Thursday, October 21, 2010

No, it's not too early for a Jonjo Shelvey song

It was time for this. No, really.

We bought the lad from Charlton
And Jonjo was his name, oh!

And Jonjo was his name, oh!

He came out strong in Naples town
Where they hunted down our brothers!
But Jonjo ran and bossed the pitch
Against those Naples fuh-kers!

And Jonjo was his name, oh!

Just 18 and full of life
We can't wait for the future!
He's Jonjo Shelvey, learn the name
Liverpool's lethal butcher!

And Jonjo was his name, oh!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Prologue: Make me whole again

And, looking to the sky, scanning across and through the horizons, he implored the spirits that drove his emotional torment to carry him back. And, with hands clasped and knees tendered from the collapse he hoped would prove the sincerity in his request, he threw his head back and opened his eyes wide as can be. And, with the hopelessness of a man lost at sea, he opened his mouth and shouted ... "Please, lead me, again, to get angry when we lose! Lead me, again, to rejoice in victory!"

I've spent the better part of the last year falling out of love with winning and making up with losing. We adapt, don't we, out of simple necessity? I'm an Arsenal supporter and, as has been over-documented, they've made a fortune out of manufacturing mediocrity the last couple years. Top management has even strived to shout, "Hang on! We're right there, aren't we? We're competing every year. Damn close, we are. Damn close. Win or lose, we're damn close."

Maybe it's the utter lack of fight on hand in the Arsenal. Maybe it's the willingness, nay, it's more than willingness, the team's ability to roll over to an opponent defined as a higher quality simply by Arsenal's ability to act like a milk-moneyless second grader facing the school bully is best described, at this point, as a fetish.

Perhaps that's why I seem not to care. I care. Really, I do. I still get awfully fired up for a football match involving the characters, athletes and colours I've found the most attractive to my mind and heart. Though, a lot of the spirit I toss at the football nowadays can be summed by friend and fellow Arsenal supporter, Phil. Toward the end of the West Brom match ... the horrible, horrible West Brom match (it was horrible, wasn't it? right? it's supposed to be really awful when  you lose a match, isn't it? especially to 'lesser' competition, right?) ... Phil says, "I'm gonna get hammered after this match. If we lose, I'm gonna get REALLY hammered." The emphasis on the word "really" was lost on no one. With the final whistle, we blasted through Van Halen's "Panama," an uncountable number of beers and a series of air guitar riffs and rock-emphasizing air kicks. All was brought, once again, into focus. What mattered mattered. Losing a football match was certainly that which did not matter. And hey, that horrible, horrible match was fun in the end. Nasri gave us a couple of a winks and two goals. Fun, fun, fun, eh? Right? Right.

Not long after that experience, which stood as an affirmation of this attitude I'd been carrying for the better part of a year (win or lose, I still love it! doesn't mean a thing, winning, does it!?), Arsenal played Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. I thought, heading over to the pub to watch, that there really was a chance this time. I thought a page would be turning for this group of players. And, I hoped, without really admitting it to myself, that I'd be turning a page myself. WIth a little bit of hope for success, in any venture, comes an attachment to what it might actually mean to have that success. 

What did I think would happen? I thought the Arsenal would put in a performance as assured as the way I walked through that door at 9:00 a.m. I thought we'd cruise through a very hard fought win. I thought we'd carry the level of possession, and flex enough will in the final third, needed to allow me to take a big puff of air at the end of the match and cast that glare of aspersion over the masses I'd so grown to love ... but ... this time ...

I'd peer in, mustering every ounce of patented prickishness I could ... And even the dimmest passerby would be able to read, sprawled across my eyes, lips and forehead ...

"I told you so."

But no. If the travails of ol' Jim and the hoards of Liverpool supporters the world round have taught us anything, life ain't no fairy tale, kiddies. While I've been wallowing as a soul tearing its way through the endless hallway of footballing purgatory (not winning, not losing, not caring, no indifference), friends and a Club I have endless respect for have had their brains on a tilt-o-whirl for months. And the last 48 hours have been a tilt-o-whirl with a never-ending roller-coaster drop as a capper. Their plight has helped steel my focus. Their plight has reminded me of my wealth. That Chelsea loss, when we seemed to be in the passing lane for long stretches of the match, steeled my focus. That Chelsea loss, that inability to achieve what I had actually and rather stridently hoped for, reminded me of how much I had to lose. It reminded me of how much I had invested.

Winning doesn't beget caring. Caring doesn't beget wining. If I shout harder, sing more or slap another goddamn stupid ass piece of clothing with my team's colours on my body, it's not a deeper expression of caring and it sure as shit won't bring three points. Caring is in and of itself. I was finally recognizing the investment, the deep emotional investment I'd made of holding through this long stretch of mediocrity. I finally realized that investment, that huge vault that stood behind me, meant I actually did care quite a bit more than I'd been letting on. I'd peer around my shoulder and the trail I left for myself and recognize everything I left behind and how it carried me to where I was. I accepted the value in it. And I accepted how much it meant to me.

That's why I was beyond happy when I saw Nicklas Bendtner's quotes this morning. I wasn't just happy, I was energized. I was reminded. I was hella fired up, people. 

For months, and seemingly for years, quotes coming out of the Arsenal charges have focused on development. They've focused on learning. They've focused on the next step. That dulled me. It sawed off my senses. It had me looking forward to Van Halen guitar solos instead of prickish glares that reeked of "I told you so." It made me accept the process of development. It lead me to this "winning ain't shit, only macho pricks want to win, I'm an artistically aware individual who values performance over winning" mentality.

But then, this morning, I woke up, got dressed, fixed a little raisin bran, and read Nicklas Bendtner's quotes. 

I read this ... posted in Arseblog this morning:

It is quite amazing. I reckon I'm probably right to be involved in the fight on Saturday for Arsenal - and I am excited. I thought ideally that I should play one or two reserve games first, but I am in such good shape that it is not needed.
And I thought, quite simply,  HELL YEAH! Get in there, Nicklas. Welcome back and get in there. How can you not be fired up by comments like that? After emailing my collaborator here at Match Pricks, Jim, it all came into focus. "Bendtner is so ridiculously unappreciated," he said. After some rambling, he finished, "Kid's got balls, brutha. Brass balls."

My reply? 

"What was that? Sounded loud. And heavy."

"Oh, that? That's just Nicklas Bendtner's balls clanging together. He started training with the first team again."

Welcome back, Niko. Your influence is greater than people realize. 

(sidebar: for the image, I shit you not, I searched "smug" and it gave me Match Pricks favourite, Slavan Bilic.)

A few words about Peter Lim

It's 11:07 a.m. as I start typing this post, and I've been awake for seven hours, give or take a few minutes. I've been following the Liverpool court decision that has seen – at last – the end of Tom Hicks and his piddling partner in desperation George Gillett, but it has turned up one last sniveling little opportunist. Noted Lamborghini collector Peter Lim, the son of a fishmonger and the heretofore unnamed "Asian bidder" for the club, wants to worm his way into the control room by offering £320 million. It's a last-ditch attempt to sneak past New England Sports Ventures, whose £300 million offer was accepted last week. You might remember that incident, though it did happen before back-to-back, all-day Guardian live blogs of Liverpool's court case, so failure to recall all the details is understood.

Let's look at Mr. Lim's offer for a minute – and consider why every Liverpool supporter should be on his hands and knees praying to whatever god, statue, otherworldly idea or bottle of booze they prefer that Singapore's eighth-richest man doesn't finagle his way into ownership of the club. Lim is said to be worth $1.6 billion (US), and his offer of £320 million, plus £40 million to invest in new players, is equivalent to $570 million (US). Lim would like us to believe he will invest one-third of his wealth in the club without taking on any debt to complete the transaction. Without even mentioning stadium plans, he's willing to expose one-third of his fortune to just getting a hold of things at Anfield and donating a little seed money to buy, what, two or three building block players.

Those are just the startup costs, mind you. A 57-year-old billionaire sinking one-third of his life's work into merely beginning a new endeavor. Of course, building the needed new stadium would require him to invest at least two-thirds of his life's fortune, likely more, but, sure, Peter Lim only has Liverpool's best interests at heart.

