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jack-taylor

The Referee Is Not A True Artist: Jack Taylor, World Soccer Referee

For Jack Taylor, the referee for the 1974 World Cup final, handling players was much like handling the clientele at the Wolverhampton butcher shop he worked at throughout his career.

“I think my experience behind the counter at the butcher’s shop helped because it made me fairly good at chatting people up,” he wrote in his 1976 autobiography, Jack Taylor: World Soccer Referee. “Although you are dealing mainly with women in the shop, human nature is much the same in footballers. For instance, sometimes when an old dear comes into the shop you can tell as soon as she steps through the door that she is in a frightful mood. Maybe she has had a row with the old man or the kids have upset her. She has clearly come in sparring for a row so you mention that her hair looks nice. Or, if she looks rough, ‘My, I bet you had a fair old time last night.’”

You think that’d work on Ronaldo today?

The Accidental Referee

Taylor, it seems, rather fell into his career as a referee in the 1950s. This was an age before full-time referees – indeed, even by the conclusion of his career in the 1970s, Taylor still writes that “I do not think we will ever have full-time referees in England.”

When Taylor began refereeing in his teenage years – he was a keen player, but not good enough to turn pro – he had little idea or ambition to move up the ladder, at least initially.

Yet once he had risen rapidly up the ranks, Taylor did not think refereeing should stand still while the rest of the game rapidly modernized in the 1960s. His career traversed the gap in England between notions of amateur idealism that staidly stuck with its administrators and into an era of modern professionalism, intense media coverage and of television saturating the game.

Taylor freely admits that “I resented television totally when it first arrived because it seemed yet another way of pointing out my mistakes to the world. I had now not only twenty-two players and forty thousand fans to put up with; another fifteen million were looking in on television and I suspected that every one of them delighted in proving me wrong.”

Yet, perhaps surprisingly, Taylor soon concluded that “I could not have been further off the mark for, as I gradually learned to live with television and to understand the effect it was having on everyone, I realised it was the greatest thing that had ever happened to football.”

Taylor was a man more than willing to adapt to the modern game, and indeed, use it to his advantage. Initially fearful of the media, he soon developed close relationships with several journalists who proved trustworthy and supportive of him: “I can count on one hand the number of journalists who have let me down and broken a confidence,” Taylor writes.

Building relationships was critical to Taylor’s rapid progress from parks’ referee – getting his start at the age of 17, talked into it by a friend in his butcher’s shop – to international referee. First it was Jim Lock, a local experienced former referee and soon his mentor; then Percy Harper, the 1932 FA Cup final referee who he met by chance and who quickly became another mentor; and then Teddy Eden, a Birmingham FA official who helped accidentally land him his first full international refereeing assignment at the age of only 23, running the line for a France-Spain international in Paris.

His age quickly made him stand out. Taylor was youthful and flashy compared to his colleagues, unencumbered by a wife or a mortgage, and he wrote that I “like to think of myself as a trend-settter and I was always buying new gear and trying out new things. I always trained in a flashy track suit and had a white flash around my badge. . .I think I was one of the first referees to get in step with the fashions being set by the players by turning my shorts up.”

At 25, he was the youngest linesman in the Football League. Not that there was any training: “You just had to pick it up as you went along,” Taylor recalled. Almost straight away, he was picked on in the London press for one decision he still defended in his memoir that was seen by one reporter to have been “terribly wrong in flagging Fulham out of the cup with the worst offside call I can recall.”

Taylor, though, says that even at 25 he already knew another questionable decision would come up soon enough, and the incident would be forgotten. He could at times be quick to anger (something he learned to control), but he had a relaxed approach to dealing with the game as a whole, feeling it helped him handle pressure far better than building up tension or blowing up the importance of what was, after all, a game he loved.

Unlike many of his contemporaries in British football, Taylor had an open-minded view of the world. He clearly loved to travel; unlike his father, whose life was contained solely in his butcher’s shop, Taylor enjoyed his many trips abroad. Approaching the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, he poo-pooed English fears that there would be trouble on the field due to the aggression of South American teams, commenting – based on his past experience refereeing on other continents – that “Obviously there will be tension, because the will to win is there, but I think there is a fair standard of sportsmanship throughout the world today.”

Taylor had already observed the lack of understanding of overseas cultures in the preparation of referees for the 1966 World Cup in England: “In 1966 the referees were gathered together in London only three days before the opening match. On the whole, they were well prepared physically but they were ill prepared as a group for what lay ahead. The teams taking part had been painstakingly trained for many months. When the referees arrived in London they were given a few inadequate lectures, and they had barely enough time to get to know each other before being divided into groups and sent to the various centres around the country.”

Importantly – given the events that followed at the 1966 World Cup that so infuriated all parties – Taylor goes on to observe that “There was not enough consideration given to the different styles of football played in South America and in Europe: not enough understanding of the sort of things that referees allow on one continent but not on the other.”

It was no surprise, then, when the referees – almost all European – so unsatisfactorily controlled matches involving South American teams, who felt they were kicked out of the competition by a European conspiracy. “It is not difficult to imagine the thoughts which haunted the Brazilians, Uruguayans, and Argentinians as they packed their bags and left for home early,” Taylor concludes.

By 1970, though, FIFA had learned from their mistakes in 1966: the sole Englishman in Mexico, Taylor was one of the referees given extensive training and careful preparation by the Referees’ Committee, who looked for input from referees from each country to figure out how officials could work together. “Bit by bit we talked our differences out. The interpretations put on things in South America and Europe were compared and from this we agreed on a system of cooperation between the referee and his linesman,” Taylor recalls. In the event, the dangerous tackle from behind was clamped down on and not a single player was sent off in the entire tournament.

Taylor believed in discipline, but he also believed in understanding the actions of players and managers, and the pressures and aggression they were often responding to. “We all have a breaking point,” he writes. “When a player loses control of himself and retaliates I cannot excuse what he does, but at least I ought to try and understand it. If someone said something terrible to me how would I react? As a kid I had a temper. How would I have reacted if someone had come up behind my back and whacked me so that I had no chance of playing the ball? I must condemn the offender and I must take positive action. You will never stop trouble, so you have always got to try and understand.”

Nastiness, though, was something Taylor had trouble understanding – and even more troubled by the growth of in the modern game.

Dirty, Dirty Leeds?

One thing he was sad to see change was the attitude on the field; when Taylor began his career as a referee in the Football League in the early 1960s, it was “the closing stages of a golden era in English soccer. . .a new, tougher, breed of professional was beginning to introduce a win-at-all costs attitude that we’d never seen in this country before, while most of the game’s administrators refused to face up to reality.”

Referees were rapidly becoming a big deal, targeted by players and the media. In the old days, “on the park, we could have a quiet word and a joke. There aren’t many jokes on a football pitch today.”

Taylor saw how this spilled into the attitudes of the younger referees in the 1970s, who now “start to wind themselves up on a Thursday for a game on Saturday.”

This was the era of hard men. Yet a Times’ report on what might have been a brawl of a game between Chelsea and Leeds in January 1975 particularly praised Taylor’s handling of the game: “It was a proud match for heroes, flowing with endless action and entertainment, devoid of bus fires and anger and beautifully, even unobtrusively, handled by Jack Taylor, the World Cup final referee.”

If there was one man who could handle Leeds United, it was Taylor, who was assigned to their games 11 times in one season. He was even able to have a laugh and a joke with them: “I do not accept that players like Gabriel and Norman Hunter, of Leeds United, are dirty,” he says in his memoir. “They are hard and they push their luck a long way at times, but they should not be pilloried for having an aggressive style. Players like that, by the way, often have a good sense of humour.”

For Taylor, such a write-up mentioning his unobtrusiveness was surely the highest praise: being the centre of attention was not the purpose of refereeing, he makes clear in his memoirs. Taylor was a tall, imposing figure, confident in his own abilities, and felt no need to prove his place on the field. “The referee will never become as big a personality as the player. He must not. In some countries he is glorified, over-publicised and over-filmed . . . but the referee will never be a true artist.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Taylor recalls he “slept like a log” before taking charge of the 1974 World Cup final.

Jack Taylor performing the coin toss for the 1974 World Cup final with Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer

Jack Taylor performing the coin toss for the 1974 World Cup final with Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer

In the event, Taylor did become something of the star of the show when, feeling he had no choice, he awarded two penalties within 25 minutes. He remains convinced that from his angle, on each call, he made the correct decision.

The second was the most controversial, but in retrospect, Taylor had no regrets: “As Hoelzenbein went over, I thought to myself ‘It’s not as bad as you’re trying to make it look, old son’, but the Laws state that attempting to trip an opponent is just as serious an offence as actually tripping an opponent, and, as the German had pushed the ball two or three yards ahead when the tackle came, Jansen was certainly not going for the ball.”

Take a look, and see if Taylor’s explanation rings true for you.

Taylor was also the referee for the 1966 FA Cup Final – which, by the way, he said was a greater honour than refereeing the World Cup final for an Englishman – and here’s how he picked the ball:

“After breakfast I went for a walk in the park with ‘Tich’ Harding and then on to Lancaster Gate to select the match ball. They laid out about thirty balls, each one identified only by a number. You have to pick three and only after that has been done can you find out the maker’s name.”

That process is a bit different these days (“Neo is your new football”), but for Taylor, that probably wouldn’t have mattered too much. Despite some sadness reflected in his memoir at the changes from the sport in his early days of involvement, Taylor has remained a part of the game to this day, surely still appreciating the “fairy story” he says he has lived in the start of his memoirs.

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With that said make sure you check out the bwin champions league odds as the competition edges closer to the final. Who will make it to Wembley?

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St Louis Stars

The Curious Career of Blagoje Vidinić: Bribes, Bank Notes and Balls

Champagne, bags of bank notes and Adidas balls: these were amongst the gifts Macedonian Blagoje Vidinić received during his African odyssey in the early 1970s.

This was a man who presided over the joint-worst World Cup performance of all time, but also a man who as a goalkeeper had once rivaled Lev Yashin in many eyes, who had played in Los Angeles, San Diego, St Louis in a pioneering era of American soccer; a man who as coach took two African countries to unprecedented heights – and managed to change the course of world sporting history, by tipping off Horst Dassler just in time for the Adidas head to back the right man in the 1974 FIFA presidential election.

Let’s start in the middle. It’s the beginning of a new decade, the 1970s, and the beginning of a new career for Blagoje Vidinić. He has just retired from playing after ending his career in North American soccer, having kept goal most recently for the St Louis Stars in the North American Soccer League, where he was known as “Barney” Vidinic. The 1968 season, Vidinić’s last as a goalkeeper, was not particularly successful, as he conceded 35 goals in 23 games, St Louis finishing third of four teams in the Gulf division during the NASL’s first season.

Vidinić is in the center in the top row. Photo via www.nasljerseys.com

Vidinić had previously spent two years playing for two incarnations of the Toros in the NPSL, having been part of a Yugoslavian invasion of American soccer in 1967, with no fewer than 25 of his compatriots joining him across the Atlantic. That season was not a success for Vidinić, either, as his LA team finished rock bottom of the Western Division, with Vidinić conceding almost two goals per game, then going on to play a handful of games for the San Diego version of the Toros before his spell in St Louis.

It was an inauspicious end to what had previously been an impressive career: in international play for what was then Yugoslavia, Vidinić had won a silver medal at the 1956 Olympic Games, a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games and had been part of the team that finished second at the 1960 European Championships. Facing the Soviet Union in the inaugural final of the latter competition, Vidinić uncharacteristically spilled a shot by Valentin Bubikin, allowing Slava Metreveli to equalise, with the Soviets going on to win in extra time.

Exactly how, following his North American adventure, Vidinić next ended up coaching Morocco isn’t clear – though the connection may well have come via former Yugoslavian international Bob Kap (Božidar Kapušto), who had also moved to American soccer – in his case to coach – and had been part of the Dallas Tornado’s unlikely world tour in 1968 that included a trip to Morocco (Kap, incidentally, went on to play a crucial role in “soccer-style” kicking coming to the NFL).

Regardless, Morocco’s recruitment of Vidinić would change his life. He took Morocco to the World Cup in 1970, held in Mexico, the first African nation to take part since Egypt in 1934. Morocco first faced West Germany, the 1966 finalists, and the Africans gave the Europeans an almighty scare, taking the lead into half-time thanks to a goal by Houmane Jarir – and not an entirely undeserved one at that, the Moroccans creating a good number of chances on the counter-attack (though West Germany did hit the bar twice, and missed a couple of fine chances to equalise before the break).

In the second half, Uwe Seeler equalized and then Gerd Müller found a late winner, the game ending 2-1 to West Germany, but it had been a fine showing by Vidinić’s men. Morocco again looked well-drilled by Vidinić in their next game in the first half, holding a talented Peru team scoreless for 65 minutes, though a trio of goals quickly came to end Morocco’s hopes of advancing any further in the competition.

Morocco did, at least, earn their first ever World Cup goal and point in their final game against Bulgaria, a 1-1 tie.

(How about those low-cut Bulgarian v-necks, eh?)

Vidinić had made his mark in Mexico. And someone else had made his mark on Vidinić. When he had taken charge of Morocco in the run-up to the World Cup, Vidinić found scant resources for his team, but soon received some unsolicited: boxes of Adidas equipment began arriving for his use with Morocco, boots even delivered for the team on their arrival in Mexico. Following elimination, Vidinić encountered the man who had provided the goods – part of his drive to win African support in his attempt to globalise his flourishing apparel business and increase his influence in FIFA circles. It was one Horst Dassler whom Vidinić met in Mexico City, who told him that “From now on, your family and mine shall be friends.”

Vidinić moved on to coach another African team, then known as Zaire (now DR Congo), in 1971. Zaire had only begun playing international soccer in 1963 (having gained independence from Belgium in 1960), and had never qualified for a World Cup, or come close to doing so. Indeed, no sub-Saharan team had ever qualified for the World Cup.

Zaire did, however, have a talented team: Hungarian coach Ferenc Csandai had led them to their first international honor with victory in the 1968 Africa Cup of Nations. But the team had not performed well at the 1970 Africa Cup of Nations. They quickly improved under Vidinić by taking fourth place at the same competition in 1972, as he instilled confidence and a greater understanding of modern tactics. Vidinić led Zaire to qualification for the 1974 World Cup with victory over his former team, Morocco, sealing their place with a 3-0 win in Kinshasa in December 1973.

In recognition of the achievement, the man whose money had brought him to Zaire gave Vidinić “a sack of banknotes”: Mobutu Sese Seko, Zaire’s authoritarian dictator.

Vidinić was recruited just as “Mobutisme”, a crude personality cult, was being instilled in Zaire, and the national football team did not escape from it – in fact, the international exposure it gave the country made it a key tool for Mobutu. The team suddenly became known as the Leopards, Mobutu known for his leopardskin hat.

Vidinić called up his new friend Horst Dassler, and Adidas got to work on a design for the country’s shirts that displayed the desired identity, in brilliant fashion:

Zaire 1974 World Cup jersey

In the lead-up to the World Cup, Vidinić oversaw Zaire’s victory at the March 1974 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, defeating Zambia in the final 2-0 in a replay.

In West Germany for the World Cup in June 1974, the political pressure from home – with expectations raised and the presence of a phalanx of officials created an uncomfortable atmosphere for the team – was hardly helpful as they prepared to play in a group containing reigning World Cup champions Brazil, and fancied teams from Yugoslavia and Scotland.

Vidinić’s team first faced Scotland at Westfalenstadion in Dortmund on 14 June, with the Scottish entering the game with expectations of winning by a double digit margin against the unknown Africans – skip to 5:49 in the video below.

While the Scots lined up nervously, Zaire looked dandy in their Adidas three-striped warm-up tops.

Zaire versus Scotland, 1974 World Cup

Zaire unsettled Scotland early in the game, Vidinić chain-smoking on the sideline as his team stroked the ball around. The breakthrough came, to considerable Scottish relief, in the 26th minute, a free kick leading to a header by Joe Jordan – marked weakly by Mwanza Nel Mukombo – landing perfectly on the foot of Peter Lorimer, the Scottish striker lashing in a volley from 15 yards out. The second goal came after an awful defensive lapse by Zaire only eight minutes later, as Joe Jordan ran in on goal completely unmarked from a free kick and headed straight at goalkeeper Kazadi Muamba, who could only fumble it ineptly over the line. Zaire, though, held on for the remainder of the game, a 2-0 defeat disheartening but not devastating.

Devastation would come in their next game against Yugoslavia on the 18th of June, with a 9-0 defeat. Yes: Nine, Zero.

As well as the humiliation of conceding nine goals, Zaire suffering the joint worst defeat in the history of the World Cup, there came with it a seemingly inexplicable minute of madness (hit 20:38 on the video above). In a bizarre move, Vidinić replaced Kazadi Muamba in goal with Tubilandu Ndimbi after Yugoslavia’s third goal, even though the goalkeeper himself had done little wrong in the game.

Muambi substituted for Zaire, 1974 World Cup, versus Yugoslavia

Ndimbi conceded a goal within seconds of arriving on the field from a free kick, Vidinić having curiously sent him on as Yugoslavia took their kick adjacent to Zaire’s penalty area, and in the chaos that followed with Zaire’s complaints about a supposed missed offside call, Ndaye Mulamba received a red card.

Sadly for Ndaye, and as an explanation for the vociferous protest that followed his dismissal, it was not him who had kicked the referee, but his teammate, Ilunge Mwepu. Later, Ndaye would say that “You can tell from the referee’s behavor that they can’t tell us apart. And they don’t try to either. I cried terribly when I was sent off. I told the referee that it wasn’t me, and Mwepu said “I did it, not he.” But the referee wasn’t interested. All the referees here are against the black race, and not only the referees. Scotland’s Number 4, the captain [Billy Bremner] shouted at me a couple of times during the match, ‘Nigger, hey nigger!’ He spat at me too, and he spat in Man’s face. Scotland’s number 4 is a wild animal.”

Zaire red card 1974

The game continued with Zaire down to ten men and at 5’4”,  Ndimbi provided an even weaker target for Yugoslavia’s shooting practice. Vidinić’s compatriots scored with almost comic ease, a very valuable result as their qualification to the next round would likely hinge on holding a healthy goal difference.

The Yugoslavian connection immediately raised questions about Vidinić’s decision-making. Why had he removed Muamba?

Vidinić provided a plausible answer that should remove concerns about his supposed collusion with his countrymen the next day. Vidinić explained that a Ministry of Sport official had ordered the goalkeeping substitution, and promised to never again accept such an order. The explanation’s veracity, one supposes, is proven by the fact that Vidinić remained in charge for the remainder of the tournament.

Meanwhile, in the background to the 9-0 defeat, an expensive billboard displayed a message paid for by Mobuto, with a word little associated with his country during the years of bloodshed he had overseen: Zaire-Peace. There would be no peace for the Zaire players following this result, though, and this would have even more memorable consequences.

Zaire - Peace, 1974 World Cup billboard

Mobutu did not enjoy his country’s humiliation on the world stage in front of his billboard. The message was soon conveyed to the army of his officials in West Germany with the team, who had been busy greedily creaming off many of the gifts promised for the players – Vidinić already having had to quell one mutiny as a result.

Now, it was not gifts that Mubutu’s henchmen offered, but bald threats. Facing defending World Cup champions Brazil in their final game, Zaire were not to lose by more than three goals, they were ominously told. They would, at best, not be allowed home should that happen.

3-0 down to Brazil with just a few minutes remaining, panic and protest at the horrible situation the dictator had placed them in manifested itself as Brazil lined up a free-kick 25 yards out.

What followed is one of the most laughed-at moments in World Cup history, guaranteed to show up in the next blooper reel you see.

The context of it was not so amusing for Zaire’s players, pawns in what was no longer a game for them. Mwepu Ilunga’s inexplicable decision to rush from the wall and strike the dead ball down the field has added much to the legend of African naivety. Of course, it’s hugely unlikely a player with Ilunga’s experience would not know the rules on free kicks. Ilunga later told World Football that he kicked the ball as an act of protest: “I did that deliberately, I was aware of football regulations. . .I don’t regret it at all.”

Zaire kept the score down to 3-0 and were able to return home, but most of them faced futures far less grand than Mobutu had promised them before their departure to West Germany.

Vidinić, meanwhile, had been busy repaying his debt to Horst Dassler, with some interest.

On 11 June 1974, two days before the World Cup began, the FIFA Congress held in Frankfurt elected Dr. João Havelange  of Brazil as the first non-European president of FIFA. It was the first time two men had stood for the FIFA presidency, and Havelange’s defeat of incumbent Englishman Sir Stanley Rous dramatically altered the course of the sport’s history.

It was a result that, if it hadn’t been for Vidinić, would have surprised Horst Dassler, who until the day before the election had been backing his old ally Rous, thinking his victory was inevitable, still chagrined that Havelange had previously refused an approach from Adidas to outfit the entirety of Brazilian national sport. Dassler, though, had underestimated the deservedly bitter feelings towards Rous in Africa, and was perhaps unaware of just how successful Havelange’s “little gifts” had been in wooing African votes. The night before the election, Vidinić and Dassler met, and the Zaire coach told Dassler all the African federations had met and agreed to back Havelange. Dassler was backing the wrong horse, an unappetising prospect for Adidas.

“Here’s Havelange’s room number,” Vidinić told his friend. “Tell him you had been backing Stanley Rous but you have been defeated, and from this moment you will be at Havelange’s disposal.”

Dassler took his advice, met Havelange, and came back with champagne for Vidinić.

In fact, according to Andrew Jennings,Vidinić had good reason to be so sure of Havelange’s impending victory based on African votes: “Vidinic was in Frankfurt in 1974 paying cash for votes to elect Joao Havelange President of FIFA,” Jennings writes.

Following Havelange’s victory the next day, Dassler and sports marketing whizkid Patrick McNally quickly met the new FIFA president for dinner, and the multinational transformation of the World Cup was roadmapped for the first time.

The partnership between Dassler and Havelange, between Adidas and FIFA, would transform world football. As Tomlinson puts it in FIFA and the Contest for World Football, Dassler was the pivotal figure “that would catapult sport into a new phase of economically and financially lucrative transnational practice.”

It would not be Vidinić’s last act in what had rapidly become the murky world of FIFA politics. Jennings again: “Sixteen years later, in April 1990, Vidinic was with Havelange in Guatemala City at the CONCACAF Extraordinary Congress to make sure Jack Warner was imposed as President of CONCACAF.”

By that point, Vidinić was working directly for Adidas in Strasbourg with frequent trips back to North America, his final coaching spell with Colombia in the 1970s having come to nothing, and he would stay involved with Adidas until his death in 2006.

Vidinić had moved from enmeshment in one murky world to another during his globe-trotting career, curiously changing the course of sporting history in the process.


Morocco again looked well-drilled by Vidinić in their next game, holding a talented Peru team scoreless for 65 minutes, though a trio of goals quickly coming to end Morocco’s hopes of advancing any further in the competition. They did, at least, earn their first ever World Cup goal and point in their final game against Bulgaria, a 1-1 tie.

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The Timbers Army

Portland in MLS: The Origins of the Timbers Army

Timbers ArmyAs they say in other soccer countries, we’re going up. Today, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber anointed the Portland Timbers—our modest local soccer team with the not-so-modest grassroots fan following, the Timbers Army—as the latest franchise in the nation’s top soccer league.

Much has been said about the machinations behind the MLS expansion process: some informed criticism; some informed defense; much blather from the usual local know-nothings. Less has been said about what elevation to MLS means for the vibrant, homegrown micro-culture of the Timbers and the broader metropolitan culture of Portland. Leaving aside the gnarly financial and political details, the Timbers’ rise caps a remarkable little episode in local history, and begins a new one. For those of us who have followed the team, to one degree or another, since its modern-day launch in 2001, it’s an emotional moment. Yes, we’re going up. What does it mean?

In The Ball is Round, his majestic global history of soccer, author David Goldblatt insists that a given football club—and, in a larger sense, football culture—grows out of the culture, economy, politics and identity of its city, nation and time. The tumultuous radicalism of “Red Vienna” in the 1920s birthed a cerebral style of play exemplified by Matthias Sindelar, who mocked the Nazis at Austria’s final national-team game before the Anschluss. The staggering number of pro clubs in Buenos Aires replicates the city’s ethnic and political diversity and fierce neighborhood pride. Liberal, tolerant 1970s Holland directly informed that era’s freethinking, experimental Ajax and Dutch national sides. And the transformation of Premier League titans like Manchester United and Chelsea into “global brands” owned by foreign tycoons reflected the deregulated flow of capital, labor and information in the booms of the ‘90s and ‘00s.

So it goes with the Portland Timbers Football Club. Our team and the culture that surrounds it are both near-perfect reflections of the city circa now.

The original Timbers thrived in the middle and late 1970s, roughly coinciding with many of the crucial civic decisions that shaped modern Portland. The same era that gave us the urban-growth boundary, the beginnings of light rail and our identity as an environmental and subcultural Mecca gave us Pele’s last game at Civic Stadium, Clive Charles and the faint but enduring nickname “Soccer City USA.” The recession of the early ‘80s killed the first Timbers and the North American Soccer League itself, ensuring that football continued to subsist as a fringe sport in the US. Likewise, Portland itself faced economic malaise, and the payoff from the landmark decisions and cultural shifts of the ‘70s took awhile to arrive.

The ‘80s and ‘90s saw a number of attempts to create a professional club in Portland, none of which stuck. Still, the football culture that began, more or less, with the original Timbers took root and evolved. Elite youth clubs and a vigorous high-school football scene honed generations of players. Huge participatory leagues grew up around both the outdoor game and the indoor variant, and specialty shops opened to serve their equipment needs.

The University of Portland programs, under Charles’ stewardship, achieved national renown and, by the standards of the collegiate game, healthy crowds. Nike’s presence here attracted the North American headquarters of its main global competitor, Adidas. Adidas’ extraordinary heritage as a football brand prompted Nike—long a tentative presence in the game—to master soccer’s language and nuance, develop first-class product and move aggressively to snap up club, national and player endorsements.

Here and there, pubs showed European matches in the early morning or dead of night.

Portland changed. Hispanic, Asian and African communities arrived and flourished, as did a smaller but (at least for football culture) important stream of European expatriates, drawn by work at the sportswear brands, software companies or less quantifiable reasons. The American generations raised with soccer came of age, and at least a few didn’t give up the game as a youthful pastime. Meanwhile, the city’s music and art scenes thrived, emerging from Seattle’s shadow to cut a distinct figure on the national scene. The ‘70s-era policies designed to encourage density, preserve farmland and highlight neighborhood character began to foster a very distinct urban character, one focused (rhetorically, if not always in practice) on cultural independence, localism and small-scale enterprise.

Portland was determined not to be a standard-issue American city. We didn’t want to be Phoenix or Cleveland—Amsterdam seemed more our speed. We kept it weird. We were, in other words, perfect for football.

By the late ‘90s, few cities could match Portland as a friendly home for US national team matches. The 1999 Women’s World Cup games at Civic Stadium drew huge and passionate crowds. It was only a matter of time before a true professional team arrived.

When the Timbers reappeared in the spring of 2001, the dot-com era was still alive, if not particularly well. Portland experienced its own version of tech-boom hysteria, with the orange scooters of Kozmo.com patrolling the streets to deliver gourmet ice cream and videos at a net loss. The nouveau Timbers shared a little of the They-Do-It-With-Mirrors! character of all those strangely named, purposeless companies sucking up venture capital at the time. The franchise ownership group put up a shiny façade, including a renovated and renamed PGE Park  (in honor of an Enron subsidiary, no less), to conceal a flimsy, hyped-up business construct. I remember sitting, as a reporter, in a meeting in which I was shown an artist’s rendering of a future pro gridiron football game at PGE—an XFL game. The stadium remodel managed to combine a not-very-good soccer park with a not-very-good baseball park, but did include a very swish new sports bar.

And even though the Timbers would play in the second-tier USL, you could say the effort to educate the public on the difference between that circuit and MLS was less than diligent. (In fairness, MLS was wobbly at best at the time. No one would have been surprised if the thing had expired, leaving the USL on top of a very short pyramid.) True to the era, the first owners eventually ran out of happy talk, found themselves afoul of financial commitments to their landlord and ostensible partners, the City of Portland, and departed the scene.

On the other hand, the team itself exuded an agreeable, wacky vibe. When I interviewed the supposed star signing, ex-MLS (and ex-everything else) player Darren Sawatzky, he met me for a cocktail at the Driftwood Room in the old Mallory Hotel. He brought along his brother, whom I believe was working concessions at PGE.

The general manager, a full-bore football fanatic named Jim Taylor, would have sent his cobbled-together side of kids, journeymen and semi-pros out against Arsenal in half a heartbeat, such was his enthusiasm. The head coach, an old-school ex-West Ham man named Bobby Howe, was straight from Central Casting. I recall a concerted effort to turn the “lads” into gossip-column sex symbols. The team also boasted perhaps the greatest mascot in sports history: Timber Jim; a man in Carhartts; a man with a chainsaw; a man who sliced a hunk of wood off a loge every time the Timbers scored and brandished it at rival goalkeepers in a threatening manner. Timber Jim added a jolt of deranged American genius to the Europhile world of soccer fandom.

I Can't Hear You!!!

Add a string section and voila: musical comedy. Still, it was football, and Portland was ready. The new Timbers’ debut drew well over 10,000 fans, a terrific crowd in the context of the threadbare USL, better than many MLS attendances, and no doubt a shock to the chorus of dinosaur mainstream sports pundits who dismissed the new franchise in advance. (Taylor, I remember, was practically vibrating with excitement afterwards.) The germ of the Timbers Army hid somewhere in that opening-night crowd inflated by curiosity-seekers and one-time fans. By the middle of that first season, the pioneer hardcores staked out Section 107, at the north end of the ground, as their turf. The first drums, horns and hand-painted banners began to appear.

In those early days, the Timbers Army consisted of a few punk rockers, some lifelong soccer nerds, the occasional Hispanic dude, a smattering of Portland’s skins/ska/scooters contingent and whatever friends, acquaintances and significant others the aforementioned could drag along. But Portland is a city where a small number of people can touch off a sizeable cultural wave, and from the beginning the Army possessed out-of-scale enterprise and energy. Various online efforts soon coalesced around the roiling Talk Timbers message board, and the Army developed a recruitment policy that would do either the real Army or the Lesbian Avengers proud.

With the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, the Bush Era began in earnest. The Timbers Army made its own small statement, displaying flags representing all the players’ nationalities (even Kyrgyzstan, I believe) at the first game after the tragedy. It was an early sign that the Army would become a bastion of a certain kind of resistance—not overtly political, since the leaderless, structureless Army undoubtedly takes in anarchists, Republicans, professional Democratic Party activists, Pacific Greens and people who don’t vote. But during the bizarre years that followed, with so much of the national discourse synthesized and choreographed, the Army functioned as a spontaneous outlet for authentic grassroots expression in a city that sometimes felt like an internal-exile camp for liberals. And, if nothing else, the Timbers provided a forum in which to drink and forget.

