If you could travel back in time and go to one football match, which one would you go to? It’s a question a lot of soccer fans have a ready answer for. (Me: the 1972 European Cup Final.) But for James Campbell Taylor, it’s a tricky one.
Taylor is a British graphic designer and writer based in New York. After studying at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, interning at MoMA and working for NYC-based ad agency Creative Source, Taylor launched Pennarello, his independent graphic design practice, and has work has been featured in major media outlets likeThe Guardian and The Village Voice.
Some of his most celebrated work was inspired by football, including two galleries we’re delighted to feature here on Paste Soccer: his series of retro World Cup posters and his series on vinyl album covers based on iconic footballers.
Looking at his work, Taylor’s images and writings form a kind of love letter to the beautiful game, one you discover hidden away in an old box in the attic decades later, perhaps long after you and the other party in your affair had parted company. It summons joy and melancholy and fading memory. Perhaps the word that best describes Taylor’s designs is saudade, a Portuguese lacuna that means either “longing for an absent other” or “nostalgia for a future that never happened.”
Despite being a charter member of the newly-established Premier League, the club began a steady decline throughout the 1990s. Plans to build a new stadium in Merton came to nothing, and new Football Association guidelines released in the wake of the Taylor Report meant that staying at their home in Plough Lane was untenable. In an effort to control costs, the club entered into a groundshare agreement with South London rivals Crystal Palace, and began playing their home fixtures at Selhurst Park. Their form dropped precipitously, and despite some respectable runs in the FA Cup and League Cup they mostly finished in the middle and lower end of the table, with relegation being an ever-present threat.
At the turn of the millennium, a new business consortium sought once again to bring league football to Milton Keynes. Several clubs such as Luton and Queens Park Rangers were approached for a potential move, but none expressed any interest. But a new chairman at Wimbledon opened the door to talks, and in August 2001 the club formally stated their desire to relocate to the Buckinghamshire suburb. The move provoked widespread disapproval from fans and observers throughout the country, who feared the arrival of American-style franchising in the English game. The FA initially rejected the club’s application to move, insisting that the consortium establish a non-league club and earn a place in the Football League via promotion. The consortium, led by Pete Winkelman, appealed the decision, and the FA ultimately agreed to convene an independent commission to hear the case and offer a verdict. In May 2002, the independent commission voted 2-1 in favor of the club’s move to Milton Keynes, a decision widely condemned by fans of the club and the British sporting media.
The club played one last season at Selhurst Park to dwindling attendances before relocating to Milton Keynes in September 2003. At the end of the 2003-04 season, which they spent in administration, the club was relegated to the third tier of English football. When they began their League One campaign in August 2004, they bore the name Milton Keynes Dons. The South London club with over a century of history was, for all intents and purposes, dead.
The slow-brewing refugee crisis in Europe- with hundreds of thousands fleeing Syria, South Sudan, and other countries being ripped apart by war or oppressive governments- came to a head in recent weeks. The continuous influx of families into Europe has dominated the news cycle due to a combination of sheer numbers, high-profile deaths (notably the three year old Syrian boy who washed up on a beach in Turkey), Europe’s haphazard response in assisting the new arrivals, and the at-times extreme and dehumanizing portrayal of the refugees by politicians and the media. This is a complex problem that resists one-size-fits-all solutions and is compounded by a collective failure to imagine vulnerable and oppressed groups as human beings. Yet just as the crisis is reaching a fever pitch, refugees are receiving vocal support and tangible aid from an unlikely source— football.
You can’t hold it in. You get up to use the bathroom before halftime, thinking there will be fewer people. As you’re walking up the steps, you pass the fans yelling the chant. They do it again right as you pass them. It’s right there, literally in your face.
You get to the concourse at the top of the stairs. You realize you had less time than you thought you did. You decide to chance it and go to the men’s room. It’s not that crowded. You do your business and try to leave.
Except, when you’re washing your hands, some drunk bro barks something in your direction. He’s slurring his speech, but you’re pretty sure he said, “you’re not s’posed ta b’in ‘ere.” You ignore him and quickly dart out of the restroom. You know you got lucky that time.
You get a beer and find your seat again. Because of the concession stand lines, you don’t get to sit down until the 52nd minute. The teams have changed ends, so it’s the home goalkeeper near your section of the stadium. Some fans stopped chanting puto. Some didn’t.
Mostly you just want to go home.
With football’s lengthy history and global reach, there is never one single perspective on the events that shaped the sport’s history. Ask someone from France what was the most important moment in the history of football and you’ll get a different answer than someone from Brazil. This is a good thing. Football’s history and mythology, like the sport itself, is messy.
But sometimes, there are universals. Maybe you heard it on the radio when it happened. Maybe you saw a documentary about it. Maybe you saw still pictures of it decades later and wondered what it must’ve been there. Maybe you WERE there.
Thirty years ago yesterday, something happened that defined football in a way few other moments have. For better or worse.
When you’re in the position that so many LGBT people so frequently find themselves in, it’s easy to feel very isolated. It’s never just about the words or the threats of violence; it’s the fear that no one would have your back if things went south. And the fear that no one would feel too bad if something awful happened to you.
You can criticize LGBT events and outreach from leagues and teams all you want. You can say that Don’t Cross The Line is ineffective. You can say team Pride Nights are little more than sponsor activation opportunities. You can say that the rainbow flags are just #branding. And, to some extent, you’d be right.
