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Grasse on British Petroleum's Oil Spill and U.S. vs. England in the World Cup

06.15.2010 - Grasse on British Petroleum's Oil Spill and U.S. vs. England in the World Cup

Steven Grasse, author of The Evil Empire: 101 Ways that Britain Ruined the World, recently spoke with
the Times ...

'Transatlantic Spat Over Gulf oil spill Adds Spice to the Big Match

By all rights, it should be the grudge match to end all World Cup grudge matches.

In the white shirts: England, home to “British Petroleum” — as President Obama insists on calling it — which is dumping hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil on to the shoreline of Louisiana. And in the blue shirts: the United States, which, thanks to the aforementioned spill, has found itself in the unusual position of being the victim of a distant foreign power.

Add to the mix Mr Obama’s undiplomatic pledge to “kick some ass” at BP, countered by a demand from Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, for Washington to end its “anti-British rhetoric” — a spat that has taken the “special relationship” to one of its lowest points since 1776 — and you have the makings of a beautiful game that could turn very ugly indeed.

There’s only one small problem, however: most Americans don’t know the match is happening. And even out of the few who are aware of today’s transatlantic clash in Rustenburg, many don’t particularly care — after all, “football” in the US generally means something very different from the game being played in South Africa.

“All we know about soccer — sorry, football — is that David Beckham married Posh Spice and that Pelé is a Pizza Hut spokesman,” claims Marcus Spiegel, a Los Angeles lawyer and lifelong fan of “real” football (the kind that involves picking up the ball), who took part in a brief and unscientific World Cup awareness poll conducted by The Times. Other responses ranged from the sarcastic (“The world has a cup? I know America has a cup. When did we let the world have one?”) to the downright contemptuous (“My friend had five World Cup tickets for free, including all travel expenses, and he couldn’t give them away”).

All of which is likely to make for a surreal encounter in Rustenburg.

There are, however, some Americans who are looking forward to today’s match. One of them is Dave Andrews, president of Devious Media, a Californian digital media consultancy.

He laughs at the idea that supporters of the US team are looking for any kind of BP-related payback on the field today. “Sure, people hate BP, but they don’t hate the UK — and nobody even thinks about BP, UK and the World Cup together,” he says. “I don’t even think a lot of people know that BP stands for British Petroleum.” He adds that he’s far more interested in the idea that the World Cup could finally bring football into the US mainstream.

“When I was a kid, the only World Cup match I ever saw was on ABC’s Wide World of Sports on a Sunday afternoon. But now ESPN [the biggest sports channel in the US] is covering it, which is a big deal. And it’s the first time all the matches are going to be aired in high definition, and at a somewhat reasonable hour, even on the West Coast.”

Nevertheless, says Mr Andrews, all the best athletes at US high schools still tend to play basketball, baseball or American football — and in many cases the coaches don’t even know the rules of “soccer”. But that’s slowly beginning to change.

“You can follow teams online now, and you can learn how to play from YouTube,” he says. Meanwhile, the MLS [Major League Soccer] is getting stronger by the year, thanks to both the growing Hispanic population and the arrival of players such as Beckham. “When the MLS started, no one cared, and the teams all played in other people’s stadiums, which meant they could never get good slots, so the games would all be at three in the afternoon, and no one could go. Now the teams are playing at small colleges with crowds of 20,000 to 30,000 and they can put the games on in primetime. We’re not there yet with soccer but I think we’ll put in a competitive showing.

“Most of the US fans are hoping for a draw against England. A win would be incredible.”

Not all Americans are being so sporting about today’s World Cup game, however — especially given the backdrop of the catastrophe in the Gulf.

Steven Grasse, an advertising executive from Philadelphia and the author of The Evil Empire: 101 Ways that Britain Ruined the World — who claims that the BP oil spill is a result of “British arrogance” — says that he’ll be rooting for his national side not because of any interest in the game, but because a win would be so richly ironic.

“It’ll be the ultimate insult to the UK, won’t it?” he says. “We’ll have beaten you — and we won’t even care.”'

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