And how is that $1.6 billion fortune broken down? Well, $1.4 billion comes from his 5 percent stake in Wilmar International. (Here's a bunch of business world gobbledygook about how their business works.) Lim bought that stake for $10 million in 1991 when Wilmar was a startup palm oil company. He's been diversifying into the health sector recently, so, you know, it's not like he's completely reliant upon Wilmar. He has spread $200 million around into other areas.

Like Lamborghinis, Porsches and Ferraris, as the first link in this post shows. Also, he "owns an entire 11-story block of a prestigious condominium in Singapore’s tony Orchard Road shopping district." Here's a shot from Street View of part of the Orchard Road shopping district:

A Borders! You are not a high-falutin' billionaire prepared to own the most successful club in the history of the English game and return it to past glories – while also building a modern, money-spinning stadium – if you count among your prized assets condos in a "prestigious" shopping district that includes a chain store where I've actually purchased something. At a Borders in downtown Chicago several years ago, I bought Charles Earland's "Black Talk!" album while waiting for a buddy to finish a law school class one day. Not only have I already shopped in your supposedly luxurious environs, Mr. Lim, I was doing it while a broke college kid. You, sir, are in no position to fund the purchase of the next Dani Alves.

Now, sure, if you click around through that Street View you'll find a Hermes store, an Armani, a Louis Vuitton. But look back at that Borders evidence and what else is there? A Marks & Spencer! Are you shitting me, Mr. Lim? I could stroll into Marks & Spencer tomorrow – or as soon as I could book a flight and figure out the International Date Line – and throw down cash(!) for the Autograph Leather Diamond-Punch Loafers by Jeffery-West. $103 for shoes?! You associate with this kind of commerce and think you're suited to oversee the design, engineering and construction of a 60,000-plus seat stadium with all the corporate amenities that ensure constant delivery by the truckload of giant canvas sacks with dollar signs on them?

And, of course, there's the one, widely reported fact about Peter Lim that serves as a ready joke should he continue to have anything to do with Liverpool beyond October 2010 – he owns a string of Manchester United-themed bars throughout Asia.

Give us a break, Mr. Lim. It's been an arduous campaign to oust Tom Hicks and George Gillett and their greasy, poorly financed fingers from the controls of Liverpool Football Club. Don't make us have to start all over again so soon.

Blow me, f**k face

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Jonjo Zone

The audio commentary one hears during any Liverpool match through the team site's e-Season Ticket offers an amusing mix of joy and disbelief. Steve Hunter is, as you'd expect, an unabashed Red as he describes the action, and his analysis partner comes from one of a rotation of Liverpool legends – I've most often heard David Fairclough and Phil Neal, though I'm sure there are others. Hunter's call of every Liverpool attack (please hold your guffaws until after I leave the room) reaches a crescendo that is capped with either a dispirited exhale from Hunter and some words explaining how the move sputtered into nothing, or a howl of unintelligible delirium celebrating a Liverpool goal.

Yesterday, after listening to 100 minutes of that back-and-forth during a remarkably slow day at the office, Hunter announced Liverpool was sending out Jonjo Shelvey, the 18-year-old, £1.7 million signing from Charlton. He replaced Ryan Babel, and at this point in what eventually became an historic Liverpool defeat in a domestic cup, I decided Jonjo Shelvey was getting everything I could give as a fan. From a distance of roughly 3,800 miles, and aware of his actions only through a clearly biased audio commentary duo played into my earbuds, Jonjo Shelvey delivered more excitement than I felt at any point while watching the defeat to Manchester United – or any other match this year. He set off on 20 minutes of play (plus a well-taken penalty) that sent Steve Hunter into electrified spasms of exuberant commentary. Shelvey was everywhere in my mind's eye. Sending in crosses and dangerous free kicks, taking charge in the dying minutes of the match by running over to deliver the corner that led to the equalizer. An 18-year-old making his Liverpool debut and exhorting his teammates and the crowd with shouts and arm pumps after converting his penalty during the shootout.

Anyone looking to feel sad about a mix of Liverpool's reserves and youth team losing at home in the Carling Cup to a League Two side can find plenty of fuel for their misery today. The media accounts portray the defeat as just a shade less shocking than if Tom Hicks dropped trou and then squeezed Kenny Dalglish's butt underneath the Shankly Gates, so if despondency is your thing, have at it. Of course, as a supporter, I wanted to hear Steve Hunter call a Liverpool win. Don't be an idiot. There are just different thrills to be had these days, and defining one's fan experience through the expectations and mocking comments of others is the wrong approach.

For example, did you know that Liverpool's latest humiliation means the team has descended into, at last, an irrevocable crisis – a full 3 points out of fourth in the Premier League? It's true. Oh, sweet Mary of Czestochowa united in eternal prayer with Our Lady of Guadalupe is it true! Surely there's no turning back now.

Jonjo Shelvey's 20 minutes of fun racing through my imagination evoked a feeling I first heard a long time ago – something like 20 years, I think – from the comedian David Steinberg. The director of several episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and numerous other shows had a stand-up special on HBO at the time. In it, he bemoaned the fact no Jewish people had a defiant public attitude. He wanted a prominent Jewish person to get up, puff his chest out and say to the world – and I'll always remember the line – "I'm a Jew! F**k you!"

Everyone enjoying Liverpool's current meekness can just piss off. It's a disgust at the perceptions of others that one would hope the players share among themselves. Observers treat each Liverpool setback as though it came the week after winning the 1984 European Cup Final – as though the "this-proud-club" descriptor is a curse or detriment rather than a point of pride.

Jonjo Shelvey didn't stumble onto the pitch yesterday resigned to the fact that Steve Heighway crossing to John Toshack isn't coming back. He played, even considering the glowing accounts of Steve Hunter and Phil Neal, like a committed, effective and passionate contributor. Jonjo Shelvey sent this supporter off on a buzzing trip where the match became everything, and one player – the fans' representative on the pitch, after all – gave the impression he had matched the observer's emotional interest in the outcome.

Detractors can call it a sign of how far Liverpool has fallen, or a delusion that served to insulate me from the larger worries haunting the club. Look, every fan wants their team to win, but if winning doesn't happen, is there no value in the match? Nothing could convince me the amazing rush of fun I had listening to the descriptions of Jonjo Shelvey's play – while the outcome was still in doubt, mind you – is somehow invalidated because Northampton Town Football Club won the match. I mentioned it in this post back in August and it bears repeating: Liverpool's 2010-11 season is not about self-loathing. Get over it and get on with it. Any number of vaguely Norman Vincent Peale-related sayings also fit.

Besides, Jonjo Shelvey is far too young to struggle with the conflict between present predicaments and past glories. He has too much to prove and doesn't want to waste any time doing it. Here's hoping Roy Hodgson gives him another chance soon because I can't wait to see it, as well as hear it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The end of the beginning: United helping Liverpool finally get its season started

Sunday brings us the final installment in Liverpool's opening set of fixtures. They were matches that looked like cruel piling on from the football world as they were first viewed when the schedule was released.

Time for some judgments, then, about Liverpool in the 2010-11 campaign, right? Not even close. Well, surely Sunday's match will offer an accurate assessment of where they're headed. Doubtful.

Wary of the toilet-paper-roll-length list of jokes this statement could unleash, Joe Cole was brought in to play a major role in the first team. It might work or it might not, but Roy Hodgson is going to try and get him in there. He played one half against a depleted, but still composed and well-drilled Arsenal, and he'll probably come back for his second run with Liverpool's best eleven this Sunday. I'm hoping for him to get a few close passes in to Torres, or otherwise contribute to getting those passes made from a distance where the passer can see Fernando without a set of binoculars. That's all anyone should expect of him. A goal from him would be amazing, but the contempt for United shouldn't create ridiculous demands from supporters – or lead neutrals to jump to any conclusions. (Of course they will, but this is an attempt at reason on the Web. Forgive my Don Quioxte-ness.)

