Thursday, January 28, 2010

Meanwhile at Pompey

Keep up with all the latest Portsmouth news, ticket information and more at "Website Unavailable." Yeah, it's gotten that bad.

Never Say Never In Life I Suppose

Is there a reason throwing a glass bottle at an opposing team's football player leads to an "indefinite" ban, and not a "lifetime" ban?

And take time to breathe in this "Only in England" quote from Assistant Chief Constable Ian Hopkins: "The low number of arrests (eleven!) on the night is testament to the excellent work of all those involved. The vast majority of fans behaved very well and I would like to thank them for listening to the messages we have been giving, to help make the evening pass off peacefully."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

MLS Problems Go Away Somehow - Report

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA — Holding onto the Liberty Bell for dear life with one arm, the other slung around Nick Sakiewicz's shoulder, a representative for Major League Soccer revealed to a massive press gathering that, just after noon today, all of MLS' problems somehow "went away."

"Oh my God. It happened so fast," the spokesman blubbered in between sobs of joy. "Essentially, everything that wasn't working with MLS now works. We're not entirely sure what happened but around noon today, soccer became the most popular sport in America. I think some sociologist just explained some theory about how that makes sense on MSNBC. It's probably on Youtube."

The representative went on to reveal MLS is on the verge of securing a billion dollar deal with a major American network, and that all season tickets have been sold for every club except for the Columbus Crew. He also said, "there are several major European players looking to make the January transfer window. I don't know who I am anymore."

The news comes just one day after MLS management and players hammered out a new collective bargaining agreement in spite of almost nothing changing between the two parties. There are reports now that Don Garber was in the midst of "curing his hangover" when he heard the news, and had to be rushed to hospital before he could call the press conference held late this afternoon.

"We won," a red-eyed Garber told the CNN, ABC, NBC, Fox News, in a live televised address in front of the Statue of Liberty, with a smiling Barack Obama to his right, holding aloft a golden soccer ball. "You know, all that shit I wrote about slow and steady, we have to earn those European soccer fans' respect, we have to build our brand carefully alongside other traditional American sports?" Garber said. "Well you can use all those speeches for toilet paper now. Simply put, we won. American sports, European soccer - now is the time to consider a full surrender."

Not everyone is happy with the news. Some supporters expressed how upset they were to have all their problems essentially solved forever somehow. "The league was doing just fine with its massive structural issues and constant fragility. Now we're going to be just like Europe, minus the enormous and unsustainable problems with debt spending and lack of competitive parity. Fuck this." Yet even they were amazed to find a few hours later that all manner of disagreement between supporters and the league had been wiped out in a wave of good will, originating from nowhere in particular.

Meanwhile, the new NASL reported late today it is still seeking major sponsors ahead of their inaugural season.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

MLS Management, Players Finally Hammer Out CBA

NEW YORK, NEW YORK — Representatives for Major League Soccer announced today that a new collective bargaining agreement has been finally reached between players and management, meaning everyone bored stiff with learning the complexities of MLS's single entity system, precedent-setting sports entertainment labour decisions, and whatever Kasey Keller has to say about either, breathed a sigh of collective relief this morning.

"Fuck this shit," A visibly relieved Don Garber told some ESPN reporter early this afternoon. "Basically, I think a lawyer worked something out. The players were mad about something about wages maybe, and contracts. Does that sound right?" The reporter said he hadn't been following the CBA and couldn't answer.

"Well I think [the lawyer] looked at the old [2004] CBA, adjusted the numbers up slightly for inflation, and we sort of said okay and called it a day. I dunno, I was pretty drunk when it happened."

Kasey Keller was quoted as saying, "I think we just got so bored fucking thinking about it all the time. I mean, I think the players all sort of stood back from it all and were like, 'whatever.' You know? We could all die tomorrow, at least we're getting paid something right? Anyway, I think a lawyer basically worked it all out. Or something. Fuck me, who cares. It's not like I had any idea what was going on anyway."

Meanwhile, a distraught Freddy Ljungberg was sighted wiping away tears as he walked through the Sea-Tac Airport lobby to a waiting Oldsmobile. While he refused to speak with reporters, his seat partner on the plane mentioned something about he'd been laughed at by an unnamed German club. "The guy's fucking ancient. I tried not to laugh when he told me his age, I just said he didn't look much older than thirty-two. He was really, really upset when he heard this news this morning."

Not everyone's happy about today's deal; a few bloggers were irate to find out their local Borders wouldn't refund purchases of Collective Bargaining Strategies for North American Single Entity Sports Leagues for Beginners. "Thirty eight bucks, pissed down the drain," said a blogger via his computer somehow. "I expected this to go through May, you know. By then it would have paid for itself." The season kicks off this March 25th.

Rant Tuesday: F*ck this Stupid CBA Bullcrap

Hot Sporting Action!

So, I've been really bad instituting theme posts, like bargain-basement Wednesdays, or Rag on Big Soccer Sundays. So I may never return to this again, but Tuesday is literally the worst day of the week, and I feel compelled to go stream of consciousness on a few things.

Things like the Major League Soccer Collective Bargaining Agreement. Ok, outside of a few trades here and there and the Super Draft this past month, there is nothing going on in MLS except for the CBA, which is maybe this way, maybe that, read up on this court case, talk about some contract law, read a player's tweet, Don Garber coughed etcetera. This topic has been in my reader for what seems like years now, and I respect that it needs to be covered because we all need to work out whether there will be an MLS season this year, but I'm not sure I can take it any more.