But unless you’ve had to do some very quick calculus to figure out if it was worth using the public restroom, or going to a party at the house of someone you didn’t know, or holding someone’s hand while walking down the street, you might not understand how much the gesture matters.
In the 1970s Liverpool won four First Division titles (and part of a fifth), an FA Cup, two European Cups, and two UEFA Cups. We’ve gone the long way ‘round with their silverware haul, but you can’t really talk about Liverpool in the 70s without mentioning that. And for a city in transition, those titles meant something they may not have otherwise. Context always matters, even in football. Especially in football. But history is as much about faces as it is about titles. It’s about the streets you walk down on your way to the ground, and the first song you learned in the stands. It’s about people and noise and something bigger than yourself.
Having a football club means you’re always looking toward the future. Future players, future glories, future fans. It’s checking in on what the academy is up to. It’s going to meetings with supporters and club officials to talk about zoning permits. It’s rearranging your life and your finances so you can afford to get a season ticket for your kid. It’s planting seeds in a garden you’ll never get to see.
Nothing is ever set in stone and no one owes you anything. Football clubs can stand for over a century and then disappear overnight. It’s happened before. Some sports you can just buy a ticket and grab some beers and hot dogs and have a nice day out. Football is about building something together. Football is about working toward the same goal and sharing in the rewards.
Among those of us who love football, there are some that hold the sport up as something that brings people together. Something that fosters peace and understanding. Something that transcends cultural, national, racial, ethnic, and even gender barriers. That even with the greed and corruption at the highest levels of the sport, football calls out to the better angels of our nature. We’ve written here before about how football can bring out the best of us even in the midst of war.
All this is true. Or, I should say, I choose to believe that this is true.
Yet that power is absolute. And as much as I want to think that football can stop or prevent war, it’s undeniable that it can sometimes inflame as much as it can heal.
Jürgen Klopp couldn’t contain himself. You might want to say that it was a day that ends in Y, and you’d be right, except this was a specific day that ended in Y. It was the day Liverpool overturned a 1-0 aggregate deficit at home against Villareal to book themselves a place in the Europa League final. The Europa League, so long the sneered-at younger sibling of the Champions League, and Klopp’s boys found themselves this close to conquering it like the Visigoths of old.
In his joy and his fever – surely there’s a German compound word that combines those two? – Klopp spoke to Liverpool fans during the post-match presser. He told them their team needed them in Basel and they should turn out. Come! Come to Basel! Even if you don’t have a ticket, come!
Soon after, UEFA got in touch with the club to say, essentially, “please don’t.”
At which point both the club and Klopp had to walk the statement back and say please, please, don’t go to Basel without a ticket. If you don’t have a ticket, go down to the pub or watch at home with your family.
It’s all very reasonable and done out of an abundance of caution. Yet it speaks to something I love about the Europa League – that it contains too much, that it’s close to bursting at the seams. It’s a pot that runneth over, even if too many football fans are in the other room watching (highlights showing) Real Madrid sauntering to another piece of silverware.
Tricksters have a long and celebrated legacy in mythology. From Coyote to Eshu to Loki, every culture on Earth has acknowledged and celebrated mythic figures who bend and break the rules to suit their purposes. With soccer producing its own culture and folklore, it seems fitting that we would find ourselves drawn to those players who do whatever they deem necessary to win. (Or stroke their ego. Which is like winning, kinda.) Some players like to use superior dribbling ability to shame opposing players. Others clearly missed their calling as world-class actors. Still others take every opportunity they can to stick it to someone they don’t like, and sometimes don’t even mind when they’re caught. Soccer is full of players who break rules, flaunt conventions, and generally aim to misbehave. And we absolutely love them for it. Here are 20 of soccer’s greatest tricksters.
Read the full article at Paste Magazine.
Eduardo Galeano—the famous Uruguayan writer, journalist, and political activist—passed away Monday at the age of 74. He was most widely celebrated (and defamed) for his incisive critiques of Western imperialism and capitalism, as well as his lilting, graceful prose. His most notable work, Las venas abiertas de América Latina (or Open Veins of Latin America) offered a sort of people’s history of Latin America, weaving a narrative framed by economic exploitation and political instability. His life’s work was committed to telling the story of Latin America, describing his own work as a writer as “obsessed with remembering, with remembering the past of America and above all that of Latin America, intimate land condemned to amnesia.”
Soccer fans will know him as the author of El fútbol a sol y sombra, or Soccer in Sun and Shadow. The book offers a cultural history of the beautiful game, using his trademark poignant verse to shape history and politics and economics and personal experience into a sort of paper sculpture— beautiful, unexpected, and somewhat transient. There’s a lot of darkness in the story Galeano tells—the “shadow” in the book title, as it were—yet he unfurls and shares his joy and love for the sport throughout. Football, for Galeano, was an intimate and indelible part of life— and more often than not, it represented the better parts of it. Galeano was more than a fan; he was a pilgrim, telling a story that was equal parts hard labor sentence, passionate love affair and fleeting moment of rapture.
When we talk about international football, we generally mean national teams organized by the official football associations of sovereign states. They’re affiliated with FIFA and their continent’s confederation, and through those associations they’re eligible to compete in various sanctioned international tournaments, including the FIFA World Cup. Pretty uncontroversial, right? Except that’s not the whole story.
On Friday night, a small but enthusiastic crowd at the Stadium Lille-Métropole in Lille, France, were treated to an international friendly between two nations that do not, strictly speaking, exist.