After Sunday, three of Liverpool's next 20 league matches catch the eye as daunting challenges – away to Everton and Spurs, and home to Chelsea. (Stoke away also is in there, but for all of Stoke's home ground moxie, I'm not classifying them with the Merseyside derby or away to London-based participants in the Champions League.) That's three matches until Feb. 5 (away to Chelsea) that even the most positive Liverpool supporter can see as ending in a loss. The other 17 present opportunities for any team that believes in itself enough to finish fourth.

Now, prediction games are dangerous and nearly always wrong. That's why bookies exist. But, aside from predicting results (and inserting all the usual caveats about injury), there's nothing in Liverpool's short-term or long-term Premier League campaign that compares with:

(H) Arsenal
(A) Manchester City
(H) West Brom
(A) Birmingham City
(A) Manchester United

And that was how they started. With a new manager, playing style and several players moving in and out among the regular contributors. The team remains far from settled, and it won't be until Hodgson can push Joe Cole out there with Gerrard, Torres, Jovanovic, Carragher, Reina and company – I'm hoping Meireles features regularly too – for several games in a row and the players figure out how to work with each other.

What, then, to make of this United match on Sunday? It's always a surreal experience watching Liverpool play United. It's as though my world elevates a few feet higher off everyone else's plane of existence. I wouldn't be shocked at all if scientists observed me and reported my eyes opened wider, my ear canals somehow grew larger and my tongue was able to taste concepts like delirium and trust. Then the camera pans to Gary Neville and the whole thing gets even weirder.

I'd imagine United will win the match, although Antonio Valencia's broken leg leaves me unsure what to make of them right now. He would've been able to lash Liverpool's left flank to whatever extent he wished, and perhaps whoever Fergie drops into that role (Nani) will still do it. Who knows? Berbatov seems to have suddenly figured out how to be damn good again, and I haven't even mentioned Rooney.

OptaJoe hasn't tweeted anything yet about the last time United drew at home in the Champions League and Premier League during the same week (or had three consecutive draws), so I'll rule out a draw for Sunday's match. Bookies, I'm sure, make a United win the most likely result. And for anyone who hasn't figured it out yet, I'm hoping for another fantastic Liverpool result at Old Trafford.

But Sunday's result only closes the prologue to Liverpool's season. Far less talented teams than this one have gone on to qualify for the Champions League, and that's all Reina, Hodgson and anyone else is talking about when asking for patience from supporters. Dammit it'd feel great – I mean, worthy-of-breakdancing-in-the-street great. But Liverpool doesn't have to beat United on Sunday to save the season. The Stadium of Light, Upton Park, White Hart Lane, Molineux and elsewhere are the places Liverpool will have to find its salvation.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Say it with me now! "We dislike SAF."

It's a cold hard fact. Joe Friday would approve.

In truth, though, I think my burning animosity toward Alex Ferguson has dimmed in the last couple of years. I crossed the bridge, a while back, and found myself in a land of make-believe where I don't get abnormally twisted out shape, mentally or, thankfully, otherwise, after the results of matches. It's a land where the inhabitants regularly bury their heads in sand dunes. Quite comfortable. I recommend it. Looking back, I find myself laughing at those fits I'd throw in the car on the way to watch a match. Fist pumps, foul language and general assertions projected forth through songs that'd twist my vocals and warm 'em for a day of shouting.

Meh. Whatever. And yes, as before, that's the 'meh' of gross indifference. Call it maturity but, more likely, I finally swallowed the pill I've been trying to hid in my own food for years ... winning doesn't matter, man. You've heard me say it before. Whatever, more on that another time. Really. (No, really, I promise.)

What matters is that as my lust (no better word) for winning and distaste for all opposition (save my friends, Liverpool - recall, this is a friendly entente.), has waned, so too has my desire to kick Ferguson square in the jaw. Ok, in his nuts too.

Still, somethings never change. And with the derby (Liverpool v. Manchester United tussle this weekend for their rightful place atop The Perch. I hear it's a horrible place to call home. People keep trying to knock you off and all that. Quite prefer a nice medium-sized living space with plenty of wall space to hang reminders of past success. Says the Arsenal supporter.) nigh, I must again share. Hatred wanes, what does not wane, however, is my stubborn belief that Ferguson is a habitual and premeditated abuser of human rights. Once more with gusto ...

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Phantom Menace

In trying to process the state of Liverpool Football Club during the game against City ("live" on DVR two hours after it ended), I could only think of one feeling similar to what I experienced while seeing Adam Johnson, James Milner and Carlos Tevez stretch and tear the Reds apart: the realization about 10-15 minutes into seeing The Phantom Menace during a midnight screening that I was watching an unrecoverable disaster. "Oh my god, this is going to be terrible."

And that's what it was. When ESPN flashed the possession stats just before halftime – 63 percent to 37 percent, in favor of City – the awfulness was made even more unavoidable. Again, the proceedings in Manchester reminded me of The Phantom Menace. That movie taught us how The Force is actually just a blood-borne illness with some amazingly beneficial symptoms. Likewise, something sick inside my body convinced me turning off the TV, even after City's third, would be tantamount to a betrayal on par with whatever it was they had Hayden Christensen do in the last of the new movies. I forget exactly because I watched those things out of some silly generational obligation. It was horrible.

So the match played out on the DVR. No fast-forwarding of even a second. But other than a flurry that saw Gerrard hit the post and Joe Hart make a terrific reflex save of a close-range Torres blast, there was nothing from Liverpool to take my mind off that first Phantom Menace-inspired moment, which was the bewildering realization that something I'd been so convinced would be fun and positive was going to be spirit-crushing, negative and often pathetic. But it's more than that because the accompanying feeling wasn't one of surprise. Watching the action unfold supplied all the evidence to prove my expectations were misguided, but the weight of that evidence also made the feelings of dread about this season take effect retroactively. As if I should've been seriously worried three weeks ago about Liverpool's chances for a Top 4 redemption in 2010-11. I believe cazart is the term for the sensation that came over me.

How will they sustain an effort that earns them a finish above two of City, Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea and United? Forgive me, Villa fans, for excluding you from that list. You will each be allowed to hurl one rotten piece of fruit at me in a public square if Liverpool's trip to St. James Park ends worse than yours. Besides, revenge-seeking Villa fans are the least of any Liverpool supporter's problems right now. This isn't a few years ago, when Liverpool could manage being miles behind the title contenders but still stroll into fourth or third place without much difficulty. Monday gave Liverpool a trip to City, a side larded with the world's finest collection of players who were just free-range enough to leave whatever club it was where they made their name. This is a team that was whipped senseless in the opening week, saved only by their decidedly nonostentatious keeper. Whatever City's talent is capable of, first that team must be assembled. Right now, Mancini has merely taken all the parts out of the box – and yet, Liverpool looked like bystanders to the proceedings.

Of course, I'll concede the absence of Joe Cole, and the distractions and deleterious effects to team effectiveness caused by Mascherano's last-minute refusal to play mean Monday's performance leaves room for improvement. It's still a team coming together, with new players figuring out how to work best with each other. Hodgson played 4-4-2, which I doubt made the players feel reborn in the football life force (and, among other unfortunate lessons learned in hindsight, played a role in keeping Nigel De Jong from having to make even one disgusting late challenge). Liverpool will play better against quality opponents this year, and all cannot be judged from the performance at City.

But Monday's game was a status check on Liverpool's progress and seriousness as a team. In the opening week, Liverpool and Arsenal treated the match like an inconveniently timed friendly whose outcome just happened to also have league points at stake. The City match, whether it's still August or whatever qualifier you want to put on it, was a legitimate early measure of Liverpool's chances of returning to the Champions League. And that's the minimum goal. The longer a team stays out of that competition, the further they get from returning. The club can't afford to miss out again, particularly with the fiasco in slow motion happening on the ownership front.

