Football: Soccer in North America remains more of a recreation than public entertainment

At intervals over the past 30 years there has been cause to reflect on attempts to establish football (called soccer) as a major spectator sport in our former transatlantic colonies.

As some of you will probably recall, the breakthrough was thought to have been achieved in 1994 when capacity crowds turned out for the World Cup finals and advances were made on American television.

Some younger colleagues, and even one or two who should have known better, were convinced that this sudden explosion of interest would prove permanent, but long experience suggested that the difficulties involved would again prove insurmountable.

Despite the comparative success of Major League Soccer - average attendances of 14,000 (the recent championship game between DC United of Washington and Colorado Rapids was watched by 57,000) - and the fresh impetus supplied by the USA's qualification last weekend for France '98, nothing much has happened to alter a conclusion I first reached 30 years ago.

In 1967, shortly after taking up a consultancy with Toronto Falcons of the original North American Soccer League, I was required to supply its tough Canadian owner, Joe Peters, with a prognosis.

Before one of our games a falcon perched on the half-way line for publicity purposes, broke loose and disappeared in roughly the direction of Vancouver. This amused Danny Blanchflower, who had been hired as a soccer analyst by CBS. "That just about sums up the game over here," Blanchflower chuckled. My advice to Peters was that he should take Danny seriously.

Considerable progress has been made since those daft days but soccer on the North American continent remains much more of a recreation than public entertainment. Many millions of both genders play the game but their interest is not lasting.

Even allowing for a fall off in baseball's popularity, football can only command a small piece of action and is overwhelmed by the gridiron version and basketball.

In San Diego this week I came across a tale that emphasises the problems faced by those who sermonise on the fact that soccer is less dangerous to play and can accommodate all shapes and sizes.

It is about Shane Walton, who had no passion for the grid-iron game and was considering a soccer scholarship. "Playing football [gridiron] never crossed my mind," he said. "When I came out as a freshman, I'd never even played football, except in the street or in the park. It was a whole different world. I was in good shape because of soccer but I wasn't used to having everything happen so fast and all those people coming after you."

Walton was used to being told that football is a game for girls, otherwise there would not be so many girls playing it. "I love soccer," he said, "but I couldn't be sure where it would take me." Another thing was that Walton had an instinct for the big hit. "Nobody can teach you that," he added. "You either want to or you don't."

Offers of soccer scholarships reached Walton from such schools as Notre Dame, Ohio State and UNC-Charlotte but now he is lost to the game. Bill Lekvold, an assistant football coach at Bishop's School in San Diego, was delighted when Walton, a wide receiver averaging 19.6 yards per catch and second in the county with eight touchdowns, switched. "The kid's an outstanding prospect with a big future," he said.

All Walton's trophies so far are for soccer. "I grew up playing the game," he said, "but the great stars you see on television are so far away."

Walton's ambition suddenly was to prove wrong all the people who considered him too small for football. "They said I shouldn't play football in college, that I should stick to soccer especially because of the scholarships. This a dream I never thought could happen. Now it's within reach."

For Walton's former soccer coach, David Armstrong, the switch is a big disappointment. "It's a shame to lose someone so talented and there is no doubt that he could get a soccer scholarship at any school in the country. We have to bite our tongues a little bit."

Where Walton once imagined playing in the World Cup, he now dreams about turning out in the Super Bowl. It tells you everything.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Barnardo's: Corporate Audit and Inspection – Retail Intern (Leeds)

Unpaid - £4 lunch allowance plus travel to and from work: Barnardo's: Purpose ...

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future