Category: soccer (Page 1 of 2)

I suppose there’s hardly a day that goes by lately where this couldn’t be said, but on this I cannot stay silent. Mr. Trump, sir, please shut the hell up before you ruin this for all of us.

book review: Under the Lights & in the Dark, by Gwendolyn Oxenham. I thought I’d like it, but I loved it. I recommend this compelling, inspiring (but not pollyannaish) collection of stories not just to soccer fans, or women’s soccer fans, but to anyone. fantastic. 📚

a few great stories about Uncle Lamar from @MassiveReport #SaveTheCrew

will be happy to have a team here again someday; less so if it costs Columbus theirs. Team Relocations Past & Future

embarrassing

turned on England game, at Wembley; clearly-visible gridiron lines on the field. WHEN will soccer finally make it in that country?! 😂

dumb time zone mistake made me miss the first half (& 4 goals!), but all’s well that ends well: a deserved trophy for #NED in #EURO2017

great story of basic honesty & fairness in a pro game. bit sad that it’s so shocking (& Gooch comes off as an ass) http://bit.ly/2s5tF1F

as if the U.S. weren’t already almost too large & spread-out to host. “hey, let’s spread it out even more!” 👎 http://bit.ly/2o76ssg

A Bright Line Connecting You with the Human Race

Another Brian Phillips Grantland post worth its weight in gold, Stop Making Sense. As always with Phillips’ writing – and I never use words like “always” lightly – the whole thing is worth your time. But basking in the afterglow of the final, and turning a brave face to the next four bleak World-Cup-less years, the passage below sums it up perfectly (note that it was written on July 3, just before the quarterfinals; thus “Germany-France on Friday”, “next 10 days”, etc.).

Every World Cup does one thing better than any other event that human beings organize. It focuses the attention of the world on one place at one moment. Around a billion people watched at least part of the final in 2010; that’s several Super Bowls. When a game becomes so ubiquitous, it almost ceases to be entertainment and becomes something else, an atmospheric phenomenon, an object of astronomy. Will more people watch Germany-France on Friday or see the moon over France and Germany? Only the Olympics brings people together like this, and hey, due respect to the Olympics. But oh man is it ever not the same thing.

And this, even more than neuron-blowing games or unbelievable outcomes, is the magic of the World Cup. Over the next 10 days, a substantial portion of the living population of the Earth will have its feelings altered simultaneously by the actions of 22 men chasing a ball around a field in Brazil. Whether you watch alone or in a group or at a stadium, you will know that what you are seeing is being seen by hundreds of millions of people on every corner of the globe, and that your joy, despair, or disbelief is being echoed in incomprehensibly many consciousnesses. Is there anything more ridiculous than this? There is nothing more ridiculous than this, but it’s an extraordinary feeling, too. When something incredible happens — Messi curls a ball around three defenders; Zidane head-butts Materazzi — it’s not just an exciting moment. It’s a bright line connecting you with the human race.

People call soccer “the world’s game”, and it’s kind of a cliché, but it’s also pretty much actually true.

An Extra Problem to Contend With

I read a (typically) great post by Brian Phillips on Grantland recently, a Brazil World Cup travelogue but with Brian’s (typical) brilliant outlook: Train in Vain. Lots of good stuff in there about the national character of the country, its history, and some of the problems faced there, in light of hosting the largest sporting spectacle in the world. I recommend reading the whole thing, but the following philosophical aside really struck me.

Think of it this way: Almost every other sport tries to be exciting by augmenting human capability in some way (football pads, baseball bats, tennis rackets) or at least by perfecting it (agile giants flying toward an NBA rim). Soccer diminishes capability. Instead of making athletes superhuman, it gives them an extra problem to contend with: no hands. When a soccer player scores, she’s overcoming not just her opponents but also the absurd demand of the game itself, which tells her to be agile and then takes away the tools of her agility.

If you think of it that way, can you understand the appeal that soccer has offered to billions of people? It exploded among the poor in so many colonized countries in part, of course, because it required so little equipment. But that can’t be the only reason. A soccer player is essentially belittled by the universe. But he outwits the universe. He grins at his ridiculous problem and overcomes it through grace and guile. Soccer is the beautiful game partly because it makes beauty seem so unlikely, seem virtually impossible, and then gives players just enough freedom to do something beautiful anyway. In its best moments — which don’t happen often, which don’t occur even in every match, and which are therefore to be savored — soccer is ballet breaking out of an enforced clumsiness.

Soccer in Sun and Shadow

"Soccer in Sun and Shadow" by Eduardo GaleanoWe are now less than 50 days from the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and I just finished what might be the perfect book to get ready for the big event: Soccer in Sun and Shadow, by Eduardo Galeano (published as Football in Sun and Shadow in the UK).

The introduction includes a truly great line, one of my favorites, which I’ve seen reproduced in several other soccer books. After feeling guilty for wanting to cheer for the star players of Peñarol (Uruguayan arch-rivals of his own beloved Nacional), Galeano writes:

Years have gone by and I’ve finally learned to accept myself for who I am: a beggar for good football. I go about the world, hand outstretched, and in the stadiums I plead: ‘A pretty move, for the love of God.’