Against City, Liverpool looked further from the Champions League places than they were at the end of last season. Only in spring, it was easier to handle as a supporter because a few months had been spent coming to terms with the drop in status. Here, for 2010-11, a flurry of positive news hiked fan ambitions. Joe Cole was a free, yes, but he was a name and a player supporters had seen play well in the past. It was good news. Roy Hodgson struck the perfect tone with all of his public statements – straightforward, honest and refreshing. Gerrard and Torres decided to stay. It was an uptick in fan emotions. There were many reasons this new, updated edition to the Liverpool story would launch fans into a fun season loaded with moments sure to create new memories for a lifetime. Adam Johnson did his best Jake Lloyd impression last night to crush that rosy worldview. Whatever improvements come as Liverpool moves on, the City match showed supporters the limits of what should be hoped for this season. It's never fun to realize that so early in the story.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Well, it's just you and me now buddy

At some point after Brazil started turning the screws on the U.S. in the first half of their friendly this week, my eye turned to Lucas at every opportunity. How would he handle a low-pressure friendly against the U.S.? Would he do anything well?

Lucas did fine. A sustained period of effective play that got lost in the unavoidable, eyeball-grabbing force that is Neymar's hair. Seeing Lucas succeed at even an innocuous level is important because Liverpool fans need some active signs of, well, goodness - on the pitch - to back up the general late summer happy fun vibes everyone has been feeling. For example, just as soon as I looked at my checking account balance to decide if I could absorb the ultimate impulse buy that would be a David Amoo home kit from the official team site, I read a blurb on Twitter that Fabregas and Van Persie still might be available for Arsenal come Sunday. Wenger hasn't decided yet.

Jumpin' Jehosaphat! F*$!in' Arsenal! Almost forgot about them. I'd been busy reading the same Kenny Huang press release re-worded 19 different ways by 19 different media outlets, trying to parse some useful bit of information or subtext that would mean a billion pounds or more firehose stream of cash is available to buy players. You mean these guys actually have to go out and play the matches to find out if they're any good?

Which brings me back to Lucas. There's a reason I declared 2010 would be the year I quit smoking and/or support Lucas. Conquering two monumental demons like that in one pass around the sun is challenging. Maybe it could be done on one of those Saturn or Uranus trips around the sun, but on Earth, no way. As soon as I finish this post, and another cup of coffee, I'm stepping out onto the balcony and sucking straight through a heater like Ponce de Leon stashed the Fountain of Youth at the end of that filter.

But I'm a man of my word, so it's you and me Lucas. We're in this for 2010. The thing is, he's actually a nice player of a certain type. He provides a lot of side balls and short passes, taking care, usually, to maintain possession. He likes to venture up to the edge of the final third and just kind of observe from there. Makes himself available to the more forward players in case they're getting pressed and need to go back with the ball. He has a knack for falling over in the area 25-40 yards away from goal in just the right kind of way that it looks like he was fouled, so the referee will award Liverpool a free kick.

There are things to like about Lucas. Sure, I'm being a tad silly in my description of his positive attributes, but the last thing you want to do on the eve of the new season is to break down what Lucas does for Liverpool with all the seriousness of the Kennedy war room during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We're having fun in the 2010-11 season, and the obscenity-laced tirades can come later, if ever. Lucas is where it's at. He's going to feature in that Liverpool midfield. This is what the fans have to go with - against Arsenal, against Blackpool, against Trabzonspor, against whatever plucky, Magic-of-the-Cup lower-league side they get drawn against.

Good lord, they're actually going to play these games, aren't they? It seemed for a while there everyone would just spend a bunch of time talking about Joe Cole being really good/not as good as anyone thinks - and, again, combing through contradictory press releases from the Far East and Canada to see if anyone has any real money to buy the club. Well, if they're going to play, might as well see what's in 'em. Lucas, get on out there buddy. I got your back. Unless you really mess up and ... no, no. That's the wrong approach. I'll take the risk and say I belong to Lucas. Last season was for self-loathing. This season is for Lucas and Liverpool. Let's have some fun.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Eduardo's Legacy

It's worth a few more words than I'm willing to commit to at the moment. And no, the man hasn't died, retired or been shipped to Yeovil.

Eduardo completed his transfer to Shaktar Donetsk this week. Lots to go into this move and while he's painting a happy face, it's one of those deals that leaves you ruefully thinking of what could have been. As such, I've been poking around, rather eager to click a link here or there and see what people have to say about his transfer.

I like Eduardo. I've always liked him. He seemed a great personality as the classic good guy. Couldn't really fault him for too much and he gave us buckets of fun times simply through his affable style and the overwhelming resemblance we noted when he first came on board to Prince in all his 1984 pomp. We've played the shit out of "Purple Rain" ever since he joined the Arsenal. At the Emirates, of course, the team comes out to Elvis' "Wonder of You." That's fun and all but at our pub when the team wins, we crank "Purple Rain" to a level that lets the folks four blocks down hear it. Pulsing, folks. Eduardo stirs the emotions.

Just search through the blog under "Do It For Eduardo". That whole ethos gave me one of the best summers of my life.

Maybe I can re-channel that spirit and we can "Do it for Eduardo!" again to create some more spirited laughs and fun as his footballing spirit drifts away from us this month.

At any rate, as I clicked and looked for a few sordid transfer rumours that would doubtless be dismissed by the time I finished reading the article, much less the headline, I made the mistake of reading the Daily Mail.

And this ... 

Here's a sample ...

Eduardo da Silva joined Arsenal with a big reputation after heading Steve McClaren towards the sack as England manager. But four years on from his goal for Croatia in that Euro 2008 qualifier in Zagreb, he is leaving the Emirates like many before him: with his name almost as badly shattered as the bones in the ankle he infamously broke at Birmingham.

And there's this too ...

he is not the first to stumble under the weight of expectation.

Now, (he says with a deep breath) we take great effort to keep things clean over here at Match Pricks. For the most part. And trust me, it can be difficult. But if you read that article, even scan through it, I think you can permit me, in this instance to crank up the volume (I have to think Jim would completely agree on this one). So ...

Fuck you, Daily Mail. Fuck. You. That was nothing more than a heaping pile of whale shit. Go fuck yourselves. I'd say you should be ashamed but you're useless bottom-feeding fucks who clearly aren't equipped with the naturally ability to provide the scant level of critical analysis necessary to think enough to get through a day. Fuck you.

I prefer to think of the Eduardo in the photo up top here. A guy that everyone rooted for. A guy that made us happy. And a guy who had the carpet pulled out from underneath him who kept fighting and kept smiling.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Liverpool signs Joe Cole

Not even 24 hours ago, I never would've even thought they wanted him. But the club's website says he's signed for the team, so I guess it is so.

I keep talking myself into this Hodgson thing. This only adds to the irrational behavior.

As Colin says, being a supporter is just an absolutely torturous experience. OK, time for thinking about this a bit.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The final Soccer Saturday on ESPN 540 just started. I'm headed in a Mourinho-flavored direction.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

When the fun is set aside ...

We've spoken at length about the tidal wave of fun that is the World Cup. For those who don't believe us, just wait until after a) the first round of matches and b) the group stage. For the permanent record, as I typed that, Argentina struck again, for the second, on 33' as an Higuain header found its way. The player was correctly judged to be onside. (A sidebar within a tangent: I think, on a whole, the officials in this tournament have been good and frankly quite trustworthy thus far. Indeed, as with any human judgement, there have been spots throughout that could be questioned. But yes, I do believe they've done well and let the matches progress as they may. In particular with consideration to the offside rule. If you'd like to prove me wrong, by all means, please do so. I'm forgetful. And I have a short attention span.)

But I digress ... World Cup, fun, high-fives, back-slaps, shoddy defending, swerving horns, dignitaries and all that. Right? Right.

But football really isn't supposed to fun. It's supposed to unhealthy, spirit crushing, anxiety driving and distraction causing torture. Yes, indeed, it'll be sprinkled through with enough opiates to keep us coming back but the net sum, whether we identify it our not, has very little resemblance to actual fun.

And thus, with that ancient and dusty curtain firmly drawn in front of us for two more months still, we have just been given our first true hint of what lurks behind. Patiently waiting for its call and the first lines in a new script, the 2010/11 Premier League season, a rookie to the cast (thought all expect it to 'catch-up' to the experience of its predecessors in short and rather prescribed order), has just been given his blocking order for the coming season's performances.

