Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

I feel sorry for football/soccer fans in the United States – competing with American Football, Basketball, Baseball and Ice Hockey, their sport is treated as an afterthought in the American media, their league is treated as a joke by other major footballing nations, some are forced to groundshare in cavernous stadia where any efforts to create atmosphere is lost to a great extent and where you’re not sure where, exactly, the pitch perimeter is because there are American Football markings on the field of play.

And yet they turn out in their tens of thousands every week to support the sport they love. Over the past decade or so they have developed a stable league with a future seemingly assured, in the absence of major stars – even rising American stars are quickly snapped up by the major European clubs. A league-wide salary cap ensured financial stability. And then two years ago, one of their constituent clubs, the appropriately titled LA Galaxy, reached for the stars. Under new “designated player” rules, they announced a blockbuster deal to bring one of the world’s stars, David Beckham, to play in the MLS.

It seemed like a mutually beneficial deal. Out of favour with Fabio Capello at Real Madrid and with his international career seemingly over, it gave Beckham a lucrative opportunity to extend his career. In return, as one of the world game’s most marketable stars, he would draw attention to the Galaxy and, by extension, the league. He made a lot of positive (although somewhat squeaky noises) about what a great challenge this was for him and how he was looking forward to promoting the league.

However, right from the start, his commitment seemed to be less than 100%. Still contracted to Real Madrid, he wouldn’t arrive for the Galaxy until months into the new US season, and then after a long, hard Spanish season where he had picked up various knocks and would not appear on the field immediately. After recovering from these he finally started playing and, while he did contribute to some victories for the Galaxy and attracted big crowds to games in Boston and New York, he had arrived too late to salvage his team’s season. And then England came calling. After playing pretty much non-stop for over a year he suddenly flew from LA to London to play in a pretty meaningless international friendly and picked up another injury. So his first season was pretty much a washout.

Last year he had a more uneventful season at the Galaxy (again failing to make the playoffs) but his eye seemed to be always on extending his international career. So when Fabio Capello intimated that he would have to be playing regularly over the MLS close season to keep fit for the Spring internationals, a loan deal was set up to take Beckham to AC Milan. But of course he would be returning for the start of the new MLS season in March, he said. Then after a few games his tone changed…he was really enjoying his time in Milan and how great it would be if he could stay. And then the club got involved…and then the agents…and the whole saga took on an air of inevitability.

The Galaxy tried to put up a fight: first they insisted that Beckham would be returning in time for the MLS kick-off; then they slapped a $10 million price on his head. But of course it was a losing battle for them. At the time of writing the new deal sounds something like this: Beckham will play in Italy until the end of the season, will return to the Galaxy in July, before rejoining Milan next winter. So what’s the betting that he will either a) stay in Milan throughout the summer or b) will return to the US briefly only to return to Europe in time for the new Italian season.

Basically Beckham has treated the MLS and its fans with utter contempt, seeing them only as a cash cow vehicle for his own career rehabilitation and running off as soon as a more glamorous suitor arrived on the scene. This will be a big blow for the league as those who came through the turnstiles, curious to see a big footballing star, will drift away from the sport, leaving only a hardcore of passionate fans. It may survive, it may not. But if Beckham does come back in the summer, I suggest that wherever he goes to play, he is roundly booed as a form of protest at this blatant display of disloyalty and disrespect towards fans of the game that gave him so much.

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I’ve had it with English football “fans” now. Police in London have either arrested or are looking for 16 Tottenham Hotspur supporters, who have been caught on CCTV chanting abuse at visiting Portsmouth player Sol Campbell. What’s their justification for their hatred? For those of you who aren’t big football fans, six years ago Sol Campbell dared to move from Tottenham Hotspur (or Spurs, for short) to their local rivals Arsenal causing outrage amongst Spurs fans. Since then whenever he as returned to play against Spurs, their fans have subjected him to bitter abuse, generally referring to him as Judas (a standard insult amongst football fans, however, given that Spurs have a strong Jewish support base, also a little ironic in this case).

On this occasion, they went further, directing racist and homophobic chants towards Campbell and that is why the police are involved. You might think to yourself that the perpetrators might be young punk-ass kids out to try and show how big they are but no, these are grown men in their 20s-40s who, given the price of Premier League tickets nowadays, all probably have good jobs. It is thought that one of them is a policeman!

But this isn’t an isolated incident. Whenever you turn on a football game nowadays, you see shots of supporters, their faces twisted in hate and anger, hurling abuse at players, referees, opposing teams’ fans, their own manager. Even when they celebrate a goal, some of them look like they’re taking a really bad crap. And it’s not just English supporters who behave like this. Some Italian clubs have had to play games behind closed doors due in recent years because of hooliganism and even murder. Spanish and East European fans regularly direct monkey chants at visiting black players.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with these people? Attending a football match is supposed to be a form of entertainment that you enjoy, yet they pay out a fortune to be constantly angry. I love my football and understand that it’s a vicarious thrill, which can be often be frustrating. But at the end of the day (to use a cliche), it is just a game and even when you lose, there’s another game just days away. It hasn’t always been like this. I have a Match Of The Day DVD which shows footage from the 1960s of home fans applauding a goal by THE OPPOSING TEAM!! In the late 1980s there was a trend of fans bringing inflatable bananas (and other inflatable toys related to their teams-e.g canaries for Norwich City, haddock for Grimsby Town) and waving them en masse when goals were scored, creating surreal scenes. Even nowadays, I have seen clips from the often-derided MLS in North America of Toronto FC fans creating scenes of great fun. They chant and drink beer like their European counterparts. When opposing teams try to take corners, hundreds of harmless streamers are thrown on the ball,  preventing them. On one occasion, when Toronto scored their first goals, the fans threw hundreds of seat cushions that had been provided by the club onto the pitch.

So come on English football fans, get over yourselves. Stop being angry and start enjoying your football. As I said earlier, it is only a game.