—by Dave Hoyt
I've seen some debates recently on some local blogs discussing how to attract that fickle "American fan". Notwithstanding the illogical nature of the target, I thought I'd add my two cents on their chief elixir: add machines, automate as much as possible and eliminate "human error".
I think a big thing to try to understand is that it's generally realized that soccer is a very human game. It's a game where a single bad bounce can mean the only goal of the game. Simulation, bad offside calls, and dubious judgments will always be, I hope, part and parcel of the game. It's understood that mistakes, even grievous mistakes (see: Ireland), will be made.
And most of us prefer it that way.
Finality is dull. There is something inherently unsatisfactory and limiting about the better team clearly winning. There's no drama in that, no stories worth telling. You watch the Super Bowl and even SI spent most of Monday morning talking about the commercials rather than the game. Fans leave the stadium and go home to watch Leno. But soccer? That's a completely different story. One bad call and you go from champion to goat. Fans leave the stadium and march directly to the nearest pub to shout about robbery and ingrain that sense of injustice into their psyche. I wear grudges and grievances like the Austrian nobility used to wear fencing scars. Every game contains an infinite number of opportunities to claim fraud, to deepen the narrative and let rivalries fester.
What could be worse than see a championship decided by three balding bureaucrats huddled in a booth, watching replay film over and over again like the Zapruder film to decide an entire season's worth of passion, dedication and emotion? Even if you win, you don't win with a bang, but a whimper. On the other hand, I've seen my teams win on a goalkeeper leaving the goal line before a penalty kick was taken (thank you, Jerzy Dudek) and lose due to an errant beach ball. No one who ever witnessed those games will ever forget them, win or lose.
Recognizing that the game is played, run and officiated by humans means accepting the fact that luck, chance, ineptitude and error will always play a part in determining the winner. It gives all the participants, players and fans, the ability to create their own story out of what happened. I love it. And "Americans" will learn to love it too.