As many long time blog readers know, along with being an avid mountain biker, cyclist and cycling fan (both road and mountain), I am also a football fan. Football as in soccer, not football as in brown, pointy, throw, carry and only occasionally kick throughout the game ball. But for the sake of this blog post, I am going to make it easier on my five readers and refer to football in its (apparent) God-given, American, Christian name: soccer (vurp). I will also add that much of this post is aimed at my American readers, for in America soccer is not the in your face, national headline dominating sport that it is in the rest of the world, it’s primarily known as a sport for kids that don’t/won’t play “real” sports like football, baseball, basketball, hockey, softball, volleyball, golf or tennis. You many have noticed that amongst the sports I just listed there is another sport absent… cycling.
Yep, whether you like it or not fellow cyclists, there is NO doubt in my mind that most of America does NOT view what you and I do as a sport and that cycling is way more like soccer than some of you would care to admit. This is why I have to confess, I am a little disappointed at seeing some of the recent Twitter and Facebook posts from cyclists bashing soccer players as weak, faking, diving babies who need to “harden the fuck up and race bikes.” I expect these sort of things from mainstream American journalists who make their living off of football, basketball and baseball and attempt to gain readers and listeners with over-the-top statements every four years when the World Cup comes around. You know, sort of how every July when the Tour happens, some dick headed sportscaster or journalist goes on a diatribe about cycling… cardio freaks, funny hats, too tight clothing, get off the road, slowing my commute, not a sport, yada, yada, yada.
As a soccer fan, I can admit there are parts of the sport that I am less than thrilled with at times. However, I also know that sometimes “faking it” isn’t faking (see the Soiled Chamois post Yeah, Sissies for more on that), that soccer is way more physical than it’s given credit for (it used to be even more so from what I’ve read and seen in old videos), and that TV’s wonderful, super-duper slow-mo can often make it look like a player was hardly touched, yet went down like he was shot from the grassy knoll. I will point out however that many professional soccer players can reach speeds of over 20 miles per hour at times and that it doesn’t take much of a nudge to hit the deck at those speeds. Um, sort of like a cyclist cruising along in the peloton at 20+ miles per hour, barely touching wheels and hitting the deck. “How did they go down like that, he barely touched that dude?” Your non-cycling friend asks you at the bar, to which you whole heartedly try to explain as they ignore you, sip their beer and ignorantly laugh at the slow motion replay of bloodied, lycra clad riders piling up.
Yes, sometimes in soccer a player goes down after a tackle and lays there holding his leg writhing in pain. And lays there… and lays there… until someone finally kicks the ball out of bounds, the referee stops play, the trainer comes out, leans over the player, gives him some water and within a minute the player is miraculously up and ready to come back on the
pitch field. Often, this is more to do with slowing the game down and giving the player and his teammates a breather than it has to do with making a meal out of a tackle or being weak or a sissy. Of course, sometimes they’re just being asses.
Soccer, unlike most other sports, has no time outs. The clock is always going and any time taken for injuries, substitutes or other delays is added on at the end of the 45 minute half as “stoppage time.” Also, unlike other sports there is a limit on substitutions. Each team gets three subs for an entire game. If an injury occurs, the player can’t continue and the manager has already made all his substitutes, that team is now playing a man down for the rest of the game. As a cyclist, try to think of that player laying there in the same way you do when you see a pro cyclist not taking his pull or hanging out in the middle of the pack to save energy, taking shelter behind race vehicle or taking a “helping hand” from a manager as they grab a bottle from the team car. It’s not exactly “right” or “legal” but at times it is part of the sport. Cyclists and soccer players are some of the fittest athletes on earth, but they ARE human.
I saw one Twitter post that suggested soccer players must not wear shin guards anymore because they are always holding their shins after a hard challenge. To which I’ll point out that this person most likely never played soccer outside their local Parks & Rec league (where everyone wins and there is no tackling), that the shin guards don’t cover the entire shin, and that many Pros use metal spikes on their boots (cleats in American sports lingo). In other words, it doesn’t take much to cause some pain. Think of that in the same way you do when your average cyclist friend says “Why can’t he just sit and spin up that mountain pass like I do? I never have an issue.” To which you TRY to point out that Pros are using something like a 53/34 crank and he is using a triple with a giant ass pie plate cassette.
Overacting: I too often wondered why a soccer player makes more out of foul than it actually is. Sometimes the player is just an ass. But then this season in the Premier League, I saw one player get headbutted by an opponent as his team was making a wall to defend a penalty kick. He received the headbutt, stumbled back and fell to the ground as if he just had a shiv stuck in his forehead. It wasn’t all that, but as the announcer pointed out, the referee had his back to the player and didn’t see it. However when the player went to ground it got the ref’s attention, he then took the time to talk with his line judge, confirm the action and a foul/card was given. It didn’t matter if the guy was in agony or not, headbutting is not part of the game. In cycling terms, think of it as throwing elbows or riding someone into the barriers in a field sprint, except there are no photo finishes or video to look back at. You gotta make a meal of it to let the official know what’s happening. It’s not always pretty, it’s not always cool, but sometimes you do what you gotta do to get attention and get the call.
Diving: Well, I have no defense of diving or “simulation” as the English soccer announcers often call it. It is basically just cheating and not right. Thankfully, at least in the English Premier League (my favorite), more and more refs are starting to call the foul for simulation (which results in a yellow card) and it has helped cut back a bit. Diving is to soccer what the testosterone sack patch and EPO is to cycling, what PEDs and ball doctoring is to baseball, what steroids and holding on every play is to football and what ugly pants are to golf; a sad part of the sport that happens way too often.
Biting: It seems strange to even write that and also very sad. To soccer fans, the case of Luis Suarez is nothing new. He is an amazing, amazing talent but fucked up in the head. This is NOT a normal part of soccer. Thankfully there is only one freak that has biting in his repertoire and I can only hope that FIFA does the right thing and hands out a stiff(ish) penalty, as the F.A. did last season after he bit Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanović late in the 2013 season.
OK, I am done. This was not meant to be a lesson in soccer. Just to point out that we lovers of soccer and cycling have to stick together. We are lovers of sports frowned upon by much of America. We are fans of athletes with funny hair cuts, that have amazing skills, incredible fitness, are thin, sometimes kiss and hug each other, and much of the time don’t speak ‘Murican English. In other words, a bunch of gay COMMUNISTS (according to most Americans).
Don’t be a dick, for today’s soccer player is tomorrow’s cyclist, or runner, or cross-country skier, vice versa, reverse that, etc., etc.,