In subtle ways, the fabric of the city itself helped the Army grow and Timbers survive. Unlike the average American stadium surrounded by oceanic parking lots, PGE Park sits amid a dense weave of streets and light-rail lines. Burnside Street, the central city’s greasy main artery, pulses right past the stadium, lined by bars, restaurants and cafes. The handy proximity of pubs like the Bitter End and the Bull Pen gives fans a chance to congregate before and after games, a crucial ingredient to the Army’s attempt to create a European-style matchday culture. The fact that Timbers players—a blue-collar, underpaid breed—sometimes drop by for a post-game pint adds a unique flavor to the club. As heroic Timbers defender Scot “With One ‘T’” Thompson once noted, it doesn’t happen in Los Angeles.

While all this feels organic and natural, the density, diversity and locally focused commerce around PGE Park are dividends of Portland’s concerted political efforts to turn back urban decline. A visit to one of the sterile exurban stadiums built by MLS teams in recent years underlines the distinct character of the Timbers’ environs.

While the club itself clung to viability under absentee ownership—enjoying, for a time, the dubious distinction of being the only football club in world history owned by a pro baseball league—the Army thrived. The fans shared a character-building history. Those of us who witnessed Chugger Adair, a forward with the monolithic stature (and mobility) of an Easter Island totem, will never forget him. On the field, the Timbers have won—to borrow an apt British-ism—sweet fuck all. In the stands, the club is arguably the most dynamic phenomenon in North American football culture. The evolution and internal nuance of Timbers Army culture could fuel many masters-degree theses. Let it suffice to say that the spectacle of today’s Army, which often numbers more than 1,000 fans packed into a surreal, maniacal, Technicolor-green north end, amazes me. The Army embodies Portland’s eccentricity, creativity and DIY spirit, as well as an urban patriotism worthy of a medieval city-state. Major League Soccer has only a faint notion of the monster it is about to absorb.

And in the face of competitive struggles, perennial fiscal uncertainty and the utter obscurity of the USL, the Timbers also garnered a broader following. Attendance last year increased 25 percent over 2007 despite the team’s hideous performance. (How hideous? Try 26 goals scored in 30 league games.) Within the USL First Division, only the Montreal Impact enjoyed stronger support. Fans in other parts of PGE Park generally appreciate the Army’s boisterous shenanigans—an appreciation not always mutual, unfortunately. They also demonstrate Portland’s larger appetite for cultural adventure. Though the city certainly harbors its own xenophobes, moron soccer-bashers and people who just can’t be bothered to find out about something new, the average Portlander exhibits a commendable open-mindedness. As the club joins MLS, this audience, which a personal ad might describe as “football-curious,” will be the crucial factor in its success.

It now looks like the Timbers will last exactly 10 seasons in their USL incarnation. The club will then strip down and rebuild as an MLS franchise, keeping the treasured identity first forged in the swingin’ ‘70s but changing just about everything else. The vitalizing, hate-charged rivalries with Seattle and Vancouver will migrate, too. Instead of the Rochester Raging Rhinos, Puerto Rico Islanders and Carolina RailHawks, the fixture list will include the Los Angeles Galaxy, Houston Dynamo and DC United. International matches against Mexican and Central American teams beckon—and maybe MLS clubs really will play in South America’s Copa Libertadores one day. Timbers v. Boca Juniors? It could happen, and PGE Park could become one of the best football venues on the continent.

Think what you will about the politicking that brings us here, this is going to be fun. The only question is whether the MLS-certified Timbers can maintain the fizzy underground brio of today’s lo-fi club. That is a question that will largely be answered on the terraces rather than on the field.

Photo credits: Senex Prime and ohhh_yeah808, on Flickr.

Belgian Darkhorse In World Cup Odds

Belgium? Country of 11 million inhabitants, roughly the size of Greater London or New York City? Yes – little Belgium are currently hotter favourites for the World Cup with the bookmakers than previous World Cup winners Italy, France, England and Uruguay.

Only four countries are more favoured than Belgium: hosts and five-time winners Brazil, perhaps inevitably, are odds-on. There can be little argument here; host nations of course typically fare well, while Brazil are – well – Brazil. The ghost of 1950 is still there, though whether that nightmare memory of losing on home turf serves as inspiration or heightens the nerves for the Brazilians remains to be seen.

Next up are Brazil’s most bitter of rivals, Argentina, who will also fancy themselves on South American soil, albeit a hostile one. And even if Messi says his reputation doesn’t depend upon World Cup glory, you’d be a fool to believe that: he will be giving everything to put the crown on a fantastic career and lift himself alongside Maradona in his nation’s pantheon.

Then there’s the Germans. Never rule them out, of course: major competition after major competition, there is almost never anyone as consistent, as determined to put on quality display after quality display. Head coach Joachim Low recently demonstrated he is not afraid to put aside reputation to take men inform, jettisoning Mario Gomez in his preliminary squad.

Perhaps surprisingly, the team that has dominated international football for the past half dozen years are only the fourth favourite for the 2014 World Cup according to the oddsmakers: Spain. Despite an all-Spanish Champions League final looming, the feeling is perhaps that Spain, like Barcelona, have passed their moment of prime. That, though, could perhaps lend itself to the Spanish, who may enjoy coming up on the rails rather than feeling the pressure again to be expected to defend their 2010 World Cup triumph.

And then comes little Belgium, a plucky contender featuring a plethora of youthful talent led by Eden Hazard. Don’t rule them out, even if it would be the greatest surprise in the history of the World Cup should the European minnow lift the World Cup for the first time.

This variety of contenders, big and small, is perhaps why commentators are noting that the amount of FIFA prop bets that sportsbooks are releasing are through the roof. A spokesperson for WCAction.com noted that “We haven’t seen these many FIFA World Cup betting options in any of the previous World Cups and the betting public is obviously not complaining.”

With just over a month until kick-off for the World Cup, expect little to change in the odds until the first ball is actually kicked – and then, of course, all bets are off!

Pitch Invasion Podcast Episode 9 – Fire Anniversary Special

Pitch Invasion podcastPI Podcast co-host Peter Wilt, the founding General Manager of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, looks back 15 years to the club’s earliest days, explaining where its name, identity and fans came from in a special Fire Anniversary edition of the podcast.

The show is available to stream or download below and is also on iTunes or available via RSS. Check out the PI Podcast archive here.

Follow hosts Tom Dunmore and Peter Wilt on Twitter:



Pitch Invasion Podcast Episode 8

Pitch Invasion podcast“It’s a driver of player compensation.” Bob Foose, the Executive Director of the MLS Players’ Union for almost a decade, explains why the Union releases player salaries annually. Bob joins Tom Dunmore and Peter Wilt to give some unique insight into how MLS operates, and how he advocates for player rights – and explains the reality behind the salaries released each year by the Union.

The show is available to stream or download below and is also on iTunes or available via RSS. Check out the PI Podcast archive here.

Follow hosts Tom Dunmore and Peter Wilt on Twitter:



Pitch Invasion Podcast Episode 6

Pitch Invasion podcastIn episode six of the Pitch Invasion podcast, hosts Peter Wilt and Tom Dunmore welcome Real Salt Lake president Bill Manning and Chicago Red Stars owner Arnim Whisler onto the show to discuss the business of American soccer.

The show is available to stream or download below and is also on iTunes or available via RSS. Check out the PI Podcast archive here.

Pitch Invasion Podcast Episode 5 – May 2012

In episode #5 of the pod, hosts Peter Wilt and Tom Dunmore welcome Cal FC Head Coach Eric Wynalda and Minnesota Stars FC Head Coach Manny Lagos onto the show, discussing their giant-killing efforts in the US Open Cup.

The Pitch Invasion podcast is based out of Chicago and Milwaukee, the respective homes for the show’s hosts Tom Dunmore and Peter Wilt, covering the world of soccer from a North American angle.

The show is available to stream or download below and is also on iTunes or available via RSS. Check out the PI Podcast archive here.

Pitch Invasion Podcast Episode 4 – April 2012

The fourth episode of the monthly Pitch Invasion podcast features interviews with Sporting Kansas City CEO Robb Heineman and Section 8 Chicago ISA Chairman Joel Piktel.

The Pitch Invasion podcast is based out of Chicago and Milwaukee, the respective homes for the show’s hosts Tom Dunmore and Peter Wilt, covering the world of soccer from a North American angle.

The show is available to stream or download below and is also on iTunes or available via RSS. Check out the PI Podcast archive here.

[buzzsprout episode='47063' player='true']

Please let us know your thoughts on the show in the comments below or drop us a tweet:

Pitch Invasion Podcast Episode 3 – March 2012

The third episode of the monthly Pitch Invasion podcast features interviews with FC United of Manchester General Manager Andy Walsh and MLS agent Patrick McCabe.

The Pitch Invasion podcast is based out of Chicago and Milwaukee, the respective homes for the show’s hosts Tom Dunmore and Peter Wilt, covering the world of soccer from a North American angle.

The show is available to stream or download below and is also on iTunes or available via RSS. Check out the PI Podcast archive here.

[buzzsprout episode='44957' player='true']

Please let us know your thoughts on the show in the comments below or drop us a tweet:

ultras

District Ultras: Small Numbers, Big Support In DC

In the corner of RFK’s crumbling edifice, a small but experienced group of fans have in recent times been making significant shows of support for DC United considerably out of proportion to their actual numbers. They are the District Ultras, founded in 2010. Here’s what they did in their first year:

Many of the individual members of District Ultras are not new to DC United, or to DC United’s historically active supporters’ group scene –  arguably the consistently strongest throughout much of the league’s 16-year history – but as a group they are a new addition to a scene traditionally powered by the well-known Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles groups.

Pitch Invasion asked Srdan Bastaic, one of the driving forces behind the District Ultras, where they had come from. ”Our core group has been around for much longer, handling all the tifo in the Barra for a long time, but as dominant as we were in, say, the 2005-2007 MLS period, by 2009 or so the supporter scene in US had become much stronger. It wasn’t just DC and Chicago anymore,” Bastaic said. “The DC atmosphere was already stagnating at that point and we wanted to be able to rival the new and old and improved groups. Successful groups need money to run and selling t-shirts and scarves to raise funds really wasn’t going to cut it at that point as it has in the past.”

Bastaic explained that this desire to take DC tifo to a new level and the required funding led to some intense discussions within Barra Brava. “So our tifo crew met, then tried to compromise and talk it through for several months and at the end we didn’t have a choice but to split into a separate group,” Bastaic explains.

This led to a breakaway group of tifo-mad ultras looking for a new section to call home at RFK, briefly floating amongst the other supporter group areas. “Nine of us walked and it was pretty funny for a few months,” Bastaic says. “We were all over the stadium, in the La Norte section one match, then in Screaming Eagles, then between sections. We actually did a few displays by walking into a section of regular fans and putting up these big 20 foot high banners, it was a pretty bizarre time.”

The District Ultras badly needed a space of their own. Bastaic continues, “Around the middle of the season, the DC front office figured we’re not going anywhere, so they gave us a far corner section in RFK. That’s when we started to grow, as people who were interested in our mentality had a stable section to come to.”

DC United versus Seattle, 7.15.10

DC United versus Seattle, 7.15.10

DC United versus LA, 7.18.10

DC United versus LA, 7.18.10

DC United versus Philadelphia, 8.22.10

DC United versus Philadelphia, 8.22.10

DC United versus Columbus, 9.4.10

DC United versus Columbus, 9.4.10

DC United versus Houston, 9.25.10

DC United versus Houston, 9.25.10

DC United versus Houston, 9.25.10

DC United versus Houston, 9.25.10

DC United versus Toronto, 10.23.10

DC United versus Toronto, 10.23.10

That first year in 2010 – with a tifo display every game – was, as would be expected, something of an uphill battle since the District Ultras had to “build everything all over again from the ground up,” as Bastaic puts it. Relations with the club were also “rocky at the start”, though smoothed over as the front office came to understand the group’s purpose: “we’re on the same side after all,” Bastaic says. Support from DC’s Screaming Eagles – particularly helpful with tickets for away games – was a big boon for the nascent group.

In 2011, another smaller though older DC supporters group, La Norte, moved adjacent to the District Ultras, and the two groups have developed a strong relationship together. This helped the District Ultras reach a new level with their support in 2011.

DC United versus New England, 7.20.11

DC United versus New England, 7.20.11

DC United versus Toronto, 8.6.11

DC United versus Toronto, 8.6.11

DC United versus Salt Lake, 9.24.11

DC United versus Salt Lake, 9.24.11

DC United versus Salt Lake, 9.24.11

DC United versus Salt Lake, 9.24.11

DC United versus Salt Lake, 9.24.11

DC United versus Salt Lake, 9.24.11

DC United versus Chicago, 10.15.11

DC United versus Chicago, 10.15.11

DC United versus Portland, 10.19.11

DC United versus Portland, 10.19.11

DC United versus Kansas City, 10.22.11

DC United versus Kansas City, 10.22.11

Starting a new supporters group is a massive challenge, even for those with the experience of the District Ultras leadership. As DC United General Manager Dave Kasper mentioned on the recent Pitch Invasion podcast, DC United’s support may have to wait until the club moves to a new stadium before it matches the new standards set in MLS support in recent seasons, reclaiming the ground once held by Barra Brava and Screaming Eagles.

One suspects if DC’s support does take a fresh spurt forward, it’ll be in part from District Ultras’ imaginative tifo efforts: as Bastaic puts it, “We’ve got a good mixture of veterans and new blood, and we can really go anywhere from here, supporting our club and representing our city.”

Update: Here’s a roundup of District Ultras’ 2011 tifo efforts

All photos provided by District Ultras. Photos 7.15.10 and 9.24.11 by Neil Brandvold.

pod

The Pitch Invasion Podcast Episode 2

The second episode of the monthly Pitch Invasion podcast, focused on North American soccer, features interviews with DC United General Manager Dave Kasper on the club’s upcoming MLS season and general development, and a conversation with Jeremy Wright of the Timbers Army, discussing the growth and future of supporter culture in Portland and nationwide following the recent Independent Supporters Council conference hosted in the Rose City.

It’s available to stream or download below and is also on iTunes. Please let us know your thoughts on the show in the comments below, and you can also listen to episode one here.

[buzzsprout episode='41932' player='true']

VfB Apolda 0-12 FC Carl Zeiss Jena

Amateur Football In Germany

SV Pfiffelbach 4-1 SV 1951 Gaberndorf

SV Pfiffelbach vs. SV 1951 Gaberndorf. Ground: Waldsportplatz Pfiffelbach.

Pfiffelbach score.

Pfiffelbach score.

SpG Glesien/ Zwochau/ Zschernitz 1:8 SpG Naundorf/ Zschepplin. Under-19 district league (5th level). Ground: Sportanlage an der Mühle ("Sports Ground at the Mill"; cap. 1,200 which of them 30 seated) Attendance: 15 (which of them 7 visiting supporters)

SpG Glesien/Zwochau/Zschernitz vs. SpG Naundorf/Zschepplin. Ground: Sportanlage an der Mühle.

SG Gnandstein 49 0:3 TuS Pegau 1903. Kreisliga A Muldental/ Leipziger Land - West (9th level, 4th amateur tier/ Group west of Leipzig-Muldental regional division).  Ground: Sportstätte Gnandstein (cap. 1,000 which of them 100 seated) - Attendance: ca. 300 (which of them ca. 50 visiting supporter)

SG Gnandstein 49 vs. TuS Pegau 1903. Ground: Sportstätte Gnandstein.

 

SG Gnandstein 49 0:3 TuS Pegau 1903. Kreisliga A Muldental/ Leipziger Land - West (9th level, 4th amateur tier/ Group west of Leipzig-Muldental regional division).  Ground: Sportstätte Gnandstein (cap. 1,000 which of them 100 seated) - Attendance: ca. 300 (which of them ca. 50 visiting supporter)

SG Gnandstein 49 vs. TuS Pegau 1903. Ground: Sportstätte Gnandstein.

SG Gnandstein 49 0:3 TuS Pegau 1903. Kreisliga A Muldental/ Leipziger Land - West (9th level, 4th amateur tier/ Group west of Leipzig-Muldental regional division).  Ground: Sportstätte Gnandstein (cap. 1,000 which of them 100 s

SG Gnandstein 49 vs. TuS Pegau 1903. Ground: Sportstätte Gnandstein.

BSV Halle-Ammendorf 0-1 Hallescher FC  Landespokal Sachsen-Anhalt (regional cup competition Saxony Anhalt), quarterfinal (6th division/ 1st amateur level vs 4th division, 1st semo-professional level). Ground: Stadion der Waggonbauer (cap. 3,000 which of them 62 seated) Att.: 1,850 (which of them up to 1,600 away supporter). Banner is a protest against rising ticket prices.

BSV Halle-Ammendorf vs. Hallescher FC Landespokal Sachsen-Anhalt. Ground: Stadion der Waggonbauer. Banner is a protest against rising ticket prices.

Hallescher SC 1996 II 1-4 Post- und Telekom SV Halle 1. Stadtklasse Halle (11th division, 6th amateur level)  Venue: Sportplatz Brandberge (cap. 700) Att.: ca 25 (which of them ca 10 away fans)

Hallescher SC 1996 II vs. Post- und Telekom SV Halle 1. Ground: Sportplatz Brandberge.

SG Aufbau/ Tasmania III 3-1 SV Bruckdorf 1948 II.

SG Aufbau/ Tasmania III vs. SV Bruckdorf 1948 II.

Sportplatz Motor II (cap: 1,000 standing), att.: 40.

Ground: Sportplatz Motor II.

SV Spora 3-0 SV Mertendorf  Kreisoberliga Burgenlandkreis (9th level, 4th amateur league)

SV Spora vs. SV Mertendorf. Ground: Sportplatz Nißma.

Football in Teuchern, Burgenlandkreis (Southern Saxony-Anhalt):  SV Teuchern II 0-1 SV Krauschwitz 1. Kreisklasse Burgenlandkreis, Staffel 3 (11th and lowest league, 6th amateur level)

SV Teuchern II vs. SV Krauschwitz 1. Ground: Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Stadion.

Naumburger SV 05 II 0-3 TSV Leuna 1919 - League: Landesklasse Sachsen-Anhalt, Staffel 6 (8th tier, 3rd amateur level)

Naumburger SV 05 II vs. TSV Leuna 1919. Ground: Sportanlage NSV 05/Hallescher Anger.

The "Upper Ground" and the "Lower Ground" are seperated by a railroad. Sportplatz Grün-Weiß Langendorf.

The “Upper Ground” and the “Lower Ground” are seperated by a railroad. Grounds: Sportplatz Grün-Weiß Langendorf.

SV Eintracht Profen 4-4 TSV Leuna 1919 * Landesklasse Sachsen-Anhalt, Staffel 6 (8th level, 3rd amateur tier)

SV Eintracht Profen vs. TSV Leuna 1919. Ground: stadion des Friedens.

Erich Schulz Sportstätte, Deuben.

Ground: Erich Schulz Sportstätte, Deuben.

Sportplatz am Wald, Droyßiger SG.

Ground: Sportplatz am Wald, Droyßiger SG.

Sportplatz am Wald, Droyßiger SG. The ground marks the edge of the wood of Droyßig.

Ground: Sportplatz am Wald, Droyßiger SG. The ground marks the edge of the wood of Droyßig.

Football ground of Fortuna Bad Bibra.

Football ground of Fortuna Bad Bibra (by wilson).

TuS Germania Schnelsen 2:1 FSV Dörnberg (main round, group D; venue: Stadion Lindenberg; attendance: 80).

TuS Germania Schnelsen vs. FSV Dörnberg. Ground: Stadion Lindenberg.

TSV Geyer 2-5 BSG Motor Zschopau, Cup of Saxony, qualifiying round. Ground: Sportplatz Geyer II (cap. 800)

TSV Geyer vs. BSG Motor Zschopau. Ground: Sportplatz Geyer II.

TSV Geyer 2-5 BSG Motor Zschopau, Cup of Saxony, qualifiying round. Ground: Sportplatz Geyer II (Cap. 800)

TSV Geyer vs. BSG Motor Zschopau. Ground: Sportplatz Geyer II.

VfB Apolda 0-12 FC Carl Zeiss Jena

VfB Apolda vs. FC Carl Zeiss Jena. Ground: Hans Geupel Stadion.

All photos taken  by and used with the permission of fchmksfkcb on Flickr.

- – -

If you are looking to find out all of the latest football scores as they happen, then make sure you come over and check out the the free service on offer at www.footballscores.com results today!

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Worksop Town 2-3 FC United of Manchester. Sandy Lane, Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

Away Days: FC United of Manchester

In 2005, FC United of Manchester was founded by disaffected fans of Manchester United. They created their own club, one that will forever be fan-owned, and began playing at the bottom of the English football pyramid, about as far from the bright lights of Old Trafford as one can go. From the beginning, FCUM fan Matthew Wilkinson has been traveling far and wide in support of the club and photographing much of their adventure as it has gone on. With the kind permission of Matthew, we present here a selection of his photos chronicling FC United of Manchester’s away days since 2005.

2005-2006

Stainton Park, Radcliffe. The home of Radcliffe Borough FC. Pictured at Castleton Gabriels v FC United of Manchester.

Stainton Park, Radcliffe. The home of Radcliffe Borough FC. Pictured at Castleton Gabriels v FC United of Manchester.

North West Counties Football League Division Two. New Mills 0-2 FC United of Manchester. Ewen Fields, Hyde, Greater Manchester.

North West Counties Football League Division Two. New Mills 0-2 FC United of Manchester. Ewen Fields, Hyde, Greater Manchester.

2006-2007

North West Counties Football League Division One. Abbey Hey 1-5 FC United of Manchester. Ewen Fields, Hyde, Greater Manchester.

North West Counties Football League Division One. Abbey Hey 1-5 FC United of Manchester. Ewen Fields, Hyde, Greater Manchester.

North West Counties Football League Challenge Cup Final. Curzon Ashton 1-2 FC United of Manchester. Tameside Stadium, Ashton-under-Lyne, Greater Manchester.

At Shambles Square on the day of the North West Counties Football League Challenge Cup Final. Curzon Ashton 1-2 FC United of Manchester.

2007-2008

Northern Premier League Division One North. Bridlington Town 0-3 FC United of Manchester. Queensgate, Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire.

Northern Premier League Division One North. Bridlington Town 0-3 FC United of Manchester. Queensgate, Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire.

Pictured at Fleetwood Town v FC United of Manchester.

Pictured at Fleetwood Town v FC United of Manchester.

2008-2009

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Kendal Town 1-2 FC United of Manchester. Lakeland Radio Stadium, Kendal, Cumbria.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Kendal Town 1-2 FC United of Manchester. Lakeland Radio Stadium, Kendal, Cumbria.

ome of Djurgårdens IF Fotboll. Pictured at Djurgårdens IF Fotboll v FC United of Manchester

Home of Djurgårdens IF Fotboll, Sweden. Pictured at Djurgårdens IF Fotboll v FC United of Manchester

2009-2010

FC Sankt-Pauli 3- 3 FC United of Manchester. Friendly. Millerntor-Stadion, Hamburg, Germany.

FC Sankt-Pauli 3- 3 FC United of Manchester. Friendly. Millerntor-Stadion, Hamburg, Germany.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Ossett Town 1-2 FC United of Manchester. Ingfield, Ossett, West Yorkshire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Ossett Town 1-2 FC United of Manchester. Ingfield, Ossett, West Yorkshire.

FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round. North Ferriby United 0-1 FC United of Manchester. Grange Lane, North Ferriby, East Riding of Yorkshire.

FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round. North Ferriby United 0-1 FC United of Manchester. Grange Lane, North Ferriby, East Riding of Yorkshire.

FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round. North Ferriby United 0-1 FC United of Manchester. Grange Lane, North Ferriby, East Riding of Yorkshire.

FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round. North Ferriby United 0-1 FC United of Manchester. Grange Lane, North Ferriby, East Riding of Yorkshire.

FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round. Sheffield FC 1-3 FC United of Manchester. Coach and Horses Ground, Dronfield, Derbyshire.

FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round. Sheffield FC 1-3 FC United of Manchester. Coach and Horses Ground, Dronfield, Derbyshire.

FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round. Sheffield FC 1-3 FC United of Manchester. Coach and Horses Ground, Dronfield, Derbyshire.

FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round. Sheffield FC 1-3 FC United of Manchester. Coach and Horses Ground, Dronfield, Derbyshire.

FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round. Sheffield FC 1-3 FC United of Manchester. Coach and Horses Ground, Dronfield, Derbyshire.

FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round. Sheffield FC 1-3 FC United of Manchester. Coach and Horses Ground, Dronfield, Derbyshire.

2010-2011

Friendly. Bala Town 1-6 FC United of Manchester. Maes Tegid, Bala, Gwynedd, Wales

Friendly. Bala Town 1-6 FC United of Manchester. Maes Tegid, Bala, Gwynedd, Wales

FA Cup Second Round. Brighton and Hove Albion 1-1 FC United of Manchester. Withdean Stadium, Brighton, East Sussex.

FA Cup Second Round. Brighton and Hove Albion 1-1 FC United of Manchester. Withdean Stadium, Brighton, East Sussex.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Matlock Town 1-2 FC United of Manchester. Causeway Lane, Matlock, Derbyshire

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Matlock Town 1-2 FC United of Manchester. Causeway Lane, Matlock, Derbyshire.

FA Cup First Round. Rochdale 2-3 FC United of Manchester. Spotland, Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

FA Cup First Round. Rochdale 2-3 FC United of Manchester. Spotland, Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

Friendly. Oldham Borough FC 0-0 FC United of Manchester. Whitebank Stadium, Oldham, Greater Manchester.

Friendly. Oldham Borough FC 0-0 FC United of Manchester. Whitebank Stadium, Oldham, Greater Manchester.

Northern Premier League. Mickleover Sports 2-0 FC United of Manchester. Mickleover Sports Ground, Mickleover, Derbyshire.

Northern Premier League. Mickleover Sports 2-0 FC United of Manchester. Mickleover Sports Ground, Mickleover, Derbyshire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Matlock Town 1-2 FC United of Manchester. Causeway Lane, Matlock, Derbyshire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Matlock Town 1-2 FC United of Manchester. Causeway Lane, Matlock, Derbyshire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Matlock Town 1-2 FC United of Manchester. Causeway Lane, Matlock, Derbyshire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Matlock Town 1-2 FC United of Manchester. Causeway Lane, Matlock, Derbyshire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Chasetown 2-0 FC United of Manchester. The Scholars Ground, Chasetown, Staffordshire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Chasetown 2-0 FC United of Manchester. The Scholars Ground, Chasetown, Staffordshire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Matlock Town 1-2 FC United of Manchester. Causeway Lane, Matlock, Derbyshire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Matlock Town 1-2 FC United of Manchester. Causeway Lane, Matlock, Derbyshire.

Northern Premier League. FC Halifax Town 4-1 FC United of Manchester. The Shay, Halifax, West Yorkshire.

Northern Premier League. FC Halifax Town 4-1 FC United of Manchester. The Shay, Halifax, West Yorkshire.

2011-2012

Pre match gossip. Bradford Park Avenue 2-5 FC United of Manchester. Horsfall Stadium, Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Pre match gossip. Bradford Park Avenue 2-5 FC United of Manchester. Horsfall Stadium, Bradford, West Yorkshire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Burscough 3-5 FC United of Manchester. Skelmersdale & Ormskirk College Stadium, Skelmersdale, Lancashire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Burscough 3-5 FC United of Manchester. Skelmersdale & Ormskirk College Stadium, Skelmersdale, Lancashire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Chorley FC 2-0 FC United of Manchester. Victory Park, Chorley, Lancashire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Chorley FC 2-0 FC United of Manchester. Victory Park, Chorley, Lancashire.

FA Trophy Second Round Qualifying. Durham City FC 1-1 FC United of Manchester. Arnott Stadium, Durham, County Durham.

FA Trophy Second Round Qualifying. Durham City FC 1-1 FC United of Manchester. Arnott Stadium, Durham, County Durham.

Friendly. Leek Town 0-2 FC United of Manchester. Harrison Park, Leek, Staffordshire.

Friendly. Leek Town 0-2 FC United of Manchester. Harrison Park, Leek, Staffordshire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. FC United of Manchester 1-1 Marine AFC. Bower Fold, Stalybridge, Greater Manchester.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. FC United of Manchester 1-1 Marine AFC. Bower Fold, Stalybridge, Greater Manchester.

Northern Premier League Premier Division, Stocksbridge Park Steels FC 2-2 FC United of Manchester. Bracken Moor, Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire.

Friendly. Winsford United 1-0 FC United of Manchester. Barton Stadium, Winsford, Cheshire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Worksop Town 2-3 FC United of Manchester. Sandy Lane, Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

Northern Premier League Premier Division. Worksop Town 2-3 FC United of Manchester. Sandy Lane, Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

See more photos by Matthew Wilkinson on his Flickr page

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DIY Graphics: Portland Timbers Supporter Propaganda

This was how it began:

MLS is Next poster- Timbers Army propaganda

Graphic designer Brent Diskin had long liked soccer, but grew up in a household proud of its support of Oregon State’s college football team, and that was his main sporting interest until very recently. So how did Diskin end up producing the posters above, upon the Portland Timbers’ elevation to Major League Soccer in 2009?

“It was through my eldest brother – an alum of Concordia College’s soccer team – that I became aware of the Timbers and was able to make it to a few matches,” Diskin told Pitch Invasion. “When the announcement of the Timbers’ promotion to MLS in March of 2009 was made, I was carried away in my brother’s excitement and immediately started making my first few propaganda poster modifications (with “MLS – You’re Next! “ being the first). That is when I moved from being a simple fan to a supporter.”

As so often happens to supporters who become involved with passionate groups such as the Timbers Army, a toe-in-the-water soon becomes an obsession. Though Diskin’s schedule and budget made it tough for him to make it to many games, he continued to contribute how he could with his graphics, and began building from the natural connection of the Timbers Army to war imagery.

Portland Timbers Army Propaganda Posters

Yet as his work has progressed and Diskin has become more embedded into Timbers Army culture, so has his output reflected the diversity of the group’s grassroots support.

Bike Brigade and Women of the Rose City: Rise Up posters

“I understood fairly quickly that the Timbers Army has a strong DIY culture and my little efforts will always be in support of that,” Diskin continues. “While I love making them because they allow me to be creative and push my abilities well beyond what my day-to-day work allows, I make them because I love my team, my Army, and my community. Simply, this is one small way I can help support the Timbers beyond losing my voice at Jeld-Wen Field. It has always been my hope that they help keep everyone’s action and energy up, not only in the offseason, but during the year’s campaign. I’ll certainly take a pint, but never a dime for my support.”

