Monday, November 30, 2009
But Blatter didn't stop there. He aired the ludicrous news that Ireland had begged, just begged FIFA to be the 33rd team in the World Cup, something the result against France, while unjust, couldn't possibly warrant on its own. While one shouldn't put anything past an aggrieved and ill-organized association like the FAI, it seems inconceivable they would have made this request with any serious intent, perhaps throwing out it there in a fit of righteous anger shortly after the infamous second leg.
So what is Blatter's motive in revealing this information now? What is his hidden agenda here? He's clearly in support of a touch-line official, as he went on to reveal. Interestingly, he regards video technology as an affront to the "human face" of football, a curious comment considering the cost of World Cup television rights, and how some World Cups have been awarded based on FIFA's cozy relationship with TV companies in the past (Mexico '86 anyone? Incidentally the same WC in which games were played in excruciating heat so European audiences could catch games on prime time TV. Quite the 'human face' there.).
But there's more to it than highlighting this incident to support more officiating. My own view is Blatter doesn't want this Henry story to die simply because it has enough legs to keep FIFA in the news cycle beyond international week. He's baiting journalists by siding with Henry one moment, then calling out Ireland for making selfish demands on FIFA's sacred international tournament the next. I wouldn't put it past Blatter that the reason he mentioned the possibility of an extra team in the WC is because Blatter wants the tournament to expand even further (i.e. Ireland wouldn't have had this problem had the tournament been even bigger).
None of this has anything to do with football. If you want football news, you'll be happy to know Barca beat Real Madrid 1-0 at Camp Nou on Sunday. The goal came when WC qualified Thierry Henry got subbed off for Sweden's Ibrahimovic, the latter player scoring the winning goal moments after coming on by. Sweden by the way missed out on qualifying for South Africa 2010.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Seeing as I've somehow managed to transform myself into a football online media guru over the course of one or two speculative and highly subjective posts on the future of football blogging, I suddenly feel more than qualified to speak to that sorest of sore points, the DIY Footie Podcast.
Notice I've rigged my post title to generate as much spurious traffic as possible; no doubt, as the number of online football bloggers reaches the five hundred million mark, this will certainly be the single most popular post in AMSL's history.
So here are my arbitrarily made-up eight rules for Football Podcasting Glory, such as it is, completely and utterly according to me, a listener of many football podcasts.
1. Keep It Short. It's called the law of diminishing returns, I think. Or is it market saturation? I only took one business course in high school, and then an economics course which consisted of me calling my teacher a fascist because he didn't approve of social spending during economic boom periods. But I digress.
Keep your podcast short, because there are now literally hundreds of thousands of DIY podcasts and for me to listen to them all would basically require me to drop everything, including watching football, to hear them all. The ear buds on my iPod would rot, and I'd lose my hearing, which means I would lose my job as a countertenor, which means I would stop AMSL due to lack of funds. You don't want this, trust me. Try to get your podcast down to twenty minutes, maybe even ten.
2. Stick to Your Niche. If people go to your website to get the inside scoop on MLS backroom politics, and your podcast attempts to do a global footie round-up from the Eredivisie through to the Copa Sudamericana, that means a lot of them are going to use that scrolly option on their iPod. I'm going to tell your right now that scrolly option is really annoying to use. Your podcast supplements your blog; pick one or two juicy controversial topics related to your area of interest, and start there. Think of your podcast as a thrilling addendum to your already kick-ass blog. And don't be afraid of scaring away a global audience if you go specific; as a good blogger, you will find an interesting way to tie it into the greater whole of the Global Football story.
3. Don't Try to be Football Weekly. Yes, we'd all like to be as pun-sexy Euro cool as AC Jimbo, as hipster cynically narcissistic as Barry Glendenning, and as inappropriately gambly as Seani, but we can only be ourselves really. Try to remember what you do at parties that gets people to look you in the eyes when you talk, and do that. If your blog is a sort of repetition of FW's, or the Game's, or whatever major newspaper podcast's format, and change it up somehow. Stand out from the pack.
4. Spend the Money on a Producer. Maybe you don't even have to spend the money; there are tens of thousands of out of work studio producers who have just spilled out of whatever predatory, barely-accredited sound engineering college they've just finished over-paying by way of student loans, waiting for a gig to get their chops in, or however the lingo goes. These people know how to edit (presumably), and will make you sound like Jonathan Goldstein when in fact you are probably more like that guy on Youtube who cries about celebrities. Good editing will separate you from the pack immediately, and is a hell of lot more listenable than fifteen minutes to every hour of "hmmm," "ahhh," "*cough*" etcetera.
If you can't afford a producer, than think like one. Break your pod up into segments if need be, and try to keep the thing moving along nicely. Remember, shorter is gooder.
5. Be Funny, but don't "Be Funny." This one relates a bit to number 3. We're all kind of funny; even the guy who writes the Political Economy of Football throws in an unexpected knee-slapper here and there. But if you find yourself having a post-recording drink discussing your comic timing, writing down gags on a notepad when you're at the grocery store, and watching old Kids in the Hall sketches with friends discussing the influence of the Goon Show on latter half twentieth century absurdist sketch-comedy, you might be trying too hard.
Also, try to avoid comedic "segments" that segue into hard analysis by way of that most nauseating of phrases, "but in all seriousness."
6. If You Do Interviews, Do them Really Effing Well. There are some podcasts, and they should know who they are, that make news because they get the right person at the right time, and ask the right questions, which spins the news wheel that much faster, and get the interviewers noticed/respected. I would take a ten minute informative interview with a new MLS owner that asks relevant, information-yielding questions, than an hour of softballs tossed at some retired English League One player, any day of the week. Don't think you have to keep your subjects happy no matter what, just be a good journalist and they will respect/fear/sue you. Ideally not the last one though, which means you might touch up on libel/slander laws in your home country.
