Special Relationship on Hold for Two Hours

On March 5, 1946, during his Sinews of Peace address, Winston Churchill referred to the special relationship between the British Commonwealth and the United States. Through triumph and challenge, the relationship has continued to be close ever since, underscored by diplomatic and military cooperation. Today, replaying a hiccup in 1950, we took a time out.

That was the last time the United States and England played each other in a World Cup finals match. As the dominant favorite (or as they’d say, favourite), our British counterparts graciously invited the U.S. diplomatic corps in Ottawa to raise a few pints and watch the match at the High Commission. Shared language and geopolitical goals, for 90 minutes, gave way to revisiting a 60-year-old bitter rivalry. At least, it was bitter from their point of view.

The United States and England have played in World Cup group play only once before. In what has since been dubbed the Miracle on Grass, a plucky group of American amateurs upset the dominant team in the world, 1-0, after having lost its prior 7 international matches by a combined score of 45-2. So sure were the English newspapers that the wire report contained a typo, they published the score as a 10-1 England victory. Apparently, nobody in the United States knows about it because it happened over 20 years ago and because Disney never made a movie about it. Most everyone in England, however, remembers it like it was yesterday.

Once again, the United States found itself as a dominant underdog to a powerhouse English team. After exchanging pleasantries, thanking our hosts, and finishing my first pint of Speckled Hen, the match began. From the start, England dictated the pace and it seemed as if we were always on defense. After four minutes, the Three Lions’ captain, Steven Girrard, found the back of the net and our hosts went wild. The American section fell silent, imagining a long afternoon of polite smiles and embarrassed congratulations.

Although the Englishmen continued to attack, American goalkeeper Tim Howard made a series of miraculous saves. In the 40th minute, what looked to be an easy save slipped past Robert Green’s grasp and trickled into the English goal. It wasn’t pretty, but it gave the Americans an excuse to stand up and cheer. Our hosts couldn’t believe it.

The rest of the match, although a tense exercise of repelling repeated English attacks, reminded us why soccer will never become as popular in America. Lots of tension, but no scoring. It ended in a tie.

Although we could hold our heads high and claim the moral victory with a draw, it still felt unsatisfying. Just like the players in South Africa, we all shook hands and headed for the exit. At least the special relationship remains intact.


6 thoughts on “Special Relationship on Hold for Two Hours

  1. “The rest of the match, although a tense exercise of repelling repeated English attacks, reminded us why soccer will never become as popular in America.”

    I think it’s too bad that the way soccer is played is not conducive to the way Americans enjoy sports. In my opinion, baseball is a lot harder to watch; especially because you never know when it’s going to end. And with American football, when the score is 21-7, it really is 3-1. So, there’s not a huge difference.

    Aside from being the biggest sporting event in the world, the World Cup is one of the few times when people can root for other countries without feeling like a traitor.

    What do you think it would take for Americans to become more interested?

    1. I spent two years as a sports photographer covering all the major sports played in the United States, including MLS and international soccer. As a die-hard sports nut, I love a dramatic game, no matter the sport.

      Like most Americans, however, I grew up watching primarily baseball, football, and, to a lesser extent, basketball. Baseball was the first competitive sport I played and my favorite, a passion I’ve passed on to all three of my kids. When the San Francisco Giants win, my day is just a little bit brighter and when they lose, it is just a tad more gray.

      Although soccer is a very popular youth sport in America, most play their last game by the age of 12. As such, I don’t see it ever catching on as a passion, even if the national team were to win a World Cup.

      We don’t know the game well which makes all the difference. I can watch a 14-inning, 1-0 baseball game, and be enthralled because I know the game inside and out. There are a myriad of mini-dramas going on with each pitch.

      No doubt the same is true with soccer and hockey, but most Americans don’t know enough to understand what we are seeing. Having been in Canada for only 4 months, I already have a greater understanding of, and passion for, hockey.

      I expect the World Cup will make soccer a popular spectator sport, much as it did four years ago, until the Yanks are eliminated.

  2. It’s Friday, and that means that the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up – and you’re on it!

    Here is the link:

    (If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)


  3. I for one am hopeful and believe that soccer — football — is continuing its growth spurt in the US. Take anyone in my generation (late twenty-somethings-early thirty-somethings) — the World Cup is definitely on their radar. Everyone’s talking about it at work (keeping track of scores as games are being played that we can’t watch because we’re in class/language training/etc) and after work, planning events to watch games, etc.

    We are arguably the first generation of female athletes (in a sense that so many of my generation have grown up playing at least one sport). Goodness knows that most young American girls play soccer growing up. And we are a country that is increasingly latino (a majority within something like 50 years, though I don’t want to open a can of worms here!), and latinos like their fútbol!

    I also think it’s worth mentioning that the US has more World Cup viewers than any other country — not per capita necessarily, but it still is evidence to me that this sport is growing in popularity in the American psyche despite what the naysayers/critics may say…

  4. Just curious if you experienced any fall out from the earthquake? How does the embassy respond to events like that?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s