Here's an uncredited smattering from various great writers brought low by labour talks:

"If the MLS season (or MLS as a league) goes down the tubes, where will most of these players go? It doesn’t look like USSF Div II will accept striking/locked-out MLS players into its ranks in 2010, and if the MLSers had the skill set to catch on elsewhere, well, they probably would have done so by now." Yeah...

"Having the individual clubs negotiate contracts could weaken the claim that MLS is a single entity that can act unilaterally to reduce competition under the Sherman Act. As such, the players are toying in a very real way with cutting out the heart MLS and using the change in situation to remove the barriers to taking the league back to court." ...I'm going to need you to come in on Saturday.

"Major League Soccer’s players are well within their rights to hold out for better pay and working conditions. The current CBA has been in place since December 2004 and in the eyes of many observers the league has come on in leaps and bounds since then. The introduction of the designated player rule along with the tireless work of pro-MLS journalists and bloggers have raised its profile in foreign markets and matches are now available regularly on television screens in England." ...And why don't you just go ahead and come in on Sunday too?

Monday, January 25, 2010

England Fans and the WC, Andrade to TFC

That's not watercloset by the way, although it should be said the above two don't often meet in international tournaments. No I'm talking about the World Cup, as in, why are England fans the only Europeans buying tickets? Bill Archer blames issues with security, so maybe travelling England fans are used to being the major "issue with security" during internationals so what's a few back alley robberies here and there.

Seriously, maybe there's something weird to me about the discrepancy; maybe it's a sort of nebulous demographic encapsulating specific economic, cultural differences and security concerns.

Meanwhile, Jorge Andrade is trialling for TFC, and the Footy Blog sort of acts like a green light means our defense is going to be alright after all. I never trust these one-off elderly player runouts. TFC's sizeable Portugal contingent will have something to be happy about, if you buy into that simplistic ethno-marketing clap-trap. But I see that 46 goals maybe dropping to 43 if he shows up and plays well, the likelihood being about nil-ish.

Also, Fake Sigi responded to my post yesterday. I regret slagging Dan in with the other Big Soccer writers, that's all. I'm told these are "important writers" so I'll read a little more intently I suppose. I like how the commenter called me a "kid."

Spare a Thought for Poor, Misunderstood Robinho

Another homesick Brazilian who will "even" (the Guardian's word) waive part of his £160 000 a week salary in order for Man City to let him go.

You see according to Robinho, in other parts of the world players just sort of ask the manager to play every match, regardless of form, to suit their individual ambition to play for another team in an international tournament: "The managers are different here. They decide a system and want you to fit in and it doesn't matter if you're tall or short. The manager was honest with me. He told me I was just going to play every other game. I told him that wouldn't interest me because this is a World Cup year and I need to play." I mean I understand Hughes not kowtowing to the demand, he of ye Olde English system. But Mancini?

The mind "boggles."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Big Soccer Strikes Again

Big Soccer. A big soccer website and forum, yes. But what else is going on in the little nest egg of hate?

I don't get this site at all. Let me be the first to say that Bill Archer, Dan Loney and Aaron Stollar, the triumvirate of American exceptionalism with regard to MLS, are capable writers. They're certainly knowledgeable about MLS, although they often rely on a sort of hyperventilating, alliterative prose to stand in for coherency from time to time. (I'm not including Fake Sigi with this group, first because he doesn't have a blog page there, and second, because while he's ideologically in step with much of what the above writers have to say, he at least resorts to pithy refutation based on fact, and has sort of toned down the self-consciously clever ad hominem stuff recently).

Chances are, if you're a big time blogger and you write about MLS, and you think there is a lot of room to improve the league, expect a forceful rebuttal from any one of the above. No, not forceful, juvenile. Noxiously, self-congratulatingly so. So much so that any actual argument gets lost amidst all the cathartic, self-serving snark. For the most part, their approach isolates them from any meaningful engagement with writers with opposing views, in contrast to someone like Fake Sig who has engaged with several writers of opposing views, some more civilly than others..

Witness Aaron Stollar's post (via Fake Sigi) on Kartik Krishnaiyer taking up a communications position with the new NASL. Kartik has a lot to say about the USSF, a lot of it based on based on hearsay, much of it based on a particular opinion on the way US soccer has been managed. Like all opinionated soccer writing, there's a lot to take issue with.

Yet Stollar's piece doesn't provide an any substantive reason why Kartik shouldn't be working for NASL. The post is headlined with a crudely doctored "For Dummies" style cover, and the high school newspaper op-ed-style doesn't stop there. Witness the total lack of self-awareness in the writing here: "Let's see, he hated MLS with the passion of 1,000 suns, primarily because they bailed on his home of South Florida and Florida in general. His views on the US Soccer Federation more resemble those on a 9-11 Truther message board than of those of a responsible writer."

"The passion of a 1,ooo suns"? The chiding of Krishnaiyer for not being a "responsible writer" in light of most of the rest of stuff here is pretty funny. A taste:

"As an aside, how many different websites did Kartik maintain, write for and show up on? He had like 74 different gigs, didn't he? He was like herpes in that way." Oh, the hilarity. Wait, what does Kartik think about MLS exactly?

"If you think hiring a meathead like Kartik will help your league gain mainstream media attention in any way, you're delusional." Yeah, what an asshole! So, really, what is it you disagree about again?

