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by Mathew Berson
Rick Reilly gets paid well to write about sports.
And he should. He's been voted National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times and his column graced that back page of Sports Illustrated for 10 years.
Now writing for ESPN's various outlets, Reilly recently wrote a column on the top 10 most annoying things about watching this year's World Cup that appears on the front page of ESPN.com.
The column trivializes this year's Cup and reveals the stubborn mentality of a typical American sportswriter who fails to understand the intricacies of the beautiful game. It is rather surprising that Reilly can make a living writing a book about odd sports like Ferret Legging, Nude Bicycle Racing, or Chess Boxing as he did in his most recent novel, Sports from Hell: My Two-year Search for the World's Dumbest Competition, yet can't seem to wrap his head around a referee's control of stoppage time.
I get it. The majority of Americans will never come to appreciate a 0-0 tie on the world's biggest stage. But let's not belittle those who actually see the beauty in those annoying vuvuzelas, a 0-0 tie, or Robert Green's gaffe-turned lifesaver.
So I'll take Mr. Reilly's top ten annoying things about this year's cup (in bold writing below) and show you why those are the exact reasons why it makes the World Cup worth watching.
1. That pesky cerebrum-blowing incessant buzzing sound coming from the TV set.
What? There's a sporting event that exists without queued music or a Quasimodo video board guy telling you to make noise? Seems foreign. While Reilly (and many other sports fans for that matter) views the vuvuzelas (voo-voo-zella), the foot-long plastic horns providing the subtle hum behind World Cup broadcasts, as an "annoying part of [South African] culture," lets really evaluate their significance.
Imagine you've just scored tickets to your first World Cup, but when you get there you realize your seats are about as close to the field as BP is to stopping leaking oil. You'd love to yell something at your favorite player on the pitch, but from Section 357 ZZZ, you'd be better off floating a paper airplane with a note on it down to the field rather than yelling "Go Drogba!" every time Didier touches the ball.
Everyone hates the guy in the nosebleeds at Dodger games who yells "Let's Go Manny!" every time the beloved dreadlocked slugger steps into the box. After about the third time, everyone wants to know a) where are we going? and b) when is this guy going to figure out there's no way on God's green Earth that Manny can hear him? Now give that guy a vuvuzela. I bet Manny hears him.
The same goes for the 60,000 or so fans filling World Cup stadiums. They've paid for a ticket: they deserve to be heard.
2. The embarrassing photographer bibs the guys on the bench have to wear during the game.
First off, it's not a bib. I don't see anyone eating creamed carrots on the sideline.
It's a pinnie. And they are worn to help the referees distinguish who is on the field and who is not. If an assistant referee is on the opposite sideline trying to keep an eye on the offside, it might be a little difficult to distinguish the yellow jersey of a Brazilian field player and his substitute counterpart warming up on the sideline. It's just plain common sense.
3. The Twinkie-fingered gloves goalkeepers wear.
A sphere of synthetic leather is being rocketed towards you from about 20 yards away. Would you rather be wearing batting gloves?
4. The godforsaken vuvuzelas! Make them stop!
Make them louder! That way we won't have to listen to the commentators who aren't doing anything to help educate the American public of the game.
Take the opening match between South Africa and Mexico. Carlos Vela scored what appeared to be a goal in the first half, only to be called for offside. Because Vela was behind the goalkeeper and in front of the last uniformed defender on his attempt, commentators Martin Tyler (who is a soccer expert only because of an English accent) and Efan Ekoku (who played for the Nigerian national team) mercilessly ranted about how the line judge missed the call.
The offside rule reads: "A player is in an offside position if: he is nearer to his opponents' goal line than both the ball and the second to last opponent."
Tyler and Ekoku discussed the "missed call" all the way up until halftime, misinforming millions of Americans of what offside actually is. It wasn't until after a commercial break when analyst Alexi Lalas came to the rescue (how often can you say that?) and actually explained what was a ballsy, brilliant call by the assistant referee.