7. Don't Be Self-Referential. Listeners to your podcast probably don't care about you, they care about the subject you're covering and your opinions thereon. If you start harbouring a "shtick" (I'm the "this guy" sort of guy!), then you are trying to become what CBC Radio obnoxiously refers to as an "On Air Personality." Get the fuck out of the way of the story, content is your god, making relevant points about the football is your point. Relates to number 5.
8. Take Risks, Be Different. Well, enough of the negatives, now the positive: don't be afraid to be totally and completely wacko different from everyone else. Cover some small, lower league controversy that neatly ties in to some "problem of the week" that everyone else is always harping on about. Maybe don't cover the "big stories" of the day at all, maybe we've all heard/read/talked about the "big stories," and hearing them discussed yet again is enough to make us cry. If people expect your podcast to offer a lively discussion on an as-of-yet uncovered story that week, in a way that might make a local issue more accessible to a global audience, if maybe you have a interesting segment no other podcast has, perhaps that gives me a reason to listen to you and not the next guy.
Disclaimer: I don't produce or star in podcasts, so I really don't have a pot to piss in with this topic, but I am an avid podcast listener and a I know what I like. But I am one (1) man. Maybe you've crunched your audience and they prefer the "all sound same" approach. If so, by all means, steady on.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
The Tottenham executive director's announcement last April for plans to open Naming Rights Stadium for the 2012-13 season came well in advance of the stadium sponsorship orgy that has suddenly gripped England. We all had quite a bit of fun with it too, as I recall.
Anyway, Barber's joining the Vancouver Whitecaps in March 2010. The Vancouver Sun puts the move on par with Vancouver winning the NASL Soccer Bowl in 1979. Apparently all of Europe is talking about it; just check Yahoo—NO NOT GOOGLE—the Yahoo co-founder and Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallet coincidentally told the press. He even made a cheeky reference to the MLS DP slot, calling Barber their "designated executive."
The move makes ostensible sense, considering Steve Nash and Mallet became buddies with Barber three years ago after Nash, a life-long Spurs fan, inquired about purchasing shares in the club.
But...really? I'm eating this steak sandwich of a story and it tastes a bit dry. Mallet's explanation that the move can be explained because "Paul is a soccer fanatic...an entrepreneur and a businessman at heart," and "his knowledge of Steve and myself offered him that comfort level that the backing is legit" doesn't quite satisfy. A soccer fanatic leaves Tottenham Hotspur at a key moment in the Premier League club's development for a league-less Canadian soccer club waiting in the MLS wings?
I just hope for stability's sake that these guys are as solid business partners as they are "good buddies." It does strike me as more than a bit odd that a young executive with Tottenham Hostpur—a club playing great football, getting noticed with 9-1 shellackings, the whole bit—would announce he's leaving Spurs in the middle of negotiations to secure a sponsor for Tottenham's new stadium.
Or maybe I'm just being cynical...
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Harris clearly thinks the Guardian, which undoubtedly offers the best online product with regard to football, is poised to come out the winner in advance of the World Cup with increased traffic and subsequently higher ad revenue, but this to me is a fundamental misreading of how the internet works. Most football news hounds visit a number of different sites already; the number of exclusive Times Online football readers who would "switch" to the Guardian would be negligible. Most would simply stop visiting the Times while still reading the rest.
But that's beside the point. The free, traffic-based online content model has been tried for some time now, and it hasn't saved print media's bacon. The Guardian is the best online football site in the world, but it is losing money. Harris says if Murdoch, "doesn’t generate the revenues he needs to make, he and his team need to concentrate on how to better monetize the traffic that his sites get." I guarantee Murdoch's people have determined the revenue ceiling on traffic optimization, and they have probably found, like other popular online sites, that even if everyone visited NewsCorp's sites exclusively, the returns on ad revenue alone wouldn't justify the cost of paying his staff to cover the news. Murdoch has the capital to risk a different model, and if the other papers smell even a whiff of success, they will no doubt climb on board, including the Guardian.
Murdoch wasn't being naive when he said the Internet is “an emerging medium that is not my native language.” What he meant to say is that he doesn't do "free." This could explode in his face, no doubt. But if it works, prepare for others to follow.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Bob, bored with the American football highlights seemingly on every single channel, happens upon ESPN at 8:30 PM EST last night. Now, keep in mind, Garber wants people like Bob in the MLS fold. Bob considers himself a knowledgeable follower of the game. He's willing to give this a chance; I mean, you're not going to find much live soccer at 8:30 PM on a Sunday evening.
So what's the first thing Bob sees?
That's right, a pitch resembling an abandoned city lot. Bob notices long passes bobbling their way to the feet of waiting wingers, easily picked off by listless full-backs. He sees short passes bungled out to touch. He sees attacks forming almost as soon as they're snuffed out when a player is forced to take too many touches.
Bob isn't thinking, if only there was more money for better players, more DP slots, so it could be a better league. Bob is wondering why the pitch looks like complete and utter shit for a so-called Cup Final. So, after a tedious first half, Bob declares that this is mickey mouse stuff, watches the Defoe highlights again and goes to sleep, vowing never to watch an MLS game again.
Sometimes bringing in American soccer fans to MLS comes down to the small stuff.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Had Toronto FC made the playoffs, it isn't conceivable they wouldn't have been able to recreate RSL's post season record, what with solid home support (although I don't see TFC recreating RSL's win on penalties in Chicago). So tonight, I'm supporting RSL, the team, which as Fake Sigi pointed out awhile back, is the lowest spending club in MLS.
So, yes, watching Toronto FC getting destroyed on their last game away to the worst team in MLS stung. But the loss didn't tell the story of the whole season. Really, it was the late goals, and that is something tangible, a target you can work on. That's a new manager's dream, and good reason why Preki took the job—a playoff round or two at Toronto FC next year will make him a hero. Sure, you're not going to get a world beater with TFC any time soon, but you might get a playoff contender in one or two simple moves.