The fixture list is up and waiting for your digestion.  Please, don't forget to chew. Tell your friends and family members to plan their weddings, births and other children's birthday parties after consulting with this, yeah?

First thing you'll notice? The first Match Pricks Derby of the season is the first act. After that old man with his blistered hands and hunched back goes through the groaning pains of raising the curtain in time for the Charity Shield (best start now, old friend, I want a good view, snorefest though it may be), it's Liverpool vs. Arsenal on August 14. Sure, they'll probably slap it on down on Sunday for TV, but still, let us daydream that our two empires are still grand enough to cling to center stage yet a little longer.

Heading into the second half of Argentina vs. South Korea. 2-1 to the Argies.

" ... And it's all left to play for!"

Monday, June 14, 2010

Featured at

Some Match Pricks articles with a touch more consideration have featured at in the last couple of days. More to come. For now, in case you've missed them as they featured, get the stories here:

10 Reasons to be Stoked for the World Cup

US Soccer Team Seeks Revolutionary Victory

Germany's Victory Steeped in Gemutlichkeit

Here, drink this. You'll love it. Soccer Saturday

Saturday was the apocalypse. It was a super particle collider. It was a flash in a pan, a grand slam, a hole-in-one and a supernova of energy. And some other really big things.

It was a moon bomb.

We damn neared blew up the moon (credit to Jim) with the collective energy that was bursting out of seams across the globe. It was the first Saturday (read: the day that most people are not slaving at a desk, or read: the day that I am not slaving at a desk) of the newest and most modern World Cup. This was a celebratory and technological critical mass. Extreme masses of people from extreme fringes of the world's population poured forth to experience all of it in ways that had never been done before. It was the same four years ago and it'll be the same again in four years' time. But for this space, this time, it was critical mass. For the football fan, it was all we could want. For the techy savy urban liberals we are, it was all we could want. Tweets scattered across the globe and pulsing forth from the bottom of our great green and blue globe. Instant video to share. Instant reaction to report. Photos from fans that made us each feel like we were there.

More people. More channels. More coverage. More opinion. More experts. More phonies. More funny hats. More face paint. More bets. More tweets. More shots. More Bayernjager. More, indeed, shots. More Maradona.

Football was there to be had, of course. But there was so much more. So much to experience. So much not to miss.

Saturday was more of everything. We all did our best, again, across the globe, Augustus Gloop impression. Every last one of us. We were licking the bowl, nibbling every last crumb of it like cretinous slobs. You might not get another chance, you know? Take it while you can.

It was, in the end, an odd type of family reunion. I'm quite certain I'm not alone in that expression. Text messages from close friends you hear from every six months. Phone calls with loved ones to check in. Checking in to ensure that you're soaking it up to the extreme extent they hope you are. Get all of it, they say. Get every last drop of the experience, they encourage. Gotta meet their expectations.

What was that I wrote last week about high-fiving, back-slapping and whatever other way you see fit to communicate with people? It happened. That fellow who's impossible talking speed mixed with the ripping Manchester accent? First time you saw him in four years if it's been a week. Those people you see every week? The ones with whom you're only ever able to exchange erstwhile glances of disapproval because of the team they support? Don't think for a second you weren't happy to see them. Don't think for a second you didn't high-five them and slap the hell out of their back. You wanted to be sure they soaked up every last drop of the experience too. You wanted to be sure they knew everything you knew. Did they see things the way you did? Did they taste it all, smell it all and hear it all? Was their perspective ... as overflowing as yours? Did they know? You sure were gonna try and make sure they did.

It was community. It was experience. It was celebration. It was humanity. And all because of the World Cup. Everyone was there. Everyone had an opinion. Everyone wanted to have a say.

It's rarely been as easy as it was to get up at 5:00 a.m. I popped out of bed with springs in each step. The dawn's walk to the pub, the magnetic center of the footballing universe for anyone outside of South Africa ... and make no mistake, there's one here, there's one there ... you all know the experience ... that walk at dawn was as pure a joy as I've known. Why? Because you knew it was all there in front of you. Gobs of football. That oozing human experience. And a little bit of the unknown.

In the middle of all of it, Jim and I had the opportunity to again contribute to the Soccer Saturday radio show. This time it wasn't in the comfy ESPN Radio studio in the middle of downtown Milwaukee. This time it was live. Right in the middle of this massive black hole of joy and energy. To be clear, this location wasn't designed to suck joy out where it once was so much as it was a massive gravitational center where all of the above was located. And smack dab in the middle, Jim and I stood with a couple of headsets and did radio. It was about as much fun as I've ever had. Here's the segment. As with every week, check the widget on the left, scroll down and you'll find the Match Pricks segment. Listen to the others as well. Peter Wilt had some good fun and our friends Ryan Wickins, from London, and Ryan McCauley, an American, had a good segment where they offered their thoughts on the big USA vs. England.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Opening thoughts

It's terribly sad to wake up here in Milwaukee this morning and learn that Nelson Mandela's great-granddaughter was killed in a car crash after the kickoff concert. I'm guessing he was going to appear at the opening game and deliver, obviously just by being there, a worldwide statement of pride for South Africa and inspiration for everyone watching. Now he will not, and it's because of just tragic circumstances.

OK, diving into the matches today, with an eye on Colin's beloved France in the second game. My first contribution to the Match Pricks coverage at is up and running today. It's a primer for tomorrow's U.S.-England match.

As usual, more soon ...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A few things before we begin

My 2010 FIFA World Cup™ iPhone app tells me we're now a little more than 17 hours from this sucker getting started. I'm wondering if I pay $7.99 for the app upgrade, will it also give me a Brazil 2014 countdown clock? Because I cannot wait for Brazil 2014 to get going. I'll hold off for now. Maybe I'll buy it tomorrow.

Like many of you, I'm spending these final hours just killing time while waiting for Sepp Claus to slide down the chimney and charge $599 to my Visa account before turning the TV channel to ESPN. Having covered nearly every possible angle of the World Cup that genuinely appeals to me, I've taken to reading virulent "anti-soccer" opinion pieces from American writers online and then soaking up the slightly less articulate hate in the reader comments below. It's pretty great, if only because I never considered joining forensics in high school, and reading these things allows me to play "Spot the flawed/ignorant/misguided argument" at work. Plus, it's kind of amusing, like how after you bite the inside of your cheek and then you just keep flicking your tongue over the wound is amusing.

One thing that's jumped out at me – other than the ironclad statement as fact that there will be riots, suicides and murders in England if the U.S. wins Saturday – is the American anti-soccer voices in the comments are a refined brand of potent "Out with Johnny Foreigner-ism." I'll write it off as that particular brand of lunacy that always is found in the comments section of any online newspaper or magazine that permits unfettered reader feedback. Nonetheless, it's jarring. Imagine if these folks gave soccer a chance and actually learned it has many entertaining qualities - only to find out the filthy, cheating non-English players always dive like sneaky jerks. They'd look up the meaning of crestfallen and then be that.

Now I'm starting to embody the arrogant American soccer fan stereotype, which I've learned today is a primary reason many people don't like soccer, at least among those who commit their thoughts to anti-soccer Internet comment sections. Apparently (white) Americans who like soccer come across as too-cool-for-school and act superior to the common man who built this country with his two calloused, meaty hands, felling one tree after another until we created the concept of industry out of three blades of grass and a stick, by gum. There were some comments in there about those of Mexican, Puerto Rican and Latin American descent, but nothing about those many millions being snobby. It was a little more base, to be polite.

I'm laying it on pretty thick now, so I'll leave the Internet comments behind and extend an invitation to anyone who runs into me during the next month to have at it and ask me what's my deal with this soccer game and why is it so great. I adore the World Cup. I'm using the majority of my available vacation time from work in 2010 to deposit my butt on a barstool or couch and just watch whatever I can. I'm giddy about Spain versus Honduras. I want to hug it and kiss it and name it George – but I don't want to crush it. The point is clear, though. I'm on the enthusiastic side of things.

