KRAVITZ: With the World Cup upon us, here come the soccer zealots, obnoxious as ever

Fans celebrate after Sweden scored on a penalty kick during the group F match between Sweden and South Korea at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Nizhny Novgorod stadium in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, Monday, June 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Bob Kravitz

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — I have absolutely nothing against soccer. I would love to see the Indy Eleven continue to have success and believe firmly this is a city that can support an MLS franchise. I watch the World Cup (although the U.S. team's failure to qualify has taken some of the enthusiasm from viewing the games) and I watch, and often cover, Olympic soccer.

Truth be told, I spent Father's Day watching the U.S. Open golf with several channel changes over to Fox, where I watched Iceland and Argentina and then Mexico and Germany. (I am officially an Iceland fan, for the record, seeing as how they have more sheep than people, or so I would assume). And it was compelling theater despite the usual lack of scoring.

This is what, or who, I have a problem with.

Soccer fans.

Yes, I'm painting with a broad brush here – that's what columnists do -- but I find soccer fans to be the most obnoxious, elitist fans in all of sports. Soccer fans look at non-soccer fans like troglodytes, like Neanderthals who lack the intellectual wherewithal to truly appreciate the world's game, or as they like to remind us, the "beautiful game.''

Tell a soccer zealot why you don't love soccer – I like it but don't love it – and what he'll tell you is this: You lack the proper discernment and breeding to appreciate the finer points of the beautiful game. If you truly understood it, you, too, would show up to Chatham Tap at 7 in the morning to watch Premier League games.

Here's what they could say: Well, to each his own.

Here's what they do say: If you were smart enough to appreciate the beauty of a well-placed corner kick, you would know that soccer – sorry, football – is the most popular game in the world.

Here's what they're thinking: Idiot.

For the life of me, I don't know why soccer fans are so sensitive about their beloved sport. It's like if everybody on earth doesn't appreciate their sport, it somehow diminishes them, or diminishes soccer, or something. It's like they need to know that everybody around them is like-minded and wears team scarves and team kits and sings the team songs.

As you probably know after 18 years of reading my pabulum, I'm a hockey fan. Grew up playing the game, coached it a little bit, covered it at Sports Illustrated and at other stops along the way. As sports go, it's my passion.

Here's the thing about hockey fans, though, and I think this is true of fans in all other sports outside of soccer: We don't care if you're a hockey fan. We don't look down our noses at you if you're not a hockey fan. If you don't understand offsides or icing or how the neutral-zone trap works, well, that's fine. It's not everybody's cup of tea. I understand better than most, if you didn't grow up with it, if you weren't exposed to live hockey at a young age, there's a pretty good chance it will look like a bunch of bearded, hygiene-challenged louts skating around aimlessly while chasing a little black puck.

The harsh truth about hockey is, it's incredibly difficult to follow the puck, especially on TV – even on high-definition TV. The late, great columnist Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times once wrote that in all his years of watching the game, he'd never actually seen a goal scored. He saw the guy shoot, saw the puck in the back of the net, but never actually saw it go in. Shoot, I was a mediocre-at-best goaltender, and I had a devil of a time following the puck, which often ended up in the back on my own net.

It's like motorsports; it's either in your blood or it's not. I grew up in New York and moved to the Chicago area when I was a junior in high school. Motorsports were not part of the sports conversation where I came of age. We'd catch glimpses of the Indianapolis 500 now and then, but it didn't really mean anything. The way we saw it, it was just a bunch of Brazilians turning left.

It wasn't until I moved to Indianapolis in 2000 that I slowly began to appreciate and understand open-wheel racing, although most readers will take issue with the notion that I understand it. But listen, when I showed up, I didn't know what downforce was, so I've made strides. I now know they're not all Brazilians. And they're not always making lefts, as it turns out.

There's an undeniably cultish quality to soccer zealotry. It's not enough for the soccer zealots to love the sport; it's absolutely imperative that everybody else loves the sport the way they love the sport. It's almost like they're embarrassed for us if we don't understand the finer points of the world's game – like, if you don't venerate soccer, you are a mouth-breathing Ugly American.

I don't get it.

Again, I like soccer the way I like broiled chicken. I don't love it, the way I love a slice of Chicago deep-dish pizza. Nothing against the world's game, nothing at all. But the fans, well, they're a little much. If I'm too dim to fully appreciate all of soccer's finer points, then let me wallow in my ignorance, and leave me the heck alone. I'll still go to the Chatham Tap, but mostly for the beer.

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