"Let me make it clear that I am not saying that Kartik shouldn't have written what he wrote. It's America, obviously he can write what he wants to all legal extents. But, it doesn't mean I can't call him a moron for writing what he wrote. Censorship is wrong, but abject idiocy is nearly as bad." Yeah, you give credit to the fact he's allowed to blog, but really, fuck him. So what did he write again, exactly?

This is kind of the general tone for pretty much the entire site, and the comments section unabashedly praises the post, except for one or two dissents which are followed ravenously by one apologist or another.

Basically, Fake Sigi, it's time to write an epic post defending your association with the tone—not the opinions, the tone—of Big Soccer. These are grown up writers, presumably. Why are they not able to defend their position like grown-ups?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I'll be at the Soccer Show Tomorrow

There's a soccer show/convention going on tomorrow at the Energy Centre and I will be there tomorrow night. Feel free to get in touch if you plan to be there too and wish to say hello. I don't have business cards though. What sort of idiot am I anyway?

Anyway, Pitch Invasion drew my attention to this piece today, and I will move you in that direction as well. It seems that as mainstream populist backlash aligns itself against the football money men, papers that once gushed over free-market, New Labourish Premier League investment are now changing their tune.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Football Federation Buried

The Canadian Press reported today that at least (at least, good god) thirty members of Haiti's football federation died as a result of last Tuesday's horrific earthquake:

The soccer dead included players, referees, coaches, administrators and medical officials, the Caribbean Football Union said. Haiti's federation's headquarters collapsed during last week's quake.

Soccer is probably the last thing that matters right now, but the depth of this tragedy can't be understood by way of a banal body count; it comes by way of these atomized instances of loss. This figure is staggering.

Haiti is a regular fixture for CONCACAF teams, including Canada. They finished in the quarterfinals of the last Gold Cup in 2009, losing 4-0 to the eventual winners Mexico. The result was a sign of a team recovering from a decade of poor results, in part brought about by continued political instability (Haiti had been forced to play its home fixtures on American soil, and had a history of player defections). FIFA has donated $250 000 to the relief effort, and Jack Warner donated $100 000. Canadians seeking information on how to donate to relief efforts should visit

Monday, January 18, 2010

Bits and Bobs About Me Me Me

Yeah I get mentioned on the Football Weekly and I didn't even leave a comment this time. But I get mentioned FOR BEING A FUCKING JERK (supposedly, even though I really wasn't at all). Does no one get that I literally dislike nobody on the web? I might if Richard Scudamore had a twitter account or something, and I may take issue with someone' argument about soccer here or there, but other than that. Love you all.

On a side note, my new Canadian soccer history website project is cooking! I've finally picked a template while learning more about cascading style sheets than I'd hoped I'd have to. But now I will literally pwn the web for good after this, even though it's taken me way longer than it ever should have. Hint: it involves David Forsyth, integrally. ETA whenever it gets done.

Plus I'm not going to London I've decided. I may try and write somehow for a living. Or bus tables.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Supporters' Trust Misses the Boat on SAF Resignation

Part of the fun of writing for Pitch Invasion is to get to unabashedly wear my anti-neoliberal hat when discussing European club finances (see today's Sweeper to get a taste of what I mean). That said, my sympathy for the methods of some supporters trusts has limits.

Witness the news today that Manchester United Supporters' Trust is pushing for a letter-writing campaign to get Sir Alex to resign in protest of recent news that the Glazer family has been treating Manchester United in much the same way I've been treating my line of credit since my wedding. I can't get on board with this one, for the obvious reason that Sir Alex Ferguson acquiesced in their takeover, and shouldn't generally be considered a Bill Shankly socialist on matters of foreign investment in English clubs.

This is one of those stories that's a load of second hand hearsay (libel lawyers take note), so take it for what you will, but I won't forget the time I went to a house party and met a Glaswegian who had a friend who'd known Sir Alex from his Aberdeen days. His friend said he could not bring himself to worship at the feet of Ferguson the football coach, such was his perceived avarice while at the club. I only knew of the Rock of Gibraltar story vaguely at the time.

Whether or not the portrayal of Sir Alex's character is entirely accurate, I somehow doubt SAF is the sort of character to be welcoming Supporters' Trusts requests to quit over a matter of principle. He is the highly-successful manager of a club synonymous with wealth, enormous transfer payments, and global branding. His views with respect to FC United of Manchester are there for everyone to see. I think the Man U Supporters' Trusts might instead ponder a trip to see a match at Gigg Lane rather than waiting for Fergie to quit.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Why Footballers Should be Allowed to Use Social Networking Sites

When Toronto FC was in her early days, there were one or two articles that appeared about the club on English sites. One was written by Globe scribe and Official Friend of AMSL, John Doyle. In it, he wrote this: "But the local homeboy favourite among the Canucks is 19-year-old Andrea Lombardo who played briefly for Italian sides Perugia and Atalanta before coming back to his hometown. Why is he the favourite? Because he famously takes the bus to work, that's why." In other words, he's human. He takes public transport, like a human being on a limited budget. We empathize with him, even though he wasn't such a great player. At all.

Yesterday, someone on Twitter linked this statement from Manchester United: "The club wishes to make it clear that no Manchester United players maintain personal profiles on social networking websites." As in, Manchester United wish to further remove players from unfettered access to the rest of the world, and that guy posing as PScholes on Twitter is in fact an obese Dutch dairy farmer.

