Two Cultures Coming Together

Thursday, October 14, 2010 | View Comments
Brian "Buster" Phillips of Run of Play has a new post up extrapolating some of the "cultural shadow" (my phrase) discussion on Ian Darke and the influence the English have on American soccer into a wider musing on cultural cross-pollination.  The thrust of his piece is that perhaps English and American soccer cultures are beginning to blend and fuse as a greater number of Americans throw themselves into the game, English outfits looks to learn American marketing techniques, clubs are passing into American hands and the Internet puts us all into a rolling shared-language conversation on all of the preceding and more.  Brian reasons that as time moves along, the language and the growing involvement of Americans will only pull us closer to our cousins across the pond when it comes to this game.  That's the nature of globalization, and soccer isn't immune.

And despite my seemingly frantic need to play soccer Paul Revere by sounding the alarm about the reliance on English voices, I'm not troubled by the eventuality of a muddier Anglo-American mishmash.  While I feel it necessary to play counterpoint to the gaga-ness over Darke's hiring by pointing out that America might be better off in the end doing its own thing for awhile, and particularly when it comes to our most completely American expression of the game (the USMNT), my objection is mostly philosophical.  As a matter of day-to-day life following the game, I'll feel no anger listening to Darke broadcast National Team games, nor will I overly fret when my esteemed podcast co-host overdoes the British soccer-isms.  I might still feel a pang of guilt when I myself slip with a "pitch" or "pace" - each instance adds to my hypocrisy - but intellectually I understand that I'm a product of the same environment as everyone else.  Doggedly refusing to concede that the English should have a  natural influence on American soccer would make me nothing but a pitiable reactionary.

American soccer's trajectory - climbing, then stalling, then diving, then climbing again - has left it without the time needed to veer out of the English shadow.  It's too late now, with instantaneous communication the key factor, for a completely unique culture to develop; Ian Darke isn't an insidious agent meant to keep America's soccer fans entranced by the English, he's a quality broadcaster benefiting from a transatlantic exchange program.  We send them our better players, they send us their commentators.  In the end, most people are happy.

Frankly, it is a little sad that America will never have a chance to do what so many other soccer-mad nations in the world were able to do decades ago - take the game and truly make it their own via style and language - but that isn't necessarily the death of American soccer.  It just means our game will always be a variation of someone else's; our language, culture, and customs will be consistently borrowed rather than organically formed.  I suppose that's fitting in a way, especially as we continue to struggle with our own internal identity.

As we trudge along, a collection of like-minded individuals in at least one regard but hardly headed in one distinct direction, perhaps the best we can do is make sure that the American portion of the cultural stew isn't completely overpowered by the Anglo ingredients.  Whether that means saying "field" instead of "pitch" on occasion, or convincing soccer parents that the guy with the lilting accent isn't necessarily the best choice to coach our kids, it's important that some sort of push back occur, if for no other reason than a streak of independence is a healthy thing to have.  

In general, the older, established culture will dominate when a collision like this occurs.  That's certainly true in this case, though it doesn't mean that American voices don't have an influence on English attitudes.  Perhaps that influence is more subtle and won't manifest in obvious ways like the terminology being used, but it's no doubt there in some measure.   If the realities of the modern world make a truly separate American soccer identity impossible as long as we're just a channel or mouse click away from the English weight bearing down, then it will simply have to do.
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