The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

Archive for February, 2008

Don’t Forget Your Life — Championship Manager

Posted by steigs on February 24, 2008

I’ve been playing a lot of Championship Manager lately.  British soccer fans know all about the game, now titled “Worldwide Soccer Manager” in the US.  In the UK, it’s a computer game phenomenon of the highest order, with new editions awaited with the longing we see here for new versions of Grand Theft Auto.  Here in the US, it’s an underground thing, discussed with intensity on bigsoccer and word of mouth among friends.  (“You’ve got to try this…”)

At the moment, I’m attempting to finally win promotion to the Premiership for little Carlisle, the team I’ve managed for several virtual seasons, having already moved them up a couple of tiers.  Back-to-back third place seasons in the first division only earned me painful playoff promotion losses.  (Three of the four play-off games I’ve lost a player to a red card.  For a realistic game, that’s a little unfair…)  I’ve got the boys in second halfway through this season but, seriously, if I can’t do it, it’ll be time to tackle another team. 

Awhile back, I wrote up an appreciation of Championship Manager after going to see the team I had been managing play in person.  An interesting comparison.  Read on after the jump for more about the wonders of Championship Manager and a day out at Easter Road watching Hibs… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Games, Scotland | Leave a Comment »

Wish I was there

Posted by steigs on February 23, 2008

These days, an American soccer fan can actually watch as much — if not more — soccer than the average European fan.  On television, at least.  If you’ve got digital cable or satellite tv.  And don’t mind taping games that are on during your time at the office….

One thing it remains difficult to do — and getting more difficult with the dollar growing weaker by the day — is actually attending the games in person.  I like to drop stories here about times I’ve been lucky enough to make the trek to places like the Nou Camp and Anfield etc.  The atmosphere can be incredible.  It’s something that you just can’t capture at home or even at a lively bar.

I follow several teams in different European leagues.  The Champions League can provide challenges to my fandom, such as the Celtic-Barcelona match-up in the round of 16.  Which of my favorites to I root for?  DC United is my first team.  But Celtic and Barca are my next two favorites.  When they play…I root for Celtic.  That was reaffirmed this week watching the first leg.

Damn, I wish I’d been able to get to Glasgow for the game — or even to watch in a Celtic-friendly pub in Scotland.  Keving of Lord of the Wing was there — let him describe it

The scene that met me was awe-inspiring. Thousands of green, white and yellow flags were being waved, the “Welcome To Paradise” banner draped over the top tier along wie various other CSC banners. The end was singing, swaying and belting out “Hail Hail” drowning oot the PA.Went down the front of Area 412. The Green Brigade had hung a banner over to the main lads in the section below. The section below was a sea of waving flags, including a Catalonia flag, the banner stated wie impressive intent “Roar Like Lions”. Now, I could see the whole stadium was energetic.

A look across to the “away end” and I was impressed wie the numbers of travelling. 2000 Cules were bouncing, singing and waving their colourful flags and instead of standing a gawping in wonder at the noise coming from the rest of the arena they were adding to it.

YNWA, started and as I stood looking all around I wondered if there was any better place in Europe. The displays were anarchic, spontaneous European, colourful and messes, which is great. Much better than the holding up the cards, spelling out a message type ones. These displays were on a par wie anything I have seen in Europe and were carried off wie as much passion as any Turk, Greek, Italian or Spaniard.

Posted in Barca, Celtic, Champions League | Leave a Comment »

Maldini hits 1000

Posted by steigs on February 20, 2008

As I Dislike Your Favorite Team reminded me, Paulo Maldini just played game number 1000.  I missed the Parma game this weekend when he hit the mark but Big Blue Monkey reports:

I watched his 1000th game against Parma, and the game undeniably changed when he stepped on the pitch as a second half substitute. There was Maldini, making overlapping runs, and serving dangerous crosses into the box. By all rights, he should have had two assists in his 15 minutes of play.

Sure, he’s been one of the all-time great defenders.  As if that weren’t enough, he’s also looks like he should be on the cover of a romance novel.  I, for one, have heard my wife sigh about his “eyes” on more than one occasion as we watch AC Milan.  Hence his featured role in AC Milan’s recent calendar with Dolce & Gabbana.  Like this one.  The story goes that when Giorgio Armani visited the 1994 Italian World Cup team, as part of providing their travelling suits, he proclaimed that he’d love to have Maldini on the runway for his collections.

