Royal Plains

I have to make a confession: I didn't watch the US - Spain match.

By "watch" I mean "sit someplace screaming at a TV set while the game is actually being played".

I set the DVR so that I could watch it later, but then of course ESPN deemed it an "Instant Classic" and so it was just starting again when I got home. As a result, and even though I already knew the final score, I sat through the whole thing, something which I readily admit I don't normally do. If I already know the ending I'll usually skip a few chapters.

The reason why I wasn't on my sofa or a bar stool at kickoff time was because I had to take a trip over to Sag Harbor, out at the tippy end of Long Island.

Plus, I figured that as badly as I wanted to watch the game live, this was a good demonstration of how I'm not really addicted to soccer, as people keep telling me. I can say no any time I want.

I figured we'd drive over, do our thing, and then head home, grab a pizza and watch the US get spanked by the Spanish Cavalcade of the Superstars. No big hurry.

But as we went about our business, fully aware of the game but making no effort to find someplace to watch it, Mookie's cell phone suddenly started going off once every minute or so. He kept checking the texts, sometimes texting back, and casting furtive, guilty glances my way but saying nothing.

Finally, since it was obvious what it was about, I gave up pretending that I hadn't noticed. "Fine, OK, then what's the score?" I said.

When he told me the US was up 1-0 at the half, all of my lofty "soccer doesn't run my life" platitudes and personal resolve simply disappeared. All of a sudden the only thing that mattered was finding someplace where the game was on.

Now those of you who are from the NY metropolitan area know that Sag Harbor is part of what is referred to as "The Hamptons", fabled in song, TV and legend as home to the uber-affluent urban elites that in a previous life I would have pointed to as the sure and certain first targets for the coming Revolution.

(BTW: For those among you who are conversant in the area, would you please for the love of God tell me how to get from I80 to Southampton without using what you New Yorkers laughingly refer to as the Cross Bronx Expressway? It's nothing less than a ten mile long parking lot. An expressway to hell, maybe, but as a conduit to Long Island it leaves a lot to be desired.)

(And for anyone who's interested in joining the flagrantly wealthy, be advised that the BMW X5 seems to be wildly popular, although the Porsche Cayenne is also common, as are Range Rovers and the various products of the Mercedes Benz company, along with a smattering of Rolls Royce/Bentley imprints and the stray Lotus Elan.)

So off we went in search of the game and it wasn't long before a realization hit us: of all the bars, taverns, clubs, restaurants, inns, hotels and - presumably - massage parlors in as much of the town as we could manage to cover in 45 minutes, not only was no one watching but, in fact, we were having a hard time locating anyone who was willing to admit he'd ever heard of this "soccer" thing of which we spoke.

Most of us occasionally grumble or chortle or otherwise comment on the fact that rural America has a culture which ignores, even discriminates against, soccer in favor of more "traditional" local sports. If you found yourself in, say, Selma Alabama you wouldn't waste two minutes looking for someplace that was showing a soccer game.

What we discovered - through our admittedly wildly random and unscientific methodology - is that it's more or less true at the other end of the socio-economic scale as well. The super-duper rich and supposedly sophisticated uppermost classes give you exactly the same blank stare you'd expect in Boise.

Having no luck, we relied on the text messages pouring into Mookie's phone, counting down the time, the score, the fouls, and every gory detail from dozens of decidedly middle class friends and teammates.

Afterwards we went back to our primary mission (there really was one besides ogling cars, yachts and incredibly hot but absurdly self-absorbed young ladies) but a thought occurred to me:

In Steven Ambrose's marvelous book about D-Day, he describes how the first Allied casualty was a young British Airborne lieutenant who was loved by his men for, among other things, having something of a common touch. One example of this was that he used to sit around with them and talk about football, which the other upper class British officers never did. To them, sport was cricket. Football was a lower-class occupation, something well beneath their dignity.

I was musing on this a bit as we drove down a shady, painfully well-groomed street and came upon a public park.

There, on a rather nice soccer field that was obviously intended for the occasional Saturday morning entertainment of the little Princes and Princesses of Southampton, were a couple dozen obviously Hispanic men, half of them stripped to the waist, playing a late afternoon game of soccer.

These guys had spent the day working their asses off mowing, trimming, digging, planting, grooming and otherwise doing the menial work that keeps Sag Harbor so lovely. It was a hot, sunny day and as anyone who spends much time in bonded servitude to a woman with a yard knows, the work is very hard.

You'd have expected them to go home, plop into a chair and suck down a cold drink, but there they were. We parked the car and got out to watch, noting that there were no other obviously Anglo Saxon faces anywhere in sight.

One painfully skinny guy - was he 15? 30? Who can say? - kept slicing through the midfield but couldn't connect with the short, somewhat thickened older guy who was magic with the ball at his feet but who was way too slow to get by the grizzled center back who, when all else failed, would simply chop him down with a grin.

In short, a splendid game to watch.

Funny thing was, they probably didn't know about the US and Spain either. But for a different reason.

Football in the US is of course traditionally an activity for suburban kids and, overseas, it's awash in ever more ludicrous sums of money. With all of that it's hard to keep in mind that, at it's base, football has always been the people's sport, played by the working class.

Unfortunately, in recent years it's become, as they used to say about NASCAR, "a beer sport on a champagne budget". Of course here in the US that's certainly not a problem, but a whole bunch of people apparently won't be happy until it is.

But sometimes it's healthy to remember what soccer is, where it came from and, in the end, whose game it really is.

Enjoy your Saturday.