Sunday, November 30, 2008

Another Reason I'm Loving My Month-Long Serie A Obsession:

The Guardian has such little confidence in anyone reading its
Serie A coverage it doesn't bother removing draft notes

Juventus 4 Reggina 0


My sincere apologies for the delay in posting this week: I blame Saint Blaise. Also, please vote for Blog B if you haven't yet while voting is still open. Or you can vote for whoever you like...

I had been naive to assume you'd only see snow on a football pitch in Scotland, or possibly Yorkshire. No, there is was, cascading down in bale-fulls all over the patched up Delle Alpi pitch. It was lovely, although the four-nil hammering was hardly an appropriate introduction to Serie A.

Reggina were awful. For a club that felt it necessary to only throw one striker and a midfielder toward the Juve goal, their defense was below inept. That said, Juventus' first goal was very pretty indeed, and featured some real stars of Italian football. Del Piero smarly back-heeled to Pavel Nedved, who in turn set up Camorenesi to smash in the back of the snowy net, one nil.

The rest, ehh. A penalty, a bout of head-tennis followed by an Amauri Garbage StrikeTM, a free-kick from somewhere just past Neptune that Reggina allowed to somehow bounce in the net. Reggina keeper Christian Puggioni made Gomes look positively Zoff-ian at times; the man did not want to catch that ball, not matter softly it floated to his waiting hands.

Other stereotypes fulfilled include: Slower Play! Which was great really. It seems deft footwork still has a place in Lega Calcio. And there was more play through the middle, amazing not to see cross after cross either get headed on way or the other. Neither did you have sixteen players all rush the area during the attacking build-up. It seemed as far as Juve were concerned in the six yard box, too many cooks spoil the broth.

I'm having a few scheduling problems -- seems most of the fixtures are on Sunday morning when I'm busy singing for cash, which means I have to go back to avoiding scores and watching games on repeat. So be it.

Viva Calcio!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Vote For Blog B!!!

Hi all...my submission to the Guardian Big Blogger competition made it to the final six. While it has nothing to do with football (it's on my favourite Montreal Canadiens goaltender, Patrick Roy), a vote for yours truly would surely make my Friday.

Yours in bloggery,

RW

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

AMSL Declares December International Watch Another League Month

Prepare to be completely misunderstood.

Things have gotten a little stale around here.

My subscriber list has dipped, visits from regular readers have dropped, most of my web traffic comes from that Mickey Mouse picture I put up a couple of weeks ago, and, saddest of all, AMSL hasn't made Brian's highly-addictive sidebar links in over a week now (By the way Brian, you should make that thing into an aggregate feed because it's one of the best football link lists on the web).

So, to shake things up in anticipation of A More Splendid Life's one year anniversary this December 11, I am proposing we make December International Watch Another League Month. The idea came when avid reader Marc P. suggested I do something on the (perceived?) decline of Serie A in Europe. I mulled it over for a while, read up on the various stories I'd had an eye on, but in the end gave up and sent him this article instead.

And then it dawned on me -- what would happen if we all broke from our habits for just one month and watched another league we'd normally leave for the highlight reels? Perhaps there is more to the Bundesliga than high-scoring and well-executed set-pieces. Maybe there is some semblance of drama left in Le Championat. Maybe it's good for all of us to break the familiar pattern and settle in with a new league once in awhile.

So, in the spirit of understanding, I am going to watch Serie A EXCLUSIVELY between this weekend and the weekend of December 21st prior to the Christmas break. I will report on my impression of players, and matches, on-field tactics and various other dramas that go beyond whatever I can glean from reading ESPN feeds and Paolo Bandini. Perhaps Mourinho is no better than Mancini. Or perhaps Spaletti still has a future with Roma.

