Monday, April 26, 2010

Apathy in pursuit of ABU? Why hoping Liverpool loses to Chelsea diminishes the club's legacy more than Manchester United ever could

The Premier League has a conundrum scheduled for Liverpool fans Sunday at Anfield. Undermanned and fighting long odds to qualify for the Champions League, supporters will see their team take on Premier League leaders Chelsea in the season's penultimate game. Should Liverpool manage to win, it would represent a high point in a drab season – and almost certainly hand the title to Manchester United. Their 19th title. One more than Liverpool's (co-owned) record of 18. It would give a bunch of people we all don't care for very much each Saturday new inspiration for yet-to-be-written anti-Scouse songs that somehow position John O'Shea and Gary Neville as superior to Kenny Dalglish in his pomp. Or something like that.

Yesterday, as Steven Gerrard rediscovered his considerable talents while attacking the David Fishwick stand at Burnley, a Liverpool fan and city native who has my unquestioned support and loyalty imagined wearing a Chelsea shirt to the bar this Sunday. Even I joked to a Man U fan yesterday that I should win Liverpool's "Be Our Keeper For A Match!" contest in time to stand between the posts versus Drogba and friends. The attraction of "Anyone But United" is powerful and obvious, but whether you really want Chelsea to beat Liverpool this Sunday depends upon how much you fear the future. And how much you're willing to let post-1992 English football bug the shit out of you.

United have won 11 titles during the Premier League era. If the team fails to win No. 12 this spring, it will not alter how they are the unquestioned dominant force in the current era of English football, which can be further explained in this easily understood before and after comparison. As many times as I've looked at the "before" image there, it never ceases to make me wonder. Arsenal 10th! QPR in fifth and, of course, charming Oldham, who I once watched in the FA Cup on a Fox Soccer Channel broadcast a few years ago and had to remind myself was once a Premier League team. From the start, United has pushed around the assorted sides that have made up that table through the years, with Arsenal and Chelsea occasionally getting their shots in when they could. This unpleasant – and unavoidable – reality is not going to change, no matter how many times United narrowly misses out on winning the title because Chelsea accumulated a couple more points over 38 games. This has been United's era, and their supporters are going to puff their chests out on their own perch now. Should any Liverpool supporter hope to see his side lose just so that United arrogance only peacocks at 85 or 90 percent of capacity? Is now really the best time to cynically jeer United's inability to win the league? Chelsea winning the league this season provides Liverpool fans with short-lived relief – a sense that one more slight against the club in a season filled with them was avoided. Just try making a banner to unfurl at Anfield out of that sentiment.

The reluctance and fear that permeates any Liverpool supporter's opinion of seeing United win No. 19 should be a temporary condition. Hatred for it and an inability to deal with it are symptoms of dread and worry surrounding Liverpool's own condition. I'm not suggesting you go out and walk arm in arm with a United fan on the way to their open-top bus parade, but try viewing it in something other than the either/or conclusion simply counting title trophies inevitably brings about. Hoping to see Chelsea all but clinch the trophy at Anfield this weekend is a byproduct of that condition. "Either United has more titles or Liverpool has more titles. That is how we will determine superiority." If that doesn't bring about a satisfactory answer for one side, you can always grab a ruler, drop your pants and see who the real winner is when the goals scored and conceded columns don't add up to your liking.

A more productive approach to this weekend's match can be found in the league table. Liverpool are two points from fourth, and the team's long-shot fight for that final Champions League spot – which has been written off for several weeks – is still alive. Of course it's unlikely, but until Villa, Spurs or City get to 69 points, it's not yet impossible. If Fergie added a defining chapter to his legacy and won the league, but Liverpool pulled off a last-day theft of that money-printing slot, it would remove several doubts about the club's future and offer a reason for supporters to celebrate an arduous campaign. Should Liverpool acquiesce to Chelsea's triumph when such a result is still there for the taking? Is United's failure more important than trying to salvage until the very end participation in the competition around which all of the club's organization is structured?