Green and White, Home Opener Timbers Poster

Listen to Your Capos and Who Who Timbers' Posters

Of course, a key part of any supporters’ culture is rivalry, and perhaps for nobody more in North America than for Timbers and Seattle Sounders fans.

Seattle Rivalry Posters - Timbers Army Propaganda

Not just the Sounders, however.

Vancouver and San Jose Rivalry Posters, Portland Timbers

Most of Diskin’s work is, though, positively natured. Away travel is promoted with this classy series.

Timbers Army' Legends Travel Posters

And as Diskin concludes, ultimately it’s about support of the team on the field: “These days, I finally have a season ticket and that guarantee that I can make it to every match, but I’ll still keep up my efforts and support and do all I can as a supporter to support the lads and bolster the spirits of my Army. As Timber Jim is often heard saying, “Spread the Love”…and this is my small way of doing so.”

Cameron Knowles and John Spencer Posters - Timbers Army Propaganda

Peter Lowry and Brian Umony Posters

Like most MLS supporters, for Diskin, the 2012 season cannot begin soon enough: he’s just able to express it visually in a way most of us cannot.

Timbers Season Loading, Timbers Ax Posters

Detroit City FC logo

Pitch Invasion Podcast Extra – Interview With Sean Mann of Detroit City FC

The logo of Detroit City FC does not feature a cartoon soccer ball. In fact, it doesn’t say or show soccer anywhere on it: instead, in grand but subdued tones of burgundy and gold, the badge is dominated by a classy representation of the statue below, the Spirit of Detroit in the city’s downtown:

Spirit of Detroit Statue

This is the identity that Detroit City FC have pinned themselves to. An instantly recognizable civic symbol of Detroit, and one that suggests sophisticated urbanism rather than suburban soccer.

Detroit City FC logo

One of the leading figures behind Detroit City FC, Sean Mann, spoke to Pitch Invasion this week about the new club, who will begin play at the fourth tier of American soccer in the NPSL this May.

You can listen to the full interview with Sean below, or over on iTunes.

[buzzsprout episode='39872' player='true']

Sean explains how Detroit City FC sprouted from an urban soccer league (Detroit City Futbol League) he began a couple of years ago: “When people think of Detroit, they think of a big blob of decay,” Sean said. “But in reality it’s a city with a whole slew of neighborhoods that often get overlooked. So my idea was let’s get people together, let’s build up neighborhood pride and neighborhood recognition. For me, the perfect vehicle for that was soccer.”

Copa Detroit PosterThat vehicle, according to this piece at model D, quickly proved to be a great success:

Here is a puzzle. Create a program that can achieve the following results:

1) Rally hundreds of motivated, young Detroit residents around a single cause. 2) Highlight 22 different historic neighborhoods throughout the city, and create unique branding for each. 3) Get the crowd out to a different bar, in a different neighborhood, each week. 4) Double the number of participants by the second year. 5) Get 10 people to pack up and move to Detroit.

This sounds like a job that will need a lot of financing, committees and sub-committees, and months planning with a large team in place to implement, right? Wrong. This is what happens when you start up a soccer league in Detroit.

League Commissioner Sean Mann started the Detroit City Futbol League last year as a way to bring city residents together, to celebrate the rich fabric of neighborhoods that make up the city, and to bring the 18-and-over crowd together over something other than frustrating politics.

Detroit City FC aim, at the grassroots level of the NPSL’s essentially semi-pro fourth tier of American soccer, to tap into that urban crowd, and bring them together in the city to support a team consciously striving to appeal to adult supporters and participants already in love with the sport.

“Our core focus is on using this team to build the supporters culture, to boost the supporters culture that’s already here in Detroit and give them a bigger platform,” Sean explained.

Sean tells Pitch Invasion how Detroit City FC’s identity came about, who’s behind it and their hopes for the future. Give the interview a listen to learn about an unusual approach to building a soccer club in North America, and special thanks to Sean for joining us in a special extra episode of the Pitch Invasion podcast.

[buzzsprout episode='39872' player='true']

One correction: we mistakenly identify the Michigan Bucks as playing in USL Pro rather than USL PDL.

Pitch Invasion Podcast on iTunes

The Pitch Invasion podcast, presented by Peter Wilt and Tom Dunmore, is now available on iTunes, so please take a second and leave a rating there if you enjoy the show!

If you haven’t listened to it, the inaugural episode was released last week, and featured Wilt discussing how to start an MLS club with Montreal Impact Jesse Marsch, along with Dunmore interviewing former Supporters Direct chief executive Dave Boyle about UK and US fan culture.

You can listen below or, again, subscribe on iTunes.

[buzzsprout episode='39390' player='true']

 

 

The Pitch Invasion Podcast Episode 1

Almost five years into the existence of Pitch Invasion, you can now hear the dulcet tones of Pitch Invasion editor Tom Dunmore and regular contributor Peter Wilt on a new monthly podcast, featuring interviews with interesting people from the world of soccer.

It’s available to stream or download below and is also on iTunes. Please let us know your thoughts on the inaugural show in the comments below!

[buzzsprout episode='39390' player='true']

Supporting Operation Pitch Invasion

Operation Pitch InvasionA significant portion of the proceeds ($10 per scarf) from all pre-orders this week of the new Pitch Invasion bar scarf will be donated to benefit the Operation Pitch Invasion charity in Portland, Oregon. Here’s why…

When supporters of the Portland Timbers, organized by the 107ist Trust and Timbers Army, announced in 2011 that they were launching a new charity called Operation Pitch Invasion to support the growth of the game at the grassroots level in Portland, Pitch Invasion’s interest was piqued by more than just the Doppelgänger.

Since its launch in 2007, a central interest of Pitch Invasion’s has been a concern with how supporters of the game engage in and build the sport in their local communities in positive and meaningful ways. To do more than consume the game, by contributing to its grassroots growth.

As Shawn Levy’s An Insider’s History to OPI explains, Operation Pitch Invasion in Portland exemplifies those values, coming out of a desire held by the Timbers’ strongest supporters to do more than just cheer on gameday as their team moved up to Major League Soccer:

About three years ago, when it became evident that Major League Soccer in Portland was likely and that the Timbers Army would become a much bigger entity than anyone imagined, those of us who worked on the day-to-day business of the Timbers Army got together to ponder the question of what we might do with all the positive power, energy, communitarianism and goodwill that a massive Timbers Army would comprise.

One way to give back to the community, it was concluded, was to help build the sport literally from the grassroots: building safe pitches for Portland’s kids to grow up playing the game on. As Levy explains:

Operation Pitch Invasion is the fruition of that vision: the use of Timbers Army fundraising, sweat equity and deal-making to give back to the community in the form of quality places to play the game. And we want you involved.

Operation Pitch Invasion is a means for anyone who cares about the community in which they live to give back by building and maintaining for soccer fields where all of us, our children and our grandchildren can play the game we love. And where, we hope, future Timbers will learn the game — from current and past Timbers and members of the Timbers Army.

The new PItch Invasion scarf

Given the tie-in both symbolically and philosophically, PI could think of no better way to launch its new store and new scarf than by supporting OPI in the process. So we recently contacted the OPI board, and agreed an idea to raise funds for their charitable efforts.

To help kickstart Operation Pitch Invasion’s 2012 fundraising, $10 from every scarf ordered this week (through Monday, January 23rd) will be donated to OPI – and it just so happens, the scarf’s color scheme is rather fitting for fans of the Portland Timbers.

To support this charitable cause, order your Pitch Invasion scarf online now. Help grow grassroots soccer, one pitch at a time.

- Tom Dunmore
Founder, Pitch Invasion

A Year In Non-League Football Photos

Castles. Hedges the size of grandstands. Corner flags that have seen better days. New York Cosmos fans. Luxury suites the size of an outdoor toilet. And real, genuine, muddy football. Pitch Invasion tours a sampling of Non-League football in England throughout 2011, courtesy of the wonderful work and dedication to the lower levels of the English game by photographer Paul Paxford. Check out more from Paul at Pitchside Photo.

The grandstand picture has now been demolished. Hayes & Yeading vs. Kidderminster Harriers, Church Road, Hayes - January 2011

The grandstand pictured has now been demolished. Hayes & Yeading vs. Kidderminster Harriers, Church Road - January 2011

Lewes FC fans at the Dripping Pan

Lewes FC Fans. The Dripping Pan, Lewes - January 2011

The Club Shop, Lewes FC, The Dripping Pan

The Club Shop. Lewes FC, The Dripping Pan - January 2011

The stands and at the Dripping Pan, Lewes FC - January 2011

The stands at the Dripping Pan, Lewes FC - January 2011

A Walk In The Ground, Lymington FC, The Sports Ground - January 2011

A Walk In The Ground. Lymington FC, The Sports Ground - January 2011

The Hospitality Suite, Lymington FC, The Sports Ground - January 2011

For the Non-League 1%. Lymington FC, The Sports Ground - January 2011

Not A Crowded Grandstand, Marlow FC, Alfred Davis Memorial Ground - February 2011

Not A Crowded Stand. Marlow FC, Alfred Davis Memorial Ground - February 2011

Now That's A Grandstand. Marlow FC, Alfred Davis Memorial Ground, Marlow - February 2011

Now That's A Grandstand. Marlow FC, Alfred Davis Memorial Ground - February 2011

No Standing? Thatcham Town FC, Waterside Park - March 2011

No Standing? Thatcham Town FC, Waterside Park - March 2011

Sold Out? Thatcham FC, Waterside Park - March 2011

Sold Out? Thatcham FC, Waterside Park - March 2011

Lonely or Content? Staines Town FC, Wheatsheaf Park - April 2011

Lonely or Content? Staines Town FC, Wheatsheaf Park - April 2011

Grandstand. Maidenhead United vs. Dartford, York Road - April 2011

Grandstand. Maidenhead United vs. Dartford, York Road - April 2011

Maidenhead FC Take On Dartford, York Road, Maidenhead - April 2011

Maidenhead FC Take On Dartford. York Road, Maidenhead - April 2011

Reading Fans Seek Alternate Entertainment, Reading XI vs. Eastleigh, Silverlake Stadium, Eastleigh - July 2011

Reading Fans Seek Alternate Entertainment. Eastleigh vs. Reading XI, Silverlake Stadium - July 2011

A  Lonely Supporter At Sholing v Salisbury City, Portsmouth Road, Southampton - July 2011

A Lonely Supporter At Sholing vs. Salisbury City. Portsmouth Road, Southampton - July 2011

Welcome To Hartlet Wintney vs. Bashley, The Memorial Ground, Hartley Wintney - September 2011

Recycle While You Support. Hartley Wintney FC, The Memorial Ground - September 2011

Save! Basingstoke vs. Hartley Wintney, The Camrose, Basingstoke - October 2011

Save! Basingstoke vs. Hartley Wintney, The Camrose - October 2011

Cambridge City Celebrate. AFC Totton vs. Cambridge City, Little Testwood Farm, Totton - October 2011

Cambridge City Celebrate. AFC Totton vs. Cambridge City, Little Testwood Farm - October 2011

Frome Town FC, Badgers Hill, Frome - September 2011

Frome Town FC, Badgers Hill - September 2011

Corner Flag, Andover New Street vs. Bridport, Foxcotte Park, Andover - September 2011

An Experienced Corner Flag. Andover New Street vs. Bridport, Foxcotte Park - September 2011

Sunset. Brockenhurst vs. Lymington FC, Grigg Lane - September 2011

Sunset. Brockenhurst vs. Lymington FC, Grigg Lane - September 2011

FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round, Basingstoke Town vs. Hartley Wintney, The Camrose, Basingstoke - October 2011

FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round Fever. Basingstoke Town vs. Hartley Wintney, The Camrose - October 2011

Not The Real Steven Gerrard. Basingstoke Town vs. Hartley Wintney, The Camrose, Basingstoke - October 2011

Not The Real Steven Gerrard. Basingstoke Town vs. Hartley Wintney, The Camrose - October 2011

Celebration, Basingstoke Town 4 Hartley Wintney 0, The Camrose, Basingstoke - October 2011

Celebration! Basingstoke Town vs. Hartley Wintney, The Camrose - October 2011

Bemerton Heath Harlequins vs. Saltash United, The Clubhouse, Bemerton Heath - November 2011

Bemerton Heath Harlequins vs. Saltash United, The Clubhouse - November 2011

Gosport Borough vs. Braintree Town, Privett Park, Gosport - December 2011

Gosport Borough vs. Braintree Town, Privett Park - December 2011

Chasing the Spitfire? Eastleigh vs. Boreham Wood, Silverlake Stadium - December 2011

Chasing the Spitfire? Eastleigh vs. Boreham Wood, Silverlake Stadium - December 2011

Real Football, Fake Team. Eastleigh vs. Boreham Wood, Silverlake Stadium, Eastleigh - December 2011

Real Football, Fake Team. Eastleigh vs. Boreham Wood, Silverlake Stadium - December 2011

Arundel Castle, Arundel FC vs. Horsham, Mill Road, Arundel - December 2011

Arundel Castle Looms. Arundel FC vs. Horsham, Mill Road - December 2011

Curling It In. Arundel FC vs. Horsham YMCA, Mill Road, Arundel - December 2011

Curling It In. Arundel FC vs. Horsham YMCA, Mill Road - December 2011

All photos by Paul Paxford. Check out more from Paul at Pitchside Photo and on Flickr.

The New Pitch Invasion Scarf & Book – Special Offer This Weekend

With the Pitch Invasion book release party tonight in Chicago, today seemed a propitious time to launch the new Pitch Invasion online store.

Through the weekend, you can take 20% off all the store items by entering the coupon code “PI” at checkout. The store features The Very Best of Pitch Invasion book, stylish PI stickers and buttons, and an all new Pitch Invasion scarf – an embroidered bar scarf available in very limited quantities via pre-order until January 30th.

So, please take a look around the store, shoot us any questions, and thanks for supporting Pitch Invasion.

PS – Look out for a special store promotion next week benefiting the charitable Operation Pitch Invasion project in Portland, Oregon…

A Fragmented Future? English Football Broadcast Rights and the Challenge of Google and Apple

Google and Apple may not exactly be the first names that spring to mind when looking for alternatives to challenge Sky’s dominance of sports broadcasting in Britain, but it should be no surprise that two of the giants of the tech and online world are eyeing up sport as a way to lure consumers into their new offerings. It was, after all, a key part of Rupert Murdoch’s strategy as he battled to establish his satellite broadcasting operation in Britain at the start of the 1990s.

In the past few days, there have been rumours that Google and Apple are both considering a bid for the broadcasting rights to the Premier League when they come up for renewal later this year. They remain just that – rumours – and it seems likely that Apple won’t bid, while there is nothing to indicate yet that Google may consider making a sizeable investment in English football broadcast rights. But with both companies expected to move further into the TV and broadcasting industry, it does show other leagues and sports that it may be worth thinking outside the traditional broadcasting methods. Indeed, for some, it may be the only way to grow and survive.

Under the current broadcast rights deal, Sky is paying around £1.6bn to show 115 live Premier League games per season, with ESPN broadcasting the final package of games. Under a deal with the European Commission, the Premier League had to ensure that the six packages were divided between more than one broadcaster. That deal has now expired, although the Premier League is unlikely to risk another legal battle by awarding all games to Sky (or, more unlikely, another broadcaster).

The amounts of money involved are quite staggering and few broadcasters can afford them. Even lower down the English league pyramid structure, where rights are nowhere near as expensive, the cost of producing live games or even highlight shows are still high enough to be questionable in terms of cost-effectiveness. Due to budget cuts, the BBC opted not to show Football League highlights during the recent festive period, despite a full set of fixtures, while in non-League Premier Sports opted to pull out of screening Darlington versus Barrow last season rather than risk sending a crew to a game that stood a possibility of being called off.

And yet with the growth of the internet and the willingness over the past few seasons for broadcasters to snap up as many sport and football rights as possible, fans have been treated to a proliferation of football across a range of platforms to the extent that it’s almost expected that non-Premier League games and highlights will be if not free, then at least readily available. Never mind that football has had its fingers burnt twice in the past with the collapse of both ITV Digital and Setanta, the expectation is there.

This, however, overlooks the fact that if non-Premier League football was thought to be profitable for broadcasters, they would be rushing to show more of it. Ratings for ESPN’s foreign league coverage are low in the UK, while the expense involved for lower league games is high. That none of the commercial broadcasters other than Sky have made a serious play for these live matches in recent years tells its own story. Only the BBC, with its public service commitments, could make a sensible argument for broadcasting lower league football, and with their proposed Delivering Quality First cuts – especially around local radio commentaries – even Auntie appears to be scaling back lower league coverage.

This, then, is the state of football broadcasting in the UK at the moment. Rights for live Premier League games are so expensive to bid for that only a small handful of broadcasters – Sky, ESPN and, given their recent acquisitions of French rights, probably al-Jazeera – are able to offer the vast sums required, while the lower leagues are too expensive to produce to make a serious challenge to Sky for the rights (or, in the case of Premier Sports and their deal to broadcast non-League football, hardly enriching for the clubs involved).

Which is why looking outside of the traditional mediums could be seen as a good thing. For the Premier League, should Apple and Google, two companies with the financial clout to challenge Sky, decide to bid then it could herald the much-needed shake-up of the current near-monopoly on top flight rights. For lower leagues, exploring non-linear options are, quite simply, a must if they are to at least stand a chance of reaching existing fans and new audiences. A new generation of internet connected app-friendly televisions are on the way powered by familiar OS and Android platforms. While it may be a tad hyperbolic to proclaim these will change the way you watch TV forever, we’re already seeing the current generation of IPTVs having a slight shift on the way we consume our television. The world of streaming, tablets, phones and TV is amalgamating as one.

Of the realistic options, Apple appear to be the most curious of those rumoured. The tech company already has a deal in place with Sky to show archive footage through iTunes, while Sky’s successful Sky Go mobile and tablet apps currently offer a slick Premier League broadcasting experience on the iPhone and iPad.

Bidding for expensive UK Premier League rights would also represent something of a risk for Apple, given football’s standing in the US, although globally, given the Premier League’s appeal, it could prove to be a sound piece of business, especially in the long term if it secures the US rights to the competition given the growing appeal of the “EPL” on that side of the Atlantic. But any movement on this, if it were to materialise, would as likely depend on the offerings of Apple TV, how it develops and whether it becomes a mass-market product.

The search giant Google, however, would seem to be much more of a natural fit for broadcasting rights. They already own YouTube, which signed a two year deal to broadcast the Indian Premier League cricket. Under YouTube’s stewardship, the channel racked up a cool 50 million views. In comparison, current rights holder Times India’s channel, which is produced in conjunction with Google, has just under 15 millions views. The appetite and familiarity with well known sporting brands is, it appears, present online and is not discouraged by a non-traditional media company owning the rights.

IPL YouTube

For Google, the infrastructure (including Android), not to mention the money, is in place, although one complication may be the ongoing copyright dispute between the Premier League and YouTube. Google have also recently shed many extra projects as they get behind their core offerings (while continuing to innovate), and the video Hangouts on Google+ raise an interesting possibility of shared viewing experiences between friends or fans of clubs through special individual channels. There are so many possibilities for sports broadcasting on Google – be it TV, apps, online or social network – it would be easy to spend a whole article speculating on what these may be, but suffice to say the barriers offered by traditional broadcasters would be broken down should the leagues be willing to do so – itself a big sticking point.

It is also worth, briefly, considering Facebook. The social behemoth may not have been mentioned thus far but they have already shown that, on a smaller scale, they can very competently handle sports broadcasting. Budweiser and the FA’s streaming of the Extra Preliminary FA Cup Qualifying tie between Ascot United and Wembley FC may have been a one-off novelty but was a smooth, entertaining and enjoyable experience. Liking Budweiser’s page was a small price to pay for a professional broadcast and the online viewing figures of 27,000 were more than even ITV4 gets for some Europa League matches.

Facebook broadcast of Ascot United

Facebook’s goal of being at the heart of everybody’s lives would fit with acquiring sports rights (especially as the majority of work making it broadcast-ready would probably be done by the partners). It is not hard to envisage live streaming of games through the social network or via the Facebook app on your TV. Again, the restrictions here are unlikely to be on Facebook’s part but from the Premier League or any other body selling their live broadcast rights.

For the Premier League, they have the luxury of picking and choosing, such is the strength and popularity of the product they are selling. Whether they’d be willing to relinquish their grip and allow any sort of fragmentation from the new media companies potentially interested in their rights is another question. For the lower leagues, it is up to them to seize the initiative.

What would the Football League be worth if the rights were sold to Facebook or Google? Would more people be inclined to subscribe or sign-up to an app on a new generation IPTV? Could revenue be raised through pay-per-view subscriptions as well as longer subscriptions? Would lower league or non-League games attract higher audiences if they were streamed via the official page on Facebook or via YouTube? And if these games were readily available to the casual lower league fan, what impact would this have on attendances? None of these questions are easy or even possible to answer, but need to be asked or considered, at the very least.

Or could we yet see a situation where it is not the league who negotiate the deal for the rights, but an enterprising club? Think of the individual rights that are negotiated by La Liga clubs in Spain, but then fragmented and offered to a range of platforms and tech or social companies, not the traditional broadcasters.

Already the individual leagues risk being left far behind when it comes to mobile or TV app development, if they have even considered it. Broadcasters and other companies know that mobile viewing – be it on a phone or tablet – will provide a significant market in the future. Whether the leagues are following suit is debatable.

We could potentially reach a point where an enterprising club with an abnormal fan base for the division they are in – say Luton or Bradford, for example – decide to cut out the middle man and go direct to Google and stream through the official Luton Town YouTube channel and offer special Luton Town viewing hangouts with post-match viewer-engaged content via Hangouts on Google+. Or perhaps the game will be streamed via the official Bradford City Facebook page and IPTV app, with all the social benefits that this brings, not to mention the marketing advantages such a channel offers to the club.

And if these lower league clubs are successful, the bigger clubs will almost certainly want their slice of the action. Perhaps we may face a future where you purchase the Facebook app but opt to watch through the dedicated Manchester City channel rather than the main broadcast, or a host of other fragmented options, while chatting to other fans of the same persuasion during the match. Fanciful? Perhaps. But you can already see the foundations of virtual stadiums just through this method, and this probably only discusses a small part of what could be achieved.

But this does get ahead of what would currently be required. For both Football League and Premier League clubs, there would need to be a majority vote to abandon the collective agreement on income from these football rights. To do so would be hugely controversial and go against the very fabric of the game in Britain. Yet with governing bodies often some way behind clubs and technology in both adoption and thinking, the question is how prepared clubs would be to miss out if a new route makes them more money.

Certainly the aforementioned Manchester City are already leading the way, digitally. Their website is rightly lauded as one of the best in the country and their YouTube channel is both slick and engaging. Should opportunities open up for exploiting online viewing, it is clubs such as City who are likely to be at the forefront. The infrastructure and planning is in place, it is just the league itself that prevents them from maximising their online potential in terms of use of live broadcasts and highlights.

Man City YouTube Channel

Given football broadcast rights are complicated enough as it is, perhaps we may see another layer added for tablet or TV apps rather than channels accessed through a browser. Perhaps it is these clubs may look to exploit separately rather than collectively. Could online prove an exception and break the collective agreement? Technologically, there are many attractive and exciting reasons for doing so. Legally it may prove more different, and morally it does not sit comfortably with the idea of keeping the game competitive (and would, as likely, provoke a similar reaction to Liverpool’s executive Ian Ayre raising the notion of clubs individually negotiating their international broadcast rights).

Whether these changes in technology and broadcast viewing habits would improve top flight football, or simply serve to make it more tribal and take it further away from its roots is an another question, although one you feel the clubs and league won’t worry to much about if it proves successful, even if they are unable to negotiate individual rights. In an online medium very much concerned with openness and equality, any success in this area could serve to make the bigger clubs even richer. For the Premier League it’s a welcome addition to have on the table. For the smaller clubs, it may become a necessity.

Fixing Major League Soccer’s Font Problem

When even the Revolution are teasing swatches and releasing well-received jersey designs, it’s obvious that MLS kits are seeing good days. Sales are up, sponsors are taking real estate away from awkward team names, badges are common, third kits are garish and beautiful, and little embellishments are actually adding soul to a league identity once formed from scratch by an apparel company’s marketing division.

But there’s still a problem. Major League Soccer’s uniform font persists, blocking the orderly progression of good design.

The idea that the entire league would use the same font lockups is interesting to begin with. North American leagues largely allow teams leeway in customizing the look of their numbers and letters; that’s how you get Red Sox “3”s, Laker “3”s old Blue Jay “3”s and Steeler “3”s. Thousands of colleges and minor league teams have unique takes too. On the world stage, soccer is far from uniform, and international competitions showcase a range of interesting font design. Conversely, the English Premier League has been perfecting the font lockup for at least 15 years; any international soccer fan will recognize the word “Scholes” set in the Premier Leage’s first universal font (a squeezed Optima, in fact), and “Rooney” set in the present version. These aren’t just Manchester United fonts, of course – they’re league-wide, regardless of club or jersey maker. That “Premier League look” – a classy, professional font, topped off by the lion logo “bug” at the base of each jersey numeral, has gone some way towards giving the league a certain distinction and a somewhat regal air.

In some respects, the first 15 years of MLS is best described as a collection of emulated behaviors; some came from the domestic sports landscape (often the NFL) and some from international sport. In this case, MLS chose to model the English game, right down to the logo-enhanced numerals. This is a pretty good idea, in my estimation; anything that builds league-wide identity and promotes professionalism was and is good for the league. But MLS picked a very different style for the execution.

MLS' font problem - current jerseyI don’t know the name of the font, so I’ll call it “Camaro Sans”. It’s fast – so fast, the wind is sweeping over every character, shearing off fore-facing corners and connectors, and even blowing the numerals backwards into italics. The “N”s and “M”s are playfully lowercase even in uppercase applications, and the “I”s have it both ways, with a cute slash that could denote a tittle. Half-piping around the numerals look more like racing stripes. And the numeral logos – not a lion, but the old MLS boot-meets-ball model – are proudly there like license plates at the bottom of each number where you’d expect them.

In short, it is the Camaro of fonts – it’s souped up and sleek and if you’re MLS, maybe you hope it ends up in a poster on an impressionable kid’s bedroom wall. But that same appeal dates quickly and now, after a few years of growing up, when the kid is 25 and wants an S-Class, it’s a bit laughable. MLS design choices may have, in the past, been necessarily bold, but at this point in the league’s history, the font presents a somewhat tacky look.

In today’s MLS, there are teams trying to be modern and sleek – and also classic, and traditional, and brazenly original. While the EPL found a look that blends into teams’ identities, the MLS lockup aggressively pushes an aesthetic onto every team that, today, rarely fits. Soccer isn’t a new idea on the American landscape anymore; the public doesn’t need to be hit over the head with “sport of the future” or “soccer is super cool!” metaphors any longer. American soccer fans are ready to accept more refined design ideas.

I think the league-wide lockup should stay. But it’s time to iterate. My ideal?

MLS Jersey - Fixing the font problem

How about a look that’s distinctive, but a little less jarring and single-minded? This is set in Mentone, and it’s a simple, professional look. I really like how the x-height of the nameplate is far less pronounced, and the numerals are flat and simple – much more timeless and adaptable.

Or,

MLS Jersey - Fixing the font problem

Here’s a sportier style, set in Cuprum, which gives the name a bit more prominence and allows the numerals some spring (with the offset shadows) without going too far down the racing-stripe path.

Or perhaps:

MLS Jersey - Fixing the font problem

Here’s a very all-American, almost collegiate look, set in a combination of Dezen Pro (for the letters) and Inconsolata (for the numerals). The numbers retain a bit of definition with a very subtle knockout-offset.

And finally, the compromise. If you must retain that sport-of-the-future feel (or just evolve slowly from today’s look),

MLS Jersey - Fixing the font problemUpdate the current look with a lockup that retains the italics (as much as I dislike that idea), but brightens everything up and brings it forward to a more modern era of design. (This is set in Agency, by the way.) I don’t much enjoy this part of the design spectrum, but it may be a more practical iterative direction for MLS if they are irretrievably hooked on the idea of a speedy, brandable design.

MLS has some great individual identities, and they continue to get better. I think that their instinct to follow the Premier League’s uniform font-lockup is inspired, and appropriately unique for North American soccer. I’d even keep the logo bugs in each and every uniform numeral (the MLS logo itself is another topic). And there is plenty of theory on legibility, weight and balance to get right. But the days of appealing to some vague notion of speedy, futuristic, teenage coolness are over for MLS. They need to concentrate on fostering tradition, connection, and professionalism. One easy way to do that is with a new, league-wide font that leaves today’s model out in the parking lot to rust.

The Rebirth of South Melbourne FC

A little over a decade ago, South Melbourne FC took part in the FIFA Club World Championship as champions of Oceania, trying their luck in a group containing England’s Manchester United, Brazil’s Vasco da Gama and Mexico’s Nexaca. South Melbourne could then claim to be Australia’s most successful club, winners of four National Soccer League titles.

Quinton Fortune of England's Manchester United team fights for the ball against Goren Lozanovski of Australia's South Melbourne team during a game of the First FIFA World Club Championship at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Tuesday Jan. 11, 2000. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

Quinton Fortune of England's Manchester United team fights for the ball against Goren Lozanovski of Australia's South Melbourne team during a game of the First FIFA World Club Championship at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Tuesday Jan. 11, 2000. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills)

Within five years of their Club World Cup appearance, South Melbourne FC had fallen on hard times, slipped into administration and did not even apply to join the new A-League, Australia’s premier division, set-up after the demise of the National Soccer League.

This month, South Melbourne FC took a welcome step towards something of a rebirth, as their home ground, Lakeside Stadium, reopened following a major renovation. The Age newspaper expounded that “Like Lazarus, the old South Melbourne football ground in Albert Park has risen from near-dereliction . . . And a pretty splendid vision it is, too.”

Indeed, it is. Designed by H20 Architects, the 14,000 capacity stadium is part of an AUS$60 million development on the lake in Albert Park. The photos below show the transformation of the venue:

Bob Jane Stadium, Melbourne

Construction of Lakeside Stadium, Mebourne

Construction of Lakeside Stadium, Mebourne

Lakeside Stadium, Melbourne, Aerial Photo

Lakeside Stadium, Melbourne, Completed

The stadium is not perfect, by any means. There is, obviously, a strikingly blue running track encircling the pitch, as the stadium doubles-up as a track and field venue. Indeed, its refurbishment made it the premier athletics stadium in Victoria state, following the demolition of Olympic Park Stadium in Melbourne – a central reason for the state funding behind the development.