Maldini reportedly has a home in Miami but, aside from the fact that Miami no longer has an MLS team, don’t get your hopes about him doing a cameo desginated player year or two over here as some Italian Beckham.  He’s a one club guy — AC Milan from his teenage playing days until his upcoming retirement.

All the more reason I consider myself lucky to have seen him play in person back in late 2000 at the San Siro, during a Champions League match-up with Galatasaray.   Here’s what I wrote about it back then.  Watch him while you can!

As the second half wears on, I become fascinated with the play of the AC Milan left back, Paulo Maldini, who is positioned directly in front of me.  Maldini is a legend, a regular on the Italian national team for more than a decade, often described as the best at his position in the world.  It seems to me that Galatasaray should simply give up attacking on Maldini=s side of the field, the way NFL teams sometimes don=t throw passes in the direction of all-star cornerbacks.  They cannot get the ball past him.  If a player dribbles forward towards him, Maldini deftly takes it from him.  If they try a pass in his area, then he intercepts it.  As if such peerless defensive technique is not enough, Maldini is graceful with ball too.  At one point he brings it upfield, fakes out two Galatasaray players with ease, before making a long pass to a forward.  Late in the first half he had bounced a shot off the bar.

Posted in Champions League, Italy | 1 Comment »

Roma Holiday

Posted by steigs on February 19, 2008

The Champions League is starting again with the good stuff — the knock-out rounds.  One team I’m rooting for is Roma.  Partly this is because they’re matched with Real Madrid.  (Boo!  Hiss!)  But it’s also because I’ve developed a fondness for Totti and the boys from Rome.  They have taken advantage of the nuclear penalty on Juventus (down you go!) to become regulars in the Champions League and often play an attractive game. 

 Oh, and M. and I had a great time when we went to see them in Rome a few years back, even if the game was on the dull side.  To learn more about Roma, the cult of Totti, the “flying donkeys,” and what it’s like to watch a game at an old Olympic stadium with a tribute to Mussolini out front, read on after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Champions League, Italy | Leave a Comment »

Oh, Canada

Posted by steigs on February 13, 2008

We American fans often complain about US Soccer.  Well, as Pitch Invasion reminds us, we’re light years ahead of our neighbors to the north:

On August 28th Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) president Colin Linford resigned, a decision that brought Canadian supporters back to reality. The CSA is essentially a federation run by volunteers who oversee a $14-million business. When Linford resigned he said a culture of amateurism prevailed and the only way to save the federation was to disband the CSA.

The Globe and Mail provides some historical background:

Once Sharpe was gone, the CSA collapsed into chaos. Internal bickering and Titanic-like intransigence of its board of directors – which includes representatives (and bickering, conflicting agendas) from all the provinces – has left the CSA with no president, no technical director, no CEO, and on the hook for a big (unspecified) settlement to former executive Fred Nykamp, who was lured away from his old job at Basketball Canada, only to be dumped to the curb without serving a single day in office.

Wait, didn’t Canada just host an apparently successful U-20 World Cup?  Yes, yes it did.  But that was after spending years messing around, per the Globe and Mail:

Early in the decade, it was mired in a misguided, impractical plan to launch a new coast-to-coast pro loop, the Canadian United Soccer League. Organizers had significant sponsorship money lined up – but only if they could sign up eight owners and a national television deal. They couldn’t. Turned out most of the energy was funnelled into an “affinity card” scheme, that would essentially direct-market to Canada’s soccer parents, offering modest discounts in exchange for enduring an ongoing advertising blitz.

An affinity card scheme?  Makes you pretty grateful for MLS, such as it is.  No wonder they love Toronto FC so much up there. 

There’s an opportunity for Canada in CONCACAF right now.  They’ve got some good players (hello, DeRosario!)  The US only beat them in last year’s Gold Cup semi-final game on a controversial late goal.  They’ve got a real home field in Toronto for qualifying.  And once you get past Mexico and the US, CONCACAF does not look that tough in the upcoming 2010 World Cup qualifying.  Costa Rica?  Failed to impress in Germany.  Honduras has Suazo, who tore up Serie A last season.  Trinidad & Tobago is aging and torn by in-fighting.  Panama?  Guatemala?