But that's not all. I will pledge a donation of $20 CDN to the David Suzuki Foundation for every reader who decides to take the challenge with me. You may watch a bit of all three leagues, like me, or you might be an Eee Pee El head, like most North Americans. All I'm asking is that you watch another league EXCLUSIVELY from this weekend's fixtures through to December 21st (yes, you can switch back for the Christmas break games in the Premier League), and I will send David Suzuki $20 bucks (I'm going to go on the honour system here, so no funny business).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hold Your Nose -- It's a Garbage Strike

Ricky Hatton's long lost brother

I think Rob Smythe said it best when he described this year's Premier League season as a David Lynch movie: the more you watch, the less you understand. Big Four, like a group of bike couriers on their wedding night, shoot simultaneous blanks, Villa draws in anti-heroic fashion, Tottenham still good, Ince looks sadder and sadder, and the rest of it.

So today, I want only to draw attention to thirty-nine year old Dean 'Deano' Windass. For one, his name is so apt it seems worthy of a Martin Amis novella: he looks like a pub owner who underwent a leg transplant with Linford Christie. He's the man responsible for Hull's Premier League adventure, scoring an incredible volley at Wembley to win the Championship playoffs.

But this weekend Windass scored a very different sort of goal, and, at least when I play football, one of my favourites -- the Garbage Strike.

These are those goals that will never make the highlight reel -- they look controversial, like non-goals, but they count nonetheless and leave everyone scratching their heads. Windass scored it, to draw Pompei against the run of play -- or did he? No, a Paramot own-goal. But what could the defender consciously do to prevent this one (0.22 in) from going in? It is the perfect Garbage Strike -- irreducible, and maddening.

And how close did we come to the Garbage Strike of the century when Van Persie pulled a Best and stripped the ball from Joe Hart's hands, only to have it (probably justifiably) disallowed? And when will someone finally put out the highlight reel of the ugliest non-own goals of the past fifteen years of the Premier League?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Shameless Self-Promotion

Il Divo a la Canadiense

I have to miss the Aston Villa Manchester United game, which I am almost one thousand percent sure will be a drubbing, a Brummy massacre.

In any case, I will be doing so to rehearse with this group. If you are an AMSL reader and will be in the Toronto area (massive that) on November 29th, please attend and feel free to throw things at me for attempting to sully the music of Benjamin Britten.

In the meantime, please feel free to fill the comments section with match preamble, minute-by-minute commentary, and post match analysis, as that will be way more fun to read than whatever is on offer on my RSS Feed to be quite frank.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Big Blogger Update

Some of you may remember my half gag/half sincere submission for Big Blogger a few weeks ago. It suffices to say it did not make the final three. My subsequent entry for this past week also failed to make the final three among a group of entrants of which, in the words of Sean Ingle, "the standard was the lowest so far."

Like Arsenal, with their recent loss to Aston Villa as well as the recent loss of William Gallas' mind, AMSL is suffering a crisis of confidence. Any suggestions on what to write about for next week, an open thread, would be appreciated.

Yours in bloggery,

RW

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Surprise Surprise

-- I thought you were dead!
-- I was!

Friendlies are useless.

HOWEVER. Last night was the first time in a long, long while that I've seen England trot out on a meaningless night and

a) string several passes together

b) make Stuart Downing look semi-competent

c) have Scott Carson and John Terry team up to look foolish when Carson was NOT the starting keeper

d) Beat Germany in Germany with the 'Lion's share' of possession (man you could smell that one a mile away) and have Scotland get all the headlines the next day.

So, ideally for England's future friendlies, half the first squad should succumb to 'injury' while one of the other home nations takes on a major footballing superpower under the management of a once-interstellar but extremely controversial player. Maybe Brazil will somehow clone Garrincha in time to take on Wales in a friendly while England have a go at Maradona's Argentina.

England win, and win convincingly.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Maradona Has His Moments


I think this is one of those magical moments when Scotland v. Argentina will be infinitely more interesting than the usual brow-beating Schadenfreude of England v. Germany, don't you?

It looks like the football gods have taken their injury machine gun to the entire England squad, while Little Big Man is going to lead his country against the progenitors of passing football in a moment that will be as moving as it will be utterly and completely ridiculous.

