October 5, 2023
Becoming a parent changes you in many unexpected ways. In the 1990s, one of those ways was to learn about soccer. Now, I was never as ignorant of “football” as some of my contemporaries, because I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The sport was occasionally played in gym class, but our neighborhood included a Serbian Orthodox church with a regulation “pitch” behind it, and we would occasionally see parts of a “match.” My first gear industry employer no longer had a soccer league in 1971, and had dropped its participation in the Industrial League probably 10 years previously. But the blow-up photos of Falk’s championship soccer teams in the 1930s were still on display as evidence of its popularity in the ethnically diverse, working class community. I do not know if they employed “ringers,” as it was reported to be the practice when they competed against other industrial organizations in baseball, football, or basketball. Whenever young men engage in sporting competition, you can count on creative rule interpretation. My six-year-old son wanted to play soccer, and the only way he could get on a team was if a parent coached. So I went to soccer school, several clinics — even played in a mandatory league for coaches. We were so new to the game we had to write up instructions for the parents and grandparents to explain the rules and make sure they yelled the proper instructions to the kids. Twenty years have passed, and while soccer has not become a mainstream American sport, it remains popular with my son and his age cohort. And it is still something a father and son can share an interest in, despite being a thousand miles from each other. He got me to watch the English Premier League telecasts on the weekends; on my own I decided to follow the Tottenham Hotspurs, not knowing that they were “losers” on a scale akin to that of the Chicago Cubs. They should be a big sports story for their outstanding 2016 season, yet they have been overshadowed by the incredible success of the Liechester squad. The loveable underdogs are both at the “top of the table” — ahead of the usual powerhouses. And, a former league leader, Aston Villa, is on the verge of “relegation” (Ed.’s Note: In soccer, the act of moving a soccer team to a lower division.) for being one of the bottom-three in the EPL. Wouldn’t it be interesting if American professional teams got relegated to the minor leagues if they continued to lose? I am not quite sure how relegation works. It may be as complicated as the off-sides rule. But I can think of several teams to which it ought to be applied.