If you want an explanation of the offside rule, I'll give it to you. If you're polite, I'll explain the nuances of the rule. If you ask about countries, I'll discuss them with you. If you ask about Ronaldinho, I'll say, "He's not playing," and then I'll quickly change the subject. I've never looked at my obsession with soccer, football, the World Cup and all it entails as revealing anything about myself other than, well, that I'm a nutjob about soccer, football, the World Cup and all it entails. I hope my happiness doesn't tarnish your opinion of the thing that makes me happy.

To everyone else who's just dying to get this thing going: wow, hey? LOLLA-GOLLA-BOLLAWALLA!!! Ah-OOOOH-GAAHH! Ah-OOOOH-GAAHH!

It's been a long wait. Glad it's finally here.

(UPDATE: Many thanks to Howie Magner at Milwaukee Magazine for the kinds words in his latest column. Also, Brian Phillips is keeping it going at Slate. Thursday's piece explains why we call it soccer here instead of football.)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

OnMilwaukee lets us serve as World Cup hype man for the city

Colin has a piece freshly up at reminding Milwaukeeans how much damn fun the World Cup is for anyone willing to open their mind and take the ride.

Match Pricks has been granted this larger audience in our fair city, and we hope a few converts come along after it's over. Your preconceived notions of soccer hooliganism turned sour, gang. Hear us out, watch a match and give it a shot. There's a good chance you'll love it – or at least you'll enjoy the monthlong party.

OK, more to come on this front as we dig in here.


Check this out, check us out and have fun Saturday

Can't recommend enough heading over to Slate for Brian Phillips' piece on the history of American soccer in the 1920s. While we're all counting down these interminable hours and minutes until the World Cup finally starts, this Phillips piece does a great job telling a forgotten story about soccer in America.

While you're over there, type "Brian Phillips Moldovan" into Slate's search box. Click the first result, if you haven't read it already. It was my introduction to Phillips, his terrific site The Run of Play and, indirectly, playing Football Manager on my iPhone during my bus commute to work. (Long story.) What I'm saying is, the guy's got range, folks.

More Match Pricks stuff will be popping up here and elsewhere soon. Maybe not quite Slate-level elsewhere, but we like to explore the room, as they say, when we can. Details will follow.

Also, ESPN 540 is bringing the Soccer Saturday show to the Highbury, 2322 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., this Saturday morning for the 8 a.m. broadcast. South Korea v. Greece will be wrapping up when the show starts, and Argentina v. Nigeria will be a few moments away as we're winding the show down. Stop by and drink while watching people do a radio show. That sort of opportunity just isn't available any ol' day, you know.

OH: Conversation between Jim and Colin at Lunch

"I tell you, dogg, Holland, man. I am getting fired up about watching that Holland this year, dogg," said Colin with rumbling anticipation.

"Ach, Holland, yeah, well ...," posited Jim rather dismissively.

"You just watch, dogg Holland might win that World Cup." The point was emphasized as he leaned forward with a punctuating finger that stabbed through the bar, AJ Bombers in Milwaukee, that played host to the conversation.

Jim, leaning back and folding his arms with a smug assertion that seemed to have been perfected over the years, "Give me one defender. Name one defender on that Holland."

Colin opened his mouth to respond before Jim interrupted with the accusation, "You can't!"

Raising his bulk in defiance with alert eyes and a shaking head that told everyone listening he wouldn't be deterred, Colin announced, "Defenders!?" he said, aghast at the thought as a hand wiped away the symbolic opposition in front of him. "Defenders!? No one defends anymore! Who defends! This is the World Cup, Jimbo! Holland, dogg. Holland. You wanna try and stop them!"

The two settled back into their seats. Jim muttering something about "Fernando Torres, Liverpool's Number 9". Passersby thought him to be singing, a fact later confirmed.

Eye witnesses reported hearing a grumble of a French sounding words and a name, thought to come across as "Domenech," coming from Colin's general direction.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

But that blood sausage is so damn good

You might have noticed this on Twitter: Apparently it's #hateenglandweek in the United States.

Well, goodness, isn't that refreshing. It seems like the default setting is #hateamericaweek for much of the world (scroll down to the first italicized comment from Moraes at the bottom of the page). Now, at last, we can stand up in our own time – just like the Minutemen, Patrick Henry and all the rest who exacted revenge for this atrocity, right?

You betcha. Except for Emile Heskey, though. Can't hate Heskey. Used to play for Liverpool you know. He was a loyal servant, if not exactly a perfect fit, but he brought out some of the best of Michael Owen. And, of course, can't hate Carragher. "We all dream of a team of Carraghers!" Yep. I like Glen Johnson too. I just do. Even Gerrard, with all his flaws, I mean, I own a Steven Gerrard shirt! Gosh, what a goal that was in the FA Cup final.

Except for those guys, I'm hatin' England all week, brah! Can't hate the Liverpool players, though. You understand, I'm sure. And Crouchy, too. Ex-Liverpool and a fun robot dancer. He just seems like a nice guy. My grandma taught me hate was such a strong word, and I just can't imagine hating Crouchy. He's so goofy looking, but yet, he's also a pretty decent player.

I'll hate the heck out of Ashley Cole and John Terry, though. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaate those guys, man. Hate 'em! English people pretty much hate them too, though. Hmm ... am I doing this right?

Who else? Oh, dude, totally forgot about Shaun Wright-Phillips. Short little prick. Hate that guy. Friggin' David James. Dude equals hate, man.

Oh, crap, Stephen Warnock. Another ex-Liverpool player. Can't hate him. Just can't. What the hell, Fabio Capello? What's with you picking these guys with Liverpool ties? You're messing me up. Oh snap! Hey Capello, you're Italian and collect art! WTF?!

Damn, Italian isn't English. Now I gotta start over.

Hey, who's James Milner? I should hate the hell outta that guy. I think I will.

Damn, I need to stop at the store on the way home and get more brown sauce.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Soccer Saturday

Editor's note: wonky formatting toward the final half of this post. Driving me mad, it is. Hopefully you can still navigate it and enjoy the story. If you're just looking for the Soccer Saturday link, it's here. If you fancy a bit of a story, stick around.

This weekend's appearance for Match Pricks on Soccer Saturday came with a little twist. Ol' Jimbo couldn't join us as he was trotting abroad (as in, outside of the city limits of Milwaukee).

The show must go on though. I did offer to good friend and President of the Milwaukee Wave, Peter Wilt (follow him @PeterWilt1 on Twitter) to read a series of solo essays on the game. Sadly he knows me too well and casually laughed it off. So we went to the bench. It'd be me, one half of Match Pricks, joined by Peter Rankine, a Scottish fellow who started coming to our football pub, The Highbury, in Sunny Bay View, Milwaukee two Februarys ago.

Pete's a top drawer guy. Top drawer, no doubt about it. I was excited to have him along for this weekend's entrance into the Soccer Saturday archives. Though, as we'd be talking World Cup, I wasn't sure he'd have the experience to enter any decently fluid opinions on the matter ... being Scottish and all. Naturally, on the drive over to the studio, he was kind enough to remind me of Scotland's consecutive wins over France in the last round of European Champions qualifiers. You know, back when the FFF should have actually thrown Domenech so far into the sea that he'd have washed up deep enough to the south to become the manager of the Platinum Stars in South Africa. At least he'd have gotten a glimmer of the bright lights again some three years later when they played the role of the monkey wrench that would tune up England before their leg kicking jaunt through the World Cup. 

By the way, how great is that team name? The Platinum Stars. If P. Diddy ever did go ahead and pull the trigger on buying Crystal Palace, as had been widely rumoured, I'd have started a petition to have him dub the team the Platinum Stars of Crystal Palace. It'd be like the Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles, or whatever the hell it is. Just like that. But they'd be iced, dogg. Iced. The Platinum Stars of Crystal Palace. Mmm, yeah. I could get behind that. Moving along ...

I met Pete on what may well have been his first day in the pub. I'm not sure about y'all but in my life, travels, experiences, open eyes, open heart, open mind and eager spirit, I've not found may places on this great globe of the United States of America, Ontario and most of western Europe (where I looked about as out of the ordinary as Statler sitting next to Waldorf in a balcony), that are more incredibly engaging and pulsing with spirit as a football pub. It's just ... different. No matter the city, there's one special spot. Fortunately for us, we're right in the engine room of ours.

