Nil Appeal

World's football is full of passion but void of points

It's 8:37 a.m., do you know where your drunks are?

Nope, not sleeping one off down at Lew Sterrett's joint. They're right here, at The Londoner pub in Addison. Even at this ungodly hour on a Saturday they're packed shoulder-to-shoulder, painting their faces, downing pints of room-temperature Guinness and chanting something only a Brit with a love for soccer or a human with a sense of humor can appreciate:

"Fire ants!" clap clap clap..."Fire ants!" clap clap clap..."Fire ants!" clap clap clap.

For now, the area's most fun and frenzied sports fans are hilariously siphoning enthusiasm from early-morning TV commercials. But, inexplicably to me and most of America, these same blokes will later stare at these same TVs for three long hours watching their beloved England exchange whiffs with Portugal in sports' biggest waste of time, better known as the World Cup.

Seriously, how can fans so full of energy and passion be so hypnotized by a game that's slower than refrigerated honey?

"It's the best game in the world," says my neighbor Paul Wills, who proudly hails from Eastbourne, England. "It's not so shallow that there has to be scoring every other minute. The beauty is in the build-up. The subtleties. You've got to embrace the nuances of the game."

I once embraced the nuances of shepherd's pie but didn't like it either. But, really, can a jam-packed Londoner and a worldwide viewing audience of more than 2 billionbe wrong?

Trying at once to fit in and not get my Yankee Doodle noodle head bashed in by hooligans, I venture into the morning mosh pit armed with an England jersey (from Paul) and limited soccer experience (from covering the 1994 World Cup). Bucking my country's staunch incuriosity about the rest of the world, I'm ready to inhale one of the few sports--women's fast-pitch softball, Russian roulette, etc. --in which you can keep score on one hand.

With an open notebook, an open mind and, most important, an open tab, I'm ready for a corner-kick to the kisser. Soccer, gimme your best shot.

Still minutes before the 10 a.m. kickoff, the place is deliciously rabid. Fans are singing "God Save the Queen," back-slapping their "mates" and wildly cheering glimpses of Posh Spice on the pre-game show. Fire marshals and tanning memberships be damned and to hell with Disney--thisis the happiest place on earth.

Between the claustrophobia and the Carlsbergs, our frenzied foreplay reaches a crescendo. Finally, the most anticipated sporting event in Europe and Addison begins and...

Crickets.

Yanking us from boffo to buzzkill, for the first 10 minutes neither team even hints at kicking the ball toward their opponent's goal. It's like we all tailgated for two hours and then rushed inside to hear Star Jones recount her departure from The View.

Pass...Pass...Pass...Bad pass...Throw in...Long kick...Header...Fake fall-down...Pass back to goalie...Yellow card...Yawn.

This must be the part about the "build-up." But, honestly, to most American ADD sports fans, this is the part where soccer's numbing nuances make NASCAR look like a three-ring circus featuring strippers, aliens and Michael Jackson.

"In England this is our national sport," says Rob Thom, who moved from North Hampton to North Dallas nine years ago. "There's nothing like it here in the States because sports are so diverse. But right now the whole country is living and breathing and dying on this match."

Back to the inaction: No shit, England passed the ball nine times and ended up fartherfrom Portugal's goal. Imagine the Super Bowl kicking off and teams exchanging punts. For 45 minutes.

Halftime: England 0, Portugal 0, Patience 0.

The mind wanders. How's O.J.'s search for the real killer? Wonder if that hottie in the tiny top sporting the England flag is wearing matching panties? Really now, why can't we get into soccer?

The simple answer is that we're spoiled. We're force-fed g-strings in our rap videos, g-forces in our chase scenes and genius end-zone celebrations in our NFL games. Screw subtlety. Give us bare-knuckled ass-kickers, not foot-eye coordinated grass-kickers. We fancy--especially on Fourth of July weekend celebrating our independence from a certain country--fireworks!

The World Cup just doesn't satisfy our appetite. Hungry for a steak, soccer offers us a packet of Splenda.

Of course, it'd be easier if our national team was worth a damn. But the U.S. played 280 minutes of soccer in Germany and produced one goal, bowing out of the tournament 0-2-1 after an embarrassing loss to some village called Ghana. I know the Dallas Cup is the world's most prestigious youth tournament, FC Dallas is building a fan base and Clint Dempsey, reared in Dallas' youth leagues, scored the Americans' lone World Cup goal.

But ESPN's cameras don't lie. During a Mexico game 200,000 fans gathered to watch on a downtown Mexico City video screen. In Times Square a day later people also flocked to watch the U.S. game. About 200 of them.

"We had some good crowds when the U.S. played," says London native and Londoner owner Rosemary Tate, whose business more than doubles when England plays. "But nothing like this. We're amazingly loyal to our football. Every time England plays we're to full capacity."

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