Possibly the world’s most loved game, association football is definitely the world’s most vilified sporting code. There are plenty of reasons why this should be so. The game’s reputation has suffered legitimately through fan violence around the world and corruption and stupidities throughout its associations and federations; throughout history football (of various codes) has been variously held responsible for the collapses of moral order and collective political will; it has even been outlawed by monarchs afraid of football’s impact on their fighting forces.
But none of these relates directly to the main source of contemporary vilification, soccerphobia, the fear of one particular code of football, association football and its supposed potential to damage national and regional cultures.
The loudest bastions of soccerphobia are, curiously, found in Anglophone countries with a historical, colonial connection to the British Isles – the birthplace of association football. Australia, the United States of America, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa all house strong and entrenched cultures of soccerphobia. In three and one-half of these countries, association football is seen either as a threat to ‘local’ games or as a game that cannot assimilate because of its foreignness.
Ireland, Canada, the USA and southern and western Australia have developed regional variations of football (or other sports) that are assumed to be indigenous expressions of nationality – assumptions that are often flawed. For example baseball’s claims to indigenous status ignore the similarity it has with rounders and other baseball-like games long-established in Europe. The founders of Australian Rules would be surprised to learn that they weren't playing "British" football. Often, claims of indigeneity rest more on politically expedient assertions of national independence and contemporary concerns than they do on historical fact.
In New Zealand, South Africa and the Australian states of Queensland and New South Wales the local/imported divide is not particularly relevant. The dominant football codes (rugby union or league) in each of these regions and countries have clear British roots. Here, the disparagement of football tends to focus on questions of masculinity and even sexuality. Historically association football has been seen to be a game for pansies and weaklings across the anti-soccer world.
The late Johnny Warren captured the various antagonisms in the title of his autobiography, Sheilas, Wogs and Poofters. In Australia, these were the kinds of people who played ‘soccer’. The game was seen as effeminate, foreign and for men of dubious sexuality.
While Warren’s title doesn’t quite capture the totality of the opposition to association football it does capture the vituperation and the spirit. He relates the story of a tickertape parade for the Australian national team in Sydney.
I have a daunting image, still prominent in my memory. It was the occassion of a ticket tape parade for the Australian national team in 1969. I had taken my allocated place in one of the sports cars which had been organised for the event. The calvacade was snaking its way through the streets and turned a corner. This one particular corner, like so many of its kind in Sydney, was adorned by a pub. Wooing the punters to drink from its kegs were pictures on its outer wall of rugby, cricket and horse racing. True-blue Aussie sports. Spilling out of the pub's doors were tank-topped, steel-cap-booted, tattooed workers quenching their thirst after the dust of the day's work. 'Fuckin' poofters,' some hooted at us. 'Dago bastards,' followed others. The odd projectile was hurled our way. Needless to say, I had, in my life, felt much safer than I did during that parade. (ppxxi-xxii)
This is an attitude that can be identified world over.
The following quotation from Philip Mosely's Ethnic Involvement in Australian Soccer: A History 1950–1990 (Australian Sports Commission, 1995) indicates what association football had to put up with in Australia in years past.
For decades soccer’s rivals had cruised along with virtually no competition. However with each new season in the 1950s they grew restive and even reactionary over soccer’s growth. The strongest responses were found in the Australian Rules states. Particular schools banned soccer and education authorities in charge of school sport were known to hinder the game as best they knew how. For example, staff at White Hills Technical School, Bendigo did not so much ban soccer outright as ban instead the use of school funds for soccer equipment. As early as 1951 buckets of glass were scattered on North Hobart Oval the night before a Tasmanian representative side took the fireld against a visiting English Professional XI. Next season the VFL directed its operatives to secure all available public sporting space in Melbourne in order to stifle the burgeoning threat posed by soccer’s migrant-inspired growth. Similar moves had been made in 1927 and 1928 when British migrants so rattled the VFL that it wrote “with alarm” of this “foreign code”. The 1950s boom in migration promised to be far more of a problem than that of the 1920s. In 1958 a Melbourne soccer club sought to lease a council ground usually used by an Australian Rules club. In response to the application one rules-supporting sneer, “let them play . . . in the gutter”. Melbourne’s reputation for paranoia was crowned in 1965 when youths daubed anti-soccer slogans over Middle Park, chopped down the goalposts and tried to set fire to the grandstand. (59-60)An important question is the extent to which such attitudes and practices are still around today. Below you will find random examples of soccerphobia and its responses from Australia and the United States as well as some nuanced views on the issue.
- March 16, 2012 Football on the Outer
- Jan 20, 2012 Sheilas, wogs and apologists Les Murray.
- Aug 27, 2011 Rebecca Wilson true to form.
- Feb 18, 2011 Soccer ‘the beautiful game’ my arse
- Dec 18, 2010, Rebecca Wilson - Four Diegos Soccer Hater of the Month Winner
- Jul 31 2010, Distance fails to diminish the epic that is AFL footy
- Jul 12, 2010 Time for Australia to get behind the 2022 World Cup bid (pro-soccer) comment on World Cup bid
- Jul 2010, Jim Main Bring on the Beautiful Game
- Jul 1, 2010 World Cup soccer fans abandon reality for fantasy, says Neil Mitchell
- Jun 30. 2010 Jason Akermanis 'Soccer takes a dive at World Cup'
- Jun 26, 2010 Rebecca Wilson 'An ordinary display'
- Jun 25, 2010 James Hird, 'Who dares wins'
- Jun 24, 2010, Football, football, football...