Look at RSL.
Friday, November 20, 2009
It's interesting that the discussion of paywalls among web heads closely resembles discussion of video replay with football supporters; there is a general waving of the wrist, or an "oh no, not that idea again" look, like what I imagine happens when Andrew Sullivan has to talk to Christopher Hitchens at official Atlantic Monthly get-togethers. Let's just say on paywalls, I'm an agnostic.
While the idea of paying for content seems ludicrous with the all-access free-for-all of the web, there are one or two scenarios I could see it maybe working. For one, it would obviously have to be across the board—no point in the Guardian throwing up a wall if the Times Online is waiting with arms outstretched for all the online traffic.
One model I've daydreamed about is a News Reader Only© browser. Consider it like iTunes for News. The browser allows you to either purchase access to on-line news content on a pay-per basis, or on a subscription set-up of the paper's choosing. You read the news in a format that prevents text copying, like a tweaked .pdf. You could save articles but you could only view them on the News Reader broswer. And the pages could feature ad banners with links that would open on a separate browser like Firefox or IE.
Now there are some gaping holes already with this scenario, but you get the idea. Readers are forced to pay for news content they read. Blogs and sites like the Huffington Post are suddenly up shit's creek, for better or for worse, because they are forced to pay for access to online news content that they can't copy and paste or link to. The internet content free-for-all is ended, but what do the papers care? They've used copy protected web technology to recreate the exclusivity of content the printing press once afforded them.
Could independent soccer journo bloggers fill in the gaps left by the departed online newspapers? Do the newspapers fail epically because readers can get news content for free from bloggers? Some might not mind reading filtered sports headlines on some soccer blogs, but others might want to take advantage of the first hand reporting offered by established dailies. So they go on iNews and subscribe, and read. And Mr. Writer gets paid.
And then world peace breaks out for some reason. Who knows. In the mean time, I'm going to keep plugging away here anyway in my pjs, being what the industry writers call a "thumbsucker," someone who waits for stories to appear to react to, rather than going out and finding them out. Most of us are thumbsuckers, even the best and brightest, because as I've said ad nauseam, blogging doesn't bring you accreditation, pay for flights to Mexico, or let you hang around Real Madrid training sessions in search of a money quote. Newspapers have the upper hand on that end for now. So either they let the resources the printing press gave them fritter away to nothing, or they get off their ass, stop sucking their thumbs and accept the fact the ground beneath has completely given way and the status quo is slowly bleeding them to death.
Meanwhile, I'll be here, waiting and watching, with the rest of you. But journalism was always about work and hustle, not talent or pretty prose. I think as bloggers, we would do better in the mean time by going local, trying to follow whatever unique stories we can cover in our spare time. We need to work to get that ignored content up online, we need to work harder. Because if this all does work out for us in the end, it will work out for those who forged a unique presence on the web, who spent their time in search of a story, or offered something new, bold unique, rather than a recycled opinion. More on that from me later...
Thursday, November 19, 2009
First, I don't buy the whole "poetry of the injustice of life reflected in sport" business, that soccer, indeed all of sport, has always been this way, with dives, fouls, goals not given, twas ever thus and ever shall be, world without end, amen. That strikes me as easy cynicism. Also, pointing out that the particular politicians and the members of the FAI calling for a replay are already standing on shaky ground when it comes to matters of "justice," or describing FIFA's indifference to the result as "typical" and that we should accept it and move on, or that replays are complicated and annoying and could pave the way for all sorts of hassles in future, raises sport to a level over and above human agency—they elevate sport to a matter of fate.
We give too much importance to sport when we regard its shortcomings and injustices as immutable, reflective of some sort of "fallen nature," to borrow a hackneyed expression. When FIFA points to a rule and says, "whatever the ref says goes, sorry" that is an abdication of responsibility. Not acknowledging there was a serious error, and pledging to correct it in future, is an abdication of responsibility. Pointing out it's okay because they all dive, cheat, hustle and pull shirts in the box, make dirty tackles, switch allegiances for money, they all award contracts from bribes, fix matches—that's an abdication of responsibility. This is sport, not the perpetual motion of the globes. We play it, we accept the rules, but we do so with the proviso that they will be enforced. An ideal, yes, but one we, human beings and our institutions, are responsible for adhering to, not fate.
So no, FIFA does not get a pass from me on this one, because we can't just go on letting our cynicism speak for us whenever this sort of thing happens...
I first want to echo Brian Phillips remark yesterday: "Don't call it a "controversial goal." It was a visibly illegitimate goal. Controversy implies a second possible interpretation." There was no 'controversy' here, there were two clear violations of the laws of the game, one of which occurred twice in succession, that were allowed to stand in a World Cup Qualifier. Neither was it simply "very cheeky," as DeRosario or his twitter handler or whomever put it. That it sets up an "exciting" World Cup is debatable, but even so, it hardly matters.
The fact that FIFA/UEFA have nixed calls for a reply at this early stage, with no acknowledgment of the gravity of the error, what it meant for Ireland, economically and sportingly, in my mind raises this issue above the need for a touchline official, or video replay, or better officiating. That's why the knee-jerk dismissal of a replay is in some ways more damaging than the goal itself.
This can no longer be a running joke about Platini and Blatter. This should be treated as a crisis of legitimacy. Maybe the seriousness of what transpired will disappear forever in the plastic lead-up to a plastic World Cup, the drunken haze of the FIFA-approved Fan Zone making yesterday a distant memory. But FIFA and UEFA have done serious damage to the sport they are entrusted to protect. There should be calls for resignations at this stage, and not for the match officials on the night. If it doesn't happen, the world has the right to question the integrity of the world's most popular sport, and the message that FIFA's decision to ignore two serious violations of the game's rules in a major qualifier for the world's most watched sports tournament sends out to soccer players of all ages, in all leagues, from the Yukon to Uganda.