I tend to empathize with the core basis of Christian belief when I think on Maradona. What is it about him that makes me love him, a man whose persistent self-slaughter and abuse of trust should forever reduce him to an object of ridicule?

I don't know. Perhaps because 1986, a year that many of us remember as the middle of the dark ages, plastic consumerism, Ronald Reagan, Heysel and Hillsborough, seems to leap out of history to this day because of that 'squat little man' running around on a stifling pitch in Mexico.

Terry Butcher will never forgive him, and while he's absolutely correct not to -- Maradona cheated, he cheated -- he transgressed in the most artful way possible, striking the heart of the English self-delusion of honour and passion transcending all. He is a terrible clown, and while his foray into international football will be a disaster, there will be moments. And at the end of the day, as with Maradona, whose entire career consisted of moments as stark as they were infrequent, that's all football ever leaves us.

On a related note, please check out Fred's piece on Soccerlens.

Monday, November 17, 2008

That Lingering Coin-Toss


Already a news cycle away, the matter of Didier Drogba’s Carling Cup coin-toss at Stamford Bridge lingers.

Why?

Perhaps the it’s the sad fact that, eighteen years shy of the Taylor Report, objects are still thrown at opposing players in English football stadia. Or that Drogba, in a unique twist to a familiar story, risked criminal investigation by hurling the coin back.

Yet unfortunate as these points are, they don’t make this incident anything more than a curious aberration. However, viewed as the moment when ‘Modern Football,’ the global sporting behemoth inspired by the rabid financial optimism of the 1990s, first began to rupture, the Burnley coin-toss takes on deeper meaning.

Burnley FC is frequently cited as the once-mighty small town club that faded away once PFA pioneer Jimmy Hill successfully eliminated the salary-cap in 1961. The previous year, Burnley were League One champions, and that same year they were European Cup quarterfinalists. Fifteen years later, after they admirably maintained their top-flight status despite lacking financial heft, Burnley were forever relegated from League One.

Chelsea FC on the other hand represent the obsequious, professional wealth heralded by Tony Blair’s New Labour. CFC is certainly més que un club – they are a global football ‘brand’ fuelled by Russian oil money and located in the symbolic home of corporate Albion, West London. The image of a young, urban crowd transfixed by Blackberrys while a cavalcade of foreign players run riot at Stamford Bridge, is for many the quintessential picture of Modern Football – gentrified, passive, and mass-marketed to an emerging – and permanent – professional class.

That permanence, as we know from the recent collapse of Western financial markets, may be illusory. Yet the real economy is still awaiting the aftereffects of the downturn, and when they come, the Burnley’s of the world will feel them most. Burnley has already endured a decades-long decline in its manufacturing industries, spurred by the same globalist economic ethos that gave so much wealth to places like West London; it's not hard to guess what effect a nationwide recession will have.

Which brings us to the coin-toss at Stamford Bridge. The use of currency as weapon is a potent symbol for the source of Modern Football’s demise – lack of fan-driven revenue. Some argue that middle class football supporters will turn to the game for means of escape, yet it is hard to imagine paying forty quid for a game or a month of satellite television to ‘escape’ when you can’t afford groceries.

While Big Four clubs like Chelsea will weather the storm, smaller clubs will struggle to afford the talent necessary to remain competitive – Drogba returning the coin to Burnley’s stunned supporters provides an apt visual metaphor here. And while football is still a game of two sides (Burnley deserved their hard fought away win on penalties in the Carling Cup last week), as economic times get tougher, angry fans in empty stands may be the only ones left chucking hard currency at well-paid players.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Arsenal 0 Aston Villa 2 -- Live Match Report!



90 + 4 Tottenham are still in the relegation zone. The lights are going out all over North London and we won't see them again in our lifetime. Birmingham is suddenly ghetto fabulous.

79
I think I have a bit of an Ag-boner...

70
Is it? It is! Peter Wi -- sorry, Gael Clichy!

45
+ 1 Just put in the net FFS!

