Beckham won't make a difference

JOHN SHORT

, Last Updated: 8:57 AM ET

If you're someone who cares whether the Becks and Posh show can possibly make a difference to soccer on this continent, think again.

No matter how good the publicity machine turns out to be, no matter how many Hollywood celebrities line up to watch early-season games, nothing will change until North Americans, whose heritage is based in other nations, learn to adopt soccer as it is on this side of the ocean.

That lesson should have been learned - but wasn't - in the early days of the old North American Soccer League, which got off to a terrific start in many cities, but soon priced itself out of existence. Not all of the old owners were stupid with their money. Many of them simply believed the large early crowds would last forever.

The biggest problem - those who grew up watching British or Italian or Dutch or South American teams have been unable or unwilling to start identifying with teams or individuals in North America.

At any game featuring a prominent international side against Canadian or U.S. national teams, the supporters of visiting teams are louder and more knowledgeable. They cheer for the old land for a bunch of reasons that may have nothing to do with soccer. Until this picture changes, Beckham won't make the slightest difference.

SHOOT, ALES, SHOOT

Again last week, sore-eared radio hosts heard the objection that Ales Hemsky refuses to shoot the puck. Critics also made the point, as usual, that the brilliant Oiler puckhandler is neither physical nor persistent when the puck is controlled by opposing teams.

Some believe the Oil would be better off without him. Wrong!

Too bad a few of those critics don't spend some time watching Steve Nash play basketball. He doesn't play much defence, either, but he's a two-time MVP with a shot at a three-peat. Like Hemsky, Nash spends most of his time getting teammates involved in the offence. Like it or not, the job is the same for a basketball point guard as for a hockey playmaker.

GET REAL CBC ... TRAIL, NOT NELSON

How did the deep thinkers at CBC manage to designate Nelson, B.C., as a suitable home for Hockey Day?

It's a beautiful city. I worked there as a kid and watched Danny Gare, Pat Price, Mike Laughton and Greg Adams in their early hockey years, long before they reached the NHL. Once Nelson was part of the old Western International Hockey League. But Nelson hasn't got a team any more. Not senior, not junior, not anything. Trail, only a short hop away, would have been the best choice.

SHARON WILL BE MISSED

One more important part of the Edmonton sports picture has left us. Sharon Fleming died last week, only six months after the passing of her husband, boxing builder Larry Fleming ... Oilers part-owner Ron Hodgson, is undergoing medical treatment. As you would expect, he's optimistic. Be well, my friend.


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