The base admission price is comparable to that of San Diego Comic Con, which lasts five days and has become a major media and pop culture event. By contrast, it’s hard to imagine BlazerCon having much appeal to those outside the Men In Blazers fan community. Furthermore, while the event is being marketed as more of a fan convention, the guest lineup and programming seems to more closely resemble an industry conference, but without any networking opportunities for working professionals.
This all makes BlazerCon an odd gamble. Men In Blazers is betting that their core audience is made up of the kind of people who are able (and willing) to shell out over $200 for a weekend event. If they’re wrong, BlazerCon won’t be particularly well-attended, and this could amount to a miscalculation and mistake severe enough to do irreparable damage to the “Men In Blazers” brand. But if they’re right, then it points to an ongoing cultural divide in American soccer and suggests that Men In Blazers is firmly planted on one side of it. This divide is between those for whom football is part of their culture and those embrace soccer as part of a sub-culture, who follow soccer as they would Doctor Who or Harry Potter.
There is something to be said for examining whether this squares with their desire to grow the sport in America. While their core demographic is certainly growing, it does not represent the alpha and omega of soccer fans in the US. Americans who love the beautiful game transcend class, race, ethnic, and gender barriers. “Growing the sport” may likely be as simple as acknowledging that these people exist.
But beyond the aria’s impact on pop music, “Nessun Dorma” became a sort of uniting thematic element for the stirrings of a new generation of English football. The looks of utter dejection and despair on the faces of Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle after their missed shots in the semifinal penalty shootout against West Germany, the tears that streamed down Paul Gascoigne’s face, all set to the soundtrack of Pavarotti’s thundering tenor set the tone for football’s renaissance in its own ancestral home. In the years to come, England would start to put its legacy of hooliganism to rest, as well as heal from the self-inflicted wounds of Hillsborough and Heysel. The Premier League would emerge and usher in a new, modern era of the game (for better or worse), the fans in the ground would become distinctly more middle class (again, for good or ill), and English football would become a truly global phenomenon.
In “Nessun Dorma,” an aria in which a young lovesick man screams at the heavens in cocksure defiance, football fans found a piece of music which encapsulated everything that made football beautiful— the joy, the pain, the glory, the spectacle, and the heartbreak. In this improbable marriage of high art and low culture, “Nessun Dorma” offers football an artform that comes closest to describing its own spectacle and grandeur.
Read the full article at Paste Magazine.
Hereford progressed all the way up to the Second Division for the 1976-77 season but were relegated at the end of the campaign. The next few decades were marked by poor football and a seemingly endless parade of financial difficulties. The fans’ worst nightmare came true at the end of 2014, when a series of scandals perpetrated by ownership and the Board of Directors brought them under scrutiny from an Independent Regulatory Commission. In December of that year, the FA suspended Hereford from all football activities. The suspension was lifted the next day after new owner Andy Lonsdale made assurances to resolve the club’s tax liabilities, speculated to be around £116,000. Yet Lonsdale was late to a court hearing involving creditors and HM Revenue and Customs, and the judge ordered the club to be dissolved. More than 90 years of history had vanished amidst paperwork and broken promises.
Shortly after, the fans organized into a Supporter’s Trust and formed a phoenix club to carry the legacy of Hereford, in the same tradition as AFC Wimbledon and Accrington Stanley. The new club’s motto reads: “Our greatest glory lies not in never having fallen, but in rising when we fall.” It’s a motto worthy of the squad that ran out onto the soggy, torn up grass at Edgar Street on that cold February day in 1972. Players come and go, clubs rise and fall, but some days, some moments, refuse to fade. Games like Hereford v Newcastle are why English football endures.
A big part of the dramatic tension in the Euros lies in the history behind every single match. I’m not talking about contrived history, like how England is forever doomed to lose to Germany on penalties. I’m talking about the history you have to learn about in school. The stuff with shifting lines on maps, and endless lists of dates, the stuff that turns Austria vs Hungary, normally bit players in modern European football, into Must See TV.
Understanding the history between Germany and France would require a semester-length undergraduate course. Even the football history is complicated, up to and including their friendly last November. There’s a kind of pall that hangs over the proceedings, even in the postwar era. Yet the tension also lends itself to some incredible moments on the pitch. Including one of the most incredible games in international football. Ever.
With the proliferation of fan-owned clubs and their continued success (with “success” usually defined as running a sustainable business while remaining under the fans’ control), there has been a lot of talk about fan ownership in the higher echelons of English and European football. In a time of billion-dollar TV deals for the Premier League, the tidal waves of corporate cash flowing through the Champions League, and the ungodly sums being paid in transfer fees by the continent’s mega-clubs, teams like AFC Wimbledon and FCUM have been touted as both a welcome respite from and a strong rebuttal to the current state of football.
Jim Keoghan, a writer and lifelong Evertonian, talks about this extensively in his book Punk Football: The Rise of Fan Ownership in English Football. The book offers a snapshot of fans who were convinced they could run their club better than the owners and, in many cases, did just that. Keoghan’s book places this emerging movement in the wider context of English football and investigates what makes fan ownership work and where it falls short.
I had the opportunity to talk with Keoghan about the fan ownership revolution, the current state of the English game, and what the implications of supporters with genuine stakes in their clubs could be for the future.