This is that serious.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
First, the post was not a protracted whinge about soccer writing not paying my bills. I know there is a route whereby money can be made from bloggin' about soccer, and I know several of us have commandeered that route with great success. However, that approach, sorry to say, has little or nothing to do with the sort of long-form journalism and first person reporting we've come to take for granted from print media.
For one, a money-making approach to blogging requires one, in part, to cover those areas that will garner the most web traffic possible. Because newspapers were traditionally purchased as a whole unit, leaving consumers at the whim of the entire editorial staff to read what they chose to cover, beat writers had the luxury of chasing some out-of-the-way stories on their individual merit, rather than having each and every individual tailored to the interest of the broadest audience possible.
The digital publishing revolution has killed that for good, for better or for worse. It's rare even for newspapers to take risks on more in-depth sports stories anymore. Individual blogs will still fill in those gaps (Inside Minnesota Soccer was instrumental in bringing details of the USL-1 TOA rift to light), but they're not going to generate the sort of revenue that will allow you to go into the story as in depth as an accredited newspaper once could. That's not me whingeing, that's just the way it is.
Also, recommending products to consumers through your blog poses some fairly weighty conflict of interest problems if a blogger wants to do serious journalism. What if a company includes you in their marketing "hub," but later becomes involved in a controversial sponsorship deal with a lower league club? Can you report on it and risk losing a mainstay of your income from being cut out of the loop as a response to a story?
I guess what this comes down to is that entertainment blogging is not the same thing as long form journalism. But neither are they two separate entities; you can't write about how much of a twat Ferguson is unless you've been able to read interviews with him via traditional papers, read reports on agents with first hand dealings with him via traditional papers, get an in-depth understanding of the debt problems at Manchester United via traditional papers, the list could go on. What Clay Shirkly is talking about, and what no one at the Huffington Post or Politico seems to get, is that traditional papers are going the way of the dodo, and there isn't anything there with the capital resources to replace it. Once that goes, internet blogs that have relied on print resources much more than they would care to admit, will be caught out. Everyone will.
Or, we soccer bloggers can continue to put our image or brand out there, keep our names alive, in the hope that somehow, something akin to the newspaper model rises to the surface and traditional media goes on its merry way again. While Shirkly would see anything resembling a continuation of the pay-for-content newspaper model as optimistic piffle, there are signs that bucking the trend has some advantages.
Fake Sigi posted up an interesting article yesterday in response to my post on papers that have managed to operate successfully post print, yes, with a reduction in core workforce, but with a focus on content that works well for the web. There are also examples of newspapers remaining profitable, growing even, after erecting the dreaded paywall, most notably the name I dropped yesterday, Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. We've long heard about paywalls, how stupid they are, how they fly in the face of thinking on web access, who someone will always reliably route them and copy articles. Shirkly himself gives the example of kids copying Dave Barry articles.
Would kids go to the trouble of illegally re-posting Jonathan Wilson articles? What if tomorrow, every single UK newspaper, and ESPN on-line, Sky, decided to pay-wall content? Take a look at your reader: what would disappear? Now take a look at what's left: how much is being reported there that isn't already sourced from the above? Are you going to patiently watch Sky Sports News in anticipation of back story news from your club? What are you going to blog about?
More on this this later...
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
When we last saw you on Friday, I'd written to Guardian On-line Sport editor Sean Ingle about filling up the Canada page on the Guardian site with all sorts of newsy goodness. He kindly replied yesterday, indicating that while he's "a big fan of amoresplendidlife" (I mean, really, who isn't?), the Guardian is facing—er, let's say 'financial constraints'— that probably need sorting before he could justify a foreign newspaper loading up on that ever-popular subset of the Premier League news juggernaut, Canadian soccer.
While I have yet to inform Mr. Ingle my request was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, his reply got me thinking: even as various blogs and on-line news hubs laugh gleefully at the downfall of so-called traditional print media, who in their right mind wouldn't want to write about soccer for the Big Paper (on-line or no), or a magazine, or a book? Don't most soccer bloggers secretly consider a career writing for a major news organization with all its resources, access, accreditation and living-ish wages, the ultimate endgame for their online endeavours?
As it stands now, many of the best and most successful soccer bloggers out there are former journalists holding out for a way back to working conditions that might resemble those enjoyed under a previous Real Journo Job. These writers do well on-line because they already know how to report good stories that match the tenor of the moment, and they understand the best story is the one not covered by anyone else.
But even with impeccable reporting under trying circumstances (no money, little access) generating tens of thousands of hits a day, you're never going to generate the sort of revenue that will allow you to realistically dedicate most of your resources to covering the game. The so-called "newspaper model" seems as yet irreplaceable when it comes to affording a living wage for journalists, despite their best efforts. Good journalism isn't the problem, it's out there in abundance (despite David Simon's extended editorial on its decline in the fifth season of The Wire). It's just where once journalism was a career, like coal mining or school teaching, it's now a hobby, like birdwatching.
In the sparring match earlier this month over the future of MLS print coverage between pitchinvasion.net and Fake Sigi, Sig quoted from a lengthy Clay Shirkly article from March of this year, and I have yet to read a more stark summation of current circumstances. The money paragraphs:
Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.In other words, soccer journalism isn't dead, publishing is dead. Publishing used to involve lots of ink and paper, so the means of production were normally owned and operated by capital investors. Good journalists were paid because their product helped sell the newspapers, which in turn attracted advertisers. Or, as Shirkly nicely puts it, "the expense of printing created an environment where Wal-Mart was willing to subsidize the Baghdad bureau." Now that publishing has been reduced to the ability to press on the orange or blue "publish post" button, exclusive ownership of the means of production, and the market competitiveness it brought, has gone up in smoke.