Yet in terms of the quality of the pitch for the game of soccer itself, Lakeside Stadium does have something going for it that many other Australian stadia do not: it doesn’t double up for rugby or Aussie rules. “We don’t have to share this ground with any of the other football codes, which means the surface doesn’t get damaged by rival codes and with no scheduling problems around other codes,” Melbourne South President Leo Athanasakis told Four Four Two Australia.

The club itself is hopeful the new stadium will kickstart a revival. Their storied past includes management spells by Ferenc Puskás and Tommy Docherty, and they once tried to purchase Denis Law and Bobby Charlton.

Hellas

South Melbourne FC was founded in 1959 through a merger of two clubs, Hellenic and Yarra Park, and became known as South Melbourne Hellas. The club found immediate success, winning the Victorian Metropolitan Division 1 North championship in 1960.

South Melbourne FC - historic photo

As the name indicates, Hellas were – like most Australian teams of the time – ethnically based, in this case in the Greek community. A number of Hellas’ players arrived from Greece in the 1960s, including John Margaritis, Savvas Salapasidis, Takis Mantarakis and Takis Xanthopoulos, according to the club’s official history. But not all of Hellas’ greats were Greek: former Manchester United trainee Ernie Ackerley became one of the club’s leading goalscorers in the 1960s. Hellas played at Olympic Park – Lakeside Stadium (originally known as Bob Jane Stadium) was not built until 1995 – and attracted crowds exceeding 10,000, including over 14,000 for an Australian Cup clash in 1962 with Juventus – the Sydney version. That year, 1962, saw Hellas win the Victorian State Championship for the first time.

But the connection to Greece was undoubtedly the club’s selling point. Also in 1962, Hellas played the Greek Air Force in what The Age trumpeted was “the most ambitious venture undertaken by an Australian soccer club”. The Greek Air Force’s appeal was that due to the country’s National Service, it featured some of the leading national team players on tour, and the series of friendlies in Australia was an expensive affair.

The club’s chairman, Thesues Marmaras, became a key player in Australian soccer, appointed as president of the Victorian Soccer Federation, this giving the club considerable power nationwide (in 1964, he was accused of collusion with a referee in a dispute with Fiorentina Soccer Club). Crowds continued to grow, reaching 20,000 for a clash between Hellas and Juventus in April 1966. That was in part due to the shrewd acquisition in 1965 of player-coach Kostas Nestoridis, a well-known Greek international. Hellas won the state championship in 1965, 1966 and 1967.

But by the end of the decade, the expense of acquiring native Greek talent became too much of a drain for the club, with results on the pitch far from reaching expectations: they finished fourth in 1967, third in 1968 and a poor seventh of 12 clubs in 1969, though they did win their first cup in the latter year.

In the early 1970s, the club’s identity shifted slightly – on the field at least – from Greek-domination. A number of English players were imported, alongside an infusion of local talent, such as striker Jim Armstrong.

Hellas finished fifth in 1971, but claimed the runners-up spot in 1971 and then won the state championship for the fifth time in 1972. In 1973, Hellas made an audacious bid to sign both Denis Law and Bobby Charlton, offering AUS$170,000 to sign the pair from Manchester United. Though neither arrived in Melbourne, further state titles followed in 1974 and 1976.

South Melbourne Hellas, 1970s

The National Soccer League

That run of success was timed perfectly for Hellas’ bid to become inaugural members of the National Soccer League in 1976. South Melbourne (as they eventually became known), though, were not ready for the big time of national competition. With competition for players increasing, South lost several of their leading stars, finishing 11th of 14 teams in 1976, a respectable third in 1978, but a dismal 14th of 14 in 1979. That year, South Melbourne was stricken low when three points were deducted for playing defender Tony Turner before he had received international clearance. The club’s official history calls it “the lowest point in the club’s NSL history and arguably in its entire history,” and says that “There were real fears that South would not be re-admitted into the League the following season.” Instead, Sydney Olympic were relegated.

From that low point, South Melbourne – now nicknamed the “Gunners”  - consolidated their NSL position in the early 1980s, with the emergence of talent such as Alan Davidson. They finished third in 1980 and second in 1981.

In 1982, that smooth progress was interrupted by a curious period for the club: after a poor run of results, coach John Margaritis was replaced by former Manchester United boss Tommy Docherty. Margaritis’ last days were miserable: The Sydney Morning Herald reported in May 1982 – after a defeat for the Gunners against the Marconi Leopards – that “Speculation has been rife that South Melbourne FC are ready to dump coach John Margaritis in favour of Docherty. . .Margaritis, knowing his job is on the line, was a lonely, dejected figure after yesterday’s match. He sat by himself in a corner of the dressing room, his drawn face and sad eyes telling the story.”

Docherty himself only lasted a few months at South Melbourne, a bright start under his rein petering out and the club finishing in sixth place. Docherty soon left, taking over at Sydney Olympic, where he had coached previously.

Yet the curious episode presaged a revamp in South Melbourne’s recruitment, and a glorious period for the club: fourth place in 1983 was followed by their first national championship in 1984, beating Sydney Olympic 4-2 over two legs. Crowds again regularly exceeded 10,000.

But South could not consolidate their success, and in the remainder of the decade, finished no higher than third place.

The solution to a return to glory, it seemed to South Melbourne FC’s management in 1989, was Ferenc Puskás. The Hungarian great was, of course, best known for his playing days, but he was also something of a legend in Greek circles, having guided Panathinaikos to two Greek championships and the 1971 European Cup final (they lost there to Cruyff’s Ajax). The 1980s, though, had been  rough for Puskás, who had achieved little recent success in an increasingly itinerant coaching career.

Puskás did not arrive a moment too soon. The club’s mediocrity in the latter part of the 1980s had seen crowds dwindle, and the club in debt to the tune of AUS$300,000.

By early 1990, Hellas president George Vassilopoulos was crediting Puskás with having turned the club around almost immediately. ”As far as the financial situation goes, he has created excellent publicity for the club and the money is now rolling in,” Vassilopoulos told the Melbourne Sunday Herald. “We had a debt of $300,000 at the end of the last NSL season and we have already cut this in half.”

With a fine midfield combination of Mike Peterson and Steve Tassios around whom to build the team, Puskás’ team improved immediately. They finished second in the regular season in 1990, though fell in the first leg of the playoffs, losing in a penalty shoot-out to Melbourne Croatia.

In the Grand Final, South Melbourne again took on local rivals Melbourne Croatia in a thrilling game. Despite being outplayed throughout the game, South Melbourne stole an equaliser with just a minute remaining in the game, sending it to extra-time and ultimately penalties.

Here’s the last part of the game’s normal time – skip to the 6:40 mark to see the equaliser, and some impressively wild celebrations from the fans:

And here is the decisive penalty shoot-out, won by South Melbourne to seal their second National Soccer League title:

The 1991-92 season that followed was Puskas’ last in charge, with South Melbourne finishing third and failing to make the Grand Final. Former South player Jim Pyrgolios took over, and while the club fared very well in the regular season, the playoffs were an utter disaster: South lost all three of their games, including a humiliating 7-0 defeat to Marconi.

The next couple of years saw little excitement, bar an eventful playoff game that saw South Melbourne miss the chance of a Grand Final appearance with defeat to Sydney Croatia at Parramatta Stadium, a game that hit the evening news as crowd trouble broke out:

In 1995-6, following the closure of Middle Park, South moved into Bob Jane Stadium. Yet the club’s identity was threatened as the Australian governing body insisted on new identities for its NSL clubs, in an attempt to give them generic glamour and remove them from their ethnic roots: South Melbourne suddenly became the the “Lakers”, with a hideous new crest to boot (along with a threatened lawsuit from the Los Angeles Lakers):

South Melbourne Lakers

The 1997-8 season was a great success, with South Melbourne –  the “Lakers” identity having been quickly consigned to the dustbin of history – ending the regular season as champions, fired by John Anastasiadis’ 12 goals – the Greek forward had recently arrived from PAOK. 14,850 spectators packed out Lakeside Stadium for a win over that sent them to the Grand Final. There they faced Carlton, and Con Boutsianis gave South Melbourne the win and their third title with a late goal in a 2-1 win, scoring with a smashing strike:

The next season cemented South Melbourne’s place as the nation’s premier club, successfully defending their title. A watertight defense marshalled by goalkeeper Michael Petkovic saw them concede only 29 goals in 31 games, and go unbeaten at Lakeside Stadium.  That sent South Melbourne to the Oceania Club Championship, which they won in handy fashion to advance to the FIFA Club World Championship. There, South Melbourne lost each of their three group games by two goals, but they did get to do what not many can say they have done: play Manchester United at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro.

Yet their intercontinental exertions overstrained what was still a semi-professional outfit, as South Melbourne slipped to tenth in the league. That perhaps spurred the club’s decision to turn fully professional for the 2001-02 season, and they returned to form, finishing second in the regular season. They advanced to the Grand Final, with 2,000 South fans making the trek to New South Wales as they took on Wollongong. But a 2-1 loss meant South forfeited their perfect record in Grand Finals.

Mediocrity was an unfitting end to South’s National Soccer League tenure with mid-table finishes the next three seasons, one abruptly cut-off by the disbanding of the NSL at the conclusion of the 2003-04 season. Since then, until the opening of the renewed Lakeside Stadium, there has been little to brag about for South fans. But with Lakeside Stadium now gleaming, whispering of a move up to the A-League has begun, and perhaps new glory days are to come.


Illustrated Map of Argentina’s Primera División Stadiums and Clubs

Bill’s Sports Maps returns to Pitch Invasion, with all the details you could possibly want on Argentina’s Primera División for the 2012 Clausura. Bill was assisted by our old friend Sam Kelly of Hasta El Gol Siempre, so you know the details should be spot-on. Click on the map for the full-size version!

Map of primera division argentina clausura, 2012

Prehistoric Women’s Soccer In Photos

What do we mean by “prehistoric”? We mean before FIFA adopted – co-opted, some might say – women’s soccer a couple of decades ago, with its history seemingly dated to the 1990s. Though there has been some coverage of the pre-war era (especially the interesting focus put on Dick, Kerr Ladies), the period between the end of the Second World War and the fall of the Berlin Wall is patchily covered, at least to our knowledge (feel free to leave links to any good books, essays, papers etc in the comments).

Somewhat prompted by this, we have scoured through the archives of the Associated Press, and found some marvelous photos of women’s football from that era, especially the important West German teams of the 1980s along with the “European Ladies Soccer Championship” of 1957 (the first of its kind, and completed before its male counterpart’s inaugural competition) and the NCAA championship in 1985, featuring a player who should be very familiar to Chicago Red Stars fans. Please note, the captions are from the AP archive, as are the photos. If you have access to any other photos from that era, please drop us a line!

The goalkeeper of a West German ladies soccer team goes down in all-out effort to prevent score but the ball rolls through for a goal, Nov. 3, 1957. Moving in are Mary Bee, left, and Margaret Hilton of British team which won match, 4-0, for the European Ladies Soccer Championship in West Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo)

The goalkeeper of a West German ladies soccer team goes down in all-out effort to prevent score but the ball rolls through for a goal, Nov. 3, 1957. Moving in are Mary Bee, left, and Margaret Hilton of British team which won match, 4-0, for the European Ladies Soccer Championship in West Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo)

Joan Tench of England, loses her pants during a scrimmage around the England goal during a women's soccer match in London, United Kingdom on Oct. 19, 1969, between England, (represented by Foden Ladies team), and Scotland, (represented by Westthorn United). From left, Jean Ramsey of Scotland who is hauling down the pants; Gillian Cornes of England, (rear in stripes); Joan Tench, and at right, Mary Davenport of Scotland. The football match ended in a 0-0 draw. (AP Photo/Dennis Lee Royle)

Joan Tench of England, loses her pants during a scrimmage around the England goal during a women's soccer match in London, United Kingdom on Oct. 19, 1969, between England, (represented by Foden Ladies team), and Scotland, (represented by Westthorn United). From left, Jean Ramsey of Scotland who is hauling down the pants; Gillian Cornes of England, (rear in stripes); Joan Tench, and at right, Mary Davenport of Scotland. The football match ended in a 0-0 draw. (AP Photo/Dennis Lee Royle)

Woman Soccer final match in Bergisch Gladbach. The team of SSG 09 Bergisch Gladbach, which won 1:0. (06/18/1977)(AP Photo)

Woman Soccer final match in Bergisch Gladbach. The team of SSG 09 Bergisch Gladbach, which won 1:0. (06/18/1977)(AP Photo)

The team of German football club SSG 09 Bergisch-Gladbach celebrates the win of the German Soccer Championship against KGC Duisburg on Sunday, June 15, 1980 in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. Captain Doris Kresimon holds the trophy and shakes hands with DFB President Egidius Braun. (AP Photo/Fritz Reiss)

The team of German football club SSG 09 Bergisch-Gladbach celebrates the win of the German Soccer Championship against KGC Duisburg on Sunday, June 15, 1980 in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. Captain Doris Kresimon holds the trophy and shakes hands with DFB President Egidius Braun. (AP Photo/Fritz Reiss)

West Germany's back Brigitte Klinz, in a desperate attempt, grabs Norwegian striker Hege Flognfeldt's hand to stop the Norwegian forward from making goal attempt during a final round match West Germany vs Norway on October 19, 1981 in the World Women's Invitational Soccer tournament held in Taipei, Taiwan. Germany beat Norway 4:0 (1:0). (AP Photo)

West Germany's back Brigitte Klinz, in a desperate attempt, grabs Norwegian striker Hege Flognfeldt's hand to stop the Norwegian forward from making goal attempt during a final round match West Germany vs Norway on October 19, 1981 in the World Women's Invitational Soccer tournament held in Taipei, Taiwan. Germany beat Norway 4:0 (1:0). (AP Photo)

The German national women's soccer team poses prior to their first official match against Switzerland on Wednesday, November 10, 1982 in Koblenz, Germany. Front row from left to right: Ingrid Gebauer, Bettina Krug, Marion Feiden, Rieke Koekkoek, Petra Landers; back row from left to right: Birgit Bormann, Monika Degwitz, Brigitte Klinz, Gaby Dlugi-Winterberg, Doris Kresimon and Anne Trabant-Harbach. (AP Photo)

The German national women's soccer team poses prior to their first official match against Switzerland on Wednesday, November 10, 1982 in Koblenz, Germany. Front row from left to right: Ingrid Gebauer, Bettina Krug, Marion Feiden, Rieke Koekkoek, Petra Landers; back row from left to right: Birgit Bormann, Monika Degwitz, Brigitte Klinz, Gaby Dlugi-Winterberg, Doris Kresimon and Anne Trabant-Harbach. (AP Photo)

Action scene with German player Doris Kresimon, right, and an unidentified Swiss player during the West German national women's soccer team first official match against Switzerland on Wednesday, November 10, 1982 in Koblenz, Germany. (AP Photo)

Action scene with German player Doris Kresimon, right, and an unidentified Swiss player during the West German national women's soccer team first official match against Switzerland on Wednesday, November 10, 1982 in Koblenz, Germany. (AP Photo)

Members of German football club SSG 09 Bergisch Gladbach wave after winning the Women's DFB Cup (German Soccer Cup) on May 31, 1984 in Frankfurt, Germany. They won against VfR Eintracht Wolfsburg with 2:0. (AP Photo/Helmuth Lohmann)

Members of German football club SSG 09 Bergisch Gladbach wave after winning the Women's DFB Cup (German Soccer Cup) on May 31, 1984 in Frankfurt, Germany. They won against VfR Eintracht Wolfsburg with 2:0. (AP Photo/Helmuth Lohmann)

Unidentified members of the German football club SSG 09 Bergisch-Gladbach celebrate with the trophy their 3:1 win against FSV Frankfurt on June 30, 1984 in Frankfurt, Germany. It is their seventh victory of the German Soccer Championship.

Unidentified members of the German football club SSG 09 Bergisch-Gladbach celebrate with the trophy their 3:1 win against FSV Frankfurt on June 30, 1984 in Frankfurt, Germany. It is their seventh victory of the German Soccer Championship.

The team of German football club SSG 09 Bergisch-Gladbach celebrate their 3:1 win against FSV Frankfurt on June 30, 1984 in Frankfurt, Germany. It is their seventh victory of the German Soccer Championship. (AP Photo/Helmut Fricke)

The team of German football club SSG 09 Bergisch-Gladbach celebrate their 3:1 win against FSV Frankfurt on June 30, 1984 in Frankfurt, Germany. It is their seventh victory of the German Soccer Championship. (AP Photo/Helmut Fricke)

George Mason University’s forward Chris Tomek, of Wheaton, Ill., 4, defends against a kick by University of North Carolina’s midfielder Marcia McDermott, of McLean, Va., during NCAA Women’s Soccer Championships at George Mason University in Fairfax on Sunday, Nov. 24, 1985. George Mason won the tournament 2-0. (AP Photo/Tom Reed)

George Mason University’s forward Chris Tomek, of Wheaton, Ill., 4, defends against a kick by University of North Carolina’s midfielder Marcia McDermott, of McLean, Va., during NCAA Women’s Soccer Championships at George Mason University in Fairfax on Sunday, Nov. 24, 1985. George Mason won the tournament 2-0. (AP Photo/Tom Reed)

Celebrating with the Women's DFB Cup (German Soccer Cup) on June 24, 1989 in Berlin, Germany are members of the German football club TSV Siegen, from left to right: Martina Voss, Andrea Haberless and Silvia Neid. Their team defeated FSV Frankfurt 5:1. (AP Photo/Rainer Klostermeier)

Celebrating with the Women's DFB Cup (German Soccer Cup) on June 24, 1989 in Berlin, Germany are members of the German football club TSV Siegen, from left to right: Martina Voss, Andrea Haberless and Silvia Neid. Their team defeated FSV Frankfurt 5:1. (AP Photo/Rainer Klostermeier)

An Illustrated Guide to Soccer & Spanish

An Illustrated Guide to Soccer and SpanishPitch Invasion Press is proud to add its second title to the Pitch Invasion ebookstore, An Illustrated Guide to Soccer & Spanish by Elliott Turner.

The execution of this marvelous concept to teach a little bit of Spanish through a little bit of soccer is as good as the idea, with a series of charming illustrations by Erik Ebeling making it a breezy, informative and enjoyable read. Seriously.

Check out the sample graphics on the PI ebookstore, and consider plonking down $5.99 for it (available worldwide, so whatever that translates to into your non-American currency).

And of course, you may want to take a gander at the brand new Very Best of Pitch Invasion book on the PI store too, also $5.99, or $11.99 in real, live print at Amazon.

We do appreciate any and all support for the PI books, whether you can buy a copy or just spread the word – it will help keep going all we’ve done for the past few years, and with a marketing budget of $0 and capital investment of $0, grassroots help is all we have. The PI book has gotten off to a good start, so thanks to you all!

A Free Sample of the Very Best of Pitch Invasion Book

The Very Best of Pitch Invasion bookThe Very Best of Pitch Invasion, an anthology of 39 essays from this site since 2007, was released in digital and print editions last Friday.

The print edition is available on Amazon in the United States, and today (Monday) is the LAST day to order it in time for Christmas delivery! Overseas readers can order a print copy via Createspace, while the digital edition can be purchased worldwide on the PI store. The print edition retails for $11.99, and the digital edition $5.99. This book is an independent production, so please help support grassroots soccer media by spreading the word however you can!

Want to check out the quality of the book? Click here to download a free sample PDF of Brian Phillips’ essay in the collection on Bristol Rovers and “Goodnight, Irene”. You can also download the Editor’s preface and the contents.

Brian Phillips Essay - Very Best of Pitch Invasion anthology

Buy the digital edition of the Very Best of Pitch Invasion Purchase the print edition of the Very Best of Pitch Invasion

The Very Best of Pitch Invasion Book – Available Now!

The aim of the award-winning international soccer blog Pitch Invasion has been to publish thoughtful, long-form writing that digs well below the headlines, and explores the culture of sport, the engagement of fans with the spectacle of world soccer and the game’s forgotten history.

The very best of this writing thus far is collected in a brand new book, The Very Best of Pitch Invasion. An anthology of 39 essays by writers from around the world, it is the first production of the Pitch Invasion Press imprint and is available worldwide in both print and digital forms starting at $5.99.

Buy the digital edition of the Very Best of Pitch Invasion Purchase the print edition of the Very Best of Pitch Invasion

The print edition is available worldwide on The Pitch Invasion online store and within the United States on Amazon. The digital edition is available on the Pitch Invasion store as well, in Kindle, PDF and ePub formats, and is also on the Amazon Kindle store. Download a FREE sample essay: “The Old, Weird Everywhere: Bristol Rovers and Goodnight Irene,” by Brian Phillips.

Weighing in at 222 pages, the collection includes contributions from over 20 leading soccer writers from England, Finland, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, North America and Poland. The collection is divided into five sections, each exploring in sharp, critical and original fashion five perspectives on the global game:

(i) Fandom
The opening section takes a ground-level view of supporter culture in three continents. Mike Tuckerman and Mike Innes both explore Japanese fan culture, with the former offering a broad overview of how Japanese society lends to the formation of disciplined supporter groups, while the latter looks at the travails of Omiya Ardija’s fans, the “Squirrel Nation.” Across the Pacific, the American Northwest has recently become a hotbed for supporter engagement. Zach Dundas gives us the story of how the Timbers Army in Portland grew from grassroots to MLS; while Benjamin Kumming considers how DIY ethos and Major League marketing play out in a considered comparison of those same Portland fans with their noisy neighbors in Seattle. But where does this group mentality stem from? Andrew Guest dips into psychology to offer an explanation of the us-versus-them phenomenon. A study of social pathology might be needed in Poland, as Michał Karaś examines a fierce Krakow rivalry.

(ii) History
History is also covered on three continents. Lost North American soccer is expansively explored by Kumming and Peter Wilt, both digging up the Dark Ages of American soccer – the interregnum between the demise of the NASL in 1984 and the launch of MLS in 1996. Richard Whittall reminds us of a little-known Canadian episode in Bobby Robson’s long career, and my own piece on 1967 in American soccer considers the mess that the NASL formed out of. Africa is explored in three very different historical contexts. Supriya Nair warns us of the dangers of generalizations about sport and politics; Jack Lord goes back to the days of African football’s development under colonial rule; and I consider the remarkable career of Ydnekatchew Tessema, a brilliant player, coach and most lastingly, a trailblazing promoter of African soccer internationally. JL Murtaugh, meanwhile, takes us to Europe with an analysis of the European Championship’s brand identity since its inception in 1960.

(iii) Culture
Culture is a broad term, but fits for the essays by Brian Phillips, Jennifer Doyle and Vanda Wilcox on the curious origins of songs that have become supporter hymns in Bristol, London and Italy respectively. Alex Usher, Pitch Invasion’s resident book reviewer, is represented with his rough guide to football books and with a particularly insightful look at Laurent Dubois’ Soccer Empire. Eschewing the obvious comparison to the recent Zinedine Zidane film, Marc Bahnsen considers George Best on his own terms via the cameras trained on him in the German film from 1971, Football as Never Before.

(iv) Life
The fourth section, Life, connects loss, love, hope and the commercialization of sport. Bobby Brandon calls for Robert Enke’s tragic suicide to prompt an honest discussion about depression in sport. Two very different advocates of American soccer are remembered: punk-rock writer Steven Wells by myself, and Chicago Fire fan Al Hack by Peter Wilt. Each represented a different angle of the advance soccer has taken in the past two decades, from supporter culture to family life. How that passion for the sport can infect us is considered by David Keyes, who tells us how an American soccer neophyte became a fanatic with a trip to Saprissa in Costa Rica. Bahnsen returns to consider the commercialization that threatens international sport’s organic appeal during Euro 2008, while Jennifer Doyle warns us of over-romanticizing sport’s abilities to break down barriers.

(v) Activism
Supporter activism closes the collection. How might fans engage to improve the sport they love? Dave Boyle, CEO of Supporters Direct from 2009-2011, examines what needs to change in English non-League football. His insights are well supported by Gary Andrews’ series on the supporter trust movement, Shay Golub’s look at Israeli fandom and Chris Taylor’s consideration of club identity in non-League English football. And in Finland, Egan Richardson explores the challenges for activist fans.

The name Pitch Invasion aims to convey the passionate intensity with which fans form the culture of soccer worldwide. This is reflected in the depth and intensity of the topics collected here, and throughout Pitch Invasion’s existence. I hope you enjoy this selection, available now in print and digital formats on the Pitch Invasion online store.

– Tom Dunmore, Pitch Invasion Founder and Editor


PI on Tumblr

Psst, you might have noticed we’ve scaled Pitch Invasion down to periodic lengthy essays and photo features. We’re happier this way, without feeling we need to post every day and with more focus on crafting quality posts (hopefully!).

But we still find interesting stuff elsewhere every day. So we’ve revived the old PI Tumblr, for quick links to stories of interest along with photos and videos – hopefully ones you won’t be finding all over your other timelines.

Check it out at http://1863.pitchinvasion.net/

Today, for example, we looked briefly at North America’s first Supporters’ Trust, Valencia’s new stadium project’s revival, the rebirth of South Melbourne FC and an American soccer treasure trove.

Let us know what you think, and if you have a Tumblr, please leave a comment to this post so we can give it a follow. Cheers!

Struggling Towards Orbit: The International Soccer League, Part Four

Following the International Soccer League’s solid beginnings in a New York relatively starved of sporting competition in the summer of 1960, the nascent league consisting of the New York Americans and a variety of high-profile visiting international clubs had begun 1961 with expanded horizons. This including growing the league from 12 to 15 teams, and moving beyond its home at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan by setting up a second location in Montreal, Canada.

The 1960 season had featured network television coverage on Saturday nights, and a crowd of 25,000 for the final, won by Bangu of Brazil at the Polo Grounds. Its appeal had been high-quality soccer aimed at ethnic audiences who retained a love for the sport and would cheer on teams often billed by nationality (“Italy”, or really, Sampdoria for example).

In a lengthy interview early in the 1961 season, the league’s impresario Bill Cox was interviewed by Arthur Daley of the New York Times. Cox was described as “polished and urbane”, a man who “communicates confidence in success with the convincing assurance of an astronaut.”

Cox explained that though he was not making money from the league, he saw the ISL as a “long-term investment.”

In this vein, Cox asked “How do you define success? Is it measured by profits or by the fact you broke even and can see a bright future ahead? Everything included, gate receipts and television income, made us quite happy with our first year of results.”

Cox was open and honest about exactly what the league needed to do in order to be sustainable fiscally. An average crowd of 8,500 would be needed, he said, at an average ticket price of $3.25 per spectator – good value given most match-ups were double-headers. Cox compared this favorably to a game in Milan he had seen – $8 a head, and featuring teams “that couldn’t win a game in our league” – or $8 for a Broadway show.

The expensive business of flying in teams from around the world was also revealed by Cox: totaling $800,000, $100,000 of that went on chartered planes alone. The ISL covered hotel bills, and $6 a day per man for meals: “They can eat well enough at that price,” Cox said, “because we have the recreation director we assign to the hotel supply them with lists of restaurants catering to each nationality. Only the French might find it low and only if they insist on fancy wines with their meals.”

Wages for each game well-exceeded the $1,000 per game foreign teams had been used to in the days before the ISL, and reports from various teams suggest they were paid somewhere between $1,500 and $3,000 per game, while Cox said his New York Americans made more than $100 a man each per week.

Overall, the New York Times concluded that for Cox, “the launching of the soccer capsule went off beautifully.” The only doubt in Cox’s mind, it seemed, was “how soon he’ll get into orbit.”

Take-Off?

Once again, in 1961 the league was divided into two separate mini-leagues, with the winner of each playing in a grand final – though this time, the final would be contested over two games instead of a single game.

The first mini-league, section one, contained defending champions Bangu of Brazil, who were joined by a strong Everton team from England, West Germany’s Karlsruhe, Romania’s Dinamo Bucharest, Turkey’s Besiktas, Scotland’s Kilmarnock and two North American representatives: Montreal Concordia of Canada and the New York Americans.

It was Everton – the “Merseyside Millionaires” – who came most feted, and with a match fee of $2,500 per game, a considerable amount at a time that England had only just ended its restrictive maximum wage for players.

In the early weeks, Everton took charge of the league with a string of victories. Meanwhile, the Romanians quickly earned a reputation as a physical and aggressive team. These might be summer exhibition games for the Europeans in theory, but the practice of the ISL was for tough games marred by expulsions and with rowdy crowds sometimes interfering with the play on the field.  Their opening game, a 0-0 draw with Bangu, saw the Romanians called for 22 fouls.

Yet they were hardly alone in their rough approach to play. On June 11th, Everton suffered a 2-0 loss to Bangu at the Polo Grounds, in a game that saw 34 fouls called. The physical play resulted in Darcy de Faria, Bangu’s left-back, fracturing an ankle: he was rushed to Columbia Medical Center. Everton’s Northern Irish international, Billy Bingham, was sent-off for punching Bangu’s Carlos Beto.

“Bangu’s infractions,” the New York Times commented, “were not nearly so glaring as Everton’s.”

Everton versus BanguPerhaps there were scores to be settled: the two teams had actually met two months earlier, at Goodison Park in Liverpool, a 1-1 tie.

This, after all, was an era when international club play was still feeling its way; there would be many more, higher profile violent battles between European and South American clubs with their different understandings of “fair play” to come later in the decade.

When Everton faced Dinamo Bucharest, sparks inevitably flew. A 4-0 win for the Liverpudlians was described as a “very brutal affair”, with fisticuffs breaking out more than once. Both teams had a man expelled, Everton’s Bobby Collins and Bucharest’s Ivan Dimitru.

This was hardly the sort of play that Cox was paying good money for. Meantime, the New York “Americans” were still little more American than they had been in 1960, mostly made up of British players on tour for a dollar, though they did include some players from the American Soccer League: Ukrainian Nationals’ Gene Vinyei and New York Hakoah’s Alex Chantraire and Ben Zim.

The Americans achieved a mediocrity that was hardly likely to win over a New York enthralled by a magical season for the Yankees, on their way to a World Series win, with Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record. ISL games often went up against Yankees’ games on Sundays.

Meantime, there were problems in Montreal. Crowds were poor at Molson Stadium, with one rain-sodden game between Concordia and Karlsruhe seen by less than 1,000 fans in June. The home team, Concordia, won only two of its seven games.

Section one’s limited excitement ended in Montreal in mid-June with a one-sided affair. Everton crushed the New York Americans 7-0, sealing the section one title before the mini-league’s final two games with six goals in the second half. Bangu, in second place, could not catch Everton whatever they did in their final game the next day, the defending champions unseated.