Hey, I hate social networking as much as the next guy, which is to say, I actually quite enjoy it. I don't buy the load of malarkey about how it makes us all less human; any communication from people around the world that wouldn't have existed before is a good thing. Most of my footballing life takes place electronically, as, like many North Americans, I only have one Toronto friend with whom I can talk about football for hours and hours (Hi Mark!), and I don't get to see him every week. I've met up with football acquaintances in New York, London, even here at home. They've all been quite pleasant. Very human. All centered around football.

We've known for some time now that players are in fact becoming less and less human every day. This of course is an illusion. When Adebayor ran and celebrated in front of the Arsenal supporters after scoring for Man City, many writers criticized him for a very unprofessional fit of pique from a very well-paid footballer who should have known better. In other words, his wages make him above and beyond the silly little loyalties of English football fans. Last week, when he spoke eloquently about the dilemma facing Togo after a vicious attack killed three of his countrymen and friends, one of whom purportedly died in his arms, he was praised for his level-headedness and humanity. In other words players, for better, for worse, are human beings.

I don't follow many players on twitter, nor do I "fan" players on facebook. Most of the time it's because I don't find they have very much of interest to say, except maybe Jimmy Conrad. But at least sites like Twitter have provided a means to cut through the high-gloss celebrity, the insular world of footballers, who increasingly behave like anyone would, stuck in the land of lost children. I know all the professional reasons why players shouldn't be using social media, but the more you keep these people separated from the rabble, the harder it's going to be to empathize with any of these people as anything other than well-fed thoroughbred horses.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Sounds of Preki Make the World a Better Place

I am happy, I suppose. Carlton Cup semi, Villa beat Blackburn, stupid f*cking Blackburn that I still can't stand after Chris Samba scored against us (yeah "us") in some game or another that I can't remember except that it bothered me quite a lot.

And then there was the MLS Super Draft, which for me really is a case of "I hope you got what you wanted for Christmas, MLS clubs, because I don't know these players from whatever that mixture of poo and pine needles was my cat left for me on my floor when I came home from work." The draft didn't make me feel much of anything to be honest, except the names of those kids were really fucking weird. Teal Bunbury? Bright Dike? Dilly Duka? Was there something about Hammer pants and the artistic dissolution of Public Enemy that made everyone go mental and name their kids after shades of light and pickles in the early nineties?

I guess though I'm happy a bit because I'm really eager to get to listen to Preki speak in post-match interviews all year long for TFC ("eeerarhya, we had uhhhhhh a good game, I suppose. Lots of ahrgeahm running? Yes? I am in Toronto, Canada.")

Then I continued mulling over whether I'll be going to England to study countertenor in September for about £1.2 billion or whatever it is they're asking for, which didn't make me very happy. I have friends who say things to me like, "Go! Just don't think about it!" which strikes me as a particularly stupid way of going about one's life, unless of course you're Carlos Tevez. Then, yeah, go and damn the torpedoes. But for me? I'd be secretly wanting to write about football all the time, and go to matches, which wouldn't be very good for my voice.

Then I got linked on a forum, which made me both happy that I'd been called a "good blog btw" but unhappy because others said I was a phony and talked about art and music to give my football writing some intellectual gravitas. I hate that word, gravitas. Why not "intellectual weight?"

So happy took the edge, I think. I haven't done the math.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Andy Warhol, Arrigo Sacchi, and Morton Feldman

Funny day today. I was walkingto the Canadian Music Centre to pick up some contemporary Canadian music for a grant application, listening to Morton Feldman's "For Samuel Beckett" and thinking about a New Yorker article I read last night about Andy Warhol and the sort of final subway stop on art and representation that is modernity.

What a pretentious twat, I know. But stay with me.

So, basically I thought to myself, listening to Feldman's discordant strains on my iPod: hasn't football kind of become the inescapable singularity that art has? I mean, basically art is over; that's it. There's no more undiscovered country about the limits of representation. Art will now forever be commerce and conception; there is no more form, and very little content. It now all kowtows to art theory, and grant application committees.

Same with music; the only "new" music being made, at least in contemporary spheres, either comments on older forms in a sort of post-modern way, or steals from pop music, orchestrates it, and calls it "classical music." And then I kind of thought back to Jonathan Wilson's piece about how Arrigo Sacchi sort of said tactics were over, and maybe it has nothing to do (or everything to do) with television. Maybe it has everything to do with the fact tactical exploration has reached its limit.

Football has no more room to go; it simply is what it is, and will always be in search of something ahead of itself that quite frankly isn't there. There won't ever be another Maradona because he was the last stop on that particular train. It's amazing it took until the eighties for football to sort itself out tactically, but there it is. AC Milan, then the Champions League, the Premier League, money, all football resembles itself and any forward movement is an allusion, like walking backward on a conveyor belt.

Anyway, you could see it a bit in Reading's win over Liverpool. Not much in terms of story line, half empty for a cup that has lost all narrative drive in England, an upset but not really and not because of football either but because of bad money management. It just was.

On a side note, I'll be doing tomorrow and Friday's Sweeper over at Pitch Invasion. I'm also busy constructing my new site. Wordpress is fun and there's lots to do with it but it's taking me a bit more time to plug this in, CSS that, learn how to photoshop for crissakes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010



And if I were a United supporter, I'd be wanting to break out the black armbands and banner marches to the Stretford End over this.