At any rate, last year, in 2009, there was a regular Saturday morning that morphed into an afternoon before we knew it. As has been mentioned many times here, that tends to be the norm with us. There's that match (stop me if you've heard this before) at 6:30 a.m. Can't beat that with a stick, folks. Dawn. I mean, have you ever been out and about, chasing down that kickoff with beer and whiskey at dawn? It's real nice. Real nice. You hit 9:00 a.m. and ZINGO! More football. If you're lucky, you're getting four matches from a couple of different leagues. Great, right? Right. Of course, at this point you'll roll into the marquee 11:30 a.m. match. And given the luck you'll probably be carrying, that'll be your match. The one you actually came for. But you know what? The more hours that pass by all the better because by that point, you'll have seen dozens of different people pass through and become a part of the scene.

And then ... right when you can't help but realize the reality of the situation, that you got up at 6:00 a.m. and it's now plunging well on into the afternoon ... right then ... you realize that you're just minutes - MINUTES - from Spain. Mmm, luscious, exotic, Ray Hudson-y Spain. 

It was about this point on some random Saturday in February of 2009 that Jim stopped us. We were about to pull the plug on the day, sometimes you just have to. Footballed out (note, yes, there's booze involved. ample and generous amounts of booze. make no mistake about it. shots bring goals and all that). But still ... there were we, the few of us left, gripping the bar, hoping for even more football when suddenly ... Jim stopped everything and everyone right in their tracks with a classic proclamation, "Wait! Wait just a minute ... let's keep partying. Spain is on, dogg. Spain."

It was so simple. So pure. So ... easy. There were no obstacles except our own hidden ability to actually find the wherewithal to plow ahead. But with such a bright light in front of us - I mean it was right there, there was no long tunnel to navigate this time - you couldn't just turn away and go home. That's what they want you to do, the decent folk. That was just about the moment that Pete walked into The Highbury for, as I say, was what I assume to be the first time.

"HEEEEYYYYYY! A NEW GUY," went up the cheer! Huzzah! Gotta welcome him, right?

Oh, and he's Scottish. How fun. So we went on and chatted with Pete for a few welcoming minutes and the conversation would naturally turn to where he was from in Scotland and, not long after that, the 
careful prodding to determine where his loyalties lied.

"So where you from, Pete?" I asked.

"Aberdeen," he replied as the grim truth immediately sunk in.

"Oh, ah, Aberdeen, eh? So ... I take it that means, (deep breath, sigh) I take it that means you're a, ah ..."

"Yes, I'm a United supporter."

"Mmm, yeah. Thought that'd be the case."

He may have well as told me he was an ex-con on the run and just happened to find that Bay View (in spite of all of its latent sunnyness) was the perfect hiding spot for he and his wife. Crap. Another damn United fan. I kid, though. Really, happy to count anyone as a friend, I am. And even happier to add another football lover to the fray.

Whatever the case, Pete's a top drawer fellow. He's a joy to have around, just like anyone else holding up the scenery at whatever the archetypal football pub you happen to frequent. Top 
drawer folks, the lot of 'em.  

Yes, even the United fans. After all, it's quite the tapestry and all that. In spite of the heavy dose of red.

So, please do us the favor of listening to Pete and I prattle on about the World Cup. As ever, the segmentis the highlight of any weekend for me. Click the link, scroll down a little bit and you'll find our segment in the podcast player on the left.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Back away from the Gerrard

I love these classic photos. They really ratchet up the significance and joy factor of the World Cup. I mean this stuff ... this here ... this is pageantry.

Now, as I saw this, two things jumped out at me immediately.

  1. Peter Crouch is one cool cat, dogg. Look at him. Cool as the other side of Wayne Rooney's pillow. The side not nestled up against SWP's torso. He like, "this is great and all, but when do we get to dance, man?" (do click the link, yeah? embedding was disabled and it's a gem)
  2. Dios mio! Announcement for the other 31 teams, all their players, the staff and the fans ... Get the hell out of Steven Gerrard's way. Seriously. Do it now. Back away from the Gerrard. The Steven-Gerrard-Give-A-Shit-O-Meter™ is officially buried all the way to the right, the glass is cracking and the steam is pouring out for the first time in about 12 months. Achtung!

SWP likes it comfy

Did Shaun Wright-Phillips bring his own pillow to South Africa?

Will he use it to curl up on the end of the bench?

Does he always travel with his own pillow?

Is he smuggling something?

Is he secretly an assassin flaunting air travel security rules in favour of a traditional and stiflingly quiet pillow stuffing?

UPDATE! Stunning development.

The Sun (Bless their little hearts) (ahem) explains that it's actually Wayne Rooney's pillow. Now this raises even more questions! Is SWP nothing more than Rooney's Pillow Carrrier? Stunning, stunning stuff.

I expect the papers to be all over this through the rest of the day.

Friday, May 28, 2010

It's getting hot in here

World Cup fever is burning up, jack. Two weeks from today we'll be bathing in every last ounce of news, highlights, injury reports, tactical analysis, angry shouting, cautious whispers and joyous exuberance.

And Fox Soccer Channel is applying a substantial amount of heat. Good. For. Them.

I'm watching a program right now called "International Rivalries." The focus? Holland and Germany. I've said at least 17 times in this space that my knowledge of the game's history is incomplete. That's what happens when you grow up in a country where it doesn't matter. Love it? You bet. Stalk it? Would be writing this right now if I wasn't, dogg. Wanna suckle every minute you get with the game? Without a doubt. Study all of the nooks and crannies of its immense history? Haven't gotten there yet.

Enter Fox Soccer Channel.

I'm watching Leo Beenhakker, Cruyff, Voeller, Beckenbauer, Gullit, Moeller, Rep, Rijkaard. They're speaking with passion, confidence, disdain, regret and pride. You know what I'm coming away with from all this? It matters. This puppy matters a whole helluva lot. It makes generations, defines cultures and drives people mad (just watch that Greatest Goal Never Scored clip down below that Jim popped up the other day).

And I am getting fi.rr.d. up. about it, friend-o.

Highlights from the 1950s. The 1974 final. A 10-year anniversary match after Holland lost to Germany 2-1 in that final. Think about that? The two teams, fierce rivals came together 10-years later to replay the match. It ended as it should have the first time ... by all accounts. Holland were 1-nil winners with a Johan Cruyff goal.

Did you know that Holland scored in the first minute of the World Cup final with Germany not even touching the ball? I didn't. Until now.

Don't get me wrong, we all know the World Cup is huge but you'd be fooling yourself if you pretended it was as important to you 15 months ago as it is right now.

I mean, man, at this point, the intense significance is starting to be driven home. Push away all of the commercialism that drives the World Cup before the event starts up. Push away the star-making, the gloss, the celebrity managers, the wags. Push it all away and watch this video. In 1974, Holland opened the World Cup final ... like this. As they were unfurling their banner of Total Football, on the world's greatest stage, in front of their greatest rival and with a generation of footballers reared by parents who remembered the war and Germany's role in enslaving their country and killing 200,000 people (as said in the FSC program), they opened the match ... like this.

North Korea: A slice of Americana

It's not easy to process North Korea's participation in the World Cup if you're an American football fan.

One the one hand, let's face it, North Korea is hilarious. A state-run media under orders to portray the country – and its team – in the most glorious shade of realized perfection. The easily mocked leader who's also starred as a major motion picture puppet. That same man's clothing and hair. Where knee-jerk stereotypes about foreigners provide an easy and popular laugh, Americans really dig that far-out North Korea weirdness, man. "Look at Kim Jong-Il! He so sirry!"

Of course none of those laugh points involve the people who live there. I'm in no position to lecture any audience about the brutal lives led by North Korea's citizens, so I'd encourage anyone interested to look around and read a bit. Considering North Korea sank a South Korean ship recently, you're just a few Google News queries away from learning a great deal.

