Leading article: Culture clash

The effort to sell "soccer" to the American public has a long and undistinguished history. The US was awarded the World Cup in 1994. They have been bombarded by pre-season tours by the cream of the Premiership. This year they even got David Beckham. For some time, the traffic has been one-way. But yesterday we received a little payback. The Miami Dolphins played the New York Giants at Wembley stadium as part of a US drive to sell American football to the Brits.

Actually, this is not the first visit of the NFL to these shores. The old Wembley hosted an annual pre-season exhibition game between 1986 and 1993. But this made little impact. To the typical British sports fan, American football remains something impenetrable involving shoulder pads and helmets. Will things be different this time? The NFL has made more effort, for sure. Unlike in the past, top players were in attendance. Yesterday's game also counted. This was the first competitive NFL fixture to be played outside the Americas.

The match was a sell-out. But the 1994 World Cup final at the Pasadena Rose Bowl sold out too, and the tournament itself attracted more spectators than any before or since. But what good did it do in the long term? Soccer is still regarded stateside as a game for teenage girls, despite its vast popularity among Hispanic immigrants.

We should not underestimate the power of marketing. There is a huge amount of money to be made from broadening the appeal of football in the US and the American variety over here. But at the moment our two sporting cultures feel rather like Kipling's East and West: "Never the twain shall meet".

Comments