If you’re an Arsenal fan, or if you read and loved the literary works of Nick Hornby, Highbury stadium looms large in your heart. Football clubs leave a lot in their wake. The singing and the shouting from so many cup ties and European nights lingers on adjacent sidewalks, drawing fans and passers-by in to retrace steps that may or may not have been theirs on some half-remembered day in the past. Arsenal have a new home, with great sightlines and plenty of brand activation, but the ghosts of Highbury linger.
Last weekend, while everyone was out eating grilled meat and looking at pretty explosions in the sky, Chile secured their first ever Copa América championship by beating Argentina on penalties. Before they could reach the final, La Roja had to survive a semifinal encounter with their rivals Peru. (Chile won 2-1 on the strength of two incredible strikes from former QPR striker Eduardo Vargas.) The rivalry between the two countries is arguably the fiercest in CONMEBOL, with tense clashes in the 1974 World Cup and the 1975 Copa remembered to this day. Yet few people alive today remember when these two South American football powers put aside their differences and formed a hybrid team to take Europe by storm.
This week, we look back at the team that few would even deem possible today- the Combinado del Pacífico.
Read the full article at Paste Magazine.
If you love soccer then you’ve got a lot this summer to keep you busy. The Women’s World Cup and Copa America are racing towards their dramatic conclusions, MLS is just about at the midway point in its season and across the pond, the transfer window continues to send Europe into a feeding frenzy. With all this going on, you might be forgiven for overlooking another ongoing competition, one renowned for its thrills and drama as it is for its history and tradition.
2015 marks the 102nd edition of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the oldest soccer competition in America and one of the oldest in the world. It’s a tournament that tends to weave itself in and around the more well-known (or at least more hyped-up) competitions, with midweek fixtures to accommodate Major League Soccer’s weekend matches.
Yet the USOC- which has its Fifth Round ties scheduled to kickoff tonight and tomorrow- is worth making time for. Here are 10 reasons why.
Read the full article at Paste Magazine.
As a modern practice, Institutional Critique is something of a double-edged sword. Part of the central irony is that work that comments on the institutions and conventions of the contemporary art world is contained entirely within the very structures that it interrogates. Some institutions are keenly aware of this and use it to their advantage, such as MoMA and other museums commissioning and displaying critical work as a way to shield themselves from inquiry. In order to maintain a necessary critical distance, successful inquiry often needs to be presented outside of the Institution. (Jayson Musson’s YouTube seriesArt Thoughtz is a good example, even if it comes with its own problems around celebrity and disarticulation.) This can also help overcome another potential hazard with Institutional Critique- that when the relationship between inquiry and subject becomes too close or obtuse, the inquisitor can end up levying their criticism at a different, and perhaps undeserving, subject.
Which brings me to Snow, the interdisciplinary exhibit by Zachary Cahillshowing at the Museum of Contemporary Art through the end of the month. The artist presents a collection of works from the imagined perspective of an art therapy patient- with all the formal deficiency and asinine politics that characterizes such work- within the hypothesized setting of a socialist dystopian near-future. Walking through the exhibit, it’s clear that Cahill is trying to load some of the stigma of modern mental health care (hyper-medicalization, schmaltzy inspiration porn, etc.) onto his fictional setting, which then becomes a vehicle for criticism of social and cultural institutions generally and the role of art within these institutions specifically. The problem with Snow is that Cahill’s work yields consequences that are arguably unintentional but almost certainly harmful.
There’s this sort of… credentialing in queer circles that feels really yucky to me. That in order to participate in queer discourse, you have to be ready to show your receipts, and you can’t complain if anyone demands to see them. Even if it means outing yourself before you’re ready. Even if it means being dragged out of the closet.
It creates this culture where people who are questioning, people whose queerness is still emerging, can’t ask for help.
I looked back on old emails and chatlogs a while back and realized I was questioning my own gender identity as far back as 2010. I could’ve gone through this process, and maybe even come out, years ago. But I didn’t, in large part because I didn’t feel like it was okay to ask for help.
20 years on, MLS still faces problems and growing pains. But the league today is in a much stronger position than the league alluded to in the #MLS96 hashtag on Twitter. MLS today is concerned primarily with competition for talent, both within the US (from the resurgent NASL) and outside of it (the Chinese Super League). The league is still working on that magical formula for sustainable growth and cultural import. But those problems are a world away from the kinds of existential crises that plagued MLS that first year and for the following five seasons.
MLS fans will undoubtedly look back on this season 20 years or more hence with the same kind of mild discomfort that we see in the sloppy play and floppy bowl cuts in the inaugural game. But we can also be relatively certain that there will be MLS fans in 20 years. It’s worth remembering that, when the Clash and DC United met 20 years ago this week, that wasn’t necessarily a given.
Read the full article at Paste Magazine.
In some ways it’s hard to empathize with professional athletes, especially those who are involved in such charged and memorable moments. We can talk about what it was like to watch it, and what it meant to us, and we can even speculate on what was going through their head. But few, if any of us, will ever be in the position that Brandi Chastain was in. Her shoulders bore not only only the hopes and fears of millions of fans that so often gets bundled up into big sports moments, but also the very future of the women’s game, particularly in America. And when her shot went in, when she tore off her shirt and roared to the sky as if demanding the second star descend and embed itself above the US Soccer crest, the air swirled with joy and relief and vindication.
Read the full article at Paste Magazine.