More ephemeral joy can be found in beating Chelsea purely for the sake of victory. In a series of Twitter posts Sunday, Brian Phillips from the Run of Play showed how historically dominant Chelsea has been this season. Five goals shy of setting the record for that statistic in one Premier League season. Largest goal differential in the history of the Premier League. Why not hope to see Liverpool beat such a team? Aston Villa has a very real chance of playing in the Champions League next season. Chelsea applied a dropkick-hammering combination on them so intense that bizarre "Martin O'Neill to quit Villa" rumors surfaced. Remarkably, several people actually believed them. There are many simple joys any fan could take from seeing Liverpool defeat a committed Chelsea team this Sunday.

If you just cannot stand your magnanimity without a dose of the ol' tribalism, beating Chelsea would allow Liverpool to essentially deliver United's 19th title. It would allow those so inclined to say to the gloating United hordes, "As a gesture of goodwill, here is your 19th title. Remember you got it because we defeated the team you couldn't." Sure, United fans might scoff and only intensify their jibes, but the point is there are ways to view United winning No. 19 other than just how it reflects on Liverpool's position within the English game.

The Premier League season has been a crunching lurch, and not just for Liverpool. This past weekend saw the elimination of another one of any league's great amusements: the last-day relegation scramble. Who doesn't love to see those shots from the final day of spectators watching the match in front of them while a radio is pressed against an ear to hear of any updates from elsewhere in England, where the other team(s) competing for Premier League survival have fans doing the same? This year, the only last-day festivities will be among Spurs, Villa and City fans – maybe Liverpool too – in the race for fourth. In the title chase, would Chelsea and Manchester United fans even use radios in this day and age? I'd think those clubs would just flash score updates on the electronic advertising boards. The Samsung/Manchester United Club Shop out-of-town scoreboard, if you will. It's not quite the same.

The likely outcome Sunday is that Chelsea will win. It would fit the narrative of the 2009-10 Premier League season. That is, it would lack all drama. It's a season many tried to shape as the year of the unpredictable when, in fact, it's just the year one of the top four played poorly a handful of times and will likely drop out of that group, allowing one of two other well-funded sides to appear in a Champions League qualification match. Arsenal are comfortably third but exuding all the happiness of being in a near-zero-brain-activity stupor. Elsewhere, Landon Donovan made a cameo that provided one of the strongest runs of form for a team. Wolves grinding out low-scoring results served as another relative "high point." Rooney had about three months where he performed in all the Rooney-ness the world has expected from him until he, again befitting the storyline, broke down. It's been the season where the most fascinating developments happened all year at the league's 20th-place team. For a while now the best part of the calendar turning each week was everybody got that much closer to the World Cup.

It's all the more reason the last thing Liverpool supporters should express is sad disappointment if the team manages to beat Chelsea. There has been enough despondency at Anfield and in England for one season. Even if the team should win on Sunday, there could be more sad notes to come for Liverpool, so take what you can get as a fan. We need more high points in between David Conn articles about the club.

In the end, the United people can go and wave their green-and-gold scarves and celebrate whatever they care to – or whatever spirit they feel defines them. Liverpool has had enough identity crisis problems this season that the club and the fans don't need to top it off by finding joy through losing at home. There are many more important issues to figure out going forward during the next year or two than to worry about Alex Ferguson having led Manchester United to one more title than Liverpool. Sure, it'd be fun to see Gary Neville crying as a bucket of horse vomit is poured over him, all while Yuri Zhirkov conks Fergie over the head with the Premier League trophy in the background. But if Hicks and Gillett don't sell soon to someone who wants to – and can afford to – improve the club, that joy will be short-lived, entirely empty and without hope for the future. Loathing Manchester United and trying to beat them is part of the Liverpool supporter's experience, but it shouldn't be allowed to define it. After all, they're not even the best side in England anymore.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Word Association. Ray Hudson. Nuff Said.