- Jun 17, 2010 Danny Katz, 'Some people just don't get it'
- Jun 15 2010, John Birmingham, 'Soccer in Australia will never be anything more than a lame joke'
- Jun 13 2010, 'NRL faces a new foe'
- Jun 2010, 'Sorry, but I’m not sold on the Socceroos yet'
- Jun 9 World Cup diving
- Jun/July 2010, John Birmingham on 'Soccer's Blown Goal'
- May 28 2010, All aboard the ’soccer haters’ bandwagon!
- May 25 2010, 'Socceroos snorefest a sign of things to come'
- Jun 21, 2009, Star breaks silence on 'disgraceful' behaviour (Phil Rothfield reveals what is starting to look like his obsession)
- Jun 18, 2009, Tim Cahill's sour grapes overshadow win Adam Mobbs
- Jun 17, 2009, Pampered soccer elite could learn from League by Stathi Paxinos ('sub-moronic' would be a kind assessment)
- Jun 14, 2009, 'Socceroos star Tim Cahill allegedly in altercation with bouncers in Kings Cross' by David Riccio (while Riccio has a modicum of a point, his hysteria and use of hyperbole point to a highly developed soccerphobia)
- Jun 14, 2009, NRL would throw the book at Cahill
- Jun 13, 2009, Heroic Socceroos in desperate need of a few scamps and villains (not as phobic as some but still silly)
- Jun 10, 2009, Why Pim is holding soccer back (Phil Rothfield giving some advice to the game he despises)
- Feb 14, 2008, 'Defensive soccer bores me witless'
- Nov 17, 2008 'Columnist Rebecca Wilson slams Reds as humiliating'
- Nov 13, 2008 'Quality beats home-grown' Richard Hinds
- Mar 11, 2007 'Put a soccer in it: Why I can't stand the game', Peter Goers
- Jan 30, 2007 I don't like Soccer - it's a Stupid Game Phill Chadwick
- June 28, 2006 Ugly aspects of the beautiful game, Malcolm Knox,
- June 27, 2006 A force more powerful than footy, Gary Lyon (a thoughtful and positive piece by the ex-AFL star about rejecting soccerphobia)
- June 20, 2006 Is Australia ready for a new national game? No, John Birmingham (Originally published in the Bulletin but wisely taken down from their site)
- May 16, 2006 + May 31, 2005 Can You Smell the Fear? Parts 1 and 2 , Simon Hill
- Nov 27 2005 World game needs a little respect to win us over, Kevin Naughton + Phil Chadwick's response
- Nov 19, 2005 Why I fear for our own beautiful game, Geoffrey Blainey, (a good piece that openly and temperately expresses the author's fears for Australian Rules)
- December 18, 2004,
Richard Hinds Call
it what you like, but to many of us it's just not footy
(a reasonable piece that nonetheless misunderstands the fact that Rugby League and Australian Rules are not cultural equivalents)
- May 23 2003 AFL can repel soccer challenge: SOS
- Anyone for a game of Wogball? Anthony Ferguson
- Soccer, the racist code! (this article has been since edited to remove some of its silliness -- though some still remains)
- Mar 23, 2013 This Just In: Americans Don't Like Soccer, Need Shootouts & Shot Clocks
- July 2010, 'The right’s weird soccerphobia'
- June 29, 2010 'Flopping: It's Not Just for Futbolers'
- June 14, 2010 'The Nation: Why the Far Right Hates Soccer'
- June 11, 2010 'On the state of American soccer phobia'
- June 28, 2009 Why We Hate Soccer so Much. a pro-soccer view from the political right!
- Jan 16, 2008 The truth the soccerphobes refuse to face, Steven Wells
- Clive Davis discusses American soccerphobia
- One American NOT afraid of football Drew Carey interviewed by David Letterman
- July 5, 2007 Bending an expert's ear on the virtues of Beckham, Gene Wojciechowski
- Jan 12, 2007 Why such loathing for soccer? Denise Dawson
- 14 Nov 2006 World Cup fails to win American fans, Steve James
- August 7, 2006 Bend It Like (Yogi) Berra, Allen R. Sanderson
- July 12, 2006 The Superiority of American Culture and Sports, a Joerg Wolf blog analysis of US soccerphobia
- July 2, 2006 Soccer and Socialism, Brian Garst
- June 12, 2006 America's Most Prominent Soccer Hater, Reporting for Duty, Raw Fisher
- April 2, 2006 American sports are played with the hands. Using your feet is for commies, Dave Eggers (satire)
- Aug 1, 2004 Why America Hates Football, Michael Mandelbaum
- Aug 7, 2002 Kick Stand, Jonathan Chait,
- July 4, 2001 Not Our Cup of Tea, Frank Deford
- May 4, 1998 Soccer Mom Hell, Stephen Moore
- Jim Rome is Burning - Bend It Like Beckham
- Jim Rome Is Burning - Soccer Players & Fake Injuries (Youtube)
- Jim Rome Is Burning - Soccer Fans & Grenades (Youtube)
- Jim Rome Is Burning - Soccer Players Hooked On Internet Porn (Youtube)
- Jim Rome Is Burning - David Beckham & Britney Spears (Youtube)
- July 20, 1995 American Attitudes Towards Soccer, Mark Salisbury
- Unknown Menaces to Civilization #1: The Game of Soccer
- Soccer Sucks — Apparently