Their semi-final group is, like it was for the ’06 Cup, a toughie.  Mexico, Jamaica, Honduras.  (Assuming no immense flops in the preliminary round.)  If you assume El Tri go through, it’ll take some good games but the Canucks could get through to the Hex.  And if they can get there, I don’t look forward to the US going to Toronto if the Canadians are still feeling aggrieved over the ’07 Gold Cup game…

Posted in CONCACAF | Leave a Comment »

You Don’t Know Jack

Posted by steigs on February 11, 2008

The stink of corruption and sleaze has been a constant around FIFA in recent years, with questionable television and sponsorship deals.  Heck, the awarding of the 2006 World Cup to Germany was marked by controversy — hence the need to institute a “rotation” system to make certain that the aggrieved South Africans got the 2010 tourney. 

We Americans have little reason to criticize FIFA since our own region is dominated by a crook and slimebag of the first order, a man named Jack Warner.  Love the underdog Trinidad and Tobago team at the 2006 World Cup?  Warner is a big reason that team has fallen apart in acrimony.  He’s been caught with his hand in the till repeatedly yet skates free because he’s tight with FIFA’s leadership.  Ian Plenderleith does a service reminding us of his misdeeds:

It might also be mentioned that at last year’s Gold Cup, Guadeloupe reached the semi-finals, while T&T, with their best players suspended by the democracy-loving Warner, failed to get out of the group stage. Nonetheless, Warner found the performance “disappointing”, because, he told media, “when you bring back some of the top players [that is, lift their suspensions] you expect them to perform.

“You could talk whatever ‘big bucks’ you want,” he elaborated, “you could talk whatever football organisation you want, whether you are a trade union or not. At the end of the day, you judge how you play on the field.” Meanwhile, “irritants” such as the World Cup bonus issue, due for settlement by arbitration in London next month, were holding the team back.

It all makes sense. The team played badly because they formed a union to try and claim the money they’d been promised, and because they were a little suspicious of the Federation’s claim there was no money left in the World Cup pot after expenses. Then the player’s lawyers revealed that there was $30 million mysteriously missing from the Federation’s financial calculations.

$30 million?  That’s real money in the US — imagine how far that would go in Trinidad.  Wonder how much of it is in Jack’s pocket? 

Hopefully, one of these days “Uncle Phil” Anschutz, with all his billions, will help oust this guy.  We should put our own house in order.  On the field, the US has come a long way in international soccer but, let’s face it, we’re still learning.  But we should be a leader in keeping sports clean — lord knows, we’ve had enough practice.

Posted in CONCACAF | Leave a Comment »

The Auld Enemy

Posted by steigs on February 5, 2008

So it’s US-Mexico time again, a friendly tomorrow in Houston.  Let the previews begin!

Will it be more of the same?  As Chang rightly puts it:

Pregame trash-talking from Mexico, followed by a game where Mexico dominated technically and in terms of possession and yet lost. The post-game routine usually consisted of Mexico stating it was the better team and how it didn’t deserve to lose.

Well, actually, so far it appears that Mexico won’t trash-talk us before the game.  Does this signal some respect?  Or just a lowering of expectations from the now twice-beaten egomaniac Hugo Sanchez?  Uh oh.  Maybe that means the rest of the usual fare is off the menu.  In fact, I’m expecting a draw tomorrow.  It just seems like maybe Mexico is due.  It’s not like it’s a real home game for the US — you play the game in Houston, you get a whole lot of Mexican immigrants in green jerseys in the stands.  And I’d rather mess this game up than one in qualifying or in the Gold Cup.

I think what I find most intriguing is the angle Chang points to — here comes the next generation.  We’ve got Adu and Altidore.  They’re starting to see players from their U-17 World Cup winning team enter the national team picture.  (Hello, dos Santos!)  And let’s face it, their young guns have a better pedigree (so far) then ours.  The US has a wonder boy at Benfica — they’ve got one at Barca, for example.  Altidore still plays in MLS, after all, even if Real Madrid is supposedly watching.  We’re doing pretty good in international youth tourneys — Mexico actually won one.