And this leads me to suspect that we're going to end up with this again.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sixty Minutes of Football

Ivory Coast never scored, Tevez scored three. Total amount of football I managed to finagle in the midst of my regular life: sixty minutes. Football for me is becoming a time trial. It would really be honestly lovely to have two hours to sit on my arse and watch the damn game. On the plus side I'm slowly managing to piece my site together, hopefully in time to get something up and ready for Friday, fingers crossed.

Also, big decisions to make about the next eight months, and, perhaps, the next rest of my life. Which will hopefully see me watching more football I should hope. It's all exhausting. And you should all take time to read this. Longer and better tomorrow.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Few Caveats to the On-Going ACN Debate

There is of course a downside to the age of instant analysis, with blogs posting instant opinions about the political under-trappings of a football tournament held an ocean or a continent away, in a country very few knew much about geographically only a few days ago. I don't know how many times today I've read writers who in one sentence condemn the conflation of Angola and South Africa ahead of the 2010 World Cup, but in the next are content to speak about how Friday's attack on the Togolese football team bus in Cabinda has affected "African football's legacy" in "African football's biggest year."

The Footy Blog and the Score's James Sharman admirably admitted that, a few days ago, he didn't know where or what Cabinda was. Yet many others in the same boat are plowing into instant socio-political analysis on the attack with a full-fledged list of responsible parties, each with their debased motives, primarily the Angolan government for hosting games in Cabinda to prove to oil investors the Angolan civil war is over, the separatists have lost, and the oil-rich region is open for business.

The desire to characterize football as a political catalyst in Africa has some history. It was after all in the similarly "unstable" northern region of Ivory Coast where in 2007 Drogba famously played Madagascar in what Vanity Fair called the game that brought "an apparent end to Ivory Coast's civil war." This story had a happy ending, but this time around it appears Angola apparently didn't have the unifying power of a Didier Drogba. Hence football can apparently end one international conflict, and be employed as a propaganda tool in the other. Or, in South Africa's case, demonstrate to the world that Africa "has arrived," whatever that means.

This sort of analysis is trite. It's true that Angola, like most countries hosting major international tournaments, likely did so with some fairly cynical political motivations in mind among more traditional ones like infrastructure, tourism, social cohesion (although the Independent portrays Angola as "reluctant hosts" with little real economic advantage to gain from the ACN). If it does emerge they are hosting games in Cabinda in full knowledge of the real potential of violence against participating teams and fans, then they should be punished by FIFA, and the tournament canceled. But I'm not certain we have the knowledge yet on this issue to draw those sort of pat conclusions I'm reading on some sites.

In any case, despite whatever emerges about the political failings of the Angolan government, or the organizational failures of the Togolese federation, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact the ultimate responsibility for Friday's attack lies with those who would use kill footballers, coaches and officials to make a political point. As Paul Hayward wrote today in the Guardian:

To assail the psyche is one of the objectives of these outrages. FLEC, who have jumped from obscurity to global infamy through 30 minutes of trigger action, have forced Togo home, ruined the tournament, put Cabinda on the map as a trouble spot and provided encouragement for other fringe groups eager to advertise their killing power.

This incident chills the bone partly because Togo's players were not enemies of the separatists. They were fired at simply because they committed the error of driving through a dangerous region and so happened to present a randomly convenient target.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Football Blogs Provide Much Needed Context on Yesterday's Attack

Since I've been trying to keep a daily post-rate, I've realized how busy a life I lead. This week I've been working 9-5 with little to no internet access, with a slew of rehearsals and concerts in the evening, and my Church singing joe-job on Sunday. I've always managed to keep a toe-hold on news items but without the aid of an iPhone/Blackberry/New Device it can get quite difficult.

Which brings me to write a few words in praise of the several bloggers who strove to put yesterday's events in Cabinda, Angola in political/historical context. First, to Jon over at Just-Football, who has kept on top of developments as they happened, and to Chris at who provided a very succinct and helpful roundup of the situation.

Special praise should go to Pitch Invasion's Tom Dunmore, with no less than three feature length posts on the attack, each providing meticulous background on the various organizational failures, from the Togolese federation for arranging bus travel through insecure territory, to the Angolan government for politicizing the tournament by hosting games in Cabinda to convince the world it was a secure region, (although they are not the first to do so; one thinks of the brutal crackdown on left-wing dissidents in Argentina prior to the 1978 World Cup).

While some of the mainstream media coverage has been disappointing to say the least (I won't even mention the South Africa-Angola conflation witnessed in some English op-ed corners), football blogs also have the advantage of collating news sources into a more digestible, immediately accessible whole. I think in situations as complex as yesterday's, the need to provide context and limit hysteria is paramount, and it's good to know so-called sports media "amateurs" like the above are there to provide it.

One final note; the silence on yesterday's attack from many mainstream North American outlets is deafening.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Today's Togo Attack Leaves Africa with a Choice to Make

Today, the team bus with the Togo national team was viciously attacked by Angolan rebels on its way to the Africa Cup of Nations (superb analysis here and here), and already there is talk the tournament may be canceled.

Organizers and participants have a choice. Either they cancel the ACN, thereby granting victory to those who would take the lives of other human beings to further their cause, as the US has in the years since you-know-when, and may continue to do so in Yemen following the recent attempted bombing of that Detroit-bound plane.

Or this could be a moment when Africans can make an example for the world on how to deal with seemingly random acts of senseless violence: by answering fear with hope. Have a football tournament, make this the year Africans banded together and said no, we will not give in to violence and terror, we will come together and play, as footballers, as fans, as nations, as Africans.