With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.
Let's be clear for moment; this doesn't just affect wannabe soccer journos, this affects books too, non-fiction and novels alike (check out this Daily Dish post for an idea of what I mean), an entire industry upended, with no profitable model waiting to take its place. And this where Shirkly's article bugs me: while he's right in seeing present circumstances for what they are, he ends the article the way many of these articles tend to, with the realization that the medium for journalists has to be replaced and "who knows what will replace it, only time and innovation will tell!"
This view strikes me as similar to those who argue we shouldn't legislate on climate change because the future (i.e. some magic as-yet-unheard-of-technology-or-innovation) will somehow sort everything out for us. You see this line of thinking everywhere, whether with the global economic crisis ("the creative class will produce jobs of the future!" "behavioural economics will show us the way") or problems at the CSA ("they're bound to shape up once more Canadian teams enter MLS!").
I think most of us think this way perhaps because of vast steps forward in both neuroscience ("I no longer 'feel sad,' my seratonin-uptake inhibitors are at work") and behavioural science ("you will likely default on your credit card payments if you buy a silver skull hood ornament") have degraded the notion of personal agency, the idea that an individual has any power to rise above their nature to change anything. The collective thinking and collaborative authority in the age of the internet means more and more of us are deferring to indefinable notions like "the future" and "science" and "economics" to get us out of any and all pickles ("there must be some guy working on this problem in some room somewhere. I feel safe").
What if history doesn't come rushing to the aid the environment, or the global economy, or out-of-work or aspiring soccer journalists? What if "technology" doesn't yield forth her wage-paying fruit, and rather than a "difficult transition period," soccer writing, city council beats, science journalism, whatever, all goes under the purview of hobbyists? I don't have the time to speculate on the consequences, but as Shirkly agrees, they don't exactly look pretty.
I'm writing this because you, soccer blogger, should no longer wait on a newspaper or magazine to "discover you," and pay you a great deal to while away your days covering World Cup after World Cup and writing the next Jonathan Wilson-esque treatise on the 3-4-2-1. It is not likely going to happen even if you're the next Brian Glanville, unless the print industry suddenly goes all Walter E. Hussman Jr. and suddenly saves the day. And don't expect "technology" to start cutting cheques in a few years time either.
Is this after all just a fun little hobby? And if not, what are we all going to do about it? Are traditional pay-for-content models really and truly dead?
Friday, November 13, 2009
UPDATE: Never one to miss an opportunity to hustle, I sent this email to Guardian Online Sport editor, Sean Ingle.
Dear Mr. Ingle,
I couldn't help but notice your Canada national page on the Guardian Football site is blank. As you may or may not know, in addition to regularly contributing content to the Football Weekly podcast, free of charge, I am the author of one the most popular and influential soccer blogs in the country. My blogging prowess was in part recognized when I was declared the runner-up in the ill-fated Big Blogger 2008 competition.
So to cut to the chase, here is my offer; I will write a couple of Canada stories to fill that blank page pro bono, and if you and the Guardian on-line community likes what they see, you take me full time on at or slightly below the standard rate.
I will send a CV upon request, and I humbly await your response,
Always oversell yourself, kids. I'll update you on the response.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Just when I'm trolling around in search of something to care about, along comes Toronto FC COO and all around fan favourite Paul Beirne tweeting about how he intends to require TFC Academy entrants to commit to playing for Canada.
Even Duane Rollins points out the Academy couldn't force a player to play for the national outfit if it came down to that, so ultimately this is just more fan populism, and it seems they're loving it. The U-Sector blog writes: "now it seems TFC is at least considering taking the steps of ensuring that its burgeoning Academy program will benefit Canada instead of some European power ready to cherry pick the most promising children of ex-pats for its own gain."
Let's remember a couple of things here. The Canadian national team's qualification record in the 2010 World Cup was 0-2-4. Jim Brennan quit the national team after he was unceremoniously dropped for a couple of October qualifying fixtures, saying "I give out respect and for [Canada] to not even pick up a phone and say you won't be involved — which is fair enough and I can handle that — but to not even get a call that I wasn't selected and there were a few other players in the same boat as me, I think it's disgraceful." No communication.
Asmir Begovic, born in the former Yugoslavia before emigrating to Canada, was one of the brightest stars in an inept U20 Canadian host team that crashed out of a home tournament after losing three games. Jason de Vos relays word from Begovic that "he has had very little contact with anyone from Canadian soccer. He also said that in the past, he has gone over a year without hearing anything from anyone involved with Canadian soccer." No communication.
If Bosnia-Herznogovina, a team that finished second behind Spain and ahead of Turkey in their qualification group, picks up the phone to a Canadian ex-pat who hasn't heard from their national outfit in over a year, that kid is going to listen. This isn't "cherry-picking," this is common sense. This is not about kids saying no to Canada, or even about individual incompetents; this is about an inept national soccer infrastructure unable to keep tabs not only on their young prospects but on their wizened veterans. You can talk about pride all you want, but unless Canada changes their immigration policy, kids are still going to play for the national organization that gives a toss, no matter what front door policy you get them to sign.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
There's been an interesting exchange on the Canadian soccer front, with Jason de Vos and Paul James both writing articles about Canadian players who have chosen to play for other national teams, and Duane Rollins responding in kind.
While this might get me into all sorts of trouble, my own view is that while I am sympathetic to those who are angry at players like Begovic and Lensky for switching national allegiances at this late stage, and for misleading Canada fans over their intended decision, I have trouble accepting that they should play for Canada "no matter what," as in "no matter if the CSA actively supports both them and the national program in a meaningful way or not."
