Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Twitter Your Live Final Blog Feed!

The final we've all been waiting for is here today! So, with your corn chips and hummous at the ready and your twenty-four case of HeinekenTM in the fridge, please, join our live blog where we'll bring you delayed and error-strewn updates live from some guy's basement and/or living room on the game you're already watching on television!

And as you press F5 to refresh our site which lives on a cumbersome, homemade server, thereby making you miss things like throw-ins and goals, please take a few minutes to send your blindingly partisan opinions on the action via email, so we can print them to make fun of you, or, if the passing fancy strikes us, patronize you like the little non-live blogging civilian you are!

Email too expressive an electronic medium for you? Why don't you @myself RT # or whatever they've set up for us to stay under the arbitrary 140 character limit your 'thoughts' on Twitter? Twit our Live Blogging actions so that your Tweetings will get Twitted in the Twittering portion of our Live Blogging page!

Whoops, is it half time already? Aren't sure if Barcelona are wearing their home kit because you haven't looked up from your Mac Book in the past forty-five because of the overpowering awesomeness of our Twittered Live Blog Champions League final action? Press F5 to find out our thoughts on what you've just missed!

Still nothing? Hold on, we're updating our server! Just a few minutes, we'll have the latest photos of the match taken from our cellphones of our parent's flat screen TV! All live!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Take a Friend to the Champions League Final

A Champions League Final Tradition

Take a non-NAFF to watch the Champions League final this year.

Explain to him it's like the World Series boiled down to one game, the Super Bowl without the hour and a half of ads and digital graphic wipes that cost as much as Martin Tyler's annual salary, the Doctor Who episode when the Doctor regenerates leaving weeping and confused companions to fly the TARDIS. Say, "nevermind" when he asks, "what's Doctor Who?"

Comfort him when the level of play doesn't exactly equal the pre-match hype you used to convince him to skip work on a weekday afternoon in the middle of an economic depression. Explain to him you don't know what happened to the all-nude cheerleaders this year, but that you're sure they'll be out soon and that again, you're really sorry they're not using stun guns, maybe UEFA changed the rules or something just before the game.

Lock the door when he attempts to leave. Use restraints, perhaps some plastic wiring, or if you want to be old fashioned, regular steel handcuffs. If he continues to struggle, mucking up your Tapas spread and getting Paella all over your Eric Cantona wall-sized poster, threaten to turn up the volume during the Heineken ads. If you do, wipe the blood from his ears. Answer, "no, that's not actually Zadok the Priest."

Make sure to explain the rules of the game, even if it seems he's lost consciousness (if he has, be polite and wipe away drool at fifteen minute intervals). Explain to him why Barcelona is more than a club. Tell him how a failed conglomerate can still sponsor a major soccer team. Tell him if he ever speaks of this to anyone, you'll tell the office about that little incident at the golf retreat last July. You know, the one with the sixteen year-old caddy and the Martgueritas.

Tell him this is what soccer is all about. Rejoice when Barcelona wins 3-1. Drive him back (in the trunk) to "the office" (any empty parking lot will do). Be sure to leave your house by the back door. Put the Tapas spread in the fridge for the FA Cup final.

Monday, May 25, 2009

When There's Nothing Else, There's Schadenfreude

Another Holte End Gem. The levels this works on, my god...

Regular readers will know I use that particular German word a bit too often, but shameful joy is the bread and butter of English football. The Holte End, many of whom had long given up on anything approaching a meaningful season and still recovering from the heart cramping noise of Martin Laursen's announced early retirement, had nothing else to offer on the last day of the season but a banner reading, "SOB on the Tyne."

This unfortunately is what Aston Villa's 2008-09 Premier League season will be remembered for: sending Newcastle down to the pits of hell (or the most exciting league in England, depending on your station in life) with all the perfunctory style of an bank foreclosing on a dying pensioner. Memories of Champions League fairies dancing around Brummy heads have been long wiped clean since our now-annual March lobotomy. Beating Newcastle didn't even put us into fifth; Fulham couldn't be bothered to make Everton break a sweat, and so we're right back to where we started: not quite as good as Everton.