The article apes at being both an anthropological study and a cultural trendpiece, but it lacks the scientific rigor to pull off the former and the journalistic due diligence for the latter. It smacks of someone who saw a report on the supporter clashes in France on ABC World News Tonight, then found himself a little too close to CenturyLink Field after brunch, and declared, “why isn’t anyone talking about this?!” If the writer just bothered to use any of the interviews he (presumably) conducted while writing the piece, there might’ve been some real substance to it. As it is, the article is little more than a salad of stale takes paired with a shallow indictment of American masculinity.
There are plenty of interesting and important questions to ask in an interrogation of American soccer culture. It’s a shame this article wasn’t interested in any of them.
This isn’t just about revenge on his rivals, although that’s certainly on the menu. And this isn’t even just about winning, although Mou made it very clear he won’t accept anything but. This is about asserting dominance. This is Cersei Lannister blowing up the Great Sept of Baelor just to prove who’s really in charge around here. José Mourinho doesn’t just want to win the Premier League— he wants to bend it to his will. To sit upon a throne of melted-down boots and microphones, and gaze upon the smoking ruins of Anfield and the Etihad and Stamford Bridge. He wants The Usurper, Claudio Ranieri, brought before him in chains. All shall love Mourinho, and despair.
Mourinho is out to reclaim what’s his with fire and blood, and Manchester United is the great dragon he plans to ride into war.
Read the full article at Paste Magazine.
This year marks the 20th season of Major League Soccer, and the league is citing the big round number to pat itself on the back for doing what its predecessors couldn’t— sustain domestic club soccer in the United States on a long-term basis. If you watched the MLS All-Star Game last night you saw the self-congratulatory message on full display, including a hype video before kickoff narrated by Alexi Lalas. “It’s not perfect, but it’s ours.” And while the league isn’t perfect, it certainly has come a long way.
This week, we reflect further on 20 seasons of Major League Soccer by revisiting one of the highlights of the first— the 1996 (and inaugural) All-Star Game.
Read the full article at Paste Magazine.
The story I’m telling you isn’t real. But it did happen.
The story I’m telling you is, like nearly all fanfiction, a derivative work. Some of the story was developed in the course of a few save game files of Manager Career Mode in the FIFA video game franchise. I filled in the blanks on the rest. The games I’m describing here did happen— including a crucial moment in one game toward the end. Nathan is, in effect, a Mary Sue character. (Or a Marty Sue, depending on where you’re at with the gender binary.)
I didn’t plan for this story to develop, in the same way that I never planned to start playing FIFA. I never considered anything I was doing with this silly sports video game to be creating fanfiction. Nor did I think that creating fanfiction based ostensibly on sports- despite English football being probably one of the most popular media franchises in the world- was really possible, in the sense that it created either compelling stories for an audience or emotional catharsis for the auteur. Yet I found myself not only spending hours playing FIFA, but I realized I was also creating an elaborate narrative around my gameplay that largely existed in my own head. This narrative was based around a character I created primarily to fill a need in my squad that didn’t exist in the transfer market and found myself developing an emotional attachment to.
Though I didn’t acknowledge what I was doing as creating fanfic at the time, I realized in hindsight it was fulfilling much of the same functions that fanfic often does for their creators. It let me engage critically with a story I already followed and loved (in this case, English football). It allowed me to explore what I want out of this story, and in a broader sense, stories in general. And, while not every fanfiction creator does so for this reason, it provided an emotional release and source of comfort at a time in my life when I sorely needed it.
The most exciting soccer tournament of the summer wasn’t the Women’s World Cup, or the Copa America, or even the International Champions Cup. It was RoboCup 2015.
The annual robotics summit and competition was held in Hefei, China last week and featured teams of students and researchers from around the world. While the event does feature symposia and presentations from engineers and academics discussing the current state of robotics technology, the main focus was (rightfully) on the soccer tournament.
This is a new-look England: younger, fitter, happier. But more productive? They’re in a tough Group D with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica, so we’ll find out soon enough. Here are the 10 things you need to know about England before the World Cup begins.
That homophobia is so prevalent in football is distressing, even if it’s not entirely surprising. One is immediately reminded of Robbie Rogers, who famously made a public announcement in 2013 in which he simultaneously came out as gay and retired from football, saying that he couldn’t hide who he was any longer but understood football culture for what it was and knew that practically no dressing room would have him now (at least not in England). He soon returned to playing after MLS and the LA Galaxy made very explicit overtures toward him, and now, three years and a position change later, Rogers seems to be doing pretty well for himself.
Yet even Rogers’ story is most definitely the exception in a sport where queer folks— players, technical staff, officials, and, until recently, fans— simply aren’t welcome. For all the noises made by national associations, UEFA, and FIFA about tolerance and acceptance, and for all the well-meaning public initiatives like Football v Homophobia and Don’t Cross The Line, the story of Jesús Tomillero shows that there’s still a very, very long way to go.
In some ways, today’s verdict doesn’t really change anything. 96 innocent people are still dead, lives were still upended, families were still broken up. But the verdict does a lot to exonerate a maligned group of people who were blamed for their own tragedy. It exposed a case of shocking institutional failure and a conspiracy by public officials to deflect responsibility for said tragedy by blaming the victims. And, hopefully, it will bring a sense of closure to those for whom the horror and trauma of April 15th, 1989 never stopped happening.
While the current debate is a recent development— no doubt complicated by the approaching start of the Premier League’s new TV deal, the revenue from which will dwarf what the Champions League can offer— the idea of European megaclubs seceding from their domestic leagues is nothing new. A Super League was floated as far back as 1998, with clubs ultimately pacified after UEFA agreed to expand the Champions League and abolish the Cup Winners’ Cup. In 2009, Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez suggested that a Super League is an inevitability. “We have to agree a new European Super League which guarantees that the best always play the best – something that does not happen in the Champions League.”