While Rollins admirably calls for restraint and recognition that nothing is cut-and-dried with the national squad, I found this line troublesome: "Canada is worth supporting -- on the pitch and in the stands. And it always will be, regardless of whether it ever wins another game." Really? If players are sent out to play with no support from their governing soccer body, no respect for their development as individual players, no real recognition for their efforts, and given no support to help them win or progress, they should play for that country no matter what? And we as fans should go out and support this team no matter what?
This is, as many ex-pat Brazilians playing for overseas countries will tell you, soccer, a game. I don't think it's appropriate to question a player's patriotism and love of Canada because they choose to play for another country's soccer team, just as I don't think it's appropriate to describe Canadian fans of other countries playing against Canada as "unpatriotic". Are fans who boo their national team after a terrible performance unpatriotic? Is Eduardo Alves da Silva, born and raised in Rio with much of his family still there, an unpatriotic Brazilian because he plays for Croatia? Did Gabriel Agbonlahor completely toss out his Nigerian heritage because he chose to play for England?
As passionate as we are for our own national squad, we're not talking about our armed forces here, and publicly questioning the national pride of these players because they don't want to play soccer for a national federation that doesn't show much care for their development as players, and who also share cultural and familial allegiances with other nations as many Canadians do, strikes me as irresponsible. You can choose not to like them as players because they left your national team in the lurch, but don't question their patriotism. Calling for talented soccer players to sacrifice their own aspirations as players no matter what "for the colours" borders on tabloid-style brow beating.
This sort of thing is going to keep happening, so either we can write anguished prose about only wanting players who "play for pride and the colours" (meanwhile exorting the CSA to go out and get good foreign managerial talent, and rightfully praising Trinidadian national coach Stephen Hart), or we can work toward changing the national infrastructure to better serve the needs of Canada's best soccer-playing talent, and maybe see a few more fans in the stands than the ones who will watch Canada no matter if they ever win a soccer game again. It is, after all, a game: last I checked I had to pay to watch internationals too.
As this is Remembrance Day, a link to a piece I did awhile ago on the terrible toll WWI had on young Canadian soccer players, who kicked a football across the fields of Vimy. It should be remembered these proud Canadians fought under the Red Ensign, a flag featuring symbols from the four provinces, Scotch, French, English, defacing (in the flag sense) the Union Jack. Also to be remembered are the Newfoundlanders who died fighting at Beaumont-Hamel, 1916, a full thirty-three years before these future proud Canadians joined Canada in 1949.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
In Europe, for example, things are easy; Big Four team cheats, post. Club has really stupid, flamboyantly dressed owner, post. Accusations of bungs, massively indebted teams, bouts of hilarity as Old Europe slouches toward American-style marketing techniques (crappyproduct.com@storiedBritishstadium), post, post, post.
In North America, you have to work in about seven acronyms before you've even got to the main story. The TOA has a dispute with USL, so they go whinging off to the USSF for a league of their own that will meet FIFA's standards, even though some clubs are destined for MLS. Oh, and the whole thing could throw the CONCACAF CL qualification set-up out of whack. What does this all mean? The imminent birth of yet another soccer acronym, to pile on top of the NASL, NPSL, the USA, the EPSL, the ESL, the NSL, the CSL, and so on and so on.
And it's no better up here. Right now, the SAAC is in a battle with the CSA over getting recognition for academy players, while the CIS would like a spot at the draft table to get into MLS, whose Canadian entry, TFC, has an academy team in the semi-pro CSL.
And does any of this link up to each other in an intelligible way? Well, remember how I keep quoting Fake Sigi, "there is no North American soccer pyramid?" He's right. North American soccer is one giant Venn diagram, with the disinterested fan square in the middle. He's K. in Kafka's The Castle, literally dying before he can penetrate the inner working of a system beyond his comprehension and control. While all of this organizational shop talk over Nu Rock Holdings and the possibility of an all national Canadian league is interesting for us dead head bloggers, I don't see this advancing the cause of the game in America all that much.
- The Toronto Junior Lynx have been rated the number one academy club for the Mid West Region, making Chicago Fire's academy team look like the feathery little pipsqueaks they are.
- The McMaster Marauders took the OUA men's soccer championship against the number one nationally ranked Varsity Blues, 5-4 on penalties after a 0-0 regulation score line.
- The Marauders will participate in the CIS national soccer championship in Langley BC against other regional champions this November 12-15 in a knockout eight-team tournament, live streamed on the internet.
- Last week, Canada achieved its best ever international result, 9th place in the 2009 Cerebral Palsy International Sports & Recreation Association Football Seven-A-Side World Championship.
Monday, November 9, 2009
It seemed that every year you'd hear Paul Doyle on the Football Weekly podcast give his Ligue Un summary with everyone dozing off as he concluded that Lyon were pulling away to win their next inevitable title even though they'd long been jacked out of the Champions League.
That changed last year, with Bordeaux winning the league, and French football has been on a tear since. Lyon and Marseille have been imperious in the CL group stages, and yesterday's Lyon v. Marseille game ended in a thrilling 5-5 draw.
The purists, and they know who they are, will say, look, look at that horrible defending, it's not a proper league yet, you idiot romantic (they'd be right of course, at least three goals came from goalkeeper mistakes, and the rest from poor execution of offside traps leaving mile-wide gaps in the middle). But speaking as a former Setanta subscriber, one who whiled away his bored winter afternoons absorbing whatever le championnat obliged to offer, which was for a time the lowest goals scored average in Europe, this is a huge move forward.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Most of you, or perhaps some of you, or maybe none of you, considering what sort of literary pedigree you'd have to rock to come by here every day looking for something resembling wisdom or insight, have heard of the late American author David Foster Wallace's thousand page plus tome, Infinite Jest.
I'm not sure what genre you'd classify this novel under, magical realism, realist magic, the college freshman's AmLit Bible, I don't know, but the novel is in some measure supposed to be an over-the-top vision for a corporatized future, where even the years themselves have been allocated for sponsorship money ("Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment").