Cox’s high hopes had taken a hit in the first section. Most talk had been about foul play rather than good soccer, and crowds had been sparse at times. The North American teams had performed without distinction. Would the second section and the grand final revive the prospects for America’s major soccer league?

To Be Continued . . .

Fixing Pro Women’s Soccer in the United States: A Proposal

Women’s Professional Soccer (upper case) and women’s professional soccer (lower case) are both in trouble in the United States and scrambling for survival.

I have the perspective of being intimately involved in the creation and launch of WPS from 2007 through 2009 as founding President of WPS’ Chicago Red Stars.  I also have some strong opinions about the sport’s future direction.  Frankly, my own failure, along with that of my WPS colleagues, to rein in expenses is the reason WPS is on the verge of collapse.  While I was preaching fiscal responsibility from the beginning, it wasn’t enough.   I took a sizable pay cut to join the Chicago Red Stars, but I was still paid too much (as was just about everyone else associated with the League) relative to where the revenues ended up.

Current WPS players, supporters and administrators are now begging US Soccer and anyone else who will listen for another chance, an extension, another year to get on its feet.  Specifically WPS is asking US Soccer to extend its waiver of an eight team minimum standard for classification as a first division professional league even though the League has shrunk from six teams to five since the end of its third and perhaps final season.  Most, if not all people commenting or considering this issue believe that there are no alternative ways to save professional women’s soccer in the U.S. other than having US Soccer grant WPS its waiver.

I disagree.

It may sound cruel, but I believe the best thing for the future of women’s professional soccer (lower case) in the U.S. is pulling the plug on Women’s Professional Soccer (upper case) as we know it and replacing it with an improved streamlined model that would entice more investors throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Here is why WPS is failing:

  • Spent too much money on players
  • Spent too much money on coaches
  • Spent too much money on front office personnel
  • Spent too much money on advertising
  • Spent too much money on League operations and promotion

OK, so I could have saved some space there and simply written “Spent too much money”.  WPS didn’t spend too much money as in “WUSA has American cable TV’s checkbook” too much money, but WPS expected that it could maintain revenue levels from WUSA while reducing overhead.  It couldn’t.  The spending did many good things – necessary things.  It lured Marta and a host of other top international players, it kept the US Women’s National Team players in the League and it attracted a few major sponsors and a national broadcast deal.  But in the end, it wasn’t enough.

It’s ironic that WPS’ cause of death will be the same as its predecessor WUSA.  WPS thought it learned lessons from WUSA and spent much less than WUSA.  WPS indeed did spend less than WUSA, but was dealt fatal blows on two accounts: 1) revenues fell in proportion to expenses and 2) ownership wealth had been replaced by passion.  Passion can’t pay the bills.

Women's United Soccer, CyberRays' Championship

Bay Area CyberRays' Sissi, left, of Brazil, and Thori Staples Bryan, right, carry the Founders Cup around the field after they defeated the Atlanta Beat at the inaugural WUSA Championship at Foxboro Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. Saturday, Aug. 25, 2001. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The League successfully sold 11 franchises, but six folded, left or were kicked out of the League.  I made the prediction before WPS kicked its first ball that it would add teams faster than MLS, but it would also lose teams faster than MLS.  Sadly that prediction came true and the losses exceeded the gains six to four.  To put it into football terms, after three seasons WPS was -2 in takeaways.

WPS could continue another year as it is, but frankly it would be more of the same and would lead back to the same place. Five teams confined to the eastern time zone playing a shortened schedule to avoid Olympic conflicts is just plain ugly.

Puma has opted out of its seven figure annual agreement that paid most of the League’s central office bills.  Sponsors aren’t lining up to replace that funding and the league no longer has its partnership with Soccer United Marketing to fall back on.  If WPS does manage to hold on another year, it will be small, obscure and unlikely to improve its economic condition.  Attracting one, two or even three more teams the following year is possible.  There are legitimate inquiries to make commitments to join WPS, which could help US Soccer justify an extension of the minimum team waiver and buoy the League’s hopes for growth and survival.  But any additions could just as easily be offset by losses of existing teams.

I also don’t see that simply adding investors to the current business model which has failed every team every year will change the future of the League.  Believing that last summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup or next year’s Olympic games will change the economic condition of the League is delusional.  Any bump is short term and not enough to overcome the inherent weakness of the model.  Again, 11 teams have tried it over three years and none of them have come close to breaking even with this business model and the League’s top sponsor is gone.  Adding teams to “Save WPS” without radically changing the model would simply put off the inevitable.

Suffice it to say the future’s not bright and you don’t gotta wear shades to view WPS’ future…and that’s not even considering the legal and public relations quagmire with magicJack and its owner Dan Borislow.

Veteran Women's Professional Soccer player Ella Masar, left, and 2010 draft pick Whitney Engen model their new uniforms for the Chicago Red Stars at Puma's 2010 WPS uniform unveiling hosted at the Trust building in Philadelphia Friday, Jan. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Mark Stehle for Puma)

Chicago Red Stars' Women's Professional Soccer player Ella Masar, left, and 2010 draft pick Whitney Engen model their new uniforms for the Chicago Red Stars at Puma's 2010 WPS uniform unveiling hosted at the Trust building in Philadelphia Friday, Jan. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Mark Stehle for Puma)

A new model is needed that will attract not just a handful of teams, but as many as 20 teams and a coast to coast footprint for the sport.  I was always told that if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  So, for your viewing pleasure I present to you my bullet point solution for a new professional women’s soccer league in the United States and Canada that would solve the current mess and launch the sport into a positive era that would grow the sport for the long term (warning: the following contains recommendations that some may consider grotesque and may cause idealistic supporters of women’s soccer to become ill):

  • Base player salary budget of $100,000 to $150,000 per team.  18 players per team.  $0k to $3k per month in season per player.
  • 2-3 designated players per team.  $4k to $10k per month in season per player. DP salaries are off budget.
  • Recommended annual operation budget of $200,000 to $400,000 not including player compensation, though teams that are willing and able could spend more on the business end.
  • No NCAA eligible players
  • April though August season (extension through September in Olympic and WWC years)
  • Invite all current members of WPS, W-League, WPSL and MLS to place teams in the new League.
    • No entry fee for inaugural season.
    • $100,000 entry fee for expansion teams in ensuing seasons.
    • Must commit by last day of previous season to be eligible for following season.
    • $100,000 letter of credit for all teams to guarantee finishing season if teams can’t pay bills mid-season.
    • Operate league for the first year on a cooperative basis by US Soccer, USL and MLS.  USL and MLS operate the league going forward after the first season.
      • US Soccer would establish new, more realistic standards for a professional women’s league comparable to top women’s leagues in Europe.  This would allow both low budget and medium budget teams to compete on a relatively level playing field. In the first year, US Soccer would provide an overriding layer of governance similar to the 2010 D-2 League.
      • USL would use its infrastructure to manage the league’s administrative needs similar to its MISL relationship. USL’s compensation coming from low five figure annual league dues and a percentage of new franchise fees.
      • MLS/SUM would handle the league’s broadcast, marketing, sponsorship and communication responsibilities. MLS’ compensation coming from a percentage of sponsorship fees it generates.
      • If enough teams apply, play will be regional until the playoffs to limit travel expenses and increase rivalries.

Implications (bad and good):

  • WPSL would be left out of the professional game and will likely lose teams to the new league. WPSL could more legitimately be pitched as a feeder league to the pro circuit.  New investors could start with a WPSL team and the learning curve to jump to the pro league wouldn’t be as great.  Could be a good selling point for new WPSL franchises.
  • WPS as an entity and its office personnel would disappear and be replaced. The name could continue, but personally I’d prefer a fresh brand such as WMLS or anything else.
  • Dilution of talent spread over more teams.  I believe as many as 20 teams could be assembled in this model between in the first three years and with that comes a spread of talent, which will reduce quality of play.  WPS, W-League, WPSL and MLS each likely have at least five teams that would very seriously look at joining this model.  If MLS is on board, they will add credibility and stability that would risk little to MLS and offer tremendous potential benefits in sponsorship and added integration into its local and national footprint.
  • Some USWNT players may choose to play in Europe if they feel the competition won’t be as good in the new league or if enough teams don’t use their designated player slots as generously as needed to compete with European offers.  With up to 20 teams, there could be as many as 60 DP slots, which may or may not be used.  This is more than enough to accommodate full USWNT and many international stars – if the owners are willing and able to pay the $4k to $10k per month to keep this level of player in the new league. USWNT players receive their US compensation wherever they play.  Club salary usually increases their compensation by an additional 50% to 100% for most.  This proposed model shouldn’t change USWNT compensation much if at all.  More teams means it could actually increase competition for them and drive up their compensation.
  • Second tier US players forced into retirement, because non DP compensation would top out around $3k per month.  Playing for a pro team provides a “business card” of sorts that gives players credibility and networking opportunities that help them gain decent paying coaching positions in youth and collegiate soccer.  This augments their “pro” compensation and provides a stepping stone to a post playing career.
  • Top international players less likely to play in US.  DP slots would allow many to still play in the league.  And truth is, the depth of international talent has exploded over the last five years meaning those that choose not to stay can be more easily replaced than in the past.
  • Many experienced coaches and administrators won’t be able to continue in women’s professional soccer at lower compensation.  There are only five teams, so there can’t be that many coaches and administrators that will lose their jobs.  Plus many more jobs, albeit low paying, will be created to seed a new generation of coaches and administrators.  Others will be able to finad a way to make it work by double dipping with other coaching or administrative positions.
  • Lower salaries and operational budgets will create a semi-pro image that will further reduce sponsor, fan, broadcast and player interest.  It’s a step backward in image, but the reduced expenses are needed to bring fiscal sensibility to the business.  Increasing the number of teams will result in a growth of the base, get more people involved as investors, players, administrators and cumulatively as fans.  Critical mass of teams will ultimately generate more interest from sponsors, supporters and broadcasters in the future at which time teams can justify increases to their operational and player compensation budgets. If MLS teams indeed do join this League, they would be able to provide infrastructure that would be more professional than what WPS teams now offer and would serve to improve the image of the League for all stakeholders.

So there you go, my proposal to blow up what I helped create and start something new intended for long term growth and sustainability.  Some WPS teams are already embracing some of these recommendations, but not all.  Atlanta, for instance, is now a leader in controlling player costs.  Sky Blue FC has been a leader in business austerity from the beginning.  The current leaders of WPS should take control at this critical juncture and work with US Soccer, MLS, USL and the thousands of “Save WPS” petitioners to lead professional women’s soccer to a new and sustainable future.  It will require collaborative and unselfish work with great sacrifice for many, but I believe it can work.  What do you think?

Free Stadiums, At a Price: China’s Global Stadium Diplomacy

The chief of the Royal Grenadian Police Band was immediately relieved of his duties. His musical troupe had made a major diplomatic gaffe: at the grand opening ceremony for the Caribbean island nation’s rebuilt national cricket stadium, they had played the National Anthem of the Republic of China, to the considerable discomfort of the dignitaries present who hailed not from the Republic of China (Taiwan) but from the People’s Republic of China. An embarrassment all the greater given the latter had paid for and built the stadium, a great boon for a nation recovering from the devastation wreaked on its infrastructure by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, including the severe damage to its national cricket stadium.

Grenada National Cricket Stadium. AP Photo/Harold Quash.

The mistake was, perhaps, understandable. After all, it could just as easily have been Taiwan who had funded the stadium, and in part, they had. In December 2004, not long after Ivan had hit the island, Grenada’s Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell made a surprise visit to Beijing, upsetting Grenada’s political establishment. They had forged close relations with Taiwan, with whom they had formed diplomatic relations in 1989, and had already received a pledge of $40 million in aid to rebuild the hurricane-wrecked national stadium and other infrastructure.

On hearing of Mitchell’s trip, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry tartly severed relations with Grenada and stated that “The government of the Republic of China regrets Prime Minister Mitchell’s lack of foresight. We have stated sincerely our intention of not participating in a meaningless game of “dollar diplomacy” with China, and will never let Grenada waver between the two sides of the Strait in order to seek profits. The government of the Republic of China expresses its serious protest against, and condemns, the People’s Republic of China for its use of “dollar diplomacy” to drive us out of the international community.”

Taiwan realized they had been trumped. Mitchell had worked out a better deal for Grenada from Beijing. Stung, Taiwan has since been trying to recover $28.1 million in loans dating back to the 1990s, even attempting to seize Grenadian properties in the United States. That loan had funded the cricket stadium’s original construction in 1998.

Meanwhile, 500 Chinese workers toiled day and night for a year to build Grenada’s new stadium. And elsewhere in the Caribbean, another cricket stadium showcased in the 2007 World Cup also came courtesy of China, Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua, at a cost of $21 million.

Sir Vivian Richards cricket stadium, Antigua

Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, Antigua. AP Photo/Jonhnny Jno-Baptiste.

Taiwan, though lacking the extensive reserves and free spending ability of its rival, also scored with the $12 million renovation of the Warner Park cricket facility in St. Kitts & Nevis.

Warner Park Stadium, St Kitts and Nevis.

Warner Park Stadium, St Kitts and Nevis. AP Photo/Lynne Sladky.

This stadium construction rivalry is the result of each nation’s aim to receive “one China” recognition from the Caribbean nations: with the latter trading an unusual resource, the identification of sovereignty, for financial assistance.

Asia and the Africa Cup of Nations

Outside the cricket-mad Caribbean, twenty-first century dollar diplomacy has had a similarly dramatic impact on football stadium infrastructure, and is proving particularly significant for the Africa Cup of Nations. Andrew Guest wrote extensively about that on this space two years ago, looking at China’s role in building the stadia used for Angola’s hosting of the Africa Cup of Nations. Andrew focused on China’s motivation from a different diplomatic angle, noting that the stadium could be seen as a chip in China’s bid for access to Angolan oil in competition with the United States.

Estádio da Tundavala, Angola

Estádio da Tundavala, Angola. AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell.

Angola is far from alone in benefiting from China’s “dollar diplomacy”, whether motivated by competition with Taiwan or the United States. Zambia’s shiny new 41,000 capacity Ndola Stadium came at a cost to the Chinese of $65 million, while in 2012, we will see another Africa Cup of Nations played at a Chinese built stadium in Libreville, capital of Gabon.

New Stadium in Libreville, Gabon

Stade d’Angondjé, Libreville, Gabon

As well as the politics in play, the construction of the stadia themselves raise some questions. Typically, these Chinese-funded stadiums are built relatively cheaply and quickly, and a large part of the reason for that is China’s use of its own workers and technicians in large numbers, instead of training local workers. And when local workers are used, problems have arisen.

In Zambia, for example, the construction of a Chinese-funded shiny new stadium has not allayed suspicions in the country about China’s motives and methods of assistance. Just two months ago, Michael Sata – a vocal critic of Chinese investment – was elected as the country’s president. He has in the past demanded the deportation of Chinese workers, and accused Chinese companies of mistreating Zambian workers (it should be said, whispers have long persisted that Sata has received funding from Taiwan). Sata, though, has toned down his criticism of China in recent months – perhaps a sign that China’s dollar diplomacy is, indeed, working.

Yet on a local scale, serious questions are still being raised in Zambia. China’s Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company has overseen fatalities and strikes that have raised major question marks about the conditions workers have been placed in at the Ndola stadium construction site. Workers downed tools in the spring over unpaid wages, with one worker saying “We don’t know what will become of us. This stadium is finishing in two months time, so who is going to pay our benefits? Is it the Chinese or the Zambian government?” He continued, “We are not ready to go back for work until we get answers from government and the same government should tell their Chinese friends to improve our conditions of services.” This came shortly after a fire killed two workers at the site.

In Costa Rica, similar controversy has arisen. Eric Beard on the Football Ramble covered this superbly recently, noting the concessions Costa Rica’s then-president Oscar Arias made to China in return for the “donation” of a new 35,000 capacity home for Costa Rican football, Estadio Nacional.

“Arias agreed that Chinese workers could build the stadium, despite the fact that Costa Rica was stricken with unemployment from the global economic crisis,” Beard writes. “He allowed the Chinese company in charge of the project, AFEC, to entirely bypass Costa Rica’s labor laws, which are notoriously strict. Though Costa Rica is a proud advocate of human rights, Chinese employees of AFEC worked inhumane hours right under the nose of the Costa Rican democracy. There was even one casualty on the project, as 37-year-old Liu Hong Bin was hit by a construction vehicle in November 2010. Putting human rights aside, the stadium barely stimulated Costa Rica’s economy, as even most of the materials used were shipped over from China.”

And as is the case elsewhere, a sparkling new stadium came at the cost of disrupted relations with Taiwan and with a free trade agreement with China, along with questions about labor rights and worker safety. As China’s international power grows, expect to see China’s stadium diplomacy to continue its controversial path.

Stadion Dziesięciolecia, Warsaw

Remembering the Rich History of Stadion Dziesieciolecia, Warsaw

Stadion Dziesięciolecia, Warsaw

A gleaming new National Stadium has just been erected in Warsaw, Poland. It stands in a historic spot, on the former grounds of Stadion Dziesięciolecia (“Tenth Anniversary Stadium”, named for ten years of Poland’s new political state), built from the rubble left by the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and pictured above prior to its demolition.

Designed by renowned Polish architect Jerzego Hryniewieckiego and built in a little over a year, the bowl-shaped stadium was opened in 1955 with a capacity over 70,000, and became a regular spot for big games, athletics and significant state events.

In its final years, Stadion Dziesięciolecia was left derelict.

Stadion Dziesięciolecia, Warsaw, Poland

Tenth anniversary stadium, Warsaw

Stadion Dziesięciolecia has a rich history worth remembering, one that extends beyond the games played there, though it featured some notably memorable ones. In 1961, during a poor period for the Polish national team, Poland surprisingly defeated the Soviet Union – reigning European champions at the time – at Stadion Dziesięciolecia, 1-0, thanks to a goal by the fantastic Polish forward Ernest Pohl. A rough foul on the Polish goalkeeper sparked a riot as the ambulance pulled away, bottles and umbrellas raining onto the field, and the Soviet players were attacked by a mob as they left the pitch.

In 1968, it was the location for Ryszard Siwiec’s self-immolation in protest at the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and Poland’s participation in the Warsaw Pact. He set himself alight during a Harvest Festival at the stadium, with almost 100,000 people present.

Six years later, the stadium featured in a 1974 Polish movie, Chleba naszego powszedniego.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06BokN9LkEY

In 1983, Stadion Dziesięciolecia hosted its last official sporting event, a match between Poland and Finland. The same year Pope John Paul II held mass at the stadium. News reports suggested that somehow, more than a million Poles crammed in and around the stadium, a pivotal moment for the Solidarity movement as the stadium rang with chants for Lech Walesa and with illicit banners supporting the banned independent union flooding the stands.

In 1989, the stadium was leased by a Polish entrepreneur at the vanguard of Polish capitalism, Bogdan Tomaszewski. He turned the area around the stadium into Europe’s largest street market — Jarmark Europa — a great place to pick up a bootleg VHS, “Leevis” jeans or Russian cigarettes. In 1993, the New York Times reported from the market: “Loudspeakers blared out prices, vendors strolled through the preoccupied crowd with pretzels and sausages, and everywhere was the pressing horde of hawkers, selling used wrenches, plastic flowers, briefcases, packets of lace panties, Soviet army hats, umbrellas, vodka, tape recorders, boots, plastic toy tanks and windshield wipers.”

The stalls numbered some 4,000 around the stadium, taking in a million customers a month, divided by ethnic area, with the Russians occupying the least desirable spots, but flooding there nonetheless, heated haggling dominating the atmosphere, according to Matthew Brzezinski’s Casino Moscow. Some kind of order was kept by the 100+ security guards Tomaszewski had hired to patrol the market that ringed the crumbling stadium.

Market at Tenth Anniversary Stadium, Warsaw

Market at Warsaw national stadium

The stadium’s field itself became known as a good place to catch a casual game of football, but nothing more to suggest use of its original purpose. Now, it is a memory.

Albeit, a memory replaced by spectacular gleaming steel and glass, one the world will see when Warsaw’s new National Stadium hosts the opening game of Euro 2012 in June.

New National Stadium, Warsaw

Photo credits: Down Under Photography; efhgcvno; Markus Kolletzky; the vPunch; jaime.silva


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Tivoli Stadium – Lost Home of Alemannia Aachen, Germany

Allemania Aachen, Germany

German club Allemania Aachen now play in the splendidly modern New Tivoli Stadium, but their home between 1928 and 2009 was the original Tivoli Stadium, which still stands as pictured above in August this year.

Alemannia Aachen enjoyed considerable success in the 1960s, shortly after Tivoli’s capacity was increased, Bundesliga runners-up in 1969. However, bankruptcy almost ended the club’s existence in the 1970s, Aachen saved by several big German teams playing friendlies at Tivoli stadium for no charge to raise funds. Most of their existence has seen them in 2. Bundesliga, though they also spent a season in the top flight in 2006-07, a last year of glory for the crumbling old Tivoli stadium. Capacity crowds of 20,000-odd filled the stadium (only around half covered by a roof), and Aachen even ended up in the UEFA Cup in 2005-06 after finishing as runners-up in the German Cup. Those European nights, however, were not played at Tivoli because the stadium did not meet UEFA’s criteria.

Below, a couple of shots from Tivoli’s days in the Bundesliga in 2006.

Old Tivoli Stadium

Old Tivoli Stadium, Allemania Aachen

Photo credit: kleiner hobbit (top) and Bjørn Giesenbauer (bottom two) on Flickr.

A Lost Theatre of Dreams – Bosuilstadion, Royal Antwerp F.C.

Bosuilstadion, Royal Antwerp Football Club

This is Bosuilstadion in Belgium, home to Royal Antwerp Football Club. It was once a grand home of European football, with a capacity close to 60,000 and the venue for West Germany’s 2-1 win over Belgium in the 1972 European Championship semi-final. It also hosted dozens of eagerly-anticipated friendlies between the Netherlands and Belgium, up until 1977.

Inside Royal Antwerp FC's stadium

Originally opened in 1923, amongst the fields of the Deurne district of Antwerp (a traditional home of aristocratic estates), it was expanded in the 1950s for national team use alongside the success of Royal Antwerp FC, who won the league in 1957. Royal Antwerp haven’t won the league since, though, and despite some flickers of form from time to time, they have flattered to deceive in terms of recapturing their former glory and the stadium has been largely neglected, now holding less than 17,000 fans.

Royal Antwerp FC

Renovation plans in the 1990s to revive the stadium as a host venue for the 2000 European Championship held jointly in Belgium and the Netherlands floundered, though one of the stands planned for the renovation – 3,000 seats, covered – was eventually built.

Royal Antwerp FC are best known now for the youth development partnership they began with Manchester United in the 1990s. Bosuilstadion, however, is hardly a theatre of dreams these days, as the photos from November 2011 below show.

Royal Antwerp FC Stadium

Royal Antwerp FC Stadium

Floodlight, Royal Antwerp FC Stadium

Dilapidated corner of RAFC stadium

Photo credits: jordi1880 (top three photos) and Dagelijksbrood on Flickr (bottom four photos).

Ultra Caos, Djurgården IF, Sweden

Djurgården IF (DIF) is a sports club in Sweden founded in 1891. Their fans seem to have undergone a long period of transition, after its most active group organizing tifo displays, Ultras STHLM, fell apart. But new groups have taken on the mantle, including Ultra Caos Stockholm, who produced the trailer for the DVD featured above.

The Djurgården ultras continue to face problems with the crackdowns on use of pyrotechnics: the ultras argue that the repression leads to irresponsible handling (flares are then often dropped near flags so perpetrators cannot be so easily identified), and that a safe approach agreed by the club and supporters is needed. Indeed, there’s even a non-pyro version of the above video used for wider distribution.

The Djurgården fans are also active with the production of tifo displays for the club’s ice hockey team: impressive stuff!

Lost Glory – St. George Soccer Stadium, Sydney

St Georges Stadium, Sydney, Australia

It was once the home of one of Australia’s finest teams based in Sydney’s southern suburbs, St. George Budapest (who later became St. George Saints), playing in Australia’s then-leading professional division, the National Soccer League (they won the league in 1983). The club had a rich history, having supplied almost half of Australia’s 1974 World Cup team. Notable players for St. George span the ages, from Charlie George (yes, that Charlie George) to Robbie Slater and even featuring an appearance by Ossie Ardiles in 1985. Tim Cahill’s brother, Chris Cahill, also now plays for the club. Their manager during many of their glory years, Frank Arok, took charge of the Socceroos in the 1980s.

Now, St. George Stadium is sadly dilapidated, and St. George Saints play only in a low-level New South Wales league, with just the hardiest of souls showing up on the terraces that once held packed crowds.

The below photos, by Chris Round (Flickr page), tell the story of St. George’s Stadium’s current state.

Changing rooms, St. George's Stadium, Sydney

St. George Stadium

St. Georges Park, Sydney

Tunnel entrance, Barton Park, St George's Stadium - Sydney

Removed seats, St Georges Stadium, Sydney

Thanks again to Chris Round for permission to use these photos.

Expanded Dreams: The International Soccer League, Part Three

The International Soccer League’s modest but successful start in 1960 had made waves in the American soccer community. Its twelve team league – eleven of them imported from overseas, alongside the New York Americans (who weren’t really American at all) – saw Brazil’s Bangu beat Scotland’s Kilmarnock in a final of impressive quality, 25,440 fans attending the game at the Polo Grounds in Harlem, New York City, broadcast on network television.

The question as 1961 began was how the ISL would take the next steps to embed itself into American sporting culture, and spread from its sole base so far in New York. The ISL’s impresario, Bill Cox, said the league had made a small profit in 1960, despite spending a fortune bringing over teams from Europe and South America. The ISL was ready to expand its horizons.

The Future of American Soccer?

Cox also faced the challenge of working with the existing soccer infrastructure. Could he find a way to develop the league for the long-term benefit of American soccer? Or would he have to take on the entrenched forces head-on, and beat them dollar for dollar? The American Soccer League – the country’s existing, established national league, albeit one of lower quality than the ISL – had long been making its money by arranging exhibition tours with high-profile teams from overseas. This was precisely the market Cox was trying to corner.

Cox had, though, so far kept relations with the ASL warm enough. A few of the New York Americans’ own ethnic players had come from ASL teams, and the ISL had a formal tie to the ASL.

Cox continued his efforts to keep the ASL and the United States Soccer Football Association (the USSFA – later to become the USSF) onside with his venture. In January 1961, he went on a media blitz offering support for the future of American soccer, especially the Olympic team, struggling on an international level.

“In every year from now to the next Olympics in 1964, our league is willing to help with clinics, travel expenses for amateur players and other expenditures to a modest degree,” Cox said in widely quoted remarks. “The International Soccer League is prepared to contribute money, ideas and personnel toward the development of improved amateur players. In its first season, the league has stimulated interest in this sport on the secondary school level.”

His efforts bore fruit, at least for his own league in the short-term. In the summer of 1961, the American Soccer League only scheduled one international exhibition game during the ISL season. And the USSFA would soon play a key role in ensuring the league could continue without FIFA sanction.

Montreal Concordia

Crucially, the league also took its first step to expansion outside of the New York metropolitan area. Concordia Club of Montreal would play at the 25,000 capacity McGill University Stadium in the 1961 season, Cox revealed. Indeed, Cox’s aim was to make Montreal a second base for the league, with the initial plans stating that seven games would be played there, along with the first-leg of the two-legged final, scheduled for August 3rd.

Concordia were backed by Joe Slyomovics who was, according to the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, a “millionaire Czech immigrant.”

Concordia also played in one of Canada’s two small-time professional soccer leagues, the National League, containing six teams from Toronto along with Concordia of Montreal.

The ISL saw an opportunity for soccer to establish itself in Canada as baseball had declined in popularity, the attendance numbers for the Montreal Royals in International League baseball having collapsed. The Star-Phoenix confidently asserted in January 1961 that “Pro soccer, making a second bid for a Canadian foothold, has recorded uneven progress, but the roots are apparently firm and the future bright. The game still has a long way to go but already it has supplanted baseball as one of Canada’s Big Three in team sports, joining hockey and football.”

Slyomovics announced that Concordia would only retain half-a-dozen of its players from 1960, including left back Hector Lopez, left half Tommy Barrett, inside forward Hector Daderio, two goalkeepers and fullback George Savage.

Like New York, the Canadians would look to stock most of their roster with quality international players, especially from the Britsh Isles. Cox stated that because of the ISL’s success in 1960, foreign teams were far more confident in loaning out their top players.

“All doubt has vanished now,” Cox said confidently. “We are being offered not the reserve players we had to take last year but the foremost ones. This means our New York team should be the equal of the foreign invaders, and that Concordia also will be well stocked with the best foreign performers as [well as] its own Canadian stars.”

The rumour mill began to spin. Saskatchewan’s Leader-Post reported that Concordia had offered Leicester City’s Welsh international forward Ken Leek – who had been in Wales’ 1958 World Cup squad as an eighteen-year-old – £50 a week to join them. Leek, only 20, had requested a transfer after being dropped for Leicester’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in the 1961 FA Cup final. The speculation was spot-on, as Leek soon signed on loan with Montreal (during the ISL season, Leicester would transfer Leek permanently to Newcastle United).

The wages being offered by the ISL were, by 1961 standards for British professionals, enormous. In 1960, the maximum wage in the Football League stood restricted at £20. Led by Jimmy Hill, England’s professionals were agitating hard for the maximum wage restriction to be abolished. In January 1961, the Football League capitulated and the maximum wage was abolished.

The New York Americans stocked their roster with talent that their player-coach, Welshman Alf Sherwood, described in glowing terms: “We had only six chaps from England on the team last season,” he explained. “all young and not with a great deal of experience. This time we not only have more English players, but more formidable, well-known performers as well. Every man in this group has been playing top-level soccer for eight or ten years.”

The imports included Ken McPherson, a prolific scorer for Newport County and Scottish centre-forward John McCole of Leeds United.

But the ISL’s growing stature and appeal to leading players had begun to cause international irritation. Cox received a blow in January when the West German league became the first to bar its clubs from entering the ISL. Bayern Munich would not return for a second season, though the league would eventually lift its ban, allowing Karlsruhe to represent West Germany in the 1961 ISL season, replacing Eintracht Frankfurt, who had originally been scheduled to play.

Expansion

As the winter of 1961 moved on, Cox soon began announcing the final line-up of teams to the league, now to be enlarged to 15 teams from 12 in 1960. Everton were the marquee English representative, a real coup for Cox, the Liverpudlians having made a considerable splash with their transfer spending in the previous 12 months (they would eventually finish fifth in the First Division, shortly before the ISL began play). Also from the British Isles came Ireland’s Shamrock Rovers, League of Ireland champions in 1959.

