Sport of nations

Soccer, I'm told, is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, but I hope it never becomes Americanized. Our addiction to football, in our own terms, is little more than spectator attendance at the Battle of Gettyburg, and pity 'twould be if true football, soccer, were reduced to gladiator carnage in the same say. There remains a delicacy to soccer, and a good way for an American to perceive the niceties is to watch one of the games produced for our public television by the German Educational Network. I look at them when I happen to be in the house at the right time, and just the other day I stumbled on a dandy as I twisted the dial to find the Red Sox. I stayed with the soccer and realized as I watched that I was interested without being concerned.

Well, even when the Red Sox blow a nine- run lead, they are still our boys, and emotion goes with rooting for a favorite. With this TV soccer, I seldom know what teams are afield, and frequently I never learn which wins. I'm not all that much of a soccer fan, so I sit looking at the players as they arrange themselves and set up a play, greatly enjoying the techniques, and taking notice of the differences.

The average United States sports fan, I presume, will not be aware of the total foreign allegiance to soccer. My first contact with this came in Edinburgh, when my wife and I arrived to take a room from which we could come and go as we visited Scotland. We were tidying for supper on our first evening, and I shoved a shilling in the pay- as-you-go wireless. I thus got a full shilling's worth of football (soccer) scores from the length and breadth of the British Isles. The Birmingham Blues 2, the Birmingham Reds 1, Chelsea 4, Nosham 3. It went on and on until my shilling was exhausted and the radio went silent. "Gracious!" said my friend, "how long does thatm go on!"

I shoved in another shilling, and it went on another full shilling's worth.

Americans will relish the announcer for this soccer series. Although produced by Germany, an English announcer is heard, and I do mean English.He is like Lord Hothingfoss -- ". . . so beastly British he can scarcely tokatawl." He does not whack your ears off with irrelevant chatter, as do our domestic football announcers, yak, yak, yak, but now and then he will follow some fast action with "Oh, I say now -- therem was a good one!" He rarely gives the contending teams in a way that means anything to us, and spares us any reason for taking sides. This game I just watched was, I assumed for want of any explanation, being played in Germany, not only because it was produced by Germany, but because the signs along the field had good German words like Coca- Cola and McDonald's. And somehow I got the notion from Mr. Toby Charles (the announcer) that the game was between England and Belgium in an international playoff. I had figured out which color was England and which was Belgium when the scoreboard came on the screen to say Italia- Spagne. The game was really being played in Italy.

What should please us is the great importance of its not making any difference.

I am much taken with the referee. Unlike our football and baseball, where the several officials are constantly in view, soccer is played without any great prominence of the referee. This one was wearing a natty jacket that would be acceptable on opening night at Symphony Hall, and his composure was unruffled. He did wear sorts, and his pink and dimpled knees possibly explained his willingness to expose himself. I noticed that he appeared on camera only after two players had agreed on a foul, had made and accepted the customary apology, and had shaken hands. This referee could just as well sing baritone with the Bremmerstadtsoper,m except that Mr. Charles eventually made himself understood and I learned he was from Hungary.

Any American who takes the time to watch a foreign soccer game in public television, if he keeps an open mind, will quickly see how superior the game is in every way. Not that soccer is better than our national games, but the way it is played and the way it is watched. . . . There was one red chap and one blue chap, and they came at the ball and kicked each other in the knee. There followed an Alphonse and Gaston confrontation that lasted about five minutes -- beg- your-pardons the referee had to break up.

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