Yes, next year, dot dot dot. Summer transfer deals I'll be resorting to self harm to force myself to write about, close inspecting what new Emile Heskeys and Zat Knights Martin O'Neill has in store for us. It's funny to think that at the start of the season, O'Neill's deals were considered a model for other mid-sized clubs. Shrewd was in. The economy had collapsed, banks had failed, bailouts were on their way. Randy Lerner looked like the perfect owner for uncertain times, Arsenal were the model Big Four club, Manchester United's debts looked like a sack of hammers.

Now, in May, Arsenal aren't in anything. The FA Cup final will be handed from Portsmouth to either Manchester United or Chelsea, that sack of hammers is still on course for another treble year, and Aston Villa, like an overacheiving high school student sobered by her first year of university, went from hopes of winning the Premier League title to hopes of Champions League qualification to hopes Martin Laursen would return to hopes that Setanta would get a nice shot of the "Who's Your Next Messiah?" anti-Newcastle banner. The Eee Pee El doesn't want to bend to our new financial reality. Money still wins everything in the English top flight.

Save for Manchester City of course.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Vote For Me. Why? Because I Asked, That's Why. Jerk.

I just think it's really cool I've been nominated for the same set of awards that includes Brian Phillips, Sport is a TV Show, The Fiver, and Football Weekly, and if they're all allowed to abuse their respective mediums to solicit votes, then, well, so am I.

So vote for "A More Splendid Life" to win EPL's Best Blog award. Because if I get more than one percent of the votes, I can continue blathering on about the Eee Pee El with some measure of dignity. And show it to my mom as proof that somebody actually reads and/or respects what I write.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Age and Identity: Getting the Most from England's Past-Its

Danny Dichio comes to Toronto FC via Preston North End, thirty-two years old with creaky legs and no pace, and becomes the club's first and most consistent scorer (when not felled by injury).

Rohan Ricketts comes to Toronto FC via Barnsley, twenty-four with fresh legs and incosistent pace, and, save for one glorious brace against the Colorado Rapids at BMO Field in June 2008, hasn't made much of an impact. No suprise then, according to Ben Rycroft, Rickett's is on the verge of leaving the club.

In English football, things are pretty simple; if you don't perform with some measure of consistency, you stumble back through one or several of 92 league sides until you're released on a free and Bob's your uncle.

In North America, there isn't an army of footballing potential of the sort that can be drafted in to play at the (relatively) highest level. Often managers are in the uncomfortable position of selecting among a grabbag of out-of-favour and therefore MLS-inclined players with a few years experience playing in England's top(ish) flight. The results can be as dire as they are predictable. Dichio was a pleasant surprise, a team player who makes up in effort and dedication what he lacks in physique, who neither underestimated MLS nor overestimated his own pedigree after a respectable but mixed-bag career in England.

TFC's younger European has-beens have been less successful, the worst among them Laurent Robert, a player released by Derby in the season they broke records by getting relegated in March. Ricketts has faired a bit better, but this year he's spent a fair share of his time on the bench and with the reserves. His relatively young age and inexperience seem to have outweighed the benefits of his potential. Age may also play a part in preventing younger former European club players from committing to Toronto, a very cold city an ocean away from home.

To that end, it seems the most important factor in encouraging TFC players no longer in their prime (whether techinically or physically) is to help them identity with the club, its fans, and the city. Dichio's eagerness to do well on the field seems matched to his desire to make Toronto his permanent home. Toronto FC's most dedicated older players also happen to be home boys: Jim Brennan and Dwayne De Rosario. Perhaps Mo Johnson might do well attracting once-prized players with a story like Dichio's, a man consigned to become a blip on Statto, who found a new lease on his career by way of a new home. This strategy, coupled with attracting aging Canadian greats eager for one last chance at home, could help ensure Toronto FC and MLS get the most from often-costly European transfers.

This post is dedicated to my grandfather, John ("Jack") Ryerson Maybee, Canadian diplomat to China, Syria, Lebanon, India, among other countries, who fostered in my family an international outlook, the same outlook that in many ways drove me to embrace the global game.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Relegation Sunday Sunday Sunday!

Ain't relegation a...DRAG? Get it?! Hey, my arm!

This weekend at various Brit-themed pubs across North America and LIVE at stadia across the Northeast of England, it's RELEGATION SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!