The player I’m actually curious to see again against Mexico is Michael Bradley, who has turned into a goal machine in the Dutch league.  He’s a big boy, a physical presence in midfield.  We need him to play well and show that he can disrupt the Mexican attack as well as generate some forward movement for us.  He seems to be tearing it up in Holland — is he making a leap in prowess that will lead him somewhere else soon and let him be a middle-of-the-park fixture for the US for years to come?  This would be an excellent time to show us that.

This seems an excellent time as well to post my tale of attending the ’05 qualifier against Mexico in Columbus, that dos et cero affair that clinched our qualification for Germany 2006.  That tale after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Mexico, US | 1 Comment »

Sport and Empire

Posted by steigs on February 5, 2008

Simon Kuper is the pioneer of writing about soccer as an international game and how it interacts with politics, economics, culture.  If you haven’t read his ground-breaking Football Against the Enemy — also known as Soccer Against the Enemy — then you really should just go straight to Amazon and order it now.

These days Kuper has a column in the Financial Times and this past Friday he had a doozy, an exploration of the way a British game (soccer) leads the world long after the sun has set on the British empire while American games (outside of basketball and a few spots of baseball interest) have little traction outside America.  There’s a host of ideas tossed off in the course of the piece — it could easily be expanded to be a New Yorker article or even a book.

As Kuper puts it:

This is a struggle between two very different types of empire: the British (which, contrary to popular opinion, still exists) and the American (which, contrary to popular opinion, may not exist). Emerging from the struggle is a new breed of sports fan.

As best I can tell, Kuper thinks that fan is one who watches sports on television, the spread of which represented a “second wave” of globalization in sports.  The simpler the game, the better it translates.  (Tough luck, American football or cricket!) 

It also means, he argues, that the EPL benefits from its heritage, that century of tradition that makes a team from struggling post-industrial cities like Liverpool or Newcastle globally known.  With the advent of cable television and niche broadcasting:

A century-old model of fandom – the man who supports the home-town team he inherited from his father – is collapsing. In the US, China and even Argentina, people increasingly watch Manchester United on TV. Chinese and American soccer fans mostly came of age during the second wave of sporting globalisation. They prefer the real thing to their obscure local teams. For the same reason, the NFL closed its offshoot NFL Europe last year after 16 fairly anonymous seasons. In future, American NFL teams will visit Europe instead.

Global fans want global leagues, above all the NBA or the Premiership. It’s therefore wrong to think that Beckham will save American soccer by playing for the LA Galaxy. American soccer is alive and well and watching Manchester United on Fox Soccer Channel. This is a posthumous victory for the British empire.

This is at the heart of the struggle MLS faces.  The more World Cup and EPL soccer becomes a mainstream sport in the US, the more MLS looks second-rate.  One answer is to, of course, import David Beckham and a few others to bring glamour and international track records to the league. 

But here’s another point.  If I were at MLS HQ, I’d be paying attention to the fan experience and encouraging fan culture.  The enthusaistic fans of Toronto FC or DC United make attending an MLS game a more enjoyable thing to do — and it’s something that an American can’t get watching a game from Europe.  Get that passion in the stadiums and also try to convey it on television.  This is something that moving to soccer-only stadiums will help with.  There’s only so much that can be done to convey excitement in a mostly empty Giants Stadium or Arrowhead Stadium.  Then Americans can watch Man U or Arsenal and then try to replicate what they see here at home. 

Posted in England, Television, US | 1 Comment »

I’m for the Hamburgers!

Posted by steigs on February 1, 2008

The Bundesliga is about to resume after its mid-winter break.  Bayern Munich (aka FC Hollywood) are in first but still felt the need to make plans to bring in a new coach, virtually American Jurgen Klinsmann, at the end of the season.  One of the teams lurking just behind the perennial champions is Hamburg FC. 

While a stint with Hamburg didn’t work out so well for Benny Feilhaber (now warming the bench for relegation-meat Derby County), the team has also been a rumored destination for Michael Bradley, a goal-scoring machine in Holland who is looking to move on after this season. 

I’ve had a fondness for Hamburg since a stop there in August ’01.  Want to learn more about the only never-relegated team in the Bundesliga, the city’s tawdry red light district, friendly fans, and what John Denver song a whole stadium of German soccer fans was singing along to….read on after the jump!

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Germany | Leave a Comment »