In the other segment that Ray Hudson joined us for on Saturday morning, Peter Wilt gave him some names and sat back with a simple game of word association to see what the fella had to say.

It tossed up fun yet it also tossed up some rich and incredibly heart-touching moments. My mother even called me after the show to say that she had tears rolling down her face. It so very nice to hear from a man who not only loves the game but who has put in the work over the years to help spread that love of the game.

Listen in here.

This weekend was a lot of fun. Thanks for coming along with us.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Soccer Saturday and Gol TV Commentator Ray Hudson

Gol TV commentator Ray Hudson joined us on Soccer Saturday presented by the Milwaukee Wave today. Listen here.

If you feel like finding out a bit of how much it meant to me in particular, keep reading ...

I've mentioned it before in this space, I grew up following hockey and the incredibly fast-pace of the men who called the game. The role models, beyond Wayne Gretzky, were the men who called the games. Their words flew at a pace that left you dizzy. Yet, beyond mere description, there was a comprehension that taught and ... conveyed ... the game for those who didn't fully understand the intricacies. 

I always loved football. Just not as deeply as I have in my adult life.

One of the things that first drew me more deeply into its world was that it contained the majestic creativity of hockey yet it actually allowed the artists on the playing field to express themselves to their full potential. Picasso on a bar napkin versus Picasso on a full canvass. Thompson with someone - or something - to capture his words. Godard with Coutard as opposed to Godard with simply Cahiers du Cinema. 

Later, I began an actual pursuit of broadcasting as a profession in college until I found the track to be a little too redundant. French and creative writing was the eventual magnetic draw. Much more stimulation. At the same time, I tripped into a career in Major League Baseball. Right place, right time, a little know how, a little hard work and all that. 

The point of all the background story is that through all of it, as I grew up, I looked at, focused on and listened to the folks behind the mic more than I did the athletes on the field. The words they delivered to our ears. The way they positioned the battle, the story they set, the passion they'd share with you and the path they'd take you on as you learned every corner of each game. And then, as I was growing into my 20s, I found myself working in baseball and sitting at the same dinner table as the likes of Vin Scully, the voice of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers for 50 plus years, Hall of Famers like Ernie Harwell, Marty Brenneman and Bob Uecker, and Harry Kalas, one of the defining voices of the legendary NFL Films.

Do I value those moments and the yarns those folks have to share with me? You better believe it. 

In 2007, a group of us at The Highbury Pub in Milwaukee, Wis., (including Jim and I) were watching the finale of La Liga as Real Madrid were battling Getafe in great tussle that would eventually give Real the title. 

Jim and I were floored - floored - by the brilliance of the commentator for Gol TV, Ray Hudson. He sounded not like the stodgy (yet spectacular) gentlemen who called the games from England that we'd watch every morning. Ray sounded like us ... yet it was an 'us' that came equipped with tongues of silver, a spirit of pure energy, wisdom and transcendent and mind-boggling hyperbole. He sounded like someone who loved the game with such fire that it naturally poured out him like an exploding volcano. 

At the end of the day we saw a shift in the way we'd have to watch and enjoy our football. Those 6:30 a.m. alarm calls to get to our pub and watch the teams we support was thing ... sticking around until the games from Spain, and most importantly, the games from Spain called by Ray Hudson, was another challenge all together. But damn if we weren't up for it. Time and time again, seven or eight hours into the day that already had all of us football lovers up and out of bed at 6:00 a.m., we'd be tripping for the doors only to stop and realize, "Wait! Wait. Wait just one minute. Ray Hudson's on in an hour. We can stay. We must stay."

And of course, we'd stay. And hot damn would we be better off for it. 

This morning, Ray Hudson joined us on Soccer Saturday presented by the Milwaukee Wave, the radio show based out of Milwaukee that we've been fortunate enough to contribute to since its debut show this spring. Our dear friend, Peter Wilt, president of the Milwaukee Wave, bon vivant, more-important-than-you-realize-member-of-the-American-soccer-fraternity and all around great guy knows Ray from their common time in America's MLS. After Jim and I discussed Ray in our last segment, Peter arranged the interview and Ray was kind enough to join us this morning to have some fun and talk football.

