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.