My friend Matt held his six-month old baby daughter proudly aloft. “Look Ella: that’s your national team. You’re watching England beating America, like they should have done in 1776”. The Americans in the room all jeered.
The baby stared blankly at the television. England players were hugging each other after Steven Gerrard’s goal. Ella may be half American – her mother Marla is my wife’s best friend – but to Matt, an ex-pat history teacher here in Los Angeles, there’s only one team she will ever support. Forty minutes later, Ella, still staring at the screen, silently changed her nationality back to American. Green’s goalkeeping gaffe was all too shocking. Even she could have held onto that ball.
It wasn’t our finest hour-and-a-half. Matt and I were the only English in a roomful of Yanks. We were still patiently trying to explain the offside rule to our ex-colonial friends, who were only really interested in talking about the Lakers game, when disaster struck. We spent the rest of the match shouting at our manager Capello.
How could we only tie with a country that doesn’t even understand the meaning of the word “draw”? Apparently real sports, like baseball, always have a winner. You just go on playing until there’s a result. In 1981 one minor league game went on for 33 innings. Mind you, they also don’t understand why Beckham can’t play for the USA (“But surely he plays for LA Galaxy?”) and they don’t get the concept of league tables at all. “So this means nobody won, right – so who goes through?” Oh, forget it. Matt and I glumly opened another bottle of Newcastle Brown.
During the game we worked out the fundamental difference between Americans and the rest of us. I reckon it’s all down to attention span. In America all sports have a series of repetitive events occurring roughly every thirty seconds. Baseball: Man throws baseball at bat, bat hits ball and Man runs; or not. Football: Lots of Men with padding get ball forwards by ten yards; or not. Basketball: Very Tall Man pops a ball through a hoop, then another Very Tall Man with a different tee-shirt takes a few steps and pops it into another hoop; or not.
You can join a game at any moment and there’ll always be someone about to succeed or fail. No wonder they find soccer boring. “So the aim is to get the ball in the back of the net, right? OK – I get that, so how come nobody’s doing it?” Americans are delightful, friendly, open, passionate, honest people, but when it comes to the big things in life, like football, they might as well be Martians. And now we can’t even beat them at our own game?
You'll gather I know nothing whatsoever about American sports. Tonight my friends are putting that right: I’ve promised to sit through their Lakers basketball game. They say they’ll convert me, but somehow I doubt I’ll have the patience for balls popping through hoops 150 times in one sitting. Not without a lot of Newcastle Brown, that is.
After the World Cup fiasco I was taken to see a phenomenon that could only happen in America. In a Hollywood recording studio hundreds of proud parents were craning their necks to see their children in fully-formed rock bands – with a stage, lighting, roadies, stamps on the wrist to get in, the lot.
The children had been coached by real live rockers with names like Muddy and Slick. They were actually rather good. Star of the night for me was 8-year-old Max in his band called The Rockaholix. As Mom beamed and Dad videoed from the wings, tiny Max, complete with dark glasses, peered over an enormous drum kit hammering away like Keith Moon. He was brilliant. I suspect it will make Izzy’s first school play – which I’m already excited about even though it’s still four years off – seem rather tame.