Along with Montreal representing Canada and Karlsruhe of West Germany, six other nations would make their debuts in the ISL with Turkey’s Besiktas, Romania’s Dinamo Bucharest, Czechoslovakia’s Dukla Prague, France’s Monaco, Israel’s Petah Tikvah and Spain’s Espanyol all scheduled to take part.

Returning were champions Bangu of Brazil, along with the defeated finalists, Scotland’s Kilmarnock. Yugoslavia’s Red Star Belgrade also made their second appearance as did Rapid Vienna of Austria (the latter would hope to improve on their 1960 performance, where they had lost all four of their games).

The ISL divided the 15 teams into two sections of play once again, with the winner of each section to play in the final. Montreal competed in both sections.

Field of Dreams

Yet before the season even started, the ISL’s long-term plans received a considerable blow. The City of New York had taken over the ISL’s main venue, the dilapidated Polo Grounds in Manhattan, and in March 1961 confirmed its plans to demolish the stadium and build a public housing project on the land. The City did confirm that the 1961 sports’ schedule would go on as planned, but the future suddenly looked less clear for the ISL beyond that.

The Polo Grounds were a mess. The ISL’s attendance in 1960 – averaging well over 10,000 at the Manhattan stadium – did not look so bad when the brand new professional American football team in the city, the Titans of New York, only drew around 15,000 fans for their debut season in the autumn of 1960, also played at the Polo Grounds.

The owner of the Titans, Harry Wismer, later recalled the poor conditions, worsened for his team by the ISL’s games in the summer of 1960.

“From our clean, sunny, New Hampshire camp we were scheduled to make our league debut in the shabby, desolate Polo Grounds, which had been deteriorating steadily since the New York baseball Giants moved to San Francisco for the 1958 season. A soccer league had played on the “pitch,” but that merely aggravated conditions for football. The stands and seats were encrusted with grime. There was not enough parking space. The neighborhood was not good. In brief, this was the worst possible place to attract paying customers.”

The Polo Grounds, April 1963

The Polo Grounds, April 1963

A Renegade League?

International entanglements caused other problems. On May 21st, only four days after the ISL’s season opener, FIFA suddenly announced that the ISL was an unauthorised league and any club competing in it would be suspended from playing in all affiliated leagues; Everton, waiting to play their ISL opener against Montreal, became very nervous and said they would wait to hear official word from the Football Association before taking part in the league.

FIFA had passed a new rule in April, stating that international tournaments had to be under the control of national associations. The controversy erupted due to comments made by Stanley Rous, a FIFA Vice-President (and soon to be president), that the league had not sent in the correct papers showing it adhered to this rule. Montreal’s owner Joe Slyomovics was dubious about the concerns: “Each team participating in the International Soccer League has received permission from the governing bodies in their own countries,” he commented, adding “Rous is only one man, and I don’t see in what capacity he made the statement.”

The ISL said that there had been a “technical difficulty,” with its paperwork lost somewhere between between New York and Switzerland. It was affiliated to the USSFA, it said, through its relationship with the ASL. Not having heard back from FIFA after sending in the required schedule and affiliation information, the ISL said it had presumed it could proceed. James McGuire, the Vice-President of the United States Soccer Football Association, stated that he had asked FIFA officials in Zurich to “phone me collect” to clear up the misunderstanding, explaining that he had sent a cable stating any obstacles to the ISL proceeding as planned “would be extremely harmful to the sport in this country.”

At 4am New York time on the morning of Everton’s game against Montreal on May 23rd, McGuire received his collect call from Zurich, FIFA’s executive secretary Dr. Helmuth Kaeser calling to say that “as long as the rules and regulations are on the way, we have no intention or desire to stop the tournament.”

The ISL’s second season could, after all, continue as scheduled.

To be continued. . .

A Bridge Over History – Zentralstadion, Leipzig

Central Stadium, Leipzig

This photo of Zentralstadion (Central Stadium) in Leipzig, Germany, was taken in December 2005, a little over a year following the opening of the stadium. It was built within the site of the huge original Zentralstadion, built in the 1950s, one of Europe’s largest venues holding over 100,000 spectators.

The bridge pictured shows how the site fits within the old confines of Zentralstadion; you can see the old wooden bleachers there on the right. The stadium was a venue for the 2006 World Cup.

Technically, this stadium is now known as Red Bull Arena, Red Bull having purchased the naming rights in 2010, along with one of the stadium’s tenants, Vfb Leipzig, now known as RB Leipzig (“Red Bull” cannot be in the name, so again…technically…the club’s name is RasenBall Leipzig).

Photo credit: Tony Quin // blightylad1 on Flickr

Ninian Park Gates, Cardiff City Stadium

Ninian Park Gates, Cardiff City

In 2009, Cardiff City moved into their new home, Cardiff City stadium. One reminder of their former home is pictured above, the gates of Ninian Park, home for Cardiff City from 1910 until the ground’s demolition in 2009. We looked at Ninian Park’s demolition in pictures a couple of years ago.

Ninian Park’s historic gates were saved and installed at the new stadium. Apparently, one of the bluebirds on the gates had been stolen during Ninian Park’s final days, but a replica was made from the remaining bluebird.

Photo credit: Phil Tilter on Flickr

Pitch Invasion On Google+

Google+ has finally allowed “brands” on its social network. Check out the Pitch Invasion page here. We’re going to try and use it more creatively than just as another tool to push out links and the like – as we’re embarking on some other projects, particularly publishing, we’ll be posting some behind the scenes stuff and most importantly looking for feedback from readers as we put projects together. We don’t have staff, we don’t have a budget, so if we can get any help that way, it’d be enormously valuable for us, and hopefully for anyone who supports the kind of stuff we do too.

Anyway, check it out if you use Google+. The first thing we’re asking is for some feedback on the proof of the cover for the forthcoming Very Best of Pitch Invasion book…

In Lieu of Giants: The International Soccer League, Part Two

In 1960, the New York metropolitan area’s 16 million inhabitants had fewer options to spend their sporting dollar on than they would at any point later in the twentieth century. The International Soccer League, promoted by Bill Cox, looked to take advantage of the opening – in the first part of this series, we looked at the launch of the 12 team league, featuring some of the best club teams from around the world playing in Manhattan and New Jersey.

As summer drew on, much of the city still mourned the absence of National League baseball, especially the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had moved to Los Angeles less than three years earlier, while the Giants had also moved to California around the same time.

Only the Yankees were left, and they played in the American League. Roger Maris led the league in RBIs and slugging percentage, but it was not a particularly remarkable year for the New York Yankees, though they still reached the World Series, losing in game seven to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bill Mazeroski hammering the winning home run for Pittsburgh in the ninth inning. The Maris and Mantle magic would really start the next year.

A new football team was on the horizon – the Titans of New York (later to become the Jets) would begin play in the autumn of 1960 in the brand new American Football League at the Polo Grounds. The New York Giants, meanwhile, were already playing a key role in the growing popularity of professional American football – far from the behemoth it would later become – reaching but losing in the NFL championship game in both 1958 and 1959.  The Giants had moved from the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, their home from 1925 until 1955, and now played at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx.

In ice hockey, Original Six member the New York Rangers had not won the Stanley Cup since 1940, in the early decades of suffering through the “Curse of 1940″.

All in all, the ground appeared fertile for the International Soccer League (ISL), one of four major attempts to create a lasting outdoor professional soccer league in the United States during the twentieth century before the formation of Major League Soccer, according to the Society of American Soccer Historians.

As Sports Illustrated put it in early summer 1960 in a piece titled In Lieu of Giants, “Sport drew the world a little closer together last week when some of Europe’s top footballers arrived in New York City for an off-season of international soccer. This experiment in global unity was no bit of dreamy idealism on the part of well-intentioned do-gooders, but a solidly businesslike and sense-making piece of sports promotion, and as such we applaud it.

“Since the defection of National League baseball to the West Coast, New Yorkers have been hungry for a good summertime sport. Since New York is a cosmopolitan town, veteran Sports Promoter William D. Cox concluded it might prove a fertile field for soccer.”

As we saw in the first part of this series, the ISL was put together by former Philadelphia Phillies owner Bill Cox, aiming to appeal to newly-arrived immigrants on the east coast already keen on soccer. They would, he thought, flock to see the world’s best teams play in America, importing 11 teams from overseas while founding one local team, the New York Americans. His business plan, while not skimping on expenses, was not outrageous: the league could break-even with average crowds of around 10,000 per game.

The ISL kicked off in 1960, with the schedule dividing the teams into two sections of league play, with the winners of each facing each other in the championship game in early August. Kilmarnock won section one, finishing ahead of Bayern Munich, Nice, Glenavon, the New York Americans and English champions Burnley in June, and we left off our account just before the start of the second section’s season in early July.

In  May and June 1960, the ISL had gotten off to a decent, if not remarkable start. All the competing international teams sent their best players – including several national team stars – and attendance was strong at the games at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan. Games were competitive and hard-fought. The reviews of television broadcasts proved positive. Few fans, though, showed up in Jersey City for games at Roosevelt Stadium. Cox’s dream would depend on how the rest of the season panned out, but so far, he had shown a strong head for marketing and promoting professional soccer in North America.

Importantly, the ISL had become the first American league to feature regularly on national network television, with ten games broadcast in primetime on a Saturday night. High profile media coverage was evident in the extensive coverage given to the league by the New York Times.

The first section had consisted of a majority of British teams and players (even the New York Americans featured six British professionals). The second section Cox put together was far more multi-ethnic. It would put to the test Cox’s belief that appealing to numerous ethnic minorities in New York by bringing over high-quality teams from their homelands would bring out big crowds for the round-robin games to be played between July 2nd and July 30th by the six teams in section two, with the winning team to play Kilmarnock on Saturday, August 6th. This time, all the games would be played in Manhattan at the Polo Grounds.

From Yugoslavia came Red Star, league champions, featuring the enormously popular and gifted Dragoslav Šekularac, known as a showman. From Austria came Rapid Vienna, champions of Austria. The important Italian representative was Sampdoria, who had just finished eighth in Serie A. Also arriving were Sporting Club of Lisbon, who had just been pipped to the Portugese title by Benfica, and the Swedish champions, Norrköping. The division was completed by perhaps the most interesting team, the only South American side in the ISL, Bangu of Rio de Janeiro – who would later play in the 1967 United Soccer Association as the Houston Stars.

Cox had originally invited the state champions of Rio and São Paulo, Fluminese and Palmeiras respectively, but both were already committed to another tournament. Bangu, runners-up in Rio, were the next to be invited, and quickly cancelled their plans for a tour of Europe to head to New York instead – seeing the competition as a genuine club world championship that would establish an international reputation for themselves. Bangu sent 17 players, along with a radio journalist to cover the event and the club’s president, Cesar Mauricio Buscácio. Amongst the 17 was Zózimo Alves Calazans, who had been part of Brazil’s 1958 World Cup winning team.

ISL lineup cardBangu began with a, uh, bang – they won their first two games comfortably, and even more importantly for Cox, helped to draw the league’s largest crowd to date at the Polo Grounds on July 10th as they took on Rapid Vienna: 19,804, paying between $2 and $4 each, provided strong gate receipts. The game was half of a double-header that also saw Sporting defeat Norrköping 4-3. Bangu’s game was no less exciting, as they defeated the Austrians 3-2, in hot, humid weather.

Notably, the New York Times reported the results not by using the club names, but by the respective nationalities, emphasising the ethnic nature of the intended appeal (see lineup cards to the right).

The physical play that had peppered the first section of games in June appeared again in the second section. Against Rapid Vienna on 13 July, three times the Swedes were reduced to ten men for extended periods as players received treatment on the sidelines, though their neat and tidy passing still led to a slightly surprising 3-1 win.

Bangu soon proved they were the class of the competition by crushing Sporting 5-1 at the Polo Grounds in front of 8,441 fans on 16 July. Bangu’s stars were their tricky wingers, brothers Beto Rinalho Macedo and Luis Carlos Macedo. The former had scored five goals in just three games. The game was marked by an unsavoury incident when several Portugese players chased around the referee, who had overruled his linesman to allow a Bangu goal. In the New York Times, Gordon White reported that  the Sporting players pushed the referee and “had some help from eager fans who pushed a bit, too, but gave up, after a few minutes.” Before the end, a Sporting player was sent-off for kicking the ball away after a Bangu goal: this, according to White, “gave the fans a chance to sound as if they were old Brooklyn Dodgers rooters.”

The second double-header of the second section, on July 20th, attracted a solid 12,338 fans to the Polo Grounds. They saw Red Star defeat Sporting 3-0 while Norrköping – the surprise package so far – held Bangu to a 0-0 draw, the first game the Brazilians had failed to score in a game.

Sampdoria’s third game against Norrköping – they had been poor so far with one draw and one loss – was eagerly anticipated due to the arrival in America of Sergio Brighenti, an Italian international forward just purchased by Sampdoria, who had scored 43 goals in 95 games for Padova before his transfer (he would go on to be the top scorer in Serie A in 1960-61).

The game, though, was overshadowed by fan violence that left Norrköping goalkeeper Rune Lind unconscious and with a broken tooth. After a challenge in the box on Italian forward Bruno Mora that left him in a heap, 20 irate Italian fans ran onto the field and attacked the Swedish team, some – including the spectator who struck Lind – wielding sticks, swinging wildly. Order was soon restored – amazingly, no arrests were made – and the game continued, Sampdoria winning 6-4.

The Italians would have to win their next game, against Rapid Vienna, to retain any hope of catching Bangu at the top of the division. This they did on July 23rd in a controversial game. Gordon White was again forced to lead with a report of spectator misdeeds instead of the exciting play on the field: this time, right after a goal by Sampdoria in the first half, “a half-dozen fans in the crowd of 6,129 ran onto the field and attacked one linesman from the rear.” The linesman reportedly received a “hard punch” to the face.

This was quite a shame, as the crowd trouble deflected attention from the brilliance of Brighenti: he struck a hat-trick  in Sampdoria’s 3-2 win.

That result kept the Italians alive, just, in the race for the title: along with Red Star, they sat two points behind Bangu heading into the final round of games.

Ahead of the last set of games, Cox gathered his investors and the media for a luncheon at the Playbill Room in the Manhattan Hotel to outline his future plans. The league had been a success so far, Cox said. Once the league had moved past its initial error in scheduling games in New Jersey, moving all the matches for the second section to Manhattan, attendances had risen and the league might even break even, despite the expenditure of $400,000 in 1960 money. The league would be back in 1961, he said.

One thorny topic, though, was the fan violence marring the competition. A Brazilian suggested the ISL build a moat around the pitch to keep invaders out. Increased policing was more seriously discussed.

The next day, July 28th, the final round of games began with a double-header. Sampdoria lost to Sporting 2-1, eliminating them from contention for the title. Red Star, though, not only won but moved ahead of Bangu on goals scored average with an impressive 4-0 defeat of Norrköping.

That set up the competition’s final game perfectly. Red Star would meet Bangu on July 30th at the Polo Grounds, with a bumper crowd expected for the winner-takes-all match up, though the Yugoslavians also knew a tie would secure them the section two crown.

A fierce thunderstorm ruined the scene in Manhattan on Saturday night. The game was postponed, and rescheduled for the afternoon of the next day.

Over 20,000 fans still attended (20,017 to be precise), by far the largest crowd the ISL had attracted. The Brazilians were superb, and controlled play from start to finish. Bangu won 2-0, their second goal scored by José Maria Fidélis dos Santos, who would go on to play for Brazil at the 1966 World Cup. Eighteen-year-old Ademir da Guia, who later played nine games for Brazil and starred for Palmeiras, was named MVP of the second section.

Bangu had won section two, and would now face Kilmarnock of Scotland in the final. Little-known now both teams might be, but both unbeaten sides had generated considerable attention and praise for their achievements in this summer of international soccer in New York.

The Scottish team flew back for the game on August 3rd, greeted enthusiastically by KLM Airlines:

Kilmarnock arrive in New York for the International Soccer League final, August 3rd 1960

The ISL’s expectations were more than met by the crowd at the Polo Ground for the first ISL championship game for the “American Challenge Cup”: 25,440 enthusiastic fans saw a high-quality contest that raised hopes for the league’s future. Gordon White reported that “Competition next year is virtually certain. The fans left with the realization that they had seen what was probably the best match played in the United States in many a year.”

In a tight game, Bangu, in their red and white stripes, scored early on, but their second, title-sealing goal did not come until the 87th minute, with both goals scored by inside-left Valtor Santos. After a season with many games showing ill-feeling, there were no reports of crowd trouble, and mutual praise flowed following the final whistle. The Bangu players said Kilmarnock were the best team they had ever played, and the Scots returned the compliment. White concluded that “By winning, Bangu added considerably to Brazil’s growing prestige as an international soccer power.”

Only a couple of months after the final, the momentum of an exciting event was not something Cox was going to let dwindle. Sensibly, his first move to ask fans what they wanted, with more than 450 responses to an ISL questionnaire. Fans responded that they wanted more double-headers, and more games on Sundays instead of Saturday nights, and Cox moved to accommodate this. Instead of a single-game final, Cox announced the 1961 championship final would be a two-game series, with total goals determining the winner.

Another fan-friendly move came with the announcement by the City of New York that it would run special soccer trains to the Polo Grounds on gamedays, to reduce parking problems, leaving from 168th Street and Jamaica Avenue in Queens, stopping along the way in Manhattan to pick-up up to 2,000 fans per train.

Most importantly, Cox announced the league had made a small profit in 1960, and was expanding in 1961. The ISL would also feature on national network television again.

Cox held a media luncheon at the Manhattan Hotel, and his ambition seeped into his verbiage: “Soccer will be a new major sport here in 1961. Instead of six clubs in each of the league’s two sections, we will have eight teams, not necessarily all from Europe.”

Cox announced that Bangu would return, while the newcomers would be Besiktas of Turkey, Espanyol of Barcelona, an Israeli team, and possibly a French and a Canadian team (a Montreal entrant was soon announced). Most of the 1960 teams would return, Cox revealed, a sign the tournament had been successful for the competing clubs as well.

What about the Americans? Perhaps recognizing that New Yorkers had not identified with a team called the “Americans” with barely a native-born North American on it, Cox said that in 1961 “we’ll have five or six top American players”.

As 1960 drew to a close, Cox would have been happy to see the ISL featured in the New York Times review of 1960 in sports, a dramatic year of expansion in professional sports across the United States. Soccer hoped to catch this wave, while taking advantage of unusual room in the New York market for a summer sport. The International Soccer League “burst on the New York scene” in 1960, the Times enthusiastically mentioned. What would happen next?

To be continued. . .

Click here for Expanded Dreams: The International Soccer League, Part Three

They Even Cheered Technique: The International Soccer League, Part One

$2 million for a Summer of Soccer in 1960: several decades before Soccer United Marketing and others figured out the value of bringing Europe’s best teams to play in North America during their summer breaks, New Yorker Bill Cox had already given it quite a shot with the International Soccer League.

The 102nd Mayor of New York City, Robert F. Wagner, was at the announcement at City Hall on October 28th 1959 that a new professional soccer league would begin play exclusively in his city the next summer, with all the games to take place at Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island. $75,000 would be spent to upgrade the floodlights at the 25,000 capacity venue. Tickets would be priced at $2 for general admission and $3 for reserved seating, while 1,200 box seats would also be installed. One American team would play alongside star teams from Britain, continental Europe, and possibly South America. All expenses would be paid for the visiting teams, with cash prizes for the winners. The total cost of the venture was estimated at around $2 million in today’s money.

At the same time, in London, Cox – to be president of the league’s only American team, a New York entry – made the same announcement. The Times of London reported that “The Football League, the Scottish League, and the Northern Ireland and Eire leagues have approved the proposals subject to the agreement of their clubs.”

The competition was planned to take place between May 25th with its first section (comprising six teams), ending June 26th, with the second section (also comprising six teams) beginning June 29th and ending August 3rd. The winners of each section would then play each other for the championship title.

Mayor Wagner was enthusiastic: “Many of our citizens in the city are foreign born. They all are fond of soccer and they have instilled that fondness in their children. This new league will give us a chance to see the greatest players in the game competing against a New York team. The city will cooperate in every possible way to help this league succeed.”

Cox, the league’s impresario who had made his money in the lumber business, had a mixed track record as a sports promoter. His involvement in American football in the 1940s with football teams the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers had not been a success, and nor had his involvement with the Philadelphia Phillies in Major League Baseball: though the team improved under his tenure in 1943 and attendance rose, Cox was forced to depart when it was found he had bet on his own team (“sentimentally”, he claimed).

Cox announced that the ISL would begin play with section one featuring Scotland’s Kilmarnock, England’s Burnley, France’s Nice, West Germany’s Bayern Munich and Northern Ireland’s Glenavon.

While those names outside of Bayern Munich may not sound all that glamorous, that was not the case. Burnley, in fact, were the reigning champions of England. The timing of Burnley’s triumph, mere weeks before their opening game in the ISL, showed either great serendipity or remarkable foresight on the part of Cox. As Brian Glanville wrote, “Burnley, whose colors are claret and blue, is thus a most happy and long-sighted selection for the tournament in New York.”

Burnley featured the flair of Irishman Jimmy McIlroy, and the stoutness of Jimmy Adamson.

Glenavon, meanwhile, were the champions of Northern Ireland. Nice had finished ninth in Ligue 1 in 1960, but had been champions in 1959 when they’d been recruited for the league. Kilmarnock had just finished as runners-up in the Scottish Cup.

Each brought strong teams. Nice, for example, regularly fielded almost the entire XI who had recently taken on Real Madrid at the quarter-final stage of the European Cup, including Georges Lamia, Alphonse Martínez, César Gonzales, François Milazzo, Jacques Foix, Héctor de Bourgoing, Omar Keita Barrou and Victor Nurenberg.

Glenavon, Bayern Munich, Kilmarnock and Nice arrived in New York by chartered plane, while Burnley took a leisurely steam ship journey across the Atlantic.

New York’s entry was coached by Al Stubbins, a former Newcastle United and Liverpool forward. Stubbins is best known for being the only footballer to feature on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The forty year-old hoped he could help show the beauty of soccer to a new American audience.

“The new fan should observe both the individual play and the team play,” Stubbins told the media ahead of the ISL’s inaugural game. “When a player has the ball to himself, he can employ great dexterity with his feet, deception, and tricky ball-maneuvering. No player except the goalie may touch the ball with his hands. While the individual is showing his own style, he is at the same time advancing the fortunes of his team. In team play, the thing to watch for is the pass patterns. These are short and executed with a minimum of delay.”

Al Stubbins, New York Americans' Coach

Al Stubbins, New York Americans' Coach

The media supported the ISL in at times breathless style. A month before kick-off, Allison Danzig wrote that “Soccer is making a comeback in the colleges and being taken up by thousands of high schools. The International Soccer League matches Cox is bringing to New York may be the greatest shot in the arm the game has known in this country.”

The hype helped Cox earn the fledgling league a television contract, with ten games to be televised on WPIX in New York, nine of them live in a prime Saturday night spot. That left WPIX the challenge of finding an announcer who could both explain the game while relating to an American audience. The Vice-President of WPIX’s Operations Department Levitt Pope admitted that “The best soccer experts are British. But I suspect British announcers are too reserved for our purposes. We need someone to talk it up and give the game color. On the other hand, I don’t know if it would work out in trying to take an American announcer and make a soccer expert out of him. What we are looking for is a British Mel Allen, if you can imagine such a thing.” (Mel Allen was the well-known voice of the New York Yankees)

The teams playing in section one were introduced to the media on May 24th 1960 by Mayor Wagner, and a lady described by the New York Times as “Miss Soccer 1960″ – Dolores Armada, Brooklyn-born of Spanish descent, who played on the women’s team for Club Espana and was a secretary of the Dutch Airline that had flown the teams in.

Not everything had gone to plan for the ISL. The games did not take place as promised at Downing Stadium. Instead, the schedule was split between games at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan and Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey. Each of the six teams would play each other once in a round-robin format, with two points awarded for a win and one for a tie.

10,444 fans attended the inaugural game at the Polo Grounds on May 25th 1960, as Kilmarnock – trailing 1-0 at half-time – defeated Bayern Munich 3-1, a deserved win by all accounts. The ISL had been anticipating a crowd of over 15,000, leading to some disappointment, though far from despair. Those that did attend were engaged in the game; Michael Strauss reported that “They cheered, they applauded and they rooted. . .The fans were soccer-wise ones. They knew the game. They booed decisions they considered unjust in the same way that a baseball crowd reacts on close calls made at home plate. They cheered plays at midfield as well as near the nets. They even cheered technique.”

Fancy dribbles by Miloš Milutinović had the crowd shouting “Just like Bob Cousy” at him, referencing the famous Boston Celtics point guard of the time renowned for his ball-handling skills and movement.

The “American” team began play the next day: without a single native American on the team. At the try-outs in late April, Cox had justified the domination of the team by overseas player by saying “It wouldn’t be out of place if we had all foreigners on our squad. After all, the New York Rangers’ hockey team doesn’t have an American among its regulars.”

Ten of those selected were, though, at least New York based, such as John Kriesche, the manager of a Brooklyn butcher shop and a local player for Blau-Weiss Gottschee (a club who still play today).

Referees, meanwhile, were also imported, mostly from Britain.

The New York Americans started out – unsurprisingly – poorly at the first game held at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, losing 5-1 to Glenavon. Discouragingly, only around 3,000 fans showed up, quiet in the face of the poor performance of the home team.

The ISL, though, had certainly attracted attention. The Yankees’ Yogi Berra was reported to hold a considerable interest in the league. “Tell you what we’ll do some night, Howie.” Yogi told his teammates at the end of May. “We’ll go to the Polo Grounds and watch the international soccer. That’s a great game, soccer.” Berra had grown up playing the same in St. Louis, Soccer City USA.

Attendance hovered at levels that meant the ISL would struggle to break even. 5,916 saw Kilmarnock defeat Glenavon 2-0 in both teams’ second games, at Roosevelt Stadium on May 29th.

Encouragingly, June began with a record crowd of 13,013 watching the ISL’s remaining unbeaten teams Kilmarnock and Burnley go head-to-head at the Polo Grounds, the Scots triumphing 3-0 in a foul-ridden game. Michael Strauss reported that “members of both teams shook hands after the game. This sudden cordiality caused considerable merriment in the crowd. For the players had hammered at each other as if they were mortal enemies.”

The disparity in attendance between Manhattan and New Jersey – games at the former outdrawing games at the latter by more than 2 to 1 – began talk that the second series may play only at the Polo Grounds.

Meanwhile, soccer debuted on WPIX Channel 11 on Saturday, June 4th, kicking off at 8.30pm and going head-to-head against professional American football, with the Baltimore Colts playing the Green Bay Packers on Channel 9. WPIX had been unable to find their “British Mel Allen.” Pope had interviewed several Brits, but had been unable to find his man, concluding that “we felt that a combination of presenting a sport relatively unknown to so many Americans and an accent that Americans often find amusing would be too much of a handicap.”

Instead, Canadian Monty Hall – a former soccer player – and veteran sports announcer American Win Elliott presented the show. Cox found a sponsor for the show: F&M Schaefer Brewing Company, brewer of the best-selling beer of its age.

A double-header at the Polo Grounds on June 4th saw considerable improvement from the New York Americans, who held Burnley to a 3-3 tie, with the tying goal coming from a free-kick by the Americans’ Ukrainian star Gene Vinyei in the 83rd minute. Burnley played the final 22 minutes with only ten men, after a leg injury forced out Brian Pilkington, their right-back (substitutions were only allowed for injuries to the goalkeeper).

Matters were not helped by both teams wearing white jerseys: they were distinguished by red shorts in the Americans’ case, and black shorts for the English.

Perhaps not ideally for an American television audience, the televised second game also ended up without a winner, as Bayern Munich and Nice drew 2-2. A solid crowd of 10,414 attended.

The first television reviews proved positive. Jack Gould wrote that “Soccer, the most popular international sport, may turn out to be the newest hit on American television. At least the professional brand of game played Saturday night by Nice of France and Bayern Munich of Germany made for exceptionally good viewing over WPIX.”

Gould continued, “The incredibly deft footwork of the players in the International Soccer League, who will appear on Saturday nights for the next nine weeks over Channel 11, is something to be seen by anyone, whether a sports fan or not. The control of the ball, deception of opposing players and artistry of movement border on the fabulous.”

Unlike many later American commentators, Gould concluded that “The sport, known as football in most parts of the world, appears to be made for TV.”

And similarly, unlike many others who would unfavourably compare the athleticism of soccer to American sports, Gould concluded that “For stamina, the soccer players make most athletes look like weaklings.”

Gould observed that the producers had found ways to impose Schaefer’s beer advertisements into the program without interrupting play too much, with “modest commercials over the action on the field”, determining that “Thoughtfulness is always sound advertising.”

A few days later, play resumed with Nice somehow holding Kilmarnock to a tie: the Scots bombarded Nice’s goal, 27 saves made, but could only score once, and the French found an equaliser. The league was seemingly growing in popularity perhaps thanks to the television coverage, a new record for a single-game set with 12,861 attending. Ill-feeling broke out after the Scots felled two Frenchmen, prompting Nice coach Jean Luciano to rush onto the field, who then apparently spat on the referee, Tom Callaghan, as well as two Kilmarnock players. Luciano was ordered off, but refused to leave the bench, later declaring “I never spat and I will never spit.”

Kilmarnock’s failure to win left the section one title still up for grabs for the next two games at the Polo Grounds two days later. The double-header, with Nice playing the Americans and Burnley facing Glenavon, attracted 11,864 fans.

The Americans secured their second tie in a 1-1 game, though injuries had left Nice playing with only nine men by the end of the game. The Americans did feature a native-born American, with Kevin Hoy in goal.

The second half descended into chaos. Americans’ defender Les Locke was twice headbutted to the ground, with the game stopped three times when the teams began fighting. Vinyei had given the Americans the lead, but Georges Lamia, Nice’s goalkeeper, felled Locke shortly after when he felt he’d been roughly challenged.

The second game went off without incident, Burnley beating Glenavon 6-2.

Nice then defeated Glenavon 3-2 a few days later, another poor crowd attending the game at Roosevelt stadium, with only 3,391 present.

After four games played, then, Kilmarnock led the way with seven points, Burnley and Nice just behind with five points each, New York on four points, Bayern Munich on three points and Glenavon on only two points. One round of games remained to determine the champions of section one. Kilmarnock’s chance to clinch the title would be shown on tape delay on WPIX on Saturday, June 25th.