COME see the teams that failed to excite ALL YEAR, often failing to score goals for more than ten hours of consecutive play, BATTLE IT OUT to see who will live and who will languish for a season in the Championship only to coast to promotion the following year!

WILL Alan Shearer's hopelessly inept Newcastle United GO DOWN like a nervous prom date, leading to misspelled banners calling for a "Boycout" at St. James' Park until Mike Ashley takes off the replica shirt, puts down the beer, and actually makes the club look semi-respectable to the foreign buyer who will be purchasing the club at an already wildly-depreciated price?

WILL Phil Brown wear a Don Cherry suit jacket and hold an all-nude team talk in the men's public washroom in order to motivate HULL to a crucial but soul-crushingly dull victory?

WILL anyone care what happens to Middlesborough on way or another?

Have these questions answered and something about Sunderland too this SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY.


*Children under fifty years welcome, may induce humiliating tears and/or inappropriate displays of schadenfreude.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Eighteen is the Age You Can Buy Booze in Quebec

I've written a post at EPL Talk on Manchester United's eighteenth league title and what it doesn't mean for Newcastle. Go there now.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Proof the World is Getting Worse

Wouldn't It Be Cool If...

"No, that one set of footprints is when I carried you, YNWA!"

...Arsenal beat Manchester United on Sunday, and Liverpool beat West Brom, and it came down to Hull having to beat United next weekend in order to remain in the Premier League, and United having to beat/draw Hull to win the Premier League?

That is literally the only way I could imagine the Premier League maintaining any interest for me whatsoever outside of the fact Aston Villa could decide whether Newcastle stay in the Premier League.

So, let the transfer talk begin. Jesus to Liverpool?

"He's terrible with crosses and some matches seems to go dead only to come alive in the final third."

"The referee's had a word with Jesus. Seems he wants to know what truth is. God, they've all gone soft on players these days. Alan?"

"Jesus has taken a nasty gash in that fifty-fifty ball. Is that...water and blood coming out there? Someone's been drinking too much Lucozade I imagine."

Oh, and now that I've sent you off it completely, you can vote for AMSL as the best football blog in the world and all possible worlds for ever and ever, amen.

UPDATE ON THE AWARD I HAVE NO CHANCE OF WINNING: Fred's SIATVS (to whom I still owe an article, and it's coming, AND IT'S EPIC) reminded me the field is quite good, so, you know, don't just automatically vote for me. You should take a good long time to read each and every blog plus the archives. Okay?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Montreal vs. Toronto is Not a Derby

Now THAT's a rivalry

How can it be?

It's not like the Impact will get promoted to MLS anytime soon. And you can't graft on rivalries from other sports—the grudge match between the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens has its own glorious history in the NHL. You'd have to go back to the Carls-Rite Cup matches between Toronto and Montreal soccer all-stars (1914-1931) for a proper Quebec-Ontario rivalry. Well, that maybe and the games between Montreal Carsteel and Toronto Ulster in the NSL (now the CSL) prior to the Second World War (BTW, Carsteel is a boss name and should be used again).

What about the two solitudes? Most Torontonians in their twenties love Montreal. In fact, I suspect half the twenty-year olds from Toronto currently live in Montreal, cashing their parents' cheques on rent, Labatt 50 and Fairmount bagels. And the smoked meat poutine at The Main. Separatism still lives, but kind of like an old ugly shirt worn by a loved one that you've given up trying to donate to the Goodwill on Sunday afternoon while he or she watches the game.

When I saw Montreal draw us to take the Sugar Drink Canadian Content Cup last year, I didn't get the sense of a derby grudge match, I got the sense of a middling Carling Cup fixture we should have won but didn't because half our players were past it. Columbus I'm willing to buy as a derby rival, seeing as we've never beat them, they're close to us, they're American, and we sent a proper away contingent to pee on their Church lawns while we got tasered. Perhaps if something special happens tonight at BMO Field, you know, we sing the Maple Leaf for ever and they sing some sort of Quiet Revolution era folk song, I'll buy it.

