by | Jun 3, 1994 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Just because someone lectures you, insults you and tells you that your country is stupid is no reason not to help him.

So, soccer-heads, I am here to help.

True, just a few months ago, boosters of the checkered ball were crowing like bank robbers in a vault. The World Cup was coming to the U.S. of A., and man, oh, man — or as they say in soccer, hombre, oh, hombre — it was finally going to revolutionize America. Bring us in tune with the rest of the planet. The World Cup would transform our nation from stupid, hot dog-eating, baseball-loving, football-addicted fools, into something much, much better: soccer fans. This way we could knock down a fence and trample each other.

“The World Cup, she is BIGGEST SPORTING EVENT IN WORLD,” we were told by outsiders, so many times, it was like listening to a European disco record.
“You think Super Bowl is big? Ha! Super Bowl is little sheep. Go baa, baa.”

This was a nice lecture, and we listened carefully, as we turned up the volume on the Knicks’ game.

But now, as the World Cup draws closer, there seems to be one little flaw in the prediction that it will overwhelm our weak, dumb, insular nation.

It hasn’t happened.

Baaa, baaa. Pass me that hot dog, will ya? Ready, set, trample!

The World Cup begins here in two weeks, and outside of banners hanging at several U.S. airports, you’d never know it. Ticket sales are still weak in some areas, and even in places where they are sold out, it seems that foreigners and ticket brokers are the ones clamoring for them.

You rarely see soccer news on TV. True, a few newspapers — USA Today and the LA Times in particular — are running daily soccer profiles before the Cup. But, to my knowledge, no one has requested reprints of these articles. That would suggest someone actually reads them.

As for us dumb, stubborn, NFL- and NBA-loving Americans? Well, call me blind, but I don’t see our children going to school in knee socks and spikes. I don’t see the guy next door dropping his golf clubs to bounce a ball off his head.

If you stop anyone on the street and ask him or her to name one foreign soccer player, the response, in order of popularity, will still be:

1) Pele.

2) That guy whose name sounds like Madonna.

3) Pass me that hot dog, will ya?

Just for the record, Pele is retired.

And we’re out of hot dogs.

Now, believe it or not, I have not come to knock soccer. I like soccer, even though its international boosters sneer at America as selfish and money-grubbing — this from a sport whose biggest stars run like rabbits to whatever country offers the highest paycheck.

No hard feelings, Grass Men. In fact, I have some suggestions. Part of the reason the big WC is coming to our shores with the speed of a minnow is that in America, you get nowhere without marketing.

And, fellows, an ad that says “See Germany Play Bulgaria!” isn’t what we call “high concept.” World Cup needs a slogan

You want marketing, World Cuppers? Take a look at “The Flintstones.” There’s a film we didn’t need and didn’t want, and that has nothing to say.

It made $37 million last weekend.

Why? Everywhere you looked, there were Fred and Barney. I suggest you immediately get in bedrock with the concept. Change the name of the sport to World Stone Soccer. Use a granite ball. Make everyone play barefoot.

Marketing, boys. Get a slogan. If you studied American history — I know the idea sickens you — you’d know Route 66 was once the best way across this land. “Get Your Kicks on Route 66.” How’s that?

It beats: “World Cup: Knock Down A Fence and Trample Each Other.”

Next, you need a beer commercial — one with good-looking actors with a catchy song. Maybe rewrite the Lowenbrau jingle: Here’s to good goals tonight we play Morocco the balls we kick, must have extra zip somehow, so tonight, before we fight, give us a Lowenbrau.

And finally, you must build personalities. Try an American Express ad:
“Hello, do you know me? Of course not. I play soccer. And I’m coming to your country! So I carry the American Express card. This way, when they knock over the fence and trample us, I can get medical help in participating hospitals.”

Get the idea? True, it’s not much, but you have only two weeks. I’m sure if you work really hard, you’ll get the World Cup to at least the same excitement levels as, say, indoor lacrosse.

And if it doesn’t live up to your expectations, you might want to take home an old American expression. It’s trite, but true: Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.

They might turn out to be baseball fans.

Mitch Albom will do Father’s Day book signings of “Fab Five” and “Live Albom III” Saturday, 2-3 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, Rochester Hills, and 4-5 p.m., Hannah’s Bookshop, Mt. Clemens.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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