That leaves us with the DPRK football team. What do we make of it? This week saw some backlash against North Korean hilarity with this T-shirt being mocked at Deadspin. It's a reasonable argument for a lot of people because if there's one thing Americans hate more than foreigners trying to kill us, it's dirty, dirty hipsters. It would be discouraging to see support rally for North Korea's World Cup hopes only among people who grow mustaches because they believe mustaches are, like, from 25 years ago, man! There is plenty of non-ironic appeal for Americans because North Korea's matches against Brazil, Portugal and Côte d'Ivorie fit into a classic American narrative – The Underdog Story – and, unless The Glorious Leader himself stands in goal, there's not much to dislike about the actual men playing the match inside those DPRK shirts.

Further, North Korea is better positioned than any other team at the World Cup to disrupt and add freshness to yet another classic American narrative – Nike – which has become an obnoxious bluster despite new applications of gloss. Côte d'Ivorie (Drogba), Brazil (its Brazil-ness) and Portugal (CR9™®) are the stars (with Rooney) of that short film that looks like it cost $125 million to make and seems to exist solely to be seen, linked to and then drift away into the ether. The film flashed across the world in an afternoon and seemed to overpower a bored American population with its energy. A respite among another afternoon lull during the work week. Watch it! You must watch this! It's Nike! It's stupendous! You will talk about Nike!

Ugh, it's just the worst, and North Korea can plop an awkward kink into the whole thing by messing with one of these teams. Maybe even two. The long-shot team full of players no one has ever heard of, from a place we know nothing about, and they're matched up against some of the most celebrated supermen in the sport. Can anyone, anywhere, who is not named Mourinho or has lived on the west side of the Iberian Peninsula present a convincing argument for cheering against North Korea on June 21 when the team plays Portugal? What's more exciting for an American football fan next month? The group plays out as expected and the Portugal-Côte d'Ivorie match settles who finishes second? Or something else?

If the ideal is to put aside the petty nationalism for a while (admittedly not easy as I am Polish and get kind of peeved just reading the name Klose), then hope for some little bits of success for North Korea at South Africa 2010. Any disruption for the other teams in that group versus North Korea would have a far-reaching impact for how the tournament could play out. It's not likely, of course, but just imagine it. If Portugal lost to North Korea or even drew, don't you think Ronaldo and Co. would bring a certain tenacity in their final match against Brazil? And what if Côte d'Ivorie underestimated North Korea in its final group match, thinking Portugal would not get anything from Brazil? Americans love a good storyline through their sporting events, and North Korea could offer up a fantastic one.

The team doesn't have to be enjoyed ironically or despised because of how Kim Jong-Il would like nothing more than to maintain the threat of imminent war in Asia so he can get more payoffs and concessions. North Korea actually is presenting Americans with a chance to experience the country for itself. The secrecy, travel bans, goofiness and more prevent people here from knowing about North Korea in any way other than through their own filter. At the World Cup, Americans get to see one part of North Korea for what it is. The country stands with the world rather than separated from it. It's, well, a great thing, and a much better representation of the ideal those ESPN World Cup commercials with Bono are trying to express.

Get ready for it with this brief article that includes a blurb about the DPRK-Portugal back story, and imagine something a little different about North Korea for once. This is supposed to be fun, after all, and North Korea can only add to it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Makes that 'Agony of Defeat' guy look like a piker

I'm not sure how famous this clip is. I've never seen it before, and just stumbled across it now reading the Honigstein Awards piece on the Guardian. Watch this now. It's pretty much the whole experience in a few seconds, isn't it?

The man's name is Hans-Günter Bruns. If I were him, I'd be thinking about that every single night right as I'm about to drift off.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

High-fiving the World Cup

There's a brief segment of spring weather in Milwaukee that, while it lasts, can generate more excitement, adrenaline and leap-15-feet-off-the-ground happiness than anything else on Earth. We go about things during that time without the sticky humidity of summer heat and the creeping, buzzing insects that come with it. The temperatures are warm enough to make one start asking businesses whether they have a shirt policy. Right now is that time in Milwaukee, and it's with that mood-enhancing environment in the background that this week I've been imagining high-fiving my bus driver about the World Cup.

A little background: In true urban-liberal, Apple-product-using fashion, I take public transportation to work, and sometimes a man named Louie is my bus driver. Louie embodies all the qualities of the perfect Milwaukee spring described above. In a few years of knowing him, I'm fairly certain he has never said anything in my presence in a tone lower than a delirious shout. He punctuates nearly every sentence with "..., dogg!" During Euro 2008, he would scream out things in the pub like, "Look out for Xavi, dogg! That Xavi is amazing, dogg!" Then he'd buy tequila shots. The first time I got on his bus for my morning commute, Louie gave me the hand-clasp soulshake à la Carl Weathers and Schwarzenegger in Predator. Louie's got enthusiasm, man. He's like the Pied Piper of good times, only in reverse – he brings it to where you are. And without the children-killing part.

Regaining focus on the task at hand, let's get way down into the deep-shag fun rug that is the World Cup right now. It's a blast just thinking about waking up on a day when there will be World Cup matches. I envision heading for that bus the morning of June 15, hoping as it approaches the curb that Louie will be behind the wheel. The doors open and, "Did you see Japan and Cameroon yesterday, dogg?! Did you see that shit, dogg?! HA HA!" My heart sings just thinking about it. I would high-five Louie so hard that bus would rocket through time and straight into a universe where this thing was being played out for real:

Whoa! Is that the Jamaican national team beating England in the World Cup Final? A couple of those guys are wearing hats! Look at the Jamaican goal in the background. It's miniscule. No wonder England couldn't score. The stadium is entirely yellow. Rock.

That's how my mind is envisioning every single World Cup match playing out in a few weeks. Yes, it won't happen that way. Nor does it have to be an endless parade of '66-esque 5-3, Eusebio-fueled frantic comebacks versus North Korea to make it worthwhile either. It's terrific as is: a monthlong parade of football featuring a bunch of heroes, villains, stars, unknowns and comedy characters from all over the world. Although, to be honest, it would really achieve an eternal quality if some of the teams featured players wearing hats.

The Guardian ran a piece recently about things they miss from the World Cup tradition of years past, and in a lot the buildup elsewhere that I've been reading, occasionally there's an element of, "Well, this could be better. And, of course, they'll never have that." Fox Sports unleashed the Champions League Final on America's Saturday afternoon sports-viewing audience and immediately declared it better than the World Cup. I'm not suggesting we all just spend June and early July wearing horse blinders, but there's too much fun weirdness and excitement going on to get in the way now. With things like FIFA Sepp on Twitter and, thankfully for all involved, the simple visual delight that is reading William Gallas unhurt after buggy crash, we're already well on our way to jumping into a giant pit of plastic toy balls – and the balls are filled with extra fun.

Flaws, warts, hiccups and other dents in the experience will pop up from June 11 to July 11. When the final rolls around, that Midwest humidity will make the summer days less brilliant, too. It doesn't matter. This thing is a remarkable footballing story that reveals itself to us in periodic installments. We live with it over the course of a full month. An entire chapter in a history textbook that you get to talk about, analyze, revel in and cherish every day, as it unfolds and just as summer starts. It's a time when watching the games, even at home, can be your vacation. Let someone else rank and organize South Africa 2010 versus Mexico '86, France '98, Spain '82, baseball, the movies or an expensive meal at an elegant restaurant. Those experiences are not this story.

You are going to experience South Africa 2010 in a way that this story, with its numerous familiar elements, has never been told. This tournament is going to dominate the global conversation among people with access to the Internet. Have you ever stood on a street corner and been able to find out how someone in Toronto, Newcastle or Paris reacted to a specific World Cup moment – in the seconds after it happened? The possibilities for experiencing this World Cup are outrageous. Your friends, your wife, your husband, Joe the bartender, your cab driver and a really pissed off Germany supporter whose company assigned him to the Seoul office three years ago will all have something to say about this, and you can line up their reactions and share in the whole thing with them if you wish. This is an astonishing change to the World Cup, and, again, you have a month of this coming up. A month!

It's marvelous. Just an absolutely marvelous experience. Share it with anyone because no one else will be having more fun.