God how we laughed when we read that. How ridiculously delightful, but we all know there are limits, right?
St. James Park has been a football ground since 1880, and the home of Newcastle United since 1892. It is one of the most recognizable stadiums in England.
SportsDirect was founded by ex-sqaush coach Mike Ashley in the late 1970s. It sells bad brand name trainers at discount prices. God only knows what they'll name Stanford Bridge, but Brian Phillips' suggestion has a great ring to it.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
He headed down the tunnel, avoided a few picture takers, autograph hounds, his own subs wanting to talk tactics. He signaled to them but avoided conversation, winding his way to an executive office and finding a private bathroom.
He looked in the mirror. "The fat Spanish waiter." His palms were still sweaty, so he washed them and then washed his face. He thought of Bill Shankly for some reason. Then Arrigo Sacchi. Then Bob Paisely, riding the bus through Liverpool after Rome. What he'd give to play Moechengladbach instead of this Lyon side.
And then the tactics for the second half clouded his mind, put him back in the room. Normally he could calm himself by knowing he played his players exactly as they needed to be played according to the circumstances. That was all he could do. Yes, Gerrard and Torres are important, but they are important because my position makes them important.
But his nervousness was still there. It couldn't be the mounting losses, the lack of faith and support from the Americans, how everyone was hounding after his transfer record. These things were nothing to him, never had been, as phony as his look of disinterest on the sidelines. What was it?
He walked back the dressing room to face his youngsters. Carragher looked more red in the face than usual. Fine. He wasn't going to give the rousing European speech, not so far from home, not when he couldn't even point to the away supporters. Just tactics.
The second half and he was helpless in the technical area. Five minutes in he knew Voronin had to go in the mid sixties, and he balked for a second before saying the name. "It's Babel for Voronin." Sammy looked up. Rafa noticed his notebook was gone.
"Yes." Rafa said resignedly. "Babel." The name always struck a chord with Benitez. He was the towering representative of this team, a club sometimes incapable of speaking the same language both on and off the pitch. Babel was the link, figuratively and literally, between two worlds, the old Liverpool and the new, between Gerrard and Torres. He was the living fulfillment of what this post-Istanbul Liverpool was capable of, and he knew, had known for a long time, that it might not be enough. And he knew there was no one else to blame for that but himself.
Benitez wiped his hands against his sides and Babel scored, a goal of immense technical beauty, worked from outside the box. The bench rose, he could hear Sammy swear, so Rafa checked his watch. A few minutes later and Babel wildly missed kick a crucial free-kick. A feeling of deja vu set in. He remembered the words of the announcer from that night in 1977, "you still wouldn't want to put your mortgage on either side."
Then Kyrgiakos fell over and Lyon scored. Sammy said fuck and the whole bench sighed and he could hear the shutters flashing at an accelerated rate. Rafa laughed.
"No Alan Hansen I suppose."
"The boy still has promise." Sammy chipped in.
"I know. Perhaps I do too."
The whistle blew and Rafa took a few more notes, the pencil a bit steadier now. Before walking down the tunnel, his international squad angling to get past, Rafa turned again to the marvelous blue-lit pitch, almost too perfect, as if the game never happened. He thought of Garnier, of Just Fontaine, of St. Etienne and "Allez les Verts!" and the tragedy of Platini, that someone as lovingly rebellious on the pitch, the sort of player that drove Benitez mad, could be so bureaucratic off it. He smiled and thought they might not be so different.
Then he turned to face the press.
He had already memorized the team sheet, memorized the formations and counter formations in case Lyon went a goal up in the first twenty-five minutes, where he would slot Voronin in case the first Lyon goal came after the first half. But this, different: the sweat on his palms, the trouble he had gripping his pencil as he jotted notes in the tunnel while Lee said whatever it was he felt needed to be said to the dressing room.
And then out. The beauty of Stade Gerlan, Tony Garnier's utopian vision, improved over the years but with some of the original charm still intact. Still, not a proper football stadium, not a crumbling Anfield, a loud and garish Bernabeu. The light on the grass was perfect though, almost blue. It reminded him of some far off field, from probably before his Aficionado days, playing in some field in Madrid under lights for the first time. His first European night.
"If they they put the hurt on Torres, two three defenders muscling him in the air, we'll make sure Benayoun pushes up," he said to no one in particular. He noticed Lee looking at a notebook of his own. This was a new thing, but Rafa was not in a position to ponder the meaning of this change. His players were warming up.
He thought of the lights at Anfield. When he first arrived there he'd asked about the boot room, but the steward said it was long gone. His English wasn't as manageable then, so he got a few odd looks when he tried to mention he heard Elton John had passed through as Watford chairman. He remembered the steward placing a patronizing hand on his shoulder, "yes, Elton John, good English music. English rock and roll."
Later, he remembered getting taken out on the field and spotting the Kop, instantly remembering the way it shook and swayed as Liverpool fought off St. Etienne in the quarterfinal 1977. He didn't know then he'd see it shake that way again in front of Chelsea, and that bastard Mourinho. Not so long ago. He could remind the press about that.
He asked Sammy, "the away supporters?"
"I don't know. Somewhere back there I think."
But when the whistle blew for kick off, his mind retreated back into into the safety of the tactical layout, observing if players strayed too far from the mark, managed to maneuver in such a way that could feel in the gaps left behind by Gerrard. It was always exhausting; he felt like HAL, his mind going pieces at a time, set-piece by set-piece, corner by corner. The awkwardness of Carragher as fullback, the sullen drives of Gomis. All the while he paced the technical area like a dealer overseeing his corner, knowing at the end of the day's business, everything had to be accounted for.
Then half-time. He jotted down his last few notes, and still, the pencil was awkward to hold, wet in his hands. He turned to Lee: "Could you. Could you please start the team talk? I need to go check something."
