The baseball World Series? Try the football World Cup.

America has three very popular professional sports: baseball, football and basketball. If your local team is lucky enough to get into post-season play it can be pretty exciting. I remember when the Seattle Mariners first made it into the playoffs. Everyone in the Puget Sound region became a fan. During that time I called some government office and the complete stranger I spoke too brought up Edgar Martinez. The championship games in all three sports are big ratings winners on television. Many Americans, even non-football fans, will have Superbowl parties. Usually most of the women congregate in the kitchen while the menfolk drink beer and shout at the TV. The sponsoring networks carefully plan their broadcasts to enable as large an audience as possible. The Superbowl is always on a Sunday afternoon and the World Series games are generally in the evenings.

The rest of the world loves soccer but it’s known everywhere except America as football. And the World Cup starts this week. The World Series of baseball is really just a tournament involving teams in America and Canada although some of the players come from further afield. The World Cup involves teams from all over the planet. There are current thirty-two teams in the tournament and the whole competition takes a month and a day. Hosting the World Cup is a big deal for a country. It’s awarded, like the Olympic, based on competitive bidding. This year it’s in Brazil and, as usual, there are rumours that things are not quite ready. But I suspect everything will turn out okay. I hope so anyway. Fingers crossed.

England and the USA are both in the World Cup this time around. Because the tournament is in Brazil the games will be on very late here; I believe the first England game will be broadcast at 11pm. This is important because of the number of people who will be watching. It’s hard to convey the amount of attention the England games will generate but let me give you a couple of examples from the past.

In 2002 the World Cup was held in Japan and Korea which meant that the games were broadcast during the work day local time. Many employers decided that it was easier just to bring in some big-screen TVs, set them up in a meeting room and let their employees have ninety minutes off to watch the England games. Lots and lots of pubs were granted early opening times so they could accommodate people who wanted to have a drink and watch the games. I’m not a big football fan and during one of the games I went into York to run an errand. The streets were empty, like one of those scenes from a Western movie when the bad guys come to town. You’ve seen those moments, tumbleweeds and dust blowing around, windows closed, etc. As I drove back out of town whatever games was on ended and all of a sudden there were hundreds of people pouring out of the pubs. Within two minutes the city came back alive. One of the England games was on Saturday or Sunday and we went grocery shopping. The supermarket was almost deserted but at one point we heard a loud cheer erupting in the store. We couldn’t figure out what was going on ’til we got to the section which had TVs on display. There were twenty or thirty people (mostly men) clustered around the sets all of which were showing the game.

Lots of English people like other sports. Rugby and cricket are popular. Wimbledon gets hours and hours of TV coverage even if there isn’t an English player doing well. But everything is dwarfed by football. You’d have a hard time finding a boy who didn’t have a favourite English team and most have a favourite international team as well. Even many of the girls support a particular team. At primary school some of the kids play football on the playground every day. And the World Cup is the mother of all football tournaments. For the next month (or at least until England is out, you know they’re not going to win) football is going to be mentioned in every newscast and will feature prominently in every newspaper. It’s going to be celebrated in every school and day-care. It’s going to be talked about around every office cooler. And, the day after one of the late night England games there are going to be lots and lots of sleepy people trying to function at work. I’m not looking forward to be woken up at 1:00 am when the local pubs discharge the fans. But, it is only once every four years. And it is kind of exciting. I really must learn the names of some of the English players.