American Football and soccer, differences and similarities.
It is a time of great excitement in the United States of America as the National Football League
(NFL) Playoffs arrive at their conclusion on 14 February with Super Bowl LVI between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles. Throughout Europe and the United States, millions of people are enthralled by two sports that both share the same name, but refer to two entirely different games. In fact, Americans refer to the European sport as another name entirely: soccer
. A term which, if used here in Rome is sure to draw some stern glares from the locals. European Football
is by far the most popular sport in the world, with a cumulative audience of over 5.2 billion viewers tuning into the UEFA 2020 tournament two years ago. On the other side of the Atlantic, American football
is king over all other sports at least in terms of ratings. In 2021, the NFL accounted for 41 of the top 50 most-watched broadcasts in the United States, which explains why its media partners are ready to pay more than $100 billion to broadcast games over the next decade and a half. According to an Axios-Ipsos study from 2021, 51 percent of Americans are fans of professional football. No other sport even came close to the 40% mark.
Despite the two sports sharing the same name and requiring teams/clubs to field teams of 11 on the field at a time, the similarities start and end there.
European football is a game in which two teams of 11 players, using any part of their bodies except their hands and arms, try to maneuver the ball into the opposing team’s goal. Only the goalkeeper is permitted to handle the ball and may do so only within the penalty area surrounding the goal. The team that scores more goals wins.
American football, on the other hand, is a game of intense physical aggression with players that have speed, power, and explosiveness that requires helmets and padding to be worn. Teams score points by carrying the ball beyond the opponent's end zone with a series of run and pass plays. This is called a touchdown (six points). Kicking it between the goal post is called a Field Goal (three points), or a one point conversion (PAT or Point After Touchdown) right after a touchdown.
Around Europe, the game day experience of fotball club matches are significantly more intimate
than that of any NFL teams. In a country the size of the US state Oregon with a population of 53 million people, England has hundreds of soccer clubs. That means almost anyone can generally find a club within a short bike ride of their home that they can identify with as a member of their community. Their language, history, religion, political leanings, economic standing, and profession are all represented by the club (working class people support one club vs upper class people supporting another). This is true not just in England, but throughout Europe.
Take one of Rome’s most famous clubs AS Roma for example, prior to the start of the 5th ofFebruary match between Genoa and AS Roma, an estimated crowd of 36,000 fans broke out into a passionate performance of “Voglio solo star con te” or in English “I Just Want to be With You”. This song is composed to the tune of Billy Ray Cyrus' Achy Breaky Heart and was modified from the popular 'Please don't take me home' slogan sung by fans of British national teams during Roma's journey to the semi-finals of the 2017-18 Champions League.
It's a straightforward chant that includes phrases like 'Forza' and 'Alé.' They don't have clear English translations in this context, but they're used in a similar fashion to how an English fan might say 'Come on' or 'Go on' - typically as exclamations of support at the end of phrases.
As for the NFL, compared to American college sports (football, basketball, and hockey) or European fotball there aren't as many unique chants or songs the crowd sings. People just sort of yell and roar when it seems right. There don't seem to be fans that take responsibility to hype their section or lead specific chants like one might see at Stadio Olimpico
on game day. The answer to why that is is simple enough.
Teams in the NFL are merely generic entities that come and go. The majority of NFL teams have moved many of them are brand new. No team would ever identify with a religion, a social class, a career, or a political ideology. They're all fairly neutral. As a result, NFL fans do not have the same emotional attachment to their teams as European Football fans have with their clubs of choice.
A good example of my argument lies with Francisco Franco
, the former dictator of Spain’s team Real Madrid
. The man attempted to obliterate Catalan culture from the face of the planet. When Barcelona plays Madrid, it's no longer only a chance for their side to beat Franco's squad; it's also a chance for them to sing songs with their fellow Spaniards in a language that the opposing team's most powerful fan prohibited. They’re waving their flags because their grandparents couldn't.When AS Roma matches up against Sassuolo this Sunday at 18:00, take a moment to appreciate the proudness on display by the local fans passionately cheering their team with all their heart. Compare that to what will almost certainly be another soulless American Football audience when Super Bowl XLVI kicks off on February 14 at 00:30 and you’ll find that the game day experience just doesn’t weigh up to the genuine article.