Preamble
Randy Lerner looks more and more like a ghost every day. In England, pants are underwear!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

AMSL at RoP on the FW


Hi all! Brian graciously asked me to write something for his footballing masterpiece, Run of Play.

I've written an Apologia Pro Posting Sua on the Football Weekly podcast comment boards, as I'm retiring.

I was, is, and ever shall be, villasupportgroup.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Joe Kinnear in Disneyland


We wouldn't write blogs about football if we didn't think it was rife with symbolism. It seems those within the game think the same way -- see Arsene Wenger's bizarre attempt to inspire his players by pointing out how Barack Obama rose to the top of the US government even though 'nobody really knows what his ideas are...' (judging by Jay Simpson's killer strike on a suprise center pass, perhaps Wenger is on to something).

This week, Joe Kinnear called Martin Atkinson a 'Mickey Mouse ref.' The FA wants to know exactly what he meant, and so do I. I mean, this isn't exactly John Knowles stuff here -- this is a symbol worthy of Eliot, and Kinnear is not the first to use it. Referring to a Manchester United Sheffield Wednesday tie in '93, referree John Hiditch remarked that Chris Waddle called him out for his 'Mickey Mouse watch' after the former added eight minutes of extra time, allowing Steve Bruce to score the winner.

What are we to make of this? Mickey Mouse, America's favourite rosy-cheeked rodent, is hardly an indecisive character. He has one girlfriend, one guy-friend and one dog, a perpetual straight man without the manic episodes of a Goofy or the vindictiveness of a Donald. In other words, exactly the sort of guy you want reffing a closely contested Premier League match. Perhaps Kinnear might mention this when grovelling to the FA mindpolice.

In keeping with Remembrance Day, you may want to read this bit on football at Vimy Ridge.

Monday, November 10, 2008

We're Changing (Along with Everyone Else)

Hi all. A quick note to let everyone know we will be moving over in the next few days to www.amoresplendidlife.com. Commercial death I know. Please do not panic if things go wrong. I am as scared as all of you.

Kind regards,

The Proprietor.

PS This is what happens when you make casual acquaintances with someone involved in web hosting.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Sean Ingle: Sports Personality of the Year


Preamble: Last week, I wrote a well-received (if factually inaccurate) profile on Barry Glendenning. After posting it up on the Football Weekly blog, many posters (well, I think two altogether) suggested I do a profile on a FW personality each week. Inspired by the challenge, I agreed, and this week I chose to profile Sean Ingle. While researching Mr. Ingle's work, I discovered he's running a competition for amateur Sport Bloggers, and this week's topic is "Sports Personality of the Year," so, when opportunity knocks...here is my submission. Even though its about as likely to make it to the top three as Aston Villa, I'm a believer in the Audacity of Hope.

Oh yes, there are the athletes, the indispensable stars of the show. There are the managers, the masterminds who tinker with formations, playbooks and the hopes and dreams of millions of fans. There are the agents, the television personalities, the retired pub owners, the insane supporters, the WAGs, the tea vendors, the steroid-dealers, the All-Americans, the disgraced heroes, and everyone else in between.

These are the players, and sport merely the stage.

But without a Shakespeare to tell the story, we would only hear the slap of the puck, the crack of the cricket bat, the soft thud of Steven Gerrard's crumpled body hitting the grass in the six-yard box, the crunching sound of Peter Crouch enjoying his nachos. Sound without fury.

I say without a hint of hyperbole that sport's Shakespeare is Sean Ingle, the man who plays many parts, and he is my nomination for sports personality of the year. Because, let's face it: without his Guardian Sport Blog, we would still be stuck mining through the Five Live message boards for signs of coherence. Sean's willingness to gamble this past year, whether on a new website design, more journalist interaction, new and interesting features, fresh writers with an international outlook, or Manchester City beating Portsmouth away, means we all win big. The award-winning Guardian re-vamped website is better than ever, and this contest stands as proof.