And when good football happens, I give thanks for the miracle and I don’t give a damn which team or country performs it.

The whole book is similarly lyrical and charming. The structure is kind of unusual; it’s a chronological collection of short vignettes, many less than a page. Some are philosophical ruminations on the modern game vs the good old days, some vivid sketches of glorious individual goals and players, and others fascinating time capsules of current events surrounding every World Cup, from 1930 through 2002.

An example:

The Cicada and the Ant

In 1992, the singing cicada defeated the worker ant 2-0.

Germany and Denmark faced each other in the final of the European Championship. The German players were raised on fasting, abstinence and hard work, the Danes on beer, women and naps in the sun. Denmark had lost out in the qualifiers and the players were on holiday when war intervened and they were called urgently to take Yugoslavia’s place in the tournament. They had no time for training nor any interest in it, and had to make do without Michael Laudrup, a brilliant, happy and sure-footed player who had just won the European Cup wearing a Barcelona shirt. The German team, on the other hand, came to the final with Matthaus, Klinsmann and all the stars. Germany who ought to have won, was defeated by Denmark, who had nothing to prove and played as if the field were a continuation of the beach.

It’s great stuff; I highly recommend it. Get a copy from your local bookstore or Half.com, or get the ebook from Amazon or Apple.

And get ready for June, when we’ll see new stories of victory and loss, glory and defeat. And some pretty moves, too, for the love of God.

I Believe in Scorpions

North stands (from NE corner)

I went yesterday with a couple of Eberly’s Army buddies to catch the San Antonio Scorpions 2013 home opener, the inaugural game in the brand new Toyota Field stadium. We joined the Crocketteers supporters at both the pregame tailgate and in the stands. Aside from the home team winding up on the wrong end of the 2-0 scoreline, it was a great evening.

Following are some assorted thoughts and observations. I also took some pictures; see them in this Flickr set (this stadium map will help orient specific locations).

  • The number of people at the tailgate was phenomenal. The support they have already for this team is amazing.
  • The new stadium is bigger and nicer than I expected. I really like it. It has an interesting design and a very comfortable feel.
  • They sell beer at the stadium! This has come to feel like the holy grail of soccer games, at least to us in Austin, where games are played at a high school stadium where beer sales are prohibited. But here’s the thing: it was all crappy mass-market stuff, Coors Light et al. I guess I’ve become a real beer snob, because although I drank it last night, it honestly made me wonder if that watery dreck is worth all the fuss.
  • The supporters section was good, full and in full voice. They’re led by not one, but two, capos, who worked tirelessly all night to keep the fans loud.
  • One chant the supporters had was the “I believe… I believe that…” call and response. The chant ended sometimes with the “we will score” or the “we will win” that I’ve heard, but sometimes in just, “Scorpions!”. Over-thinking this last had the three of us cracking up every time the “I believe in Scorpions” chant came along. Yes, we sure do believe in them, why wouldn’t we, the existence of these arthropods has been conclusively proven, it doesn’t take all that much faith. 😛
  • My favorite chant was struck up during the introduction of the opposing players before the game: “You … may all … go to hell … I … will go … to TEXAS” (an homage, of course, to the famous Davy Crockett quote).
  • For all the impressiveness of the supporters’ presence, it cracked me up to overhear more than one person call them “booster clubs”.
  • What a great bargain these games are. Tickets start at $10, and parking is free. Even if you have a Miller Lite or four, that’s still not too expensive.
  • When you go, don’t hit up the traditional concessions until after you head down to check out the row of food trucks behind the north stands.
  • We couldn’t cheer for him out loud, but it was good to see former Aztex fan favorite Jay Needham putting in his usual solid work in defense for the Rowdies.

Conclusion: two enthusiastic thumbs up for the Scorpions gameday experience. Aztex games at House Park are great, but I look forward to the day when we have this kind of environment here in Austin, too.

Worth Watching or Not

Here’s an idea for a site/app/whatever that, as a soccer fan, I’d love to have. I hereby release it to the world so that someone can build it for me.

The idea is simply a service to help you decide whether or not to watch games that you’ve DVR’d or which are being rebroadcast. You’ve stayed off Twitter to avoid knowing the score, which is great, but you’ve also avoided knowing whether the game is going to be any good.

The closest I’ve seen is the short-lived Redacted Match Reports on Howler Magazine’s blog. They only kept this up through the Euros last year, but here’s their description:

The idea is pretty simple: It’s tomorrow. You’ve recorded both matches—Greece vs. Poland and Russia vs Czech Republic. But when you get home, you only have time to watch one of the two. How do you choose? Bookmark [whatahowler.tumblr.com/redacted] and check it after the games have been played. We’ll give you all the information you need to decide which game to watch, with no scores or spoilers.