Amy Lawrence has already written, "The machine-gunning of Togo's bus has banished the sense of celebration and replaced it with fear." She seems content to make this choice on behalf of an entire continent, but I'm not so sure there is nothing possible left to celebrate, even in light of today's terrible events. Like the decision to take courage when it would be easier to cower in fear. And a message sent loud and clear to the rest of the world on how to deal with the threat of terror. The outlook as of writing looks pretty good...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

England is Becoming Canada

So perhaps it's time for you all to give up football for hockey. Iced hockey, not that dreadful hook sport beloved in Pakistan and private girls schools.

First, let's put to bed any notion that England are somehow weak for not playing soccer in the snow. It's just not on. It's football, not American football; you're not that hard.

Good. Now I did notice more than one hockey rink in London while I was there, and I even saw people skating in an outdoor rink sponsored by an underwear or "pants" company, I think. So you can skate, and you have rinks.

Because you have the BNP I can only assume you have some Don Cherry-esque blowhard (Google him, I'm sick of providing links, breaks my flow) to do the between period "analysis," and the fighting will be a welcome break from all the diving and wondering whether that was a dive and debating fifty challenges blah blah blah—now they'll just drop their gloves (no, not the little black ones certain players wore in August ROBINHO *cough*) and start punching. Iced hockey requires so much padding it's like punching a plastic bag full of plastic toys.

Yes, there are dreaded video replays in the NHL, but as my cousin pointed out at Christmas dinner, they did a study and apparently the refs have been exonerated every time. So how about that? A league with refs who never make mistakes. I mean, it won't be like that for you for some time; good luck finding a universal definition of what constitutes "slashing" in a sport where everyone's batting the ice, the puck, each other, the ref, the coach, their wives with heavy wooden sticks. But we've proved it's possible.

Just make sure you don't develop one really good player who plays for Edmonton I mean Newcastle who makes hockey popular in the US I mean Europe thus enticing the league to open all these expansion teams in Florida I mean Greece thereby draining the lifeblood out of a once noble winter sport. DON'T DO THAT.

Moving along, Fake Sigi defends MLS' single-entity set-up as ingenious! I'm scared!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Vassell Makes Me Look Bad, As Usual

I was really motivated this morning by the Guardian's discovery of Darius Vassell's lonely blog from Turkey, which includes typical footballer fare like "Can't get any sleep, just thinking about the many problems that i have here and the best solution. Lying there awake in bed, the sound of the air conditioning is like the engine room to a train of stressful thoughts . . . relentless. I need a plan of action."

And here I am thinking I'm the one doing a soccer diary. I have to say I definitely feel for the former Villa striker.

Also, Tom included my response to Jonathan Wilson's TV article in today's Sweeper that's well worth reading, and I think he gets the last line on the topic:

Either way, the impact of television on the development of soccer since the first attempt at a live outside broadcast was made in 1937 has been far greater than could be probably addressed in any piece as short as Wilson or Whittall’s, as it has weaved its way into every sinew of the game. Yet call me a romantic, but I think Galeano would concur: deep-down, even television cannot kill the ultimate unpredictability of football’s development. Upsets, beauty and tactical innovation are still broadcast to us and come in unexpected ways every year regardless of the box.
Heh heh, "box."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Reading Soccer Books on Public Transit and Why Jonathan Wilson is Wrong About Something

It's day two at work with no internet access, no talk of football, nothing except the precious tens of minutes on the streetcar reading Football Against the Enemy. All I could see on various newspaper front pages was talk of tonight's gold medal match in the World Junior Hockey tournament in Saskatchewan; of course, it's USA v. Canada. It can be awful lonely in a non-football following nation. Witness the inner joy I felt seeing somebody on the subway home, reading Kuper's latest, Soccernomics. We do exist, in our own quiet way.

Which is why television is so important in North America, even for MLS matches. It's hardly practical to contemplate hitting the road for Toronto FCs away fixture against San Jose. TV it must be. So, on to this morning's Article of the Day.

Dare I say it? Fine, I will. Jonathan Wilson seems a tad naive about the deleterious effects of television on football tactics.

He dedicates the first portion of his article to the effect of rapid-fire YouTube clips of neat tricks, and how this has prevented players from developing a sense of the game as a tactical whole. As Wilson puts it, "The danger is that players become focused on their showreels at the expense of the game itself, or that young players learn how to flick the ball over their heads rather than learning about the shape of the game."

It is worth mentioning that for a long time, all that most people saw of club and international matches were short newsreel clips. And, like today, they tended to focus on the "money shots," either goals or individual tricks. Most of what we know today about Pele and Garrincha for instance—Pele's famous dummy-and-miss in 1970, Garrincha's hip waggling for Brazil in Chile, 1962—comes from short, clips from highlight reels. It can't be a coincidence that this is what these Brazilian giants are known for. It isn't often you here about Garrincha's "complete tactical command." The power of those black and white moving images, or colour in 1970's case, moved many to learn about the game.

The other problem with Wilson pointing to YouTube style clips is that we have seen examples of the past of players who failed because they were incapable of moving beyond a simple bag of tricks (Pablo Vitti, Toronto FC fans?) Perhaps the most famous trickster, Ronaldo, didn't become the wunderkind/douchebag we all know today until after he learned it wasn't enough to dummy a defender or two. SAF, or whomever was coaching him at United, eventually seemed to teach him when to move, how to move into the box, and to properly pick out a marker, or when to take a shot. You can see the improvement from the 2006-07 season into 07-08. The quality and sophistication of football is such now that a mere trickster won't do you much good.