At the base of it all though what he shared and continued to express, as he does every weekend, was his bottomless love for the game and appreciation for its heroes and artists. He's a great example of what it means to just sit back and be wowed. Sure you love your team. Sure you got torn apart by losses, poor performances and injustice. Sure you want to brag in the face of your rivals, shout at turncoats and shake your fist at the enemy but at the very bottom of everything, it's a hell of a fun time following football and all it offers us.

Ray is a great example of that. 

Like a Vin Scully who crafts sentences in baseball that make you grin and understand as if you've just finished glancing at a Norman Rockwell.

Like a Bob Uecker, a man whose wit is unmatched and who reads a never-ending list of sponsorships like no other.

Like a Harry Carey, a man who sounds just like the drunk and crazy fan in the bleachers in front of you who'd piss you off if he wasn't so damn entertaining.

He's all of it rolled together. Magically poetic and endlessly effusive. 

He's worth sticking around for.

He ain't got nobody

In honour of Adebayor's return to London and his former teammates with the Arsenal today, I wanted to share a old classic for him. Simply ...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Soccer Saturday and the National Basketball Association

The Milwaukee Bucks surprised the entire league with a terrific season fueled in part by rookie Brandon Jennings and the assertion of Andrew Bogut as one of the league's top centers.

Another key piece? Cameroon native Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

The Bucks had more than their fair share of international seasoning this year. In fact, early in the year they could boast that all five starters were from five different continents.

Continents, not countries.

(They also got this guy to go to 11 games. More games than I'd been to in my entire life to this point.)

Luc Richard, being from Cameroon, is a fan of our particular focus and passion ... the football. He's a passionate Barcelona supporter and, naturally, loves to profess his allegiance to his native country's Indomitable Lions

The folks from Soccer Saturday arranged to have Luc Richard join us last weekend for a conversation on all things football. He discussed his love for Barcelona, his hopes for Cameroon at the World Cup, his hopes for the first World Cup being held in Africa and his excitement at the fact that he'll be attending his first World Cup as an official member of the Cameroon delegation.

Listen in here with Luc-Richard Mbah a Moute and Soccer Saturday last weekend. 

Tune in for tomorrow morning's show as Jim and I chat with Gol TV commentator Ray Hudson toward the bottom of the hour. Show starts at 8:00 a.m. 540 AM in Milwaukee and Chicago, elsewhere. We'll have the recorded link up later in the day.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Preview: Talking with Ray Hudson

We will be fortunate enough this Saturday to talk with Ray Hudson on Soccer Saturday presented by the Milwaukee Wave, which you can listen to on ESPN 540 AM in Milwaukee and Chicago from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. local time. The one-hour show also is made available in podcast segments online at the link above.

Obviously, Colin and I are giddy at the chance to talk to the man who gave us the following descriptions while commentating during matches:
• "What he is is like something out of Greek mythology, man. A little short-legged bull, Lionel Messi, covered with eyes."
• "Magnificent by Higuaín again. He stretches the defence of Racing Santander like spandex on Miami Beach."
• "This is a hundred gigabytes of skill in a nanosecond ... the finish cooler than Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, Phil."

And that's just what is immediately available at the Live Ray Hudson Twitter feed.

If you have any thoughts or questions you'd be interested in hearing Ray tackle, please leave them in the comments and we'll try to fit them in.

Oh, OK, one more older one: “Look at him, so languid. Look at him walking. He’s like a big beautiful zombie, a big beautiful zombie. Riquelme. He just strolls around languidly like smoke off a cigarette, and then he’ll jump out and just draw your blood”.