Though that was specific to picking which of two simultaneous games to watch, I think the use-cases is more broad. Take today, for example: Bayern vs. Arsenal in a second-leg UEFA Champions League game at 2:45PM (CT) could be awfully good. But there are also CONCACAF Champions League games tonight (Houston v Santos and LA v Herediano) that I’m interested in. Similar to how whichever checkout line you pick in a store is inevitably the slowest, I’m afraid that whichever game I decide to watch tonight will turn out to be the least exciting one.

Even if there weren’t any live games tonight, there’s still the question of whether I should spend two hours of my life (ok, more like 80 minutes with fast-forwarding) on that Bayern-Arsenal game.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of other people will have already seen it. They may not all agree, or be happy about the outcome, but there will surely be some consensus about whether it was a Good Game. Whether it was Worth Watching.

And that’s all I want to know. I don’t need the redacted details of Howler’s version (“XXXX leaves it until late in the second half”), just an indication of the quality of the game. It could be a simple scale: 1: don’t bother, 2: watch if you’ve nothing better to do, 3: DO NOT MISS.

Also unlike Howler’s curated version, this could be crowd-sourced. Apologies for the buzzword, but I think it’s a perfect application of a simple poll, like-button, hot-or-not kind of vote. Having a built-in audience to start with makes it an easy fit for existing sites like SBNation or BigSoccer, though it could be a standalone site, too (until SBNation buys it out; instant millionaire!).

Maybe my view of the market for such a thing is skewed by following European soccer, for which it’s common to want to watch a DVR’d or rebroadcasted match at home in the evening (US time) that took place five, six, seven hours prior across the Atlantic. It seems like fans of other sports would use something like this, but I just don’t know.

Anyway, there’s my idea, I give it to the world for free, all I ask is that someone build it so I can use it. Godspeed!

A Howler, Indeed

The first issue of the new, Kickstarter-funded Howler magazine arrived today. I love soccer writing, so I still look forward to reading the articles. But after flipping through this first, enormously formatted and overly designed monstrosity, I’m glad I only backed them at the “get one issue” level and not the “full subscription” level.

Maybe I’m just in a foul mood after watching Liverpool play well but lose YET AGAIN (3-2 at home to Udinese in Europa League), but this thing just isn’t my bag. A couple of quick examples of what’s put me off:

Like this sort-of, kind-of funny picture of Rooney and Kompany that’s part of the article title? Fooled you! It’s not part of the article! At all! It’s just a sort-of, kind-of funny picture, all by itself! The text to the left is the end of the article prior! No caption (just the title, “Gents”, and the artist), no accompaniment, no point. It’s Art, I guess! (Also, how about that giant red bar? A capital “I”? Maybe! A random red bar? Yes! Relation to anything at all? None!)

Know what this diagram of Bs, Ds, and Gs is meant to illustrate? Fooled you again, it’s not a diagram at all! It’s the title of an article! Called, “BDGB BDGB”, OBVIOUSLY! It’s about being a fan of Man U in the 70s, OBVIOUSLY! More Art, I guess! (Also, see the random circles and lines and colored bars and shadows sprinkled haphazardly all over? Still more Art, apparently!)

Anyway, as I recall they did say in their Kickstarter promo, with all fair warning to me, that they would have “some of the most striking art and design you’ll find in any publication being made today”. And there are some neat graphics in here, certainly; some that even seem to serve a purpose beyond their creator showing off to other magazine/design people. And I am optimistic about the writing, but I’m disappointed overall. Best of luck to you, Howler, but I won’t be subscribing.

Not a Vicarious Pleasure

One thing I know for sure about being a fan is this: it is not a vicarious pleasure, despite all appearances to the contrary, and those who say that they would rather do than watch are missing the point. Football is a context where watching becomes doing . . . When there is some kind of triumph, the pleasure does not radiate from the players outwards until it reaches the likes of us at the back of the terraces in a pale and diminished form; our fun is not a watery version of the team’s fun, even though they are the ones that get to score the goals and climb the steps at Wembley to meet Princess Diana. The joy we feel on occasions like this is not a celebration of others’ good fortune, but a celebration of our own; and when there is a disastrous defeat the sorrow that engulfs us is, in effect, self-pity, and anyone who wishes to understand how football is consumed must realise this above all things.

The players are merely our representatives, chosen by the manager rather than elected by us, but our representatives nonetheless . . . I am a part of the club, just as the club is a part of me; and I say this fully aware that the club exploits me, disregards my views, and treats me shoddily on occasions, so my feeling of organic connection is not built on a muddle-headed and sentimental misunderstanding of how professional football works. This Wembley win belonged to me every bit as much as it belonged to Charlie Nicholas or George Graham . . . and I worked every bit as hard for it as they did. The only difference between me and them is that I have put in more hours, more years, more decades than them, and so had a better understanding of the afternoon, a sweeter appreciation of why the sun still shines when I remember it.

Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby

I’ve long scoffed at people who recount their team’s exploits using the personal pronoun “we”. What’s this “we”? You’re not the person out there doing anything, you’re sitting in the stands, or more probably on your couch at home watching TV.

But in my more recent, soccer fanatic years, I’ve had the impulse to speak this way myself, though I’ve fought against it. After reading the excellent passage above, no more. “They” may not understand it, but it truly is “we”.

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