Is naming the chief editor and overseer of Big Blogger Sports Personality of the Year completely and utterly transparent? Maybe, but I'm not a cynic. And neither is Sean Ingle. Why else would he continually reach out to his unwashed readers with competitions like these? Or change the blog comments feature on the sport blog for some reason? Or use Hawk-Eye technology to comfort cricket nerds everywhere?

Ingle is also a spinner of memes (ask him what that means). His story of Peter Crouch's harassment of a fast-food chain employee quickly spread through the Intertubes, and is apparently repeated ad nauseam on an American soccer radio show. His minute-by-minute football reports are unique in that they do not repeatedly insult/patronize reader emails. And the man can write! When he's not hunting down the killer stories, he's busy defending his constant tinkering with the Sport Blog.

Journalists are all too often sport's misunderstood messengers -- just ask Joe Kinnear. So we could pick a Lewis Hamilton, a Brett Favre, a Joey Barton. But would we even know their names had their stories not been exploited to generate unique visitors and advertiser revenue? For that, we must thank Sean Ingle.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Giant US-Sized Middle Finger to the Joey Bartons of the World

This Really Happened

Steven Wells wrote a thoughtful article on what an Obama presidency owes to the development of soccer, apparently a panacea for cosmopolitan urbanity, throughout the United States. I will now attempt to echo Wells' stridency and write about what an Obama presidency will mean for the future of soccer in America:

Zilch. Nada. Niente.

AMSL is very pleased to announce we will no longer draw tenuous parallels between the executive brach of the Ameircan government and an eleven-a-side sport that involves kicking a ball into a net. I have been guilty of this in the past, and in some sense, we in the soccer blogging community are all guilty (Yes We Are!). Let me just say in closing: like the first few seconds after the whistle blows on a slim lead at the end of the second half of extra-time, I am fucking relieved.

Now, go clicking to my right -- my friends in soccer blogging all seem to be on a marvelous streak at the moment. Especially Fredorrarci who I think deserves a Florida recount for this effort.

Photo Cred: Louis C. for finding the one most moving election photo I've yet seen.

Monday, November 3, 2008

European Football's Intrinsic Finality

AMSL gets Scholastic on Yo' Ass

Not to continually harp on about the advantages of the home-and-away, three-up, three-down, points-takes-all European league structure, but this weekend in the Premier League illustrates why it is superior MLS's play-off-seeking regular season.

Sport always moves to an end, a telos, usually winning a trophy. In MLS, the telos is clear: the MLS Cup. As wikipedia neatly explains:

The 2008 Major League Soccer season ran from March 29 to October 26. The 14 teams in the league are divided into the Eastern and Western Conferences, each with seven teams. Each team plays 30 games over the course of 31 weeks, evenly divided between home and away matches. Each team plays every other team twice, home and away, for a total of 26 games. The remaining four games are intra-conference matches, often highlighting geographic and conference rivalries. The 2008 MLS Cup Playoffs will run from October 30 to November 23, culminating with MLS Cup 2008 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, California.

Within this structure, some games are fundamentally more important than others i.e. the play-off intra-conference matches.

By contrast, every league game in Europe counts, and can go toward any number of possible ends: promotion, relegation, UEFA Cup or Champions League qualification. This weekend saw Hull fight valiantly back against Manchester United, Stoke strip points off 'favoured' Arsenal, and last-place Tottenham undeservedly storm back to beat then first-place Liverpool. While jouralists often attempt to proide a temporal arc to the season -- depth, the January collapse, the April push -- mathematically the Premier League is won and lost with each and every fixture.

Therefore, this weekend in England, with its upsets, collapses and comebacks, is as much a part of the final outcome as the first weekend in May: there is no exterior telos, no sporting singularity like a post-season cup final. Something the MLS might want to consider, else it becomes the graveyard for the Freddie Ljunbergs of the world, grateful for the chance to 'relax' a bit in the 'regular' season.