Last week the New York Times published a story about how soccer – particularly the English Premier League – was fast becoming the sport for hipster creative types in trendy NYC neighborhoods.
Despite the fact that there were more than several cringe-worthy passages, I thought it was a harmless piece that got a few things right – and I was happy to see the game I love get a bit of press off of the back pages. For me, it’s a “the more, the merrier” situation when it comes to football. If some hipster doofus wants to come watch Arsenal with me after reading a New York Times trend piece, then that’s just fine with me. Just as long as they wear red and pay their tab, I am fine with it.
But the Internet went ballistic.
Major League Soccer fans were upset because the article surmised that the growth of football in America had everything to do with the growth of the English Premier League and very little – if anything – to do with MLS. And whine all they want, the author is right.
But EPL fans were upset, too. And this I just couldn’t understand. See above. Who cares if this game we like – and especially this league we like – gets more popular in America? That just means that more pubs will show games – competition is never a bad thing – and there will be more and better television coverage. Plus, I don’t know, there might be fewer sideways glances when you tell people you get up at 7am every Saturday to watch a team from London play soccer.
My friend Tim – who writes a really great Arsenal blog – explained why the article upset him so much:
It’s the dominant culture taking over the subculture. Subcultures are about rebellion and defiance and in the takeover process they strip the meaning and history out of the subculture. Think of this as the Hot Topic transformation of football in America. You are about to be defined by people, packaged to people, have your team defined for you in ways that are controlled by Madison Ave. and not by you any more.
I guess I both disagree and agree with that. I have never subscribed to the punk aesthetic that everything that becomes popular starts to suck – but to a small extent, things do become less fun once your mom starts doing them, for lack of a superior metaphor.
And then I started to think about the article in relation to cricket: what if this quirky little game that I love that no one else knows or cares about suddenly became the “it” sport among pseudo-intellectuals and tweedy hipsters?
Would it affect my enjoyment of it? Would my relationship with the game change?
Referring back to the punk rock metaphor, there is something to be said for losing ownership of something that once belonged to you – and only you. When I was a teenager I saw Green Day before Dookie was released. It cost me four dollars and they played for three hours and it was phenomenal. And then Dookie hit the shelves and six months later Green Day was being blasted out of frat houses and chain sports bars and they were playing arenas and tickets were out of my price range. The music was the same, but it was no longer mine. It belonged to everyone. And so while I never was part of the horrible backlash that Green Day was on the receiving end of from the punk rock community, my relationship with the band was still changed, and probably not for the better.
And so would it be the same with cricket? I don’t think so. Cricket has never felt like mine and only mine – despite its relative anonymity in the American sporting landscape. It’s always been OUR game – and by “our” I mean the global sporting world. Following cricket has made me feel more like a global citizen, if you allow me to be so dramatic. It can’t become less mine, because it never was mine to begin with.
Cricket’s popularity also would change the way the game is covered in America – and so while it would be great if there was better access to televised cricket in America – and increased popularity would do that – I would hate it if American networks started hiring their own broadcast teams (cough, Gus Johnson, cough) and I would be upset if cricket knowledgeable networks like Willow lost rights to non-cricket-knowing networks like, say, Fox or NBC.
And once the game expands how it is covered and televised, it becomes not just a game for early followers and johnny-come-lately hipsters, it becomes mainstream, and that’s where I start to really wane in my support for the game becoming popular in America.
For while it would be nice to have casual conversations about the game in person – something I never get to do – I guess I would miss being the “cricket guy.”
By that I mean this: in Fever Pitch Nick Hornsby talks about how everyone he has ever met in his entire life associates Arsenal with him – or vice versa, I guess – and so every time Arsenal are in the news – for good or for bad – he is a passing thought for scores of friends, acquaintances and family members.
And I like to think – as humbly as possibly – that people associate cricket with me, and vice versa. For most of the people in my life, I am the only person they know who follows the sport, and so when something news-worthy happens cricket wise – Sachin’s 100th 100 and his retirement were two recent events of note that received domestic coverage – people think of me. People I haven’t talked to in years think of me. Some will even make the effort to reach out to me and ask me what I thought about the event in question.
And so cricket is, in a way, a manner in which I stay connected to distant friends.
And I like that about it.
And so I guess that means I wouldn’t want the sport to become the thinking man’s alternative to baseball, and I wouldn’t want Williamsburg yuppies to know the difference between Test cricket and a T20.
Cricket isn’t mine – it never was – but my friends think of it as mine, and I would like to keep it that way. For at least a little while longer.
A bit of an epilogue: every sport in the world has in some way or another been Americanized. But cricket – for better or for worse – feels so far untouched by American hands. And maybe that is something worth treasuring, and worth maintaining.