Or the football is half decent, either/or.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Have Bolton and Don't Know What to Do? Some Simple Crafts You Can Make at Home

It seems every year at least one Premier League club completely disappears. I don't recall the last time Bolton made the regular Saturday morning lineup on Setanta, and I don't recall reading a single Bolton-related headline, either in relation to relegation, Europe, big transfer deals, competent management, fan incidents, big injuries, controversial sending offs etc etc.

So I took a look at their page on the Guardian site, and the only non-Sunderland relegation battle related story had to do with Megson looking at picking up Joey "I Punch Players" Barton. That was May 8th. Before that, it was a report on Bolton's goalless draw against Wigan on the 2nd.

Barry Glendenning once asked of Middlesborough, back when they were lodged mid-table and not seeming to do much of anything, "What are Boro for?" I'm inclined to think Bolton must have a use, so I've devised a few ideas.

1. Tea Cozy: Tired of drinking lukewarm tea on your second cup? How about wrapping Bolton around your pot to keep it slightly less lukewarm? That's nice, isn't it?

2. Book Ends: Dostoevsky not cooperating, flopping on its belly after little nudge from the Chicago Manual of Style? Let the Wanderers hold up your books in an unobtrusive but not totally terrible way. Gary Megson looks nice and cozy next to Gerard Manley Hopkins, doesn't he?

3. Pitch Pipe: Can't find your note? Don't believe that F# sounded right on the last go on Der Winterreise? Blow on that gangly gang of substandard footballers in terrible white shirts, and you've got perfect pitch!

There you go Bolton! Now I've made a fresh pot, so I'll see you in the kitchen in five. Not you Davies, I need you to stay on my bookshelf, that Flannery O'Connor short story compilation looks a little precarious.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Want TFC's Fan Base to Grow?

Take a friend to a game.

They probably won't like it. The standard of play will be poor, they'll complain about the plastic pitch, the eight dollar cans of beer. They'll wonder how Danny Dichio could possibly be considered a hero when he basically exists to knock down long balls and lay them off for other players in a fifty-fifty gambit that looks more like a sort of mournful liturgy.

They'll get mad at De Rosario when his back heels get picked off by opposing full-backs, and they'll get even madder when Paolo Vitti trips over himself doing his "caricature of a better player" routine. They'll probably like Jim Brennan, though. Most neutrals do; he's Canadian, and this year at least he's running toward the box like a six year old on Christmas morning.

They'll wish TFC scored more goals, and they'll wish Marco Velez was as good as Adrian Serioux, and that Serioux didn't feel the need to have the ball perfectly controlled, stationary at his feet, before making a vital clearance under pressure from three attacking forwards. They'll want Marvel Wynne to have as much of the ball as possible because he runs, and he runs fast, and he crosses accurately.

They'll leave the game and say, "actually, that was pretty fun." And if you're lucky, like I was yesterday, they'll mention in an off-hand way that they watched Toronto FC's away performance against DC United on television, and say how exciting it was, and that they thought you'd told them it was hand-to-ball and not the other way around, but that six goal games in MLS seemed pretty rare. And chances are, if Toronto play well in the next stretch of games, they'll watch them on TV again.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

EPL Talk Alert!

Read my predictable, retread remarks about Manchester United's annoying petulance today over at EPL Talk. Ta ta!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Stuff North American Football Fans Like

5. Hating on MLS
The 'Good' MLS

Here's something you might not know: every single North American Football Fan hates MLS. What of the tens of hundreds of people lining up for concessions at Pizza Hut Park in the final minutes of Esquire Added TimeTM in the second half, you ask? They hate MLS too. In fact, MLS supporters hate the MLS more than other NAFFs who just can't be bothered at all.

If you happen to attend an MLS game (probably only an hour and a half drive from your Midwest American city's downtown, just off the interstate next to that boarded up Mall of America), you'll notice a few clues as to why NAFFs hate MLS. First of all, 'fans' in attendance are just as likely to wear the shirt of their favourite international corporate-sponsored conglomerated football concern as they are to wear a Seattle Sounders jersey. Second, they spend about half the action waiting to purchase concessions—usually American beer served out of lukewarm kegs at Daytona 500 prices—comparing notes on the earlier Premier League matches that day.

