|A wonderful thing about travel is repeatedly learning the lesson that people in far-off lands don't give a damn about Nomar Garciaparra's wrist, Deion Sanders' contract, Shaquille O'Neal's career plans or anything else American fans consider far more crucial than the Kyoto Agreement. They have their own athletes and sports to fuss over.
Granted, their sports are incredibly dull. I'm convinced the reason soccer remains so popular around the world is that it looks positively exciting compared to the rest of the sports available to fans outside North America. We may get distracted once every four years by swimming and track and field, but for large chunks of the world, these sports are of utmost concern all the time.
Such sports can be fun and exciting each Olympics, but to be fed a steady diet of that stuff creates a drab, depressing world for a fan. Much like living without cable TV.
I mean, c'mon. Bullfighting? A sport where a poor beast is skewered in a horrible, bloody death? Get real. Americans would never embrace such a peaceful sport.
The British Open filled a great deal of newspaper space during my recent time in England, but the tournament could not fill all the space, even with the help of Ian Woosnam. Much of that remaining space went to what appeared to be a very important cricket match between England and Australia.
Now, all I know about cricket is that it bares a thin resemblance to
baseball -- much the way bobblehead dolls bear a thin resemblance to the players they are supposed to represent -- that the teams take tea breaks during the match and that matches can last for literally days on end (which can also be said for Yankees games).
|Bullfighting just isn't violent enough for U.S. sports fans.|
Not that almost complete ignorance of the sport was an insurmountable impediment toward enjoying the game's radio play-by-play. After decades of enduring the loud braying of U.S. broadcasters, it was a pleasure listening to the language and cadence of English announcers who could make Vin Scully sound like Dickie V.
"That's the fourth wicket to go down in a little more than 15 minutes. And now the sorry sight as far as England is concerned. It's the old equivalent of the heavy roller being warmed up: It's the technicians coming out to remove the stunt cameras and put in the dummy ones that always signals the end of a match and that's coming very, very quickly indeed. And now he's taken the top off a very frothy cappuccino. He may not have time to drink it."
I had only the vaguest notion what the announcer was describing, but that image of a participant sipping a cappuccino was hard to beat.
While this and the Open were going on, soccer powerhouse Manchester United was on a tour of Southeast Asia. Worried that the players might embarrass the club, the Manchester coach declared that they were not to drink at all on the trip and even ordered their hotels to remove the minibars from their rooms.
David Wells, we can assume, would have a few words about this policy.
|No, they're not taking tea. England's Alec Stewart, left, picks up the ball that captain Michael Atherton dropped.|
Still, the sports story that struck me the most during my fortnight in England wasn't even carried in the sports section. Instead, it was a small item tucked deep inside the Times of London. The story reported the death at 106 of Bernie Felsted, who had been a participant in the last of the informal Christmas truces during WWI.
That brief truce took place when Allied and German troops along one section of the Western Front ignored orders, put aside their weapons and met in peace between their trenches. They exchanged food, sang Christmas carols and even kicked a ball around.
What a wonderful story. There, amid one of the most horrifying events in human history, enemies emerged from their filthy trenches and played soccer.
Sports unite us, after all. Even if we don't always appreciate or understand the ones played on the other side of our borders.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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|Manchester United's Juan Veron takes on Thailand's Surachai Jirasirichote, right, on Sunday while on a dry trip to Southeast Asia.||