It’s unlikely that radical changes to the Champions League or the formation of a Super League will take place in the immediate future. But with more and more foreign investment flooding into elite European football, clubs will only wield more political and financial leverage of their domestic leagues and UEFA. Something will have to give. (Assuming the bubble doesn’t burst, of course.)
Spelling out all the reasons why this situation and the way Sunderland handled it would require a thorough examination of rape culture. Yet it’s worth pointing out all the ways that both Sunderland and the wider football community gave Adam Johnson every benefit of the doubt, a grace he clearly did not deserve. Even after he had been found guilty in a court of law— something which many people require as a threshold before they’ll take allegations of sexual assault or misconduct seriously despite these being, statistically, speaking, rare; the media continued to focus on Adam Johnson’s “fall from grace” as the dominant narrative. Through it all, Adam Johnson was portrayed as a tragically flawed Shakespearean figure undone by some cruel mix of fate and hubris rather than what he really is— a sexual predator. If there’s anything remarkable about the Adam Johnson incident, it’s that people are actually being held accountable for their actions.
It’s difficult to discuss Iran without discarding all sense of nuance. The country is usually portrayed in the West as a repressive police state and a cultural dead zone. Yet one does not even need to look past our own archives to see that it’s not quite that simple. History and geopolitics aside, Makani’s plight is, at its core, a human rights issue. It may be the case that Makani was hacked and some personal photos were disseminated online by ill-intentioned parties, but even if he did post them himself, posting party selfies on Instagram shouldn’t be a crime, and it definitely shouldn’t warrant two years in prison. Here’s hoping that cooler heads and common sense prevail.
The Economist does make one salient point when they say that Premier League clubs “... will never voluntarily disadvantage themselves by cutting ticket prices significantly. So unless they agree a league-wide pricing protocol, they will be more influenced by what the market will bear.” It’s becoming increasingly clear that leaving clubs to their own devices with regards to ticket prices is creating havoc by pricing their most loyal supporters out and establishing scaffolds of inequality throughout English football. It may be that the solution is a league-wide cap on ticket prices. The consensus among fans seems to be that £30 is a good maximum cap across the league. That seems reasonable to me, but I suppose I’m biased. Yet even if an agreed-upon cap splits the difference between the linked survey and, say, Liverpool’s proposed price ceiling of £77 next season (which will be the highest in the league), that would result in a maximum price of roughly £54 across the board, which would still be an improvement.
We’ve been watching Lionel Messi play soccer for more than a decade. We’ve gotten so used to seeing him do impossible, superhuman things on a football pitch that any story showing off some incredible thing he did seems superfluous. It’s like living in the Arctic Circle—when you’re able to look at the Northern Lights every single night, you almost forget that this is something you’re supposed to be in awe of.
Sometimes, though. Sometimes Lionel Messi does something bonkers and you can’t not share it.
Sometimes MLS clubs sign big name players and it doesn’t work out. Think Freddie Ljungberg, or Rafa Marquez, or Jermain Defoe. With NYCFC needing to start strong out of the gate, especially during their home opener, there was a legitimate worry that their own DPs would fail to impress.
With David Villa, at least, that won’t be a problem.
Most people have important things that take up their time. Things like careers, and friends, and family, and hobbies. I don’t have anything like that, so I end up spending a lot of my time watching old-timey newsreels on YouTube.
Since it’s Thursday, and people like to throw things back on Thursdays for whatever reason, here’s some vintage newsreel footage of old-school English football. It was December 1963, and Manchester United were hosting Tottenham (just like they will this weekend) in the second round of the European Cup Winners Cup (one of a few continental tournaments that eventually got folded into what is now the Europa League). Although United’s back was against the wall, being down 2-0 on aggregate, they at least had the 50,000 or so crowd at Old Trafford to draw on for the second leg.
The best soccer players have a broad skillset. In addition to their athletic prowess, footballers need to have a good sense of space, timing, situational awareness, and an ability to think on (and with!) their feet. They also need to have cunning and guile—traits which can be overlooked at best and frowned upon at worst. Some of the best people to play the game, from Garrincha to Maradona to Luis Suárez, were slippery bastards who beat opponents with wanton trickery.
Notts County Ladies know what’s up.
On Thursday Night, Notts County Ladies hosted Arsenal Ladies for their league fixture in the FA Women’s Super League. In the 28th minute, Notts County won a free kick just outside the penalty area. As defender Laura Bassett wound up to take the kick, fellow defender Alex Greenwood and forward Ellen White stood right in front of the ball, leading to some confusion as the ref blew the whistle. Bassett charged to the ball, hit the brakes, and then started arguing with Greenwood over who would actually take the FK.
Or so it seemed!
Did you hear about Luis Suárez being sold to Barcelona for £75 million? Did you? Did you also hear about the time he racially abused an opponent? Or that one time he bit someone? Or that other time he bit someone? Or that other other time he bit someone? (He does a lot of biting, is basically what we’re saying.) Did you hear that he can’t even set foot in a stadium until October? Did you hear about all that? Okay. Just making sure you’ve heard.
One of the most poorly kept secrets among football supporters is that many have a “second team”.
The smaller club gives us pride. It gives us community. It offers real, old-fashioned English football.
But football fans also like trophies and TV and glamour. And so, in secret, we find ourselves fancying one of the big boys.