The reality is most NAFFs attend MLS out of a grudging loyalty to the professional game, no matter how slowly or poorly played. Jim in that Man United shirt over there once saw an Old Firm game on a school trip in his senior year (mad NAFF street cred!), and DC United v. New York Red Bulls " the closest I can get to a derby match here. I dunno, the atmosphere is pretty good I gue—AH FUCK, THAT WAS AN OPEN NET FOR FUCK'S SAKE! Rooney would have put that away, NO problem. Fuck me! Let's go get a Budweiser or Coor's Light."

North America's highest professional soccer league would do a lot better marketing the game if they pushed the idea, no matter how ludicrous, that MLS might equal the quality of European football one day, as most NAFFs in attendance who aren't soccer moms or five year old girls go for this reason and this reason alone. In the meantime, non-NAFFs will score a lot of points among NAFFs if they refer to MLS as the "Soccerball League of America." Try it and soak up the laughs!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Presence and Absence

"Football defeated anti-football" — Catalan press (uncredited)

"What is football?" — James Richardson on Football Weekly

First, a confession: I missed all the Champions League quarter and semi finals for the first time in five years because, like millions (well, hundreds of thousands) of other NAFFS, I was working a boring day job (incidentally, that's also the reason my post rate has fallen through the floor but you didn't come here to listen to me talk about my 'problems,' did you?).

This means I've had to rely on a) the press b) football blogs and c) various video highlight roundups to piece together the drama, and opinions varied to the extent I had to make my own choice: was Chelsea shit on a stick, or did they do what they had to do to win?

Everything after the Chelsea Barcelona second leg was nicely split in two for me. Attack or defense? Money or glory? Art or success? Football or anti-football? Presence or absence? Really, this all comes down to JR's question: what is football? The hysteria over Chelsea's performance over two legs put me in the knee-jerk, devil's advocate position of defending fubtol de resultados, because really, what else is there? Football would be nothing more than kemari if it was limited to a lovely showcase of tricks, nice passes and well-scored goals (basically Man United in the Premier League is the best present example I can think of). What about fluke results, the obstinate underdog digging in, destroying everything, pressing pressing pressing pressing in order to eke out a result? What about AVFC, like a seventeen year-old at the prom, grinding against Bayern in 1982 to win the European Cup, boring the hell out of the neutral while raining glory on Brum?

I say this because, yes, even though Chelsea has spent millions upon millions of pounds on player transfers and wages, they were the underdogs against Barcelona. Disgusting thing to say, isn't it? But if one takes the position that because Chelsea are a West London club with oodles of (borrowed) cash 'earned' by one of many Russian oligarchs who took advantage of a free market forced on Russia by right-wing American economists after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, they should automatically be a dominant side, then one believes price equals use value. That's an erroneous notion, and it leads people to do silly things like boo Ashley Cole in an England shirt at Wembley.

The fact is, Barcelona are so good, we're not able to process it yet. Did we all forget Real Madrid's 18 unbeaten run ended at the Santiago Bernabeu with six Barcelona goals? Or that Eto, Henry and Messi have more goals between them than the total goal tallies for the other La Liga clubs? Others will write about this later, especially if Barca win the European Cup.

Yet for some reason, only Hiddink seemed able to step back and grasp the reality of the situation: obfuscate or die. So, he told his players to press press press, hit Barcelona where they're weak, force them to take shots from outside the area. And because they're Chelsea, they absorbed the sort of vitriol saved up for moments when flash, top four clubs resort to tactics worthy of Bolton. "They didn't play by the rules, they are anti-football," said practically everyone not in Chelsea garb. But no one is admitting the obvious: Barcelona were miles ahead of Chelsea in quality, and had Chelsea tried to match them in attacking excellence, pass pass pass champagne football, they would have lost well before Iniesta's 93rd minute strike.

Chelsea waved away football for football's sake. They wanted to win. They rejected the notion of some sort of ontological impetus to entertain, to seek beauty in the play over the dead, ossified result. They chose absence over presence because there was no other way to win (please see Malcolm Gladwell's excellent piece on underdogs in the most recent New Yorker, to which I owe this article). Futbol del Arte has a venerable history in the sport, and Lord knows Don Revie was no entertainer, but are we ready for a sport where the absent, silent honour of winning is considered the mere by-product of the presence of splendid, gorgeous play?

Chelsea or Arsenal?