Burnley put the pressure on Kilmarnock by winning the first game of the double-header at the Polo Grounds, 11,704 in attendance. They defeated Nice 4-0. Kilmarnock, though, continued their fine, speedy play with a 3-1 win over the Americans to capture the section one title. New York were hampered by the departure in the first half of their captain Alf Sherwood, who was later awarded the MVP for section one, concussed and taken to hospital. Sherwood was a Welsh international imported for the tournament from Newport County, and known as the “King of the Sliding Tackle.”

Kilmarnock claimed a prize of $1,000 and advanced to the “America Cup” final, while Burnley received $500 as runners-up.

Days later, the New York Times published a letter from a reader proposing some changes to the way the game was played:

“I am sure the game will appeal to the American public only if some changes are made in the playing rules. For instance: (1) Players should be allowed to charged the goaltender the instant he leaves the goal post. (2) An injured player leaving the game should be replaced. (3) Players should be allowed to charge each other in a legal way. (4) Penalties should be called for two, five or ten minutes, according to the seriousness of the infraction.”

Regardless, Kilmarnock would have to await the results of the second section to know who’d they play on August 5th at the Polo Grounds for the inaugural International Soccer League championship. Cox’s expensive experiment was off to a modest but successful start, and much would hinge on the appeal of the second section and the championship game.

Continue to Part Two of this series, as we look at how the ISL’s debut season shaked out.

Belle Vue, Rhyl FC, Wales

Belle Vue, Rhyl FC, Wales

This is the west end of Welsh club Rhyl FC’s Belle Vue stadium, with the photo taken at half-time during a September 2011 game against Llangefni Town in Cymru Alliance. Now all-seater, the stadium has been adapted to accommodate European football – Rhyl FC played in the UEFA Champions League in both 2004-05 and 2009-10. The official attendance was 406.

Photo credit: Feversham Lens on Flickr

Stadium Porn: Eye Candy For Soccer Fans

Stadium Porn - Sports StadiumsIf you follow the Pitch Invasion twitter account, you might have seen mention of a new side-project: Stadium Porn, a site all about stadiums, not porn. So far, we have lasciviously looked at the Amex in Brighton, England; Estadio de Fútbol Monterrey in Mexico; Mineirão, Belo Horizonte, Brazil; and Stadio di Palermo, Palermo, Italy.

Stadium Porn is brand new, and it’s done mainly because I like to spend time looking at new stadium construction projects so I figured I’d share some of what I find. Check the site out and follow the SP Twitter account if you’re interested. For now, it’s been all soccer stadia – that may change in the future, but I’d be curious to know any thoughts on what to cover or the site in general. As ever, I can be reached at tom@pitchinvasion.net

Otherwise, things are quiet at Pitch Invasion HQ on the blog front: there’s no point forcing it if the blogging juices aren’t flowing, which they aren’t at the moment.

However, Pitch Invasion Publishing – an eBooks venture – is quietly taking shape, and the monkeys are busy hammering on the typewriters as we speak. If you have an idea for an eBook, drop me a line: we can’t make you rich, but we can make something beautiful and informative together.

And if you have a second and haven’t filled out the Pitch Invasion eBook survey yet, it’d certainly be much appreciated if you could spare the less than two minutes it’d take. There’s $25 in Amazon goodness for one lucky reader who fills it out, too.

Bruno Is Bonkers, Collymore Is Crazy: Tackling Depression In Sport

You may or may not have an interest in cricket, but I highly recommend a BBC radio show from this week for a listen to anyone interested in learning more about a taboo subject in the sporting world: depression, something that afflicts men and women in every sport but is too rarely talked about in a mature fashion. Often, at least in the English press, a mistrustful and even ridiculing attitude has been shown to professional sportsmen – including soccer players such as Stan Collymore – suffering from mental distress as a result of clinical depression. That attitude, as the BBC show epitomised, may finally be changing.

Cricket seems to have had more high-profile cases of sportsmen whose clinical depression have come to light than most sports for a variety of reasons explored in the show, including the long overseas tours (sometimes lasting months) that take fathers away from their families, situations that can exacerbate situations for those ill with depression. Cricket is known to have the highest suicide rate in professional sport (with over 150 known cases throughout the twentieth century), with suicide rates running higher among cricket players than in the general population in all major cricket-playing countries. There’s even a book about it. Of course, not all of those cases would be due to clinical depression, but the BBC programme certainly threw light on a subject too often swept under the carpet in sporting culture.

‘Illness’ was perhaps the keyword of the commentary by cricketers including Marcos Trescothick and Matthew Hoggart, who emphasised that a sportsman can no more choose to become ill with depression than he can choose to become ill with laryngitis. Admitting the problem of a mental illness, as we all know, is far more challenging than discussing an obviously physical one in everyday society and even more so for those in the public eye presumed to be living the “good life” of comfortable sporting wealth.

Cricket might present unique challenges for international sportsmen suffering from depression, but many of the same issues are present in soccer, and we can presume – given around 15-20% of the general population will suffer from clinical depression at some time in their lives – that there are literally hundreds of professional players around the world privately struggling with a debilitating mental illness.

The most high-profile case in international soccer illustrates the tragedy that can result from depression only too clearly. In November 2009, as you may recall, German international goalkeeper Robert Enke took his own life. Enke’s situation was extreme – his daughter died in 2006 aged two due to a heart defect. After his death, Enke’s widow revealed that he had been treated for clinical depression for six years, and had been concerned about the consequences that might result from this becoming public knowledge.

Regardless of the specifics of Enke’s tragic case, there is no doubt that to be male and to be a professional sports star and to be depressed is not something many find comfortable to talk about. As Dave Zirin put it with regard to the Vince Young incident in 2008, “superman isn’t supposed to get depressed.”

Bonkers BrunoSportsmen have in the past been ridiculed for showing the “weakness” of having the misfortune to have a mental illness. British boxer Frank Bruno was subjected to the newspaper headline “Bonkers Bruno locked up” when he was hospitalised for his condition in 2003. In the Premier League, Stan Collymore found no sympathy from his own manager at Aston Villa when he admitted to his depressive illness in 1999, practically mocked in public by Villa boss John Gregory – an ignorant reaction that brought shockingly little opprobrium upon Gregory. In the Guardian, following Collymore’s admission to the Priory clinic for treatment, Paul Weaver mocked that “sometimes it is difficult to muster any sympathy” for well-paid players suffering from stress.

Little had apparently changed since the 1970s, when upcoming England star Kevin Beattie’s career was derailed by mental distress that resulted in him disappearing from England camp in 1974, his “weakness” pitilessly mocked across the British press. In the Daily Mail, Jeff Powell wrote that a “lot of hard-up kids were sick at the news of one of their own kind running away home instead of coming of age with an England cap.”

Bobby Brandon put it this way in an article following Enke’s death: “The difficulties of admitting to depression are magnified for professional athletes, in a world where bravado and hyper-masculinity can mean money, fame, endorsements and women, it becomes nearly impossible to admit to what many perceive as a weakness without realizing the courage it takes for a man to admit he has a problem.”

Sport itself is now being recognised as a potential pressure cooker. Enke’s death prompted this thoughtful commentary from Gabby Logan in November 2009:

Is the sportsman predisposed to mental illness or does the sport induce it? Sport-induced depression seems to develop through different triggers: the stress of continued peak performance, the despair in long periods of injury and the futility of life in retirement. The highs and lows of sport are so intense, focusing on such small detail to gain advantage and then enjoying victory for just a few snatched moments before the next goal is laid down.

It does seem – largely due to the death of Enke and the openness of prominent cricketers about their situations – that thankfully the ignorant perspective on mental illness in professional sport may be changing, at least in British sporting discourse. Listening to the two hour BBC show (nationally broadcast) mentioned above with numerous sportsmen openly and honestly discussing the pain of depression and the ways they found to cope with it surely makes it easier for the taboo to start to fade away.

In England, the Professional Footballers’ Association has produced a new guide book for its members for the 2011-12 season that looks at the unique stresses of being a professional sportsman and suggests ways to handle them. Let’s hope this sets an example for others to follow.


When Will Soccer Stand Up Against Homophobia?

Photo: Angela SharpeIn a recent interview, German national team captain Philipp Lahm said that “An openly gay footballer would be exposed to abusive elements. For someone who does [come out], it would be very difficult.”

Sadly, it is hard to argue with Lahm’s conclusion, though it should be noted that there is now an openly gay footballer – Anton Hysén, son of former Liverpool player Glenn Hysén (who coaches Anton’s fourth division Swedish team, Utsiktens BK). Anton came out in March in the Swedish soccer magazine Offside.

Anton is as far as I know the first professional player to openly come out since Justin Fashanu in England two decades ago, and he spoke about the challenges he thought his decision would bring:

I want to prove that there is no big deal if I’m a footballer and also gay. If I perform as a footballer, then I do not think it matters if I like men or women…There will always be people who can’t tolerate gay people, just like there are people who can’t tolerate immigrants. A club might be interested in me and then the coach might change his mind if he finds out I’m gay, but that is his problem not mine.

That’s brave of Anton, but obviously still points to the problematic situation facing players who might want to no longer have to hide their sexuality without damaging their professional prospects. And of course, the spotlight on a player higher up in football’s pyramid would be even harsher.

Tragically, it is still generally presumed in elite soccer circles that coming out would result in prejudice that could even impact on a player’s career on the field, nevermind the abuse players may fear from the terraces or gutter press. Justin Fashanu, a couple of decades ago in England, epitomised all those issues as the world’s first openly gay footballer, disowned by his own brother, eventually committing suicide partly as a result of the homophobia he encountered.

Times are, however, a-changin’ in professional sport. Even a decade ago it would be hard to imagine a Football vs Homophobia day in England being preceded by Justin Fashanu’s induction to the Norwich City Hall of Fame with a banner sponsored by the Justin Campaign, an organisation set-up in Fashanu’s name to fight homophobia in sport.

That said, English football and world soccer in general still lags behind other sports in taking pro-active strides to make its space feel comfortable for gay players. In baseball, the San Francisco Giants recently released a video in support of Its Get Better, aimed at LGBT youth. In rugby, Welsh player Gareth Thomas famously came out last year with very little noticeable negative reaction.

Just as importantly, recently retired England rugby international Ben Cohen – a gay icon but straight and married with kids – has launched a foundation, StandUp, to fight bullying, in particular homophobic bullying, that has attracted international support.

In the NBA, of course, mixed messages are coming out seemingly monthly.

Efforts to fight homophobia in soccer certainly do exist: the Justin Campaign has been a key part of that, receiving considerable support from Brighton and Hove Albion. The English Football Association, in a seemingly well-meaning but misguided manner, bungled the release of an anti-homophobia video just last year.

In the US, the Columbus Crew are organising a tournament for gay and allied players that is welcome. But there has been little done that I know of by MLS or US Soccer on the men’s or women’s sides of the game – which brings us to the difficult question of the culture of the sport beyond just sexuality, but into gender as well. As Jennifer Doyle put it: “Homophobia animates hostility towards the women’s game – so much so, it is indeed hard to tell the difference between it and simple sexism. (For women in many parts of the world – including England – just playing soccer is enough to make you a “dyke” and target of homophobic abuse.)”

It will take work by clubs, governing bodies, fans, gay and straight players to help fight homophobia and discuss these issues in the public sphere, something that could help soccer not only move towards a culture accepting of openly gay professional players but that would also have a positive influence at amateur and youth levels for LGBT youth involved in the sport, and for all who want to enjoy soccer without a side-dish of discrimination.

Who will take the next steps to stand up against homophobia?

FIFA vote farce

FIFA From Rous to Blatter: All For The Good Of The Game!

FIFA vote farceOnce upon a time, FIFA was not corrupt, it was just a Eurocentric empire run for the good of a few countries in western Europe unwilling to open the doors of the World Cup to the rest of the world. Those were the 1960s, when Englishman Stanley Rous’ FIFA preferred to pander to the racist South African football association over finding ways to integrate the developing world into its halls of power. Or when Rous let games take place in the bloodstained torture chamber of the Pinochet regime in Chile.

I suppose those were the good ol’ days.

As Tim Vickery puts it in an important historical reminder of all that today, there is a reason much of the rest of the world is less up in arms about the Blatter era than the English press.

There was no pre-Havelange and Blatter garden of Eden — just a different FIFA with different defects. With its lack of historical context it is unclear whether the current hysteria in the English press is motivated by a genuine desire to carry the game forward on a global basis — or by nostalgia for when English rule was unchallenged.

The lack of accountability of the current FIFA is surely unsustainable, the quasi-feudal personal fiefdoms that develop inside the organization are disturbing and the fat-cat lifestyle of some of those at the top makes the stomach turn. But for all its flaws and problems, it is not hard to understand why much of the developing world prefers the post-Havelange FIFA to what came before.

Of course, from any objective standpoint of the good of world soccer, the fact that FIFA was f*cked up in the pre-Havelange era doesn’t make it any more right for it to be f*cked up in the post-Havelange era. Havelange and Blatter have made corruption and commercial exploitation a way of life in the sport’s global governing bodies. That may beat colonialist arrogance as a defining ruling trait, but not by a lot.

The cesspool of corruption that has followed the game’s drastic commercialisation under Havelange/Blatter is a great betrayal of the movement that overthrew Rous’ arrogant rule. The overthrow of Eurocentric rule in the 1970s was born of a genuine desire to spread the game around the world and allow more nations into the World Cup, a development that has allowed it to become a kaleidoscope of global talent on display.

Back then, there were administrators from the developing world who wanted to use their growing voice within the game to end discrimination and racism in sport, and to protect world soccer from the deleterious effects of rampant commercialism.

What would Ydnekatchew Tessema, the head of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) in the 1970s and a true visionary of the game from Ethiopia, make of today’s farcial FIFA election? Or that each FIFA confederation (perhaps excluding UEFA) is run by a tainted leader?

It was Tessema who helped forge the coalition that ousted Rous in 1974 with the election of Havelange, but it was not with CAF being used as a tool of Havelange – rather, it was a necessary move by CAF to end the roadblock to African development Rous seemed insistent upon. As Paul Darby wrote in his excellent book Africa, Football and FIFA:

The fact that Tessema was in a position to threaten the withdrawal of African support for Havelange’s presidential challenge illustrates that CAF was not only gaining confidence to assert itself within world football politics but was also beginning to recognise the potential that its voting powers offered the African continent. Indeed, it is clear from African accounts of the 1974 FIFA Congress . . . that the African nations did not see themselves merely as pawns in a power struggle for the control of FIFA. Instead, they saw Havelange as the means through which to achieve a realignment of the distribution of power and privilege within world football which would more adequately reflect their growing stature.

Tessema led the push for Africa to receive more places at the World Cup by fighting for the principle that each nation should have one vote within the governing body, one that Rous had tried to circumvent. Rous was blunt about his belief developing nations did not deserve the same rights within the global game:

Many people are convinced that it is unrealistic, for example, that a country like England, where the game started and was first organised, or that experienced countries like Italy and France, who have been pillars of FIFA and influential in its problems and in world football affairs for so many years, should have no more than equal voting rights with any of the newly created countries of Africa and Asia.

Tessema was curt in his response to this patronising attitude.

Although we acknowledge the role played by certain continents in the creation of FIFA, its development and their moral, material and financial contributions, we estimate that democratic rule dictates that all rights and duties that form an international organisation should be the same for all. This is why in the framework of legitimacy, and by following a process consistent with the interests of world football and its unity, a progressive equilibrium of the representation in the heart of FIFA and its competition is required.

At the same time, Tessema was cautious about submitting to the tide of dollars flooding into the sport: Tessema fought against alcohol and tobacco sponsorship in African football, and warned against the consequences of young talent leaving African shores. In the mid-1980s, not long before his premature death from cancer, Tessema stated:

African football must make a choice! Either we keep our players in Africa with the will power of reaching one day the top of the international competitions and restore African people a dignity that they long for; or we let our best elements leave their countries, thus remaining the eternal suppliers of raw material to the premium countries, and renounce, in this way, to any ambition. When the rich countries take away from us, also by naturalisation, our best elements, we should not expect any chivalrous behaviour on their part to help African football.

It is sadly now the case that FIFA under the Havelange-Blatter regime has largely made African football a pawn for its own needs by submitting world football to the power of money for its own rapacious greed, with the corruption that has wrought around the world. That money is now the tool by which Blatter maintains his fiefdom, and that corrupt the successors of Tessema. There are no Tessemas today.

Nor is there any chivalry in the way FIFA operates. One example can be seen in the distribution of money from the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa – most of the money, of course, kept by FIFA itself.

Sepp Blatter explained that the money actually paid out was to be given to those who had developed young talent. “We are pleased that we can share the success of the 2010 FIFA World Cup with the clubs by providing them a share of the benefits of our flagship event, in particular to recognise their efforts in the development of young players.”

Those payments did not go to the countries from which these players developed and that desperately need it, but to the rich European clubs who poached them at young ages. The largest payments from FIFA after the 2010 World Cup went to clubs from England ($5,952,133.30), Germany ($4,740,666.70), Italy ($3,880,666.70), Spain ($3,699,066.70), France ($2,202,666.70) and the Netherlands ($1,858,266.70). The first African nation in the list is South Africa, with its clubs receiving $662,666.70.

FIFA uses its largesse to cement the support that earns Blatter 186 votes even after all the revelations of the past year, and indeed, past decade – the rest of the world is also bought off by dubious development programmes whose monies often end up in brown envelopes, as we wonder where the development actually is.

FIFA has certainly overseen a massive expansion of the game’s popularity worldwide since the Rous era, and part of that does explain the continued support for the Blatter regime as Vickery says. The English FA’s hypocrisy is hard to stomach, given their willingness to play FIFA’s game until their failed 2018 World Cup bid and the lonely fight against FIFA’s obvious corruption that Andrew Jennings was left to.

Still, that is no reason for the rest of the world to say that makes turning a blind eye to Blatter OK. FIFA has co-opted and corrupted the growth of world soccer for its own benefit rather than fostered it in a truly beneficial way for the grassroots of the sport – at least in the postwar era. The history of the treatment of women’s football (short shorts?!) or the struggle it took for African football to gain recognition in the halls of FIFA is evidence of that, nevermind the blatant bribery present and submission to the power of the dollar above all. The support for Blatter in the FIFA Congress is not high-minded, it is deeply self-interested.

And when we are left hoping for sponsors to save the world’s game from FIFA, remember this. The last few weeks have certainly dented FIFA and Blatter, but it’s hard to see where the movement to truly reform it for the good of the goddamn game will come from in this day and age.

Wales In The English Premier League: A Potted History Of A Cross-Border Anomaly

Swansea City logoSwansea City will become the first Welsh team to play in the English Premier League in the 2011-2012 season, following their victory in the Championship play-off final on Monday. As I write, thousands are out on the streets of Swansea celebrating as the team bus drives through the southern Welsh city.

While to fans of MLS it may seem normal for a league to span two countries, the existence of Swansea in the Premier League, Cardiff City in the Football League and Newport County, Wrexham, Merthyr Town and Colwyn Bay further down in the English system remains a subject of some controversy to UEFA and within Welsh and English football. A potted history of Welsh football is in order to explain this anomaly.

The Welsh national association is one of the oldest in the world, founded in 1876, 13 years after the English FA and three years after the Scottish FA. Its original hotspot was in North Wales, mainly around Wrexham, where the sport had crossed the border from Cheshire in England. In south Wales though, rather than Association Football taking hold, it was Rugby Football that became the most popular organised game in the country in the late nineteenth century.

Map of WalesThis distinction can be seen in the contrast between the country’s biggest professional clubs – Wrexham in the north date back to 1872, while in the south of the country Cardiff were founded in 1899 and Swansea in 1913. This delayed national development provided an immediate impediment to a strong Welsh league developing in the crucial early decades of organised football in Great Britain, and was unlike the story in Scotland, to contrast to another English neighbour. Challenging issues of north-south transit in Wales also proved to be a challenge to national play in the country.

Welsh participation in the English league system thus dates back to the country’s oldest club, Wrexham. Located close to the border with England adjacent to the Northwest hub of English football, it actually proved to be more profitable for the club to play in the English Combination minor league that ran from 1890 to 1911 than in the nascent Welsh League, with the inferior competition in Wales dettering spectators and players alike (Wrexham briefly played in the Welsh league from 1894-1896, easily winning it both seasons they participated in). Wrexham eventually rose up the English system to the Football League, and the newer professional Welsh clubs such as Swansea and Cardiff followed them across the border in the early twentieth century.

Cardiff had the strongest run of success in English competition in the twentieth century, winning the FA Cup in 1927, three years after finishing as runners-up in the Football League’s top division. Swansea themselves rose to the top flight in 1981 after three successive promotions from the basement division under John Toshack. They finished in sixth place in the 1981-82 season, but just as quickly fell back to the bottom tier by 1986.

Meantime, the Welsh teams playing in the English league system were still allowed to compete in the Welsh Cup, of course dominating it. This provided Welsh clubs with a route to European competition. This issue has proven to be controversial: in the early 1990s, a national Welsh Premier League was established, featuring both professional and semi-pro clubs, with all Welsh clubs invited to join it. The professional clubs from four of Wales’ biggest conurbations – Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham – all refused to join, remaining in the English system. Clubs playing in the English league system were thus banned from participating in the Welsh Cup in 1995, removing that route to European competition for clubs such as Swansea and Cardiff – though that may be about to change.

The Welsh Premier League even had considerable trouble attracting the smaller Welsh teams, issuing sanctions that forced clubs such as Merthyr Tydfil (now Merthyr Town) to take court action to be able to play their home games in the English system within Welsh borders. The Welsh Premier League struggles due to the absence of clubs such as Swansea, though it does allow for some glorious moments for some very small clubs in European competition – the champions of the league qualify for the UEFA Champions League, with Barry Town beating an admittedly weakened FC Porto team 3-1 at Jenner Park in Wales in 2001 (they still lost 9-3 on aggregate, though!).

All that said, Swansea City’s promotion to the Premier League is a fantastic achievement, and brings a touch of Welsh exotica to the league – along with a welcome commitment to continue playing attractive soccer from their manager Brendan Rodgers.

Stoking Rivalry In The Right Way: Seattle and Portland’s Tifo Battle

Back in April, Portland had raised the tifo bar in the Cascadia region of North America at their home opener in Major League Soccer at Jeld-Wen Field:

Portland Timbers MLS home opener tifo

(Though, honestly, I preferred this Kings of Cascadia display from last year – less self-reverential. And of course, the Space Needle tifo.)

With that very much in mind, Seattle fans in the Emerald City Supporters’ group set out to do something special of their own for the team’s first MLS meeting with Portland at QWest field this past Saturday night.

On their opening night, the Timbers Army stepped up their game. ECS finally has a rival supporter group to truly compete with. They raised their game, and everyone and their mothers are drooling over what they saw at Jen-Weld Field the rainy night of April 14th. Many have already forgotten that the bar for atmosphere and passion was set by the ECS and Sounders faithful. An atmosphere that put MLS Commissioner Garber in tears, it being a real life expression of his long term dream of what MLS and soccer in this country can be. May 14, 2011 will be the day we all remind the world who is king in Cascadia. It is the day we will all put forth the support that rightly puts us at the top of supporter groups in North America!

Forget the ahistorical silliness of “ECS finally has a rival supporter group to truly compete with”, Seattle fans did produce a display worthy of the occasion. It was the right way up, and everything:

Seattle Sounders tifo - ECS

It pains me as a Fire fan to say it, but that’s some world class tifo from ECS. Scale, execution and concept are all top-drawer. Steve Kelley was certainly impressed:

Moments before kickoff, the Emerald City Supporters dramatically unfurled massive banners that commemorated the rivalry.

Large drawings of former Sounders Marcus Hahnemann, Preston Burpo and Jimmy Gabriel floated down the south end zone along with pictures of assistant coach Brian Schmetzer (the Sounders’ USL coach) and forward Fredy Montero.

Then slowly another banner rolled down from the deck above, displaying a picture of a fist crushing a Timbers ball and proclaiming, “Decades of Dominance.”

Finally, from below, a banner with a drawing of Portland nemesis Roger Levesque unrolled with a jab at Timbers fans that read, “48 seconds.” In the 2009 U.S. Open Cup against Portland, Levesque scored in the first 48 seconds.

So maybe this wasn’t Arsenal and Tottenham or Manchester United and Manchester City, but it was a celebration of what the game slowly is becoming in this country.

The banners were spectacular.

Eh, I can’t say I’ve ever seen EPL fans unveil anything even remotely in the postcode/zip code of a major MLS tifo display. Certainly nothing they’ve created. It added to an outstanding atmosphere in the stadium. This is what Portland-Seattle should be about, not the hipster-rivalry nonsense this rather incomplete Wall Street Journal article got into last week.

Nitpickers might say of the display that ‘Decades of Dominance’ is a little overwrought, but if you’re going to say something a little over the top, may as well display it in an epic fashion. This was epic.

It should also certainly be noted that Portland fans brought an impressive away tifo to the table as well at the game, something we hopefully will see more of in MLS and difficult to do away from home:

Timbers Army away tifo in Seattle

Where does all this tifo fit in MLS history? I guess we’ll leave that for Shawn Francis to figure out. There has been impressive stuff done in many places now over the years, each spurring on rival groups to greater heights. And finally, MLS front offices and headquarters seem to realise the value of these displays to the culture and promotion of soccer in North America as something distinct from other sports here.

At the end of the day, the purpose of tifo is to inspire your team and your fans and in a rivalry stoke the embers: on Saturday night, both sets of fans did this in a manner that can only engender more DIY supporter culture in North America, a really healthy development for the sport here. The good part about this for Cascadia is that it helps make the rivalry between Portland and Seattle about devoting what you can to do support your team in a positive fashion, and not about fighting or other nonsense.

Manchester City, The Ultimate Glory Hunter’s Guide

The tough part about being a glory hunter is the occasional opprobrium that comes with it. Maybe you don’t remember the name of ‘your’ club’s all time goalscorer, or know what the most recent (adopted this very year!) fashion on the terraces is. Maybe you don’t even know the name of the club’s anthem, or even where the club plays its home games. This could be the cause of acute embarrassment when wearing your club’s shirt at your local Fado’s and a curious tourist asks you a basic question about the club whose badge you are bearing.

This information, after all, is difficult to find on the internet for the world’s richest clubs.

One club is going out of its way to help those hopping on their oil-fuelled bandwagon: Manchester City Football Club.

Manchester City have kindly presented a ‘bluffer’s guide‘ to ‘supporting’ the club on their official website presumably for all their new fans blocked from accessing Wikipedia.

Manchester City glory-hunters

Amazingly, this guide – which could have served the same purpose but been less embarrassing for the club if done in a smarter way – is presented without any humour or self-awareness whatsoever.

It begins: “Loyalty, commitment, passion and, during the darker times, a sense of humour has been needed over the years to follow the Blues.”

And goes on to suggest the complete opposite is now needed to follow City:

If you are asked who your favourite players are from down the years – your credibility is at stake here – don’t say Francis Bell, Colin Summerbee and Yaya Dzeko though these names exists, they are combinations – have a good scan over the club website and check out who the current favourites are and who the club legends are and take notes!

This brazen toadying to the club’s new legion of customers (obviously needed to even begin repaying the millions pumped into the club) must be depressing for loyal City supporters, who indeed have been known for being down to earth and bearing a dark sense of humour over the club’s struggles in recent decades compared to their Manchester rivals.

City once seemed like the club with the most soul in Manchester. Before I moved there in the late 1990s, my grandmother told me of her brothers, who had followed City down to London to support the club in its 1930s FA Cup finals, when United were the smaller team – and postwar, the johnny-come-latelys to glory.

Maine Road, City’s stadium back then, was embedded in the middle of the city’s toughest area, Moss Side, near the city centre; walking to games there was everything you’d imagine supporting a proud old gritty English urban club would be like. Old Trafford, by contrast, was perched further out in bland surroundings, close to a giant shopping mall, the Trafford Center – almost as big as Old Trafford’s megastore.

Fortunately for City’s newer fans, the bluffer’s guide explains its storied past at Maine Road in great detail: “If asked where we play our football, it’s the City of Manchester Stadium – also nicknamed Eastlands due to the area of Manchester it is in. It’s worth noting that from 1923 to 2003 we played our home games at Maine Road.”

Yes, it’s worth noting all right – and apparently nothing further about the club’s entire existence in that period is even to be bothered bluffing about.

Fifa’s Half-Hearted Fight Against Corruption Continues Its Tepid March

Corruption in MalaysiaThis isn’t a post about the World Cup bidding process fix we all knew was in and we are just starting to learn the details about, but a follow-up to Monday’s discussion of Fifa’s supposedly aggressive initiative to tackle match-fixing around the world.

It’s been admitted by Fifa that hundreds of games have been fixed in the past few years. In response, it’s investing a few million bucks a year out of its billion dollar-plus cash reserves into education of players and coaches about match-fixing. Note: that’s education, not investigation.

We commented that given the key problem in world soccer with regard to match-fixing is the lack of investigation, this seemed like a half-hearted effort by Fifa. The world’s leading authority on match fixing, Declan Hill, agrees, explaining he told the very same thing personally to Sepp Blatter back in 2008 with apparently no impact:

In FIFA’s announcement about their new anti-corruption centre, there is no actual money being put aside for investigations or enforcement. Nor is there a mandate to investigate corruption inside FIFA. Without these things the centre will largely be a sham. To be clear, FIFA does not investigate match-fixing or corruption. Nor does Interpol investigate crimes. All of the money that FIFA has given to the centre is for education.

Ask yourself – what do players need education for? Do you really need to explain to them which goal they are supposed to score in? What does a referee need education for? Is it really that difficult to figure out they are supposed to do their job without taking bribes?

I am not being facetious. If there are no investigation or enforcement arms at this anti-corruption centre, then to teach athletes and referees about the dangers of match-fixing is simply providing a bunch of ‘how-to-be-corrupt’ courses. No one will be afraid to take the money. Why should they be? There are no resources devoted to catching people who are fixing games. So the anti-corruption centre promises to be one of those well-constructed snooze-fest places where people go to hear their bosses give seminars full of corporate nonsense and then leave to get on with the lives.

As it happens, there is a concrete example in the news in Asia right now illustrating this very problem, with several reports of match fixing in Malaysia coming out this week. Police in Malaysia have asked for help from Fifa in investigating suspicious activity:

The police need intelligence from world football governing body Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) to kick-off investigations into a global match-fixing network allegedly involving Malaysians.

Federal Criminal Investigation Department chief Datuk Seri Mohd Bakri Mohd Zinin said this was necessary for the police to analyse and launch certain operations in connection with the case.

“We want the investigating team from FIFA to provide us intelligence on the alleged match-fixing network operating from Malaysia,” he told reporters at the Selangor police headquarters here today.

It was reported that in the near future, FIFA head of security Chris Eaton would lead a team of investigators to Malaysia, as part of the probe into claims that more than 300 matches in three continents were influenced by match-fixers.