Wilson would have been better off going the opposite route; it's in fact the frequency and availability of full-length match broadcasts from across the globe that has affected football tactics. You can easily see why; there are no surprises anymore, tactics have become homogenized, formations streamlined, because there isn't any possibility of surprise when everyone can see everyone else, live on satellite. Even Kevin Keegan was smart enough to carefully study the tapes to learn about both his opponents and the failings of his own players. The panopticon of live global television has brought us McFootball.

Wilson's second argument, that the nature of television has made celebrities of players, and therefore undermined the ability of managers to explore the positional flexibility of their players a la Lobanovskyi and Sacchi, is also a bit of a red herring. Celebrity has always existed in football, as has stubbornness. While Lobanovskyi was working with players well-versed in the self-nullifying nature of Soviet sport, Sacchi hardly dealt with open minded, selfless players; Rijkaard, Gullit and Van Basten danced to a different drum all the time. Sacchi simply sold his players on a system for success, as Guardiola did decades later with arguably one of the best sides in the last twenty years in 08-09 Barcelona. That's part of a manager's job.

If anything, it isn't TV that has made players more stubborn and less flexible; it's inflated transfer fees. Just like bankers in the US have become more technical proficient and specialized but less reactive as their wages have increased, so have overpaid players. Arguably, that makes a manager like Mancini's job harder. Wilson could have argued that increased demand for television, and subsequently higher Champions League payouts, have led to the phenomenon of the super-rich player, but that's more of an indirect connection.

I think Wilson's on to something here, but ultimately not for the reasons he laid out.

In Light of Yesterday's Post

Jonathan Wilson postulates the unthinkable: is TV changing the way the game is played? If MLS is anything to go by, and every stitch of my being says it does, than J-Dub is way off base on this one i.e. nothing about MLS seems suited to a television audience. In particular, most of this past season's playoffs.

Anyway, haven't read this yet so I will comment on it further this evening. That is all.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I'm Losing Interest in Soccer

What does one write about on a day where this is the lead Guardian headline: Owen Coyle finalising switch to Bolton from Burnley?

I don't know. I think I'm hitting my first real football slump. Other followers seem to have a genetic predisposition to go apoplectic over running various DEFCON scenarios on an MLS lockout, but recently I haven't been feeling it. I mean this would be the right time; the FA Cup is always a bit of a, "Oh. Yeah. The Cup. Right then" sort of thing anyway. But this time last year I wrote a delightful little post on it, which seems to confirm my own belief that I did once enjoy the tournament quite a lot, actually.

Yesterday I forgot Leeds beat Manchester United at Old Trafford and not Elland Road. Mind you, I had one eye on the game, the other on my Sweeper piece yesterday, and I had to leave for the second half.

But this isn't something you forget in a game as important, and for me traditionally inspiring, as yesterday's. So I've been thinking about it and I think I can trace my growing football-related malaise to when I gave up my cable last year. Ever since I've been relying on a certain website that I'm reticent to name on account of I don't want them to get any attention, positive or negative because I kind of need them to be there for a little while longer. The site, provided to me by a kind reader, provides all the available, higher quality streams for any football game you might wish to see.

I know many of you rely on this site or something similar in lieu of either going to a loud bar far, far away, or paying idiotically high cable fees. But I don't know how much longer I can keep up my interest in football watching it this way. First of all, watching any tiny digitalized screen for longer than your average YouTube video length is hell. And Gmail is right there. I just need to click on it to see that the Fiver I will never read has arrived on time.

But it's not just that. The game doesn't really feel live, the drama feels canned, far away. It's sort of the same complaint you hear from long-distance lovers about Skype; yeah I can see her, but I'm talking to a computer and it's not the same. Obviously television is also a sorry representation of the rawness of being there, but at least television asks you to stay and watch. You've got nowhere else to look.

The game itself, played on the pitch, is the centre of everything. All the rest is just ripples oscillating from the centre. If the centre cannot hold, than the trappings, the surrounding drama, fall apart. It becomes meaningless. I need the real thing. So this week, I'm going in search of live football. Anywhere. Which at this time of year in Toronto means indoor. I have no idea where to begin. I'll let you know how it goes.

Plus, I made number six. I'm very proud.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

African Cup of Nations, Clean Leeds

Woke up early to do the Sweeper for Pitch Invasion, and tried to give a taste of the newspaper hyperbole setting up today's Man United, Leeds clash. Of course, after all that, Leeds went and won 0-1 at Old Trafford*. I caught portions of the first half and you could tell it was one of those games where something comes out of the pitch, into everyone's feet, one of those beautiful aberrations that explode the stat records.

Yet there is some logic behind today's result; a second-stringish United side, a club already inconsistent this year, faces off against a rampant Leeds at the top of League One and a good bet for promotion at this rate. And it wasn't even Dirty Leeds; you know a United team is well and truly beaten when SAF admits defeat to the press (although the fact Leeds and United won't meet again for some time may explain the lack of mind games).

Anyway, it was also nice to be reminded this morning, trolling through my reader, of the upcoming African Cup of Nations. Paul Doyle has picked Ivory Coast as the favourites, which naturally means Egypt will win it. Haven't decided on a club yet, which means some furious research in the days ahead. Kanu's already tugged at my heart strings for Nigeria.