Lastly, here's a little video I like to call: "It's like two beautiful birds singing in my ribcage!"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

In continuous support of those pursuing the truth about Hillsborough

(Editor's Note: This post from last year offers a thorough explanation of who I am as a Liverpool supporter and how I relate to the Hillsborough disaster.)

Tomorrow, 21 years on from Hillsborough, there is much more momentum for a full – or at least as full as possible – disclosure of what happened, how it was handled and who played key roles in shaping how the public and the world perceived April 15, 1989. Not surprisingly, David Conn's interview with James Jones – chair of the Hillsborough Independent Panel – provides an excellent summary of how things have changed between the 20th ceremony honoring the dead and this year's remembrance of those killed in the disaster.

Multiple factors inspire a reasonable measure of confidence that substantial new answers can be found to the long-asked questions about Hillsborough:

• The panel will have access to ambulance service documents never admitted to the formal inquest because they were compiled after 3:15 p.m. Of course, coroner Dr. Stefan Popper at the time determined – almost assuredly arbitrarily or, at the risk of sounding sinister, because of other factors – all victims suffered their fatal injuries by 3:15 p.m. More details can be found here explaining why that decision has been impossible to defend during the last 21 years.

• The panel includes Professor Phil Scraton, author of the book "Hillsborough: The Truth" and someone whose mere presence in such a high-profile investigation can only be viewed as a force seeking more answers. Scraton's book concluded South Yorkshire police sought to cover up the role they played in causing and worsening the disaster. Now, there are competing ways to look at Scraton, of course. Detractors might argue his involvement is part of rigging the process to produce a certain conclusion. Those people can hold that opinion if they wish. Scraton's involvement also can be viewed as, at last, someone is working to resolve the questions about Hillsborough who most certainly does not believe for a second the matter of the "official record" of the day, whatever that may mean at this point.

• The panel must write a report detailing how what it has learned adds to the public knowledge about Hillsborough. More documents than ever before are being shared as part of this investigation, including South Yorkshire police files and England's national archives. This group of people has been charged with adding to the public's Hillsborough knowledge, and Scraton – whose views on the matter are fairly clear – has been asked to lead the writing of the report that accomplishes that goal.

The great fear behind all this work is that someone, somewhere, will draw a line that investigators cannot cross. The outraged supporters who shouted at Andy Burnham for justice during last year's ceremony have helped open up a new step in the process. The collective efforts of those directly affected by – and also those far removed from – Hillsborough have allowed for substantial new steps in uncovering the truth. But how much truth will be allowed to enter the public realm? The survivors of Hillsborough and the families and friends of the dead have been met with disappointment throughout the years. There is hope now for more complete answers, but there also has been hope in the past. There is hope this investigation might reveal the official documents – and provide the irrefutable evidence – that finally makes clear what most everyone has concluded to be true: The South Yorkshire police mismanaged a large crowd that had come to see an FA Cup semifinal, then created the worst day in English football through incompetence and horrible attempts to cover their own ass. And with the identities of those ultimately responsible exposed to the world, will additional steps take place? Anfield hasn't repeatedly cried out with "Justice for the 96!" merely so a couple of deceitful cops can have a rotten tomato thrown at them in the public square.

That is the trepidation behind this effort. Serious attempts to reveal the truth of Hillsborough must not be derailed by anyone tut-tutting with, "OK, you've gotten your truth. We don't need to go any further." Combined with the usual crowd that likes to claim drunken Liverpool supporters caused all the problems, it could bring about a tragic slip into widespread apathy that would represent an unimaginable crushing of the spirit.

I would like to believe this effort can go further than any other. James Jones, in Conn's article, said this inquiry will present the fullest story possible. It must, and if it does, those who choose to pursue additional actions against the perpetrators of the crime of Hillsborough must not encounter any more roadblocks.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Xavi drives more than one bus

I spent a portion of Saturday morning imploring anyone who would listen that they have to watch El Clásico by any means necessary. My dirty secret, of course, was that I knew I would be unable to watch. I would be blind to the majesty and the spectacle, unable to view the colossal tussle pitting "He walks among us" against "I walk among you. Don't touch." I was embarrassed that I could not watch the match and felt the honorable thing would be to steer as many eyeballs as possible to the match, so others did not share in my shame.