I say blow harder into that vuvuzela. That way the hot air is going into a tube of plastic rather than out of a commentator's mouth.
5. All the faking.
Flopping is one of the most annoying parts of the game. As defender during my playing days, nothing irked me more than a forward who went down a little too easy. But it is a part of the game.
Imagine: you've been running up and down the sideline for 80 minutes, chasing the world's best players while trying to make an effort to score. Yet, your team can't seem to get a goal and has had a rather hard time creating any scoring opportunities. Your team is in the bottom of the group and you know you need three points if you are to survive. Now you find yourself with the ball, sprinting towards the top of the box with a defender on your back. You touch the ball a little too far in front, but you feel the defender lightly clip your back heel. Are you going to let the ball trickle into the goalkeeper? Or are you going to take a dive and possibly earn your team a dangerous free kick?
Obviously, you dive. And when your team scores on the ensuing free kick, you become a national hero- no matter how big of a goat you look like on super slow motion instant replay.
6. The yellow cards.
Sure, it looks amusing when a head referee, clad in a telemarketer headset and short shorts, runs up to a player flashing a slip of yellow plastic. Reilly asks, "Can you imagine seeing some ref running up to Rasheed Wallace after laying out Carmelo Anthony with a roundhouse right and sticking that yellow card right in his face?"
No I can't. But I can imagine a basketball referee running over, blowing hard on his whistle, and making a "T" sign with his hands. Now what's more ridiculous?
7. The ties.
To Americans, ties were made for work. Not to work. Being on-par with someone else in this country is about as acceptable as wearing brown shoes and a black belt.
But to other parts of the world, a tie is the most one can hope for. Take New Zealand, who hadn't been to a World Cup since 1982 and came in as one of the lowest ranked teams in the tournament. The All Whites drew a 1-1 tie with Slovakia, securing New Zealand's first World Cup point in team history.
How significant was it?
UCSB defender Michael Boxall, a native of Auckland and member of the All Whites' 2008 Beijing Olympics squad, said, "It was literally the happiest I've ever been at five in the morning! To see New Zealand prove they belong with a top-20 team means a lot not just to me, but back at home."
8. The World Cup itself.
I've hoisted a lot of things in my life (boxes, small children) and there's still some things that I'm waiting to hoist (my first born, my first real paycheck), but there's something that I'll probably never get to hoist- the World Cup trophy. Nothing gives me chills more than when the team captain of the World Cup champion lifts that piece of gold for the first time, igniting the entire stadium into a confetti-drunk rage while letting his teammates bask in the glory of the moment.
The same can't be said for the BCS National Championship trophy, the one that says SEARS on it and who's removable glass football on the top makes it impossible for anyone to hold the trophy in its entirety above their head for fear of the oblong piece of glass slipping and shattering on their skull.
I'll take the Cup, thank you very much.
9. Stoppage time.
Reilly writes about the frustration of not knowing how much stoppage time is going to be allowed in any given match. "Why can't we know how much time is left?/Why must it be such a mystery?/ Why do only the refs get to know?" he wrote.
Well, there is someone there to tell you how much stoppage time there is. His name is Mr. Fourth Official. He looks like this.
Wake up, Mr. Reilly. The match is tied!
10. The vuvuzelas from eardrum-hellas!
Hell, turn the sound off. Soccer is a game better enjoyed at the pub anyway.
Mathew Berson is a Media and Communications Assistant for the UCSB Athletics Department. He played for the UCSB men's club soccer team from 2005-2009 and captained the squad during its 2007 national championship run. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The UCSB soccer program is preparing for the 2010 College Cup, being hosted by UCSB on Dec. 10-12 at Meredith Field at Harder Stadium. Season tickets start at just $75 and include one ticket to all home men and women's regular season games and one College Cup All Session ticket. UCSB staff and faculty can purchase their season tickets for a reduced rate of $50.