Meanwhile, popped in 'MLS' in Twitter and this came out, so I can only assume any news coming out right now isn't worth reading. And then there's darts...I can't talk about it right now.

*I originally wrote Elland Road because I am a moron. See below.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Terrorism, Football, DPRK v. Iran, and Middlesborough

I've been following the air terror storyline over the holidays, mostly via Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish, and am interested in the growing link between obscene, aberrant wealth of a select few in countries in Africa and the Middle East and the seduction of some of those few by religious radicalism.

The idea that obscenely wealthy young Muslim men would be a prime target for radicalization makes sense; self-loathing combined with an inflated sense of self-importance and access to the financial resources to carry out the sort of devastating attacks associated with Al Qaida all make them ripe for the picking for thuggish religious ideologues.

This vision of religious terrorism stands opposed to the traditional, right-wing narrative pitting a growing, increasingly homogeneous Muslim immigrant population in Western Europe against post-Enlightenment, universal-rights supporting, white majority, a narrative that has no basis in reality as Malise Ruthven's recent piece in the New York Review of Books deftly argues.

I feel there is some rich irony in this considering the cozy and welcome relationship between an elite group of Middle Eastern superrich oil barons and the Premier League, but I'm too tired eyed from holiday fun to piece it together just yet. Perhaps making my way through Simon Kuper's classic Football Against the Enemy will provide some inspiration.

Meanwhile, I parked myself 10 AM this morning for some illegal FA Cup football feed fun, and noticed Iran playing the DPRK. One always wishes for certain internationals to somehow carry the weight of meaning put on them by global political factors—unrest in Iran, the nature of two US unfriendlies facing off in a friendly tie—but the games never turn out that way. I lost interest after about ten minutes. The anthems proved the best part; the Iranian players looked on the verge of tears throughout, and gave some tepid applause for the anthem. Meanwhile the North Korean "fans" looked scared shitless, holding their flags still on their arms, wary of the watching camera.

Switched to Boro v. Man City, which provided all you need to know about what sort of "magic" there is left in the FA Cup. Boro played really well, unexpectedly, only to cough up a Benjani goal on the half. As of writing it's still 0-1. Apparently Ancelotti had to have it explained to him by Abramovich why the Cup even matters. Not sure what he told him, but maybe he should tell the rest of us, too. As for Villa, they're beating 10 man Blackburn 2-1, so good for us then.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year's Resolution for A More Splendid Life

I've been writing this blog for just over two years now, and I still don't know what it is. If I were forced at gunpoint to discuss who exactly reads the blog, what sort of angle it takes, or how it's fundamentally different from all the other blogs out there, I don't know what I'd tell him. Or her. I'd probably get shot in the face.

Needless to say, my traffic numbers reflect my scatterbrained focus. Fair enough. We can't all write like Brian Phillips, even though his mellifluous-sounding spectre haunts every inch of AMSL, taunting me. We can't all know as much about MLS as Fake Sigi, or be as reliably knowledgeable about contemporary Canadian soccer issues as the 24thminute. Considering my short-comings, that there has been a handful of readers who have stuck with me over the years is something for which I am more than grateful; I am shocked.

Anyway, where am I going with this? Yes, Samuel Pepys. I had a minor Pepys obsession last year, mostly because it's fun to read English history through the eyes of a highly individualistic, lecherous drunk (an example: his reaction to vomiting all over himself as he slept off Charles II's orgiastic restoration was to identify the mishap as evidence of the "glory of the occasion"). Pepys was what the Internet generation might call a proto-blogger, perhaps a even a "logger." No, that's terrible. He was a diarist, keeping a daily record of his activities as a key cog in the bureaucratic machine of the English court for ten years.

So what does Pepys have to do with AMSL? In my own day-to-day life, soccer is a central motif. Even music, which occupies most of my time, falls under the rubric of football. I mentally compare conductors to football managers, washed up singers to tired players who don't know when to leave the game, genius composers to genius centre-forwards. "If music be the football of love, play on!" Purcell might have put it. I think.

Pepys' diary was more and more on my mind as 2010 approached, and plans for my new as-yet-unnamed serious Canadian soccer blog loomed large. How do I distinguish AMSL from my more serious site? How do I preserve its anarchic nature, whilst still giving it some direction and focus to distinguish it from the plethora of other singular blog-sites out there? Then I thought the blog's surtitle: "The Chronicles of One Fan's Escape to the Beautiful Game." Slightly awkwardly phrased maybe, but I see what I was trying to do there two years ago. I thought of the initial intention behind the blogging phenomena, to record a daily log, for which Blogger Minima was designed.

And then it came to me: I want to be the Samuel Pepys of soccer (without the lechery and drunkenness. Mostly).

Which brings me to my resolution. Beginning tomorrow, and continuing for as long as I can up to a maximum of ten years, I am going to keep a public diary of sorts. On my life as an observer, fan, writer and sometime participant in the game of soccer. Much of what you have got accustomed to reading over the past two years will remain, but will appear within the haphazard circumstances of a lived life, rather than from a neutral "voice of authority." Each post will form an atomized link in a greater narrative chain, telling the story of the ever-changing game of football within the rubric of my own lived life. It could mean you end up never reading AMSL again, or it could mean I win a whole new audience of fans reading something of themselves in these digital pages. Who knows? That's why the future is fun.

Anyway, you can drop by tomorrow to get a sense of what I mean. And a Happy New Decade to you all.

Richard Whittall