Of course, I'd like to think that was how it all went down, but in truth, I missed the match because of unfortunate coincidence. I spent El Clásico on a bus traveling from Milwaukee to Chicago with about 35 other people getting ginned up – many quite literally – for the Fire home opener. A sunny patch of I-94 southbound through northern Illinois provided the visuals while modern technology did the rest. The ESPN Scorecenter iPhone app and Twitter were all I had. The voice in my head read off the quotes from Live Ray Hudson.

From what I've been able to gather about the match after the fact, Xavi looked sublime in making the goals, Ronaldo made a stink and footballing thrills were largely absent from the proceedings. Still, in the moment, a remarkable thing happened on that bus that left Milwaukee's Highbury pub just after kickoff: the hush that fell over the group when someone would announce a goal from the game. There's a lot going on during these bus trips from Milwaukee to a Chicago Fire match. To put it mildly, people are drinking more than a little alcohol in preparation for a great time. It's a group outing and an "experience" being shared among different people who've chosen to log on to the same mindset for a day.

But a Barça fan named Jeremy caught the first goal on his phone and shouted out "Goal!" to the bus. I did likewise after fortune made me gaze toward my phone in the seconds after Pedro scored the second. The bus pretty much just shut up each time at the end of that hard G sound in goal. It was like the order of the forest and rule of nature or whatever mysticism you'd care to throw in there joined forces to make clear that everyone can know and comprehend El Clásico. Even amid the madness of a party bus trip, those people instinctively knew that anybody who was making that hard G sound in a loud voice was going to be giving an update about the match. All these – let's be honest here – drunk people, tooling down the interstate somewhere south of Bellwood, Illinois, ready at a microsecond's notice for the world's satellites to beam news of El Clásico into a motoring cocoon of a social circle.

It's not remarkable that all those people cared. Of course they cared. The match was pretty much the only topic of discussion as we left the bar. Could it be argued that any crowd will deaden and turn its attention to someone who is beginning to shout? Sure, but that's not what happened on that bus Saturday. People were jerking their heads because a goal was about to be announced. And everyone knew it. And everyone couldn't wait.

I'd love to be able to divine from that moment some greater universal truth about humanity. Honestly, I think it's in there somewhere, but I'm not really the one to find it. I just think it's really cool and a lot of fun. A bus full of yahoos rolling along a bland ribbon of interstate on the outskirts of a megalopolis. Messi and Ronaldo, and Barça and Real Madrid moving along with them.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Soccer Saturday April 10

Jim and I were back on ESPN Radio's Soccer Saturday this morning (presented by the Milwaukee Wave). As ever, we had an absolute blast and the time always seems to fly entirely too quickly.

Lots of points we wanted to snap on regarding El Clasico but time is tight. Anyway, you know the story lines. So hey, give us a listen. Hopefully you have as much fun as we did. (Hey look! It's us on Boxing Day, with friend of Match Pricks, Stephen, in from California trying to fight off the snow!)

Here's the link.

We spent most of the time chatting with enthusiasm about the pending Real Madrid v. Barcelona, hopped over to Liverpool vs. Fulham for the Europa Cup semis and then gave a few seconds to World Favourite Ray Hudson.

If you catch this in time and happen to be in the neighborhood, swing on over to The Highbury Pub in sunny Bay View in Milwaukee and join me for the big match today.

Everyone loves a good juggling video!

There are probably as many juggling videos on the Internet as there are adjectives describing Leo Messi this weekend. Today, I'm focusing on one in particular.

After today's Soccer Saturday radio show (based in Milwaukee on ESPN Radio Milwaukee 540 am and I wanted to take a second to follow-up and share this video.