The only problem? As Hill notes, Fifa doesn’t really have a match fixing investigative team. Eaton himself commented this week to the Malay Mail: “We are not an investigation agency. We are a football organisation and our duty is to protect, prevent and eliminate such illegal activities.”

Eaton, head of global security for Fifa and a former Interpol official, does have a long track record in investigating organised crime (check out his linkedin profile).

But Fifa still has not provided much muscle for him to work with. In January, Fifa surprisingly backtracked on an agreement to hire Interpol’s senior anti-corruption detective Frederick Lord, raising eyebrows regarding the organisation’s commitment to fighting corruption right when allegations of wrongdoing within its own halls were circling following the controversial World Cup bidding vote. The Telegraph of London reported:

Lord is a former colleague of Fifa’s security adviser, Chris Eaton, an Australian detective who stepped down as Interpol’s director of operations last March to advise Fifa on security issues.

Lord, who has spoken extensively on anti-corruption issues at conferences around the world, previously worked in the Australian police’s Internal Affairs Covert Services Unit, which focused on police corruption.

Fifa’s withdrawal of the offer to Lord prompted security sources to suggest that the organisation lacks the stomach to tackle the reputational issues it faces.

One source suggested that Fifa executive committee members had objected to the appointment because they feared Lord would conduct internal investigations, but a Fifa spokesman denied this.

The recent bid process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups was mired in controversy following allegations of corruption against Fifa officials. Fifa executive committee members Amos Adamu and Reynald Temarii were banned for one and three years respectively by Fifa’s ethics committee, and four other officials were also banned.

The effectiveness of Fifa’s investigation into allegations of collusion between the Spain-Portugal and Qatar bids has also been questioned after the ethics commission was unable to establish a case against them.

If Fifa cannot get its own house in order, it’s of course little wonder its efforts around the world to tackle match-fixing seem so tepid.

FIFA’s Half-Hearted Tackle On Match-Fixing In Soccer

Sepp Blatter as NeroIt sounds like a major investment in the important battle against match fixing in soccer around the world: “FIFA pledged to donate 20 million euros (17.5 million pounds) to Interpol to help fight match-fixing on Monday,” Reuters reported, going on to quote Sepp Blatter’s sadness and shock at the continuance of match fixing under his gaze:

“It is crucial for us to go together with political authorities, with police authorities to fight those who want to destroy our game,” Blatter said.

“I’m a sad president because, after 36 years in FIFA, I thought we would be at the end of a wonderful development of the game.”

The investment is not quite as dramatic as all the column inches devoted to it seem to be presuming. This money will be provided by Fifa over ten years, and breaks down to $5.73m in the first year, and $2.1m in the remaining nine years. According to the Telegraph, the money given to Interpol won’t actually go to investigations, but to developing preventative programmes – educating players, coaches and officials on match-fixing.

Though there’s nothing wrong with that approach, this is barely a pittance from Fifa’s coffers to tackle something Blatter described today in apocalyptic terms: “Match fixing shakes the very foundations of sport. We are committed to doing everything in our power to tackle this threat. We have to try to put an end to these activities.”

A police commissioner in Bochum, Germany, where a major match-fixing ring was smashed in 2009, offered this “chilling warning” to Fifa:

Bochum police commissioner Friedhelm Althans told reporters: “Working in international drug trafficking is very dangerous, here they have a very low risk and earn more money than they earned years before by drug trafficking,”

Althans added there were “four, five or six” more criminal gangs currently active in Europe similar to the one which Bochum police smashed in 2009.

Prosecutors believe the 200-strong ring bribed players, coaches, referees and officials to fix games in a number of European countries and then made money by betting on the results.

Six people are currently on trial in Bochum and another 14 are expected to follow.

Althans said that in the Bochum investigation, alone, around 300 matches were under suspicion including internationals, Champions League qualifying games, Europa League games down to the German fourth division.

“Around 1.7 million euros was paid to players and referees and this is barely the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We have a new phenomenon of organised crime.

“There is indeed a worldwide network of people active in this field, it isn’t just about pursuing individual clubs and players but about attacking the roots and drive out these worldwide networks.”

Fifa generated a surplus of $631m between 2007 and 2010. Fifa has over $1.2bn in financial reserves tucked away. So this supposedly major investment to tackle a worldwide threat that Blatter says “shakes the very foundations of sport” doesn’t seem to be drawing a huge amount of that surplus to invest in its eradication.

Of course, Fifa does have other anti-match fixing investments. It has an ‘early warning system’ (EWS) that examines betting patterns to try and figure out where something fishy might be. The problem, though, is the lack of an investigative unit to get to the roots of this, something this latest investment does not (cough) fix. Months ago, the always on-the-ball Declan Hill pointed out this was the sport’s biggest need in a careful critique of a Fifa seminar on match-fixing:

Fixers are also intelligent. They spend a lot of time hiding their bets – just fixing the underdog team means that there will be no unexpected movement in the bets. The EWS guys – or any other gambling monitoring – cannot detect these types of fixes, unless the fixers make a series of errors (which they usually do not).

Finally, and this is key to understanding the entire FIFA seminar, even if the EWS spots a possible corrupt match – so what? FIFA has no investigators to investigate it. Interpol has no investigators to investigate it. The sports world in general has no investigators to investigate it. No matter what dramatic headlines declare, no matter what ‘consultants’ tell you, no matter what sports executives say in solemn tones at these types of seminars – until there is an International Agency to fight sports corruption these events will be for show only.

So who has the money to help create such an Agency? Who has the clout? Who, according to its own president, sees a clear and present danger from match-fixing to sport demanding the creation of such an Agency?

It Can Be Done: Jimmy Murphy and the Aftermath of Munich

In a smoky, wood-panelled boardroom, Welshman Jimmy Murphy — portrayed by David Tennant in the BBC’s new dramatisation of Munich, United hears the words “For the time being we are going to shut down Manchester United Football Club.”

It’s only days after Munich. Manchester United no longer have a first team. The Manchester United board’s decision to pull the plug on the club for the season seems understandable.

Jimmy Murphy expresses his disappointment, and takes a puff on his cigarette, listening to the reasoning presented to him by the board. The Manchester United assistant coach is representing the playing side alone, with Busby still hospitalised in Munich. They tell him nobody could put together a new team with just days until United’s next game.

“I can do it.” Jimmy says, straightforwardly.

“It can’t be done,” the Chairman of the board replies.

It’s now that Murphy’s earnest passion and determination displays itself.

“Don’t tell me what can’t be done,” Murphy replies. “When Matt Busby brought me here they told me we’d never make a go of it, that it couldn’t be done. That Manchester United would never make a success. Told us we couldn’t win the league playing kids. Told us we couldn’t match the best teams in Europe. And every bloody time we proved them wrong, so with respect sir, it can be done, it will be done, I’ll make sure of it.”

Jimmy Murphy

The previous scene had shown Bobby Charlton giving up on football: his box of boots, posters and balls placed tearfully outside the back of his house for anyone to take.

Bobby Charlton, United, Munich

United is about the plane crash that led to that despair but it’s not about Charlton or Busby or Edwards, it’s about Jimmy Murphy, who is portrayed as the golden thread that kept the club united in the wake of an unbelievable tragedy.

Busby’s babes before the crash are portrayed as Murphy’s men – boys that he moulded into characters strong enough to win the league as kids, both on and off the field. It’s Murphy who tells Charlton to kick a ball against a wall at Old Trafford for an hour a day until he develops his left foot as well as his right. It’s Murphy on the training field in the pissing rain with the players, cheekily telling Duncan Edwards he’s almost good enough to play for Wales:

It’s Murphy giving a nervous Charlton a pep-talk on the Old Trafford pitch:

And it’s Murphy who, to return to the smoky boardroom, keeps Manchester United going.

“Because how we are in the future will be founded on how we behave today,” he tells the board. “Any questions?”

The focus on Murphy seems to be the cause of Sandy Busby’s ire – Matt Busby’s son was incensed that Busby was not shown in a tracksuit, not portrayed affably. But the fact is, Busby is besides the point to this story: the story of Jimmy Muphy. Busby has been lionised, always will be lionised, and quite rightly so. Murphy, on the other hand, has been a footnote to history, the assistant who was thrust into the leadership role with Busby’s absence after the Munich disaster (Murphy had missed the flight because he was away coaching Wales), the assistant who always had done more than anyone outside Old Trafford knew.  This Independent piece by Ian Herbert from around the 50th anniversary of Munich explains:

Murphy was, as Sir Bobby Charlton put it, “a brilliant teacher of players, but he didn’t want to command”. Perhaps that explains, as United prepare to mark the 50th anniversary, the sense among some around Old Trafford that Murphy has not been remembered as he might for his part in managing United through the days of impoverished struggle and, as Charlton remembers it, “panic” when the club attempted to rebuild after Munich.

United, unlike in future days, did not have enormous resources for Murphy to fall back in the days after the disaster. The coffins from Muncih were laid out Old Trafford’s gymnasium, polished by laundry room staff. Herbert continues:

In this scene of devastation, Jimmy Murphy’s great powers of judgement and humanity were to serve him well. Busby would be able to sign Denis Law from Torino for a club record £115,000 in 1962, but Murphy had to decide which youth team players to cast into the fray as United struggled to fulfil fixtures and which to buy when the league gave them special dispensation to bring some in. Ernie Taylor, Blackpool and England inside forward and Stan Crowther, a tough tackler from Aston Villa, were shrewd buys.

Murphy also convinced Billy Foulkes, who survived Munich, he could make the step up to club captain after Roger Byrne’s death. “Billy said: ‘I can’t do it and I won’t do it’,” Murphy’s son recalls. “My father said: ‘You can and you will’. That’s what my dad was like. He had this knack of picking people and he was usually proved right.”

Within three months Murphy had taken United to the FA Cup final at Wembley, an achievement perhaps as great in the circumstances as the win over Benfica there a decade later.

50 years on, the sense that Murphy’s story has been untold can be put to rest thanks to United.

Salt Lake’s Showtime Disappointment

Real Salt Lake While one Real contending for their regional Champions League suffered a major setback at home yesterday, the other saw their dream end completely. Real Salt Lake are not whining about their defeat in the same way as their Spanish inspiration from Madrid are busy doing, but they still have a bitter pill to swallow after a 1-0 defeat at home to Monterrey resulted in a 3-2 defeat on aggregate in the Concacaf Champions League final and an end to their 37 game unbeaten streak at home.

So #MLS4RSL ends in disappointment, a Mexican team once again putting American opposition in its place – or so the story goes. In truth, the tie was an even enough battle over the two legs, RSL securing a deserved tie in Mexico but failing to live up to their usual standard at home with Humberto Suazo (worth more than RSL’s entire team) proving the difference. A capacity crowd of 20,378 at Rio Tinto was clearly into the game, but obviously did not intimidate their experienced opposition.

At When Saturday Comes, Ian Plenderleith has the most telling analysis of the game I’ve seen:

Having done the hard part by managing what few US club sides ever do – avoiding defeat in Mexico – Salt Lake became the victims of too much hype, and too much dreamy talk about striding out on to the world stage. They forgot to play their normal passing game, and it didn’t help that their normally prolific strike partnership of Fabián Espíndola and former Bristol City loanee Álvaro Saborío both had absolute stinkers.

It wasn’t luck that told, but class. Just before half-time, Monterrey put together a three-man passing move within the tight confines of the Salt Lake penalty area and the game’s best player, Humberto Suazo, neatly finished the kind of move familiar to regulars at the Nou Camp. The home team’s second-half response was hurried and hectic and, untypically for this team, it was typically MLS. That is, the kind of first touch that makes you wince, with all promising moves breaking down in the final third. The closing minutes saw the familiar long ball banged high towards the Monterrey box, but a toe-poked effort that went just wide in the final minute of injury time was the closest Salt Lake came to grabbing the honours.

Intense Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis stood in his trenchcoat casting shifty glances up and down the touchline, like a deviant set on committing some unspeakable act, but all too aware that he was under surveillance from cameras and 20,000 people. After years of praise for turning a virgin team (Real Salt Lake were founded in 2005) from the league’s basket case into a solid, well-drilled unit, it was only right that Kreis suddenly looked like a hunted man. Against a team that’s extremely comfortable on the ball and swiftly confident on the counter-attack, MLS had again come up against its limits. There were no answers on the bench, or within the team’s tactical scope.

Fair enough. Real Salt Lake did not seem to have a plan B to gain control of the game. Plenderleith, though, does neglect to mention one key reason RSL did not have their usual control: after receiving a dubious yellow card in the first leg, they were missing their captain and fulcrum of the team, one of the best two-way players in the league, Kyle Beckerman. This clearly had an enormous impact on RSL’s play, and one even suspected the jig was up for RSL psychologically with Kreis’ reaction to the suspension following the first leg in Mexico:

“That for me was a fair tackle, it wasn’t even a foul. I believe the ball hit Kyle’s shin, and he was first to the ball. That is mind-boggling for me. I’m extremely disappointed in the referee’s decision, and now I’m extremely disappointed for Kyle and our team. It’s already had a huge effect on him, he’s extremely disappointed in the locker room. Of course, it will have a huge effect on us when we lose our captain.”

In terms of the match as an event: I for one was happy to see the game and the competition being the focus of the MLS hype: not Beckham-cam, not the atmosphere, not an all-star friendly, not some poor attempt at forcing rivalry, but Real Salt Lake’s 18-month journey to do something special. Sure, as I mentioned yesterday, the hype machine was in overdrive – the #MLS4RSL stuff did gloss over LA and DC’s previous Concacaf regional triumphs with some disdain – but the point remains that American soccer’s watercooler talk was about an international competition and the play on the field. RSL fell just short following a brave effort, helping raise the profile for the Concacaf Champions League, with a narrative that can now intensify in terms of MLS’ quest to dominate regional competition. Of course, the downside of focusing on the game is that the result might not go your way. It didn’t for MLS. But that shouldn’t deter the league from continuing to promote regional competition heavily. RSL embarrassed nobody.

One other down note, though: if MLS and its broadcasting partners want fans to feel the excitement of international competition, they need to do better than the insipid announcing that accompanied the game yesterday. Find someone who can convey the game’s importance and help the pulse quicken when something exciting happens, and find him a partner to work with who can provide some helpful analysis of the play. Having a slightly bored-sounding announcer did not make it feel like a great event, and nor did the lack of a pre-game show – or the Concacaf production values, for that matter. Hype needs showtime!

Real Salt Lake’s and CONCACAF Glory: #MLS4RSL Ain’t #REALBS

This infographic about Real Salt Lake’s road to the two-legged final of the CONCACAF Champions League is pretty damn awesome, and more than worth glancing at ahead of tomorrow’s second leg in Salt Lake, with the Americans tied 2-2 on aggregate with Monterrey of Mexico. It’s informative for the newbie, and interesting enough for the nerd.

Real Salt Lake, Concacaf Champions?

“Club World Champions?” isn’t exactly right around the corner, but Salt Lake’s run to the final of a tournament that does see the winners head to the FIFA Club World Cup has indeed been mightily impressive of course, and “The team is the star” is a fitting pull quote for this graphic. Ridge Mahoney is spot on with his take on RSL’s strategic success:

As a team, RSL’s advancement to the brink of a regional club title is a study in smart tactics and intelligent deployment of talented personnel. As an organization, its management of limited resources to succeed against richer clubs may be an even greater accomplishment, and a challenge to its league foes.

Indeed: their success with limited spending has been a fine example of simple resourcefulness, an underrated asset in MLS. One of the stats also pulled there tells the story of their remarkable fortitude: 25-0-9 at home, a 34 game unbeaten streak since May 2009.

Salt Lake have managed to create a buzz locally around the tournament unseen for quite some time in MLS, if ever, as Sporting News reports:

Unlike MLS teams in the past, Real Salt Lake has put significant promotion behind the tournament, and club president Bill Manning credits its Champions League success for securing two new sponsors—international home-security firm Vivint and Ford Motor Co.—to six-figure, three-year deals.

“We feel like we’re the first (MLS) team to make this our No. 1 priority,” Manning said.

The club also has drawn strong attendance numbers for Champions League games. An October match against Mexico’s Cruz Azul sold out Rio Tinto Stadium with 20,463 fans; a March 1 quarterfinals game against the Columbus Crew netted 15,400; and a March 15 semifinal against Costa Rica’s Saprissa drew 16,888. Manning expects Wednesday’s game in Salt Lake City to sell out.

In comparison, the club’s average attendance in 2010 for MLS games was 17,095.

“Our fans have a sense of ownership with this tournament,” he said.

Of course, there’s a fair bit of hyperbole here. For the first time in soccer history, one American MLS team should be on everyone’s mind as they take the soccer world for a spin, forever changing the global perception of US soccer.

Uh, sure. I can’t quite see the world paying more attention to RSL-Monterrey than Real Madrid-Barcelona tomorrow, but maybe that’s just me.

That said, regionally it is of considerable significance: MLS’ #MLS4RSL campaign may have become tiresome, but there is an obvious truth to the need for MLS to gain more regional respect, particularly amongst fans of the Mexican league. Salt Lake’s gutsy performance last week in Monterrey earned all the plaudits it garnered.

MLS sensibly euthanised SuperLiga this year, and has accommodated Salt Lake’s scheduling requests to aid its title tilt, rearranging last weekend’s game against Philadelphia for later in the season. The league has quite rightly put its weight behind Salt Lake and helped manufacture some needed buzz for the competition.

Of course, fans of DC United and the LA Galaxy will rightly point out they have already conquered the regional championship – then known as the CONCACAF Champions Cup – in 1998 and 2000 respectively. Neither featured a final on foreign soil, so the RSL advocates go in championing the unique nature of their possible victory, and the name and format-change the tournament underwent in 2008 means RSL can claim to be the “1st MLS Club Ever To Possibly Win The CCL”. Hell, if they do it, they deserve to claim whatever they want: and they’ll have done the CONCACAF Champions League some good, too.

Fans Before TV: In Scotland, Fans Demand The Obvious

Last week we posted a photo of a protest by Aberdeen fans in Scotland regarding the lack of consideration shown to fans who show up in the flesh at games: Fans Before TV – 12.45 Isn’t On, their banner stated, referring to the early 12.45pm kickoff for the Dons’ Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic on April 17th. Here’s a reminder:

Fans Before TV - Aberdeen's Red Ultras Protest

What we didn’t know until Scotzine pointed it out in the comments was that fans of Aberdeen’s opponents that day, Celtic, made exactly the same point with a banner of their own that read “It’s time to put fans before TV”.

It’s not exactly a new story that television has become the dominant force in scheduling games. The days of uniform Saturday 3pm kickoffs are, of course, numbered in Britain, and have been for some time.

Still, the growing disaffection with the last-minute schedule changes and difficulties on group travel that result from fan unfriendly kickoff times is certainly spreading. For once, Rangers fans agree with their Old Firm rivals, this month also holding up a “Fans Before TV” banner.

Moreover, as you can tell from the photo, that Aberdeen-Celtic semi-final was not exactly a packed house, with Scotzine noting “The stadium was far from full with around 20,000 seats left empty, a sizeable chunk in the Aberdeen end.”

In part, this seems to be because the 12.45pm kick-off time did not take into account train timetables: the earliest train to arrive from Aberdeen that day was at 12.20pm, giving fans barely enough time to scoot over to the stadium in time for kickoff.

It was also the second protest in a month for Celtic fans, who expressed their disapproval at a 6pm kickoff on a TUESDAY by tossing a dozen extra footballs onto the pitch right at kickoff for their April 12th game against Motherwell.

There will be many who will say: who cares. Television pays their money and makes their choice. But it could also be one factor contributing to a drastic fall in attendances across the Scottish Premier League this season.  Aberdeen’s crowds are down about 10% to 9,769 per game, leaving just four Scottish Premier League teams averaging above 10,000 for the season. League-wide, the average attendance is 13,783 for 2010-11, dipping from last season’s 13,915 and even worse, down from 15,537 in 2008-09.

Again, kick-off times are only one element of many challenges facing Scottish teams that aren’t named Rangers or Celtic. That said, what had once been a habit going back generations – going to games set on a predictable schedule – is now becoming a chore just to keep track of for fans.

World Cup Bids and Saving the World

Photo by Rafael Alvez, through creative commons on flickr.com

While most of the attention around the recent World Cup bidding scandal has rightfully gone to the layers of corruption embedded in FIFA’s current process, that has obscured another interesting angle to the story: the bid bribery was embedded in the nebulous way World Cup bids are supposed to serve development goals.  The two officials at the center of the scandal—Nigeria’s Amos Adamu and Tahiti’s Reynald Temarii—were both ostensibly asking for funds to build fields and a ‘sports academy’ to develop the game in their home regions.  The absolute certainty with which most of us dismissed those presumably worthwhile goals as a mere front for lining pockets is telling.  Most of us want to believe the game can do some good in the world, but many tangible efforts towards that end are immediately treated with skepticism. 

That skepticism is often well-merited.  Many FIFA efforts to contribute to development goals are vague and lack accountability; they seem rife for money laundering.  They also often seem to emphasize marketing images over substance, as with the heavy rotation of promotions for “20 Centres for 2010” during last summer’s World Cup (claiming to fund 20 ‘football for hope’ centers across Africa) that conveniently downplayed the fact that only four had actually begun construction by the time of the World Cup and only four others were in any stage of planning.  The missing 12 centers give an impression—rightly or wrongly—of a classic FIFA ‘money-for-development’ boondoggle. 

Of course, I’d rather have World Cup bids make commitments to development goals—as they are required to do—than ignore the issue entirely.  But at the same time I had a suspicion that the goals embedded in those commitments would vary significantly in their seriousness and quality.  I also thought looking at those commitments might be an interesting chance to explore ideas about how football mega-events such as the World Cup might actually do some good in the world.  So as much as was possible with the internet connection in my home office, I’ve put together an evaluation of the development and social responsibility components of the nine World Cup bids for 2018 and 2022 (the results of which are to be announced December 2nd).

The basic deal is that each World Cup bid is required to address (in addition to the more familiar information about stadiums, sponsorship, transportation, training facilities, etc.) how their hosting would help develop the game beyond just the elite level, and how the host would make use of the event for the greater good.  The detailed information on these bid components is presumably described in the full bid books—the hundreds of pages each aspiring host submits to FIFA for evaluation.  Those full bid books don’t seem to be publicly available, but each aspiring host does have a promotional web-site that outlines their bids and often offers an abbreviated ‘bid brochure’ with highlights of the full bid book. 

What follows is my effort to decipher that information, along with whatever related information I could find, to rank the World Cup bids on what is probably the hosting criteria of least interest to most fans: development and social responsibility (note that most bids do also offer information about their environmental impact—which I didn’t consider, though it could be construed as part of social responsibility).  In other words, I don’t imagine that these rankings will have much correlation with each bid’s actual chance of success (though it was clear in looking at the promotional materials that the favorites have more comprehensive bid information of all types).  I’d also emphasize that none of the publicly available information has much tangible detail about key issues such as funding commitments, so I’m judging mostly on concepts.  And finally, please keep in mind the rankings are my own subjective sense of those concepts: I’m just ordering them for the fun of debate.

Number 9 (ie, least impressive): Spain & Portugal

Maybe Spain and Portugal don’t need to worry about new development programs because they’ve already got it figured out (at least in terms of developing the game).  Or maybe they just didn’t make their plans available in English—the web-site was the least polished and available of any of the nine bid sites.  But what they did have just wasn’t much: “The Iberian Bid project seeks to become a great opportunity for integration by sharing with the whole world and with all the agents involved (delegations, spectators, mass media and FIFA itself) that the celebration of such an important event as the organisation of the Football World Cup is a real party.”

Aside from promising a good party, they do make a vague nod to “a range of programmes…to transfer our two federations’ experience and know-how to other countries…to support developing countries or people in need…[and] to promote development through football.”  They do also note a commitment to “dedicate 0.5% of its total budget to these and other projects,” which is certainly better than nothing.  But overall the available information gives the sense that Spain and Portugal are just paying lip service to this piece of the bid.

Number 8 (ie, also don’t seem to be paying much attention): Australia

The general information available on the Australia bid site is more impressive than that on the Spain and Portugal site, but I was surprised to find little attention to development and social responsibility.  Beyond one news note about a documentary on a team of refugee children, all I could find from Australia was a generic note that: “The Football Australia Foundation would be established to effectively manage the finals legacy in terms of football development, together with sustainable social and human development activities…It will work closely with FIFA and our other partners to deliver positive change through football.”  Which sounds like saying they’ll just do what FIFA tells them to do.  That may be smart politics, but it doesn’t make for an impressive effort at a social development legacy.

Number 7 (ie, some good concepts with little heft): South Korea

The big hope for the contribution of the South Korea bid is that it might facilitate rapprochement with North Korea.  As the South Koreans note on their bid web-site:

“Modern sports have always contributed to world peace in one way or another by emphasizing the importance of sportsmanship, honesty, trust, and cooperation between the competing parties for the purpose of a common game despite political and philosophical differences – or even hostility – between nations. A World Cup hosted by Korea is one of such opportunities to highlight the role of football and the World Cup as a catalyst to lowering tension and bringing peace to the world. There already have been talks about the possibility of cooperation with North Korea, if South Korea wins the hosting rights for the World Cup 2022.” 

If only it were as simple as football ‘bringing peace to the world.’  As any careful follower of the game knows, there are as many examples of global football causing political tension than there are of solving it—and while it would be interesting to see how North Korea bought into a South Korean World Cup, it would undoubtedly be more complicated than it sounds.  But other than that hope, the South Korean bid does not seem to have great ambitions for social development: they do note worthy attention to ‘football for all’ including existing ‘Morning Football Clubs’ where Koreans get together before work for a friendly kick-about (I wish there were one in my neighborhood).  But overall most of the hope here seems wrapped up in the tempting but problematic idea of sport as something that might cross the demilitarized zone.

 Number 6 (ie, made gestures to development, but only vaguely): Qatar  

The Qatar bid is in an intriguing position as regards social development potential, being the rare Arab League nation to bid for a World Cup.  One could imagine themes of bridging cultural divides, or creating opportunities for constructive dialogues.  Instead, most of the focus in the Qatar bid information seems to be on their plan for gleaming new stadiums, complete with outdoor air conditioning, and their prominent employment of an eclectic collection of football celebrity ‘bid ambassadors’ including Zinadine Zidane, Gabriel Batistuta, Ronald de Boer, Pep Guardiola, Roger Milla, and Bora Milutinovic.  They do, however, also seem to be putting some emphasis on ‘social responsibility,’ describing efforts such as working “with more than 30 schools in Qatar, Lebanon, Nepal, Pakistan and Syria to further develop football in under-served communities. We’ve rehabilitated 16 football pitches and built two FIFA standard pitches.”  They also promote a program called ‘Generation Amazing’ as comprising “our most ambitious social responsibility and football development initiatives.”  So far the main effort here seems to have been sending a group of about 25 children to the World Cup in South Africa.  And in regard to football development they emphasize how the government opened the ‘Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence’ in 2006, graduating 15 footballers last year.  But overall, granting that Qatar is a much smaller place than most World Cup hosts, these efforts still seem a bit limited in their scope.  Reaching out to 30 schools or 30 children is not a bad thing, but compared to the size of a mega-event like the World Cup or the glorious plans for new Qatari stadiums it just doesn’t seem ambitious enough.

Number 5 (ie, trying, but still lacking something): Russia

When it comes to worthwhile development through sports programs, I have a soft spot for building fields and facilities to offer access to under-served communities.  So I like the fact that Russia’s main ‘legacy program’ seems to be their ‘Stadiums for Children’ initiative, “which shall secure within the next five years to have more than 1000 additional artificial football pitches in the country. This of course proves the interest from the government to enhance the quality of local football. Not to forget the “Futsal for School” program, which is supposed to grow until 2015 from a total of 320,000 participating players at present to about 1.5 million players.”  The Russian bid also identifies as one of its main ‘supporting partners’ the ‘Art and Sport Foundation’—which sounds better than your usual multi-national corporation, even if a bit vague in their goals or funds.  The bid information also outlines support for “An array of existing programmes” including “The Health; World Football Community; 1Goal; Leather Ball; Football as a Social Phenomenon; Stadiums for Children; Project Goal” along with “Dedicated programmes for the FIFA World Cup: FIFA World Cup Community; Endurance Plus; Kick Start; Public Service Announcements; Peace Through Football; World’s Best Fans; Football in a Box.”  While this sounds a bit laundry-listish, I am most intrigued to know what ‘Football in a Box’ has to do with social development.  But I couldn’t find much detail.  And I’m also aware of a broader critique, well articulated by Miriti Murungi on Nutmeg Radio, that the Russian bid is most conspicuous for what it avoids addressing: racism in Russian football.  Overall there is some promise in the Russian bid information, but also many questions.

Number 4 (ie, an impressive effort that relies too heavily on Brand Beckham): England

England’s bid information seems to take development seriously—offering relatively elaborate plans both for developing the game in England and for using the game for good around the world.  I give the England bid credit for their points of emphasis (though I also wonder if they’re not over-promising, at one point claiming implausibly that ‘A FIFA World Cup in England will result in…one billion people worldwide being reached by development projects”).  But their main global initiative is ‘Football United’ which they call “A New and Sustainable Global Fund for Football” that aims “to help develop football in disadvantaged areas, break down social barriers, improve health and tackle other social issues.”  Then we learn that Football United “will align with the themes of the FIFA Football for Hope movement” and will “complement FIFA’s existing projects and funding streams.”  It’s not clear how ‘new and sustainable’ it will be if it is focused on just chipping in to existing work.  England also promotes “access to football for every girl in England,” which, though potentially a bit too ambitious, is one of the few bids to make the inclusion of girls and women a point of emphasis.  England should also get credit for already being one of the world leaders in using football as part of global development, with an impressive slate of existing projects described on their bid web-site

My biggest complaint with the England bid’s development and social responsibility initiatives, however, is that their most prominent efforts focus on a man who is masterful at striking a football, but totally unqualified to lead an international development effort: David Beckham.  He’s on the cover of their ‘bid brochure’ with smiling happy (non-white) children, and promoted in the highlights of their bid book as central to their development plan: “The David Beckham Academy and England 2018 will create and deliver a bespoke football and life skills project every year in each FAFA Confederation between 2012 and 2017…David Beckham passionately believes in football as a gateway to social and human development.  He has great experience in these areas and is personally committed to this project.”  Unfortunately, I’m not sure jetting in to play football in poor countries really qualifies as ‘great experience’ and I’m quite sure that Beckham—while he may have good intentions—does not know the types of ‘life skills’ necessary for getting by day to day outside the celebrity bubble.  Particularly considering that Beckham and his team couldn’t successfully sustain a ‘Beckