Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sport in the UK

And they do call it "sport" there, rather than "sports"--you're looking at the "sport" section in the newspaper, the "sport" segment on the evening news, and so on.

The Brits are as into sports as we are across the pond--but it's entirely different sports. Instead of baseball, football, and basketball, we're looking at soccer (except they call it "football"), cricket, and rugby. Football of course takes the lead for the majority of the year... and it is pervasive.

The stereotype of the English soccer hooligan (I think there was even a Saturday Night Live sketch called that), like many stereotypes, comes from somewhere. Unlike most stereotypes, though, it's almost completely grounded in reality. Everyone has their team and a handful of bitter rivalries that go along with it, and everyone is sucked into the drama of the Premier League.

And after having been in London for only a week, the drama already got really, really compelling. Think the BCS, except stretched out for nine months, the top few teams earn the right to play football against colleges from all across North America for the continent champion... and the bottom few teams have to play against high schoolers for the next year.

If you're not familiar with "relegation" and "promotion", it's a fascinating concept, essentially allowing the most podunk club team in the middle of Wales to become the champion of all of Britain in the span of a few years. It also means that the consistently underperforming teams better re-evaluate their game plan the next season when they're playing in a lower league. If we did this in American baseball, the Nationals would have been bounced to AAA a long time ago.

It's a system that creates interest on all levels of the system, on the top and the bottom, and also seamlessly integrates the national system into an international one, with the top handful of teams earning bids into some sort of super-complicated pan-European system that an American doesn't have any hope of deciphering. It's tough to say if American sports would improve by adopting the system... but I'm sort of glad it's not used here, because I for one would waste a lot of time absorbed in the rankings tables.

Also incomprehensible to any American is the sport of cricket. If anyone can explain how a "two-innings" game is supposed to last five days, please do.

Currently listening: "This is the Countdown", Mae, from The Everglow

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