With all the football that goes on around the world every weekend, it can be hard to catch every interesting thing that happens. The really big (or weird) items tend to bubble to the surface on Twitter, but there are still interesting or important stories that soccer fans can miss. In a new weekly feature, we try to recap some of the stories you may have missed this weekend.
We always fret about soccer teams having to literally share their turf with other sports, especially in the U.S. Yardage markers on the field in New England—sacrilege! But have you ever thought about it from the other sports team’s perspective?
With NYCFC’s home opener at Yankee Stadium just a few days away, New York Yankees players spoke to the Wall Street Journal about their concerns over sharing their field with David Villa and friends.
First Baseman Mark Teixeira told the WSJ that having soccer played on a baseball diamond on the regular is “terrible for a field,” and that sharing the stadium with NYCFC will “... definitely cause an issue, but it’s nothing that we can control, so we can’t worry about it.”
The romance of the FA Cup is based on the idea of giant killers. Smaller clubs from further down the ladder of English football can get drawn against the best the Premier League has to offer—and sometimes, just sometimes, they do the impossible. This weekend, Premier League clubs were utterly routed by weaker opposition. The biggest upset was likely at Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea, up 2-1 at halftime against League One’s Bradford City, losing 4-2. Other major upsets included Manchester City losing 2-0 at home to Middlesbrough, Spurs losing to Premier League relegation bait Leicester City 2-1, Swansea being overpowered by Blackburn Rovers 3-1, and Southampton going out to Crystal Palace 3-2. Meanwhile, Liverpool and Manchester United were forced into replays by, respectively, Bolton Wanderers and Cambridge United (who were playing non-league football this time last year). Even the defending champions Arsenal had to fend off a late surge from Brighton and Hove Albion. Despite all the money and statisticians and sports scientists that drive the game at the highest level, football is still about 11 human beings playing against 11 other human beings. And as we saw this weekend, anything can happen.
With League Two stalwarts AFC Wimbledon in the spotlight for their Jan. 5 FA Cup match against Liverpool, one player stood out in a big way.
Meet Adebayo Akinfenwa. The 32-year-old young mountain came through Watford’s academy system before embarking on a long career as a journeyman striker. He’s mostly bounced around between clubs in League One and League Two (with repeat spells at Gillingham and Northampton), playing for a season or two before moving on. He’s notched an impressive goal tally at every club he’s been at, and developed a reputation for a solid workrate, good hold-up play and posing a constant threat in the box.
He’s also big. Like, really big.
If you support a national team, odds are they’re playing a couple of meaningless friendlies that you may or may not care about. Unless your team is slogging through Euro qualifiers, in which case you… still may or may not care, depending on how likely they are to get out of their qualifying group.
If your team is on the bubble for Euro qualification, the international break can get pretty intense. Which explains the feeling of uncertainty and tension that filled the air of the Parc des Princes on a cool autumn evening in September 2007. France was hosting Scotland in the return fixture in Euro 2008 Qualifying Group B. Scotland had won the game on their ground 1-0, and were looking to do a double over Les Bleus to inch closer to a place in the Euros the following summer. The Scots knew they had their work cut out for them, as they hadn’t beaten France on French soil since 1950. With qualification on the line, it was a must-win for both teams.
Atlético Madrid are your defending La Liga champions. And that’s crazy. The vast majority of the league’s money from broadcasters gets funneled to Barcelona and Real Madrid, with the two giants “earning” about as much between the two of them as the rest of the league combined. With such a wide gulf in revenue it’s more or less impossible for any other club to challenge for the championship. That makes Atléti’s title win last season—squeezed out with stingy defending, organization, and team unity—something of a modern footballing miracle.
Liverpool-Arsenal is secretly one of the best fixtures of the Premier League season.
It doesn’t have the historical and narrative heft of Liverpool-United or the North London Derby. Nor does it quite have the firepower that Chelsea-City games have had in recent years. No, Arsenal-Liverpool is always something of a sleeper hit. It’s like Real Salt Lake vs Sporting Kansas City, or Cavs vs Spurs, or Daniel Bryan vs Dolph Ziggler. You just know it’s going to be a wild ride.
Arsenal and Liverpool have had some epic clashes over the years, and finding individual games between these two to profile would be a whole column onto themselves. But perhaps the most famous showdown between the Reds and the Gunners was the finale to the 1988-89 First Division season.
When this draw was announced yesterday, Arsenal Twitter was thrown into a tumult. Wailing, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, you get the picture. Bayern Munich has served as a sort of boogeyman for Arsenal in the Champions League, having bounced them out in the Round of 16 in 2012-13 and 2013-14. And while Arsenal is a stronger team than in recent seasons, Bayern Munich is still, well, Bayern Munich. If Arsenal wants to conquer Europe, they need to face their fear, let it pass through them, and where the fear has gone there shall be nothing. Arsenal have the talent and tactical acumen to capitalize on any mistakes Bayern make— and they will make mistakes, they’re still only human.
So, that’s a swarm of bees that took up residence at the grounds of a professional football club. Yup. That’s a thing that happened.
There’s a fight brewing in American soccer that could change its fundamental structure.
The United States Soccer Federation- or US Soccer- recently proposed changes to their rules on how leagues can attain Division I status. Officials with the North American Soccer League, the country’s growing second division, believe that the proposed changes are aimed explicitly on keeping them out. And now, according to a report from the Financial Times, the NASL is gearing up to challenge US Soccer’s authority.