It features USA under-20 women's national team members, Tobin Heath and Casey Nogueira. Casey was a call-in guest on this morning's show as she is getting ready to embark on her rookie season with the Women's Professional Soccer league's Chicago Red Stars. Now, I need to editorialize a little here ...

The WPS is where it's at. And more specifically, the Chicago Red Stars are where it's at. They are seriously legit and the women plying their trade deserve your attention. I'm aiming to share a few blogs here and there on the Red Stars this season.

I was lucky enough to head to Chicago's Toyota Park to see two of their matches last season and couldn't have been more impressed ... nor could I have had more fun. With the possible exception of their inaugural season opener when it was about 40 degrees and the sleeting was coming at me sideways. And I absent mindedly wore shorts. But that's beside the point. I'm a big of that team, their approach to football, their technique, their hard work and the desire they show out on the pitch.

Without further delay ... enjoy Casey and Tobin here with the juggling video they discussed on Soccer Saturday this morning. (I'd embed but the coding is turned off, just follow the link.)

And for giggles ... here's the other video they discussed, Casey showing her Michael Jackson dance moves. Match Pricks stand for nothing at all under the great blue sky if we don't stand for a universal love of Michael Jackson (just ask anyone in Milwaukee how many times we jammed "Pretty Young Thing (P.Y.T.)" and "Human Nature" last summer).

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Fulham fever dream

This week I saw someone on Twitter asking the world if it's possible that anyone dislikes Roy Hodgson. I'm sure there's one guy somewhere – at least, right? – that just doesn't care for Roy's can-do spirit. Then again, it just might be true: Roy Hodgson is the most beloved leader drawing breath today. Now is the time for him to consolidate his power and take the next step.
After all, should Fulham win the Europa League – complete with players hoisting him upon their shoulders while he smiles with grandfatherly joy – it will only fill football fans the world over with a warm sense of happiness. The scene will remind supporters battered by stories of debt and worry about the future of the sport that, yes, dreamers can succeed, hard work can be magnificently rewarded and that, in the end, the good guys can still get the girl – er, oversized and shiny cup. But the whole thought is shaded by a bit of condescension, isn't it? It reminds one of how a young boy might pedal his first bicycle down the street, wobbly and unsteady. He's still upright after his father's guiding hand helps the bike get moving. Then, dad lets go of the back of that bike seat and watches his progeny roll away. The neighbors smile at the cuteness of it all, and the old man himself is quite proud.
That's not enough, of course. Will dad still be beaming 10 years later if riding a bicycle remained the last developmental step his son had mastered? "Yeah, great moment on that bike in the street 10 years ago, son. Wonderfully proud, then. Can you please explain why you failed every class – again – this term and vomited on the pretty girl from down the street who smiled at you and said hello?"
This is why Roy Hodgson must take the lead as a key figure in a nascent political movement.
Right now, I just don't have time for the Tea Party movement in America. There's hardly enough hours in the day as it is to be disillusioned with just the two-party system. Perhaps the trampling of liberty and the socialism running roughshod over innocent Americans didn't make that right turn at Chicago and get to Milwaukee. Could the whole thing have just passed me by? I know it also hasn't quite hit home with many of my fellow countrymen.
Roy Hodgson – the lovable leader with a calm demeanor (there's your slogan) – could change all that. He has a way of plain speaking that inspires confidence. You want to have a beer with him, but you also want to hear what he has to say about the rights of the individual in a country founded on principles forged during an all-or-nothing clash against tyranny. Perhaps Obama could be removed from office? Maybe government could be reduced tenfold? Twentyfold, even! Roy Hodgson has it within his grasp to accomplish these things. I mean, shoot, look what he got Fulham to do in the second leg against Juventus!
Naturally, there are some problems he must overcome. He's English, but I think the Tea Party will eventually go for it if he can finagle a photo op with Sarah Palin. A bigger obstacle is that he's a soccer coach. To many over here, soccer = foreigners' obsession where they kill each other and also are surrendering French – even the Mexicans and South Americans. A former co-worker once commented on my wearing a Liverpool shirt to work that soccer is "a communist plot to 'subtrovert' America." Then he walked outside and drove home in his Toyota, but I digress. This is a problem for Roy Hodgson, but all political geniuses have baggage. Obama was born in Africa fer cryin' out loud!
Dare to dream, Roy. Reach for more than just hoodwinking the traditional European footballing powers. Win that Europa League, accept the trophy and then in your first public comments, smash it on the ground and declare your intent to win the Liberty League. Make them fear you.