"And...what are you jotting down in that notebook?" He asked as kindly as he could, which wasn't very kindly at all. Lee looked a bit caught off guard.
"Um, some ideas. For the end of the second half."
"They're for me. You know. Not for the players, just so I can remember a few things."
"Okay Sammy. If you'd like to present them, please, just let me know. I'm not a dictator, a General Franco of the bench here. I'll be there in five minutes. Please don't forget to mention the corner incident to Voronin." And so he made his way down the tunnel, not quite knowing where he was going to go.
Part Two this afternoon.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Yesterday I spent a great deal of time tinkering with my reader feeds, adding new ones, dropping dead ones, and as such I thought it would be good to add some feeds from the various Provincial Association websites. Let's begin with the capo di capo, the CSA website.
Please, and I'm serious here, if you can find an RSS feed for their news section, send it to me. There isn't even a news page as such, just an article with a drop down bar for archived news items. The items aren't categorized, and most of the items with a few exceptions have been covered in more detail elsewhere. There is also a stodgy feel to the site design in general. The CSA isn't alone in the crappy soccer website department (FIFA's is so awful you know the design was awarded to somebody's relative for about 100 million do—Snip! AMSL Lawyers), but it wouldn't take much investment to get a decent designer to come in and wildly improve the thing.
Intrigued by this crappiness, I went on to carefully examine the other provincial websites (all available on the CSA mainpage), most with garish and crowded CSS styled homepages, almost all without RSS news feeds. Some hadn't updated news in a few weeks (the Yukon's, while relatively attractive, hasn't had news updates since March). Maybe there's not much going on, but even if you have to put up a reminder, or a set of important links, websites live and die on up-to-date content.
The winner? Newfoundland and Labrador. Simple Wordpress layout, all pertinent links boringly but obviously laid out on a blue background, RSS feed clearly available, multiple news items dated to November 3rd. That still isn't saying much though; they don't have a proper domain name ('ehosting' still in there? It's ten bucks a year to get your own domain people), there are some pages with almost no content, and registration dates long past relevance, but at least the basics are there.
What does this tell you about the CSA and the Provincial Associations? In my experience, if an organization with major oversight—in this case, associations responsible for overseeing and regulating the most popular recreational sport in the country—can't or don't know how to go about providing decent, updated web content, readable news feeds, and clear site navigation, it means the organization doesn't have the time, or the wherewithal, or the resources to care.
If an organization can't get something like a website right, what does it tell you about their ability to deal with FIFA directives, changes in the player development models, or problems at the national team level? They might not think their websites are that important, but in the modern age if anyone wants to know anything about an organization, they go to the web first. That includes parents, scouts, prospective national team managers, whoever. Surely it would be a good idea for a) the provincial sites to pitch in and agree on a network-type set up, with at least some attempt at streamlining site designs, and b) working to generate better web content. I guess that means c) it will never happen. This is elementary people.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Not expecting Toronto FC to qualify for the playoffs? In a league where half the teams move on to the post season? In three years of play? With a sellout home crowd of 20 000 per game?
Anselmi also said, "I think you have to look at things in context, and the context is that the GM's responsibility is to provide overall leadership and vision for the franchise, to put a roster together, to build the infrastructure [in terms of] coaching, youth academy, scouting and development systems. That's what the job has been about for the past three years, and I think Mo has done a good job."
In other words, that's what Mo was hired to do, that's what he did. But come on, if he'd failed in any of these quarters, he'd be flat out incompetent—he's the General Manager for god's sake. And as far as GMs go, that stuff is the easy part—if it doesn't translate to a competent product on the pitch, what's the point?
The way Anselmi describes it though, describing the mandate of any GM at any start up MLS franchise and defining success solely in terms of meeting that mandate, is a page right out of the CSA playbook. As long as we meet FIFA's mandate for a national soccer federation, job done. On pitch success is a nice bonus, an afterthought.
I fear that the Canadian soccer administrative culture has filtered down to TFC brass.
Monday, November 2, 2009
These post-mortems can get boring, so let me just throw down my two-cents on this club as I see it so we can all move on. I often see games with non-MLS fans, and sometimes non-soccer fans. This is because most of my friends don't really follow soccer (honestly, I think that's the major reason I started this thing so many years ago), but it also gives me a bit of distance from getting so close to the club that I can't see the forest for the trees.
This is one shitty forest. Going back to 2007, it seems, except for a few exceptions, that TFC is only capable of winning games by 1/4 of a goal. It seems that goals were either scored one of the two Double D's, Danny Dichio, and later, Duane De Rosario, or someone else who had no reason to score, like a central defender, or a player who happened to pick up on a sitter from a poorly saved strike.
Toronto FC's play is sluggish. Players take too many touches, afraid to pass. There is not enough movement on the wings. Crossing is poor. Golden chances to score on the break are wasted. Away games might as well be forfeited.
I've heard the thing about passion in the dressing room, dressing room splits, people getting told to get dressed in different dressing rooms, then going on to other clubs and scoring nine hundred goals. I know the stats about how many players have been moved on from this club since 2007. And it's true, there is very much an Anglo-Saxon attitude coming from upstairs, this imitation-Shankly attitude if, "you don't perform, you don't play. Someone is always hunting for your spot, so be afraid at all times. You have to play for this club with pride or not at all."
But pride comes from setting a winning standard. It's nice and all that TFC has such passionate fans, but that alone isn't going to create a situation where players are able to come together and create something coherent on the pitch. Pride comes from some measure of trust from upstairs.
Let's not self-congratulate ourselves into thinking that any competitive coach is going to want to come to this club with the current Sporting Director set-up. We need a general manager on the sideline with an assistant coach. An all-in one package. The Mo Johnston approach is not working. Let's try something else. Three years is enough.