The big story in the Premier League this weekend was the relegation battle. Two teams—Burnley and QPR—are already out, leaving one spot left. Now, five clubs are scrambling not to be “It” in what has to be the world’s worst game of Musical Chairs.
Elsewhere this weekend, the Top 4 race is effectively over, Newcastle might finally be snapping out of a long slump, and Chelsea-Liverpool had all the dignity and subtlety of an internet flame war. If you missed anything this weekend, we’ll get you caught up.
Read the full article at Paste Magazine.
Many thought he would get his 50th in Mexico and plant a big flag in English football. Sadly, it was not to be. Charlton played well in the group stages of the World Cup and put in a strong performance in the Quarterfinals against West Germany. Though he was a constant annoyance for the exalted German defender Franz Beckenbauer, he did not score. As the match with West Germany wore on, Charlton began to tire, and manager Alfred Ramsey brought him off in the second half. West Germany roared back from a 2-0 deficit and went on to win 3-2, knocking England out of the World Cup. On the plane back home, Charlton told Ramsey that he was walking away from international football. His goalscoring record for England would stay at 49, and that record would stand for nearly half a century.
There’s a famous statue outside Old Trafford that depicts the “United Trinity” of Denis Law, George Best, and Sir Bobby Charlton. Like the statue, Charlton himself casts a long shadow. He was a member of the Busby Babes. He helped United become the first English team to win the European Cup. He survived the Munich Air Disaster, and became the face of a very public period of mourning. And for nearly half a century, he scored more goals than anyone else who wore three lions on their shirt.
Wayne Rooney’s accomplishment wasn’t significant just because of the number. It was because of the man who held the number.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
So much of the oxygen in the room among Fire fans lately has been eaten up by the grueling and bitter politics of ingroup/outgroup dynamics.
The departure of Shaun Maloney and the conflicting stories around his reasons for wanting out restarted a debate about whether players do or do not want to play in Chicago, and whether that should matter.
The #HauptmanOut movement has crystallized anxiety around who "owns" the Chicago Fire, and the difference between shareholding and stakeholding. Depending on which side of that ideological divide you fall on, you’re either trying to save the club or you’re an Enemy Of The Fire. If you’re neutral, you’re not a Real Fan™.
The past week Fire Twitter has been mired in a debate on whether it’s okay to yell a homophobic slur during games. Defenders of the chant are split between "it’s not a slur" and "even if it were a slur, so what?". It’s the latest fight in a seemingly endless and infinitely stupid argument about who belongs in Fire fandom and who does not.
It’s enough to make you forget that there’s an actual soccer team in the middle of all this. Which is probably just as well.
With the new CBA agreed, the 2015 MLS season will begin Friday night, when the defending champions LA Galaxy host the Chicago Fire.
The domestic league has come a long way since its inaugural season nearly 20 years ago. MLS has the kind of revenue, stability, and visibility that would’ve been barely conceivable in the 1990s. To get to where it’s at today, the league had to change and grow, invariably shedding off some of its earlier quirks.
One of them is the shootout.
Read the full article at Paste Magazine.
Tottenham have been playing great football lately. Bolstered by breakout star Harry Kane up top, this is a team that looks like is finally coming together. Even when they’ve lost in recent months, they’ve tended to go down swinging (as they did at Liverpool last month). So for United to completely put this Spurs team away with a comfortable 3-0 win tells you how formidable they’ve managed to become. After spending much of the season playing dreadful, middling football, this is a team that is firmly in the Top 4 chase— whether you like it or not.
If staying up-to-date on the Premier League over the weekend is hard, midweek games are just about the worst. You end up compulsively checking your phone, trying to get around the company’s firewall to pull up NBC Sports Live Extra, maybe take a late lunch at that pub a few blocks over. We know it’s rough. Since you probably missed something from the round of midweek games, here’s some of the big headlines that went down while you were attending meetings and being an (ugh) adult.
Bayern Munich’s dream of a second treble in three years is over.
Days after anticlimactically winning their 25th Bundesliga title, Die Roten turned their attention to the next step in their bid to win the European treble: the German Cup.
Bayern hosted the semifinal tie against fierce rivals Borussia Dortmund, who are limping to the finish line of an abysmal season and will see their manager and (likely) some of their best players leave in the summer. Bayern did the double over Dortmund in the league, and with the massive talent gap it looked like the German champions would be able to put away their rivals and book a place in the final next month.
But because football is crazy and unpredictable and never quite works out the way you think it will, that’s not what happened. That’s not what happened at all.
There’s a long-running joke in football that José Mourinho’s behavior in press conferences is more attack-minded than the teams he manages. This week however, the Special One may have gone a bit too far.
Montse Benítez, the wife of newly-installed Real Madrid manager Rafael Benítez, gave an interview to Spanish newspaper La Región earlier this week. Her comments included a light-hearted jab at Mourinho, with whom her husband has a long-standing professional feud that has occasionally drifted into more personal territory.
“Real are the third of José Mourinho’s old teams [that] Rafa has coached,” Mrs. Benítez quipped. “We tidy up his messes! If you think about it, of course you end up crossing paths. There are only a few world-class clubs out there.”
Most professional managers, and especially those working in the upper echelons of global football, would presumably have laughed the comment off (if they even acknowledged it at all). But Mourinho, like an internet troll who just has to have the last word, couldn’t leave well enough alone.
Read the full article at Paste Magazine.