TV show.Not a TV show. Let's call this view "soccer puritanism." Sometimes it can be disguised as a particularly noxious form of Euro snobbery in North America, but it curries favour with soccer people pretty much everywhere.
And it is absolute guff.
As a more talented writer than I might argue, all Sport is a TV Show. Football is no different from the NFL, NHL, or all those commercialized league sports soccer adherents tend to describe as genetically inferior to the Simplest Game. Millions around the world tune don't tune in to watch/bet on the same four teams bang heads in the Premier League because "it's part of life." Suarez is not Che Guevara because he stuck his hand out to stop a goal, and Maradona isn't the sly devil spoken about in Argentine myth because he volleyballed in a goal against England in 1986, no matter what cheesy prose Jorge Valdano has in mind to convince us otherwise.
Just as Ian Plenderleith wrote in the last WSC that soccer is not going to save developing nations from poverty because everyone looks happy waving flags and singing songs in foreign languages while the games are on, neither is football somehow "above" the often crass demands of the television entertainment industry. Spectators don't pay thousands of pounds and Euros in season tickets and hundreds of pounds on cable subscriptions because of a "great global ritual." Footballers in Europe are usually classified as entertainment workers. World Cup advancing teams get player bonuses, paid not in glory but in Euros. Kick-off times are determined by TV networks, and the talented players who embody the aesthetic spirit of blah blah blah are bought and sold with money earned from television rights.
Soccer isn't "just" a game, and I don't mean in the Shankly sense. It has long since morphed into a global money-making juggernaut, and no, that isn't a mark of the market moving into the temple. Maybe (playing with fire here) it's not even a bad thing. It's easy to take the Galeano approach and say that because soccer has been increasingly commercialized, it has become inherently worse from an aesthetic perspective, as if Garrincha's poverty somehow made his skill all the more ingenious. That too is false, as many a cracking, multi-million dollar Champions League semifinal will attest.
Soccer needs purity like a fish needs a bicycle. I'm a back-and-forth neutral on video replay, but I don't understand the absurd, pseudo-religious opposition to a technology that could in seconds rectify a simple wrong, like a big white ball crossing a big white line. I also don't think Americans who thought Sunday's final was boring, cynically physical, unskilled, and yes, low-scoring, are vapid idiots addicted to the instant gratification of the American Sports Machine. I just think they have a pair of eyes. While Zonal Marking's after-the-fact summaries are consistently brilliant, they have the habit of limiting soccer's 'ought' to a dismal, tactically negative 'is,' and many of us will walk away, slightly confused, assuming that must have been a brilliant final after all.
I just wish sometimes we could do away with this canned romanticism that insists we should be grateful for whatever the game gives us. Soccer is entertainment. While fair, positive, attacking play can't and shouldn't be demanded a la Blatter's wacky rule changes, it should at least be firmly encouraged without fear the whole enterprise will go tumbling into a black hole of American schmaltz, or as Doyle put it, a series of "Hallmark moments."
I don't want Hallmark moments, I don't want "hugs or lessons." But I do want entertainment, and any football supporter who states otherwise is deluding themselves.