In short-term developments, future American political superstar Roy Hodgson's Fulham visits Anfield on Sunday. I always look forward to Liverpool's matches with Fulham. The Cottagers have this tight-knit group of fun supporters in Milwaukee, and getting out to see them and watch the match in public brightens the mood. I wish there was video of the bar scene when Danny Murphy and Jimmy Bullard kept Fulham up on the last day of the season – and then immediately squelched the masculine feeling of the moment by parading around the Fratton Park pitch in a shirtless embrace. An entire bar rallied behind the Fulham supporters during the second half, and in the end, there was scarf twirling, boisterous singing of "Super Danny Murphy!" and exultation. Then Bullard and Murphy put on a Cottagers Playhouse production of this Hollywood classic for all the world to enjoy.
I mention and link to all this only because there is nothing else I can bring up that is in any way dismissive of Fulham. I love Fulham. I insist it is everyone's second favorite team – even more so now with Hodgson pulling the strings. My No. 1 side, of course, is Liverpool, so I'm compelled to make even half-hearted attempts at bravado. It's always preferable to being indifferent.
That's much too dour a thought to end on, though, so I'll leave now with this pixelated peek at pandemonium from that aforementioned Danny Murphy moment:

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Petit a P'tit

Age old news: Football grows every day in America.  With that in mind, there's quite a bit of discourse over the most pulsing question among newcomers to the game, "Who should I support?"

Honestly, there should be pamphlets.

People from here don't come from there, if you catch my meaning. They may not have a hometown team to whom they automatically pledge their support. The brilliant Pitch Invasion had a piece along these tribal lines not long ago. Still, even if there was a hometown team at the ready for you to pick up and play with like it was your own shiny new toy that should exist perfectly within the confines of your own expectations, how do you know it's the right one for you? After all, you're an individual, aren't you?

Some want to fit in. Some want an organic connection to a team. Some look for their personality. Some look for a match. Some want to belong to something. Some identify with a feeling. Some identify with a nationality. Some are masochistic. Some just want to win.  Some are yahoos who just "pick" a team, buy a scarf, a shirt and pledge their never-ending loyalty, fierce support and ferocious hatred of 'the other'.

Interestingly, the universal (and by universal I mean "American" as that's what confronts me in this matter) impulse that follows a fledgling interest in the sport seems all too often to pivot immediately to the mission of picking a team. "Well, I need a team."

I do believe that from today, I'll simply suggest these people who ask these questions, thumbing through the cue cards of team listings as they seem to be, watch the game. I'll politely remind them not to be a dick. And I'll ask them to spend a little time with Anna here ...

Translation difficulties

Match Pricks has a communication line plugged directly into the heart of Liverpool. Jim, obviously, is the beating heart of Liverpool support for our endeavor. It's been an interesting campaign for him. Duplicitous, I'm sure, isn't targeted well enough to describe it. More likely aggrieved acknowledgement.

In our corner of the world, one of our dearest friends is from Liverpool. His family, an extension of our own, lives smack dab in the middle of the place. We often hear tales of the Anfield roar, heard from their living room - if they're not at the match, that is. With that in mind, we get this enjoyable little ditty from 'back home.' Enjoyable as it was, I wanted to share with you.

A message from Ian's dad, Les, in Liverpool... This was on Sky Sports on Thursday night, I switched over at half time in the Liverpool game and saw this, the red banner at the bottom of the screen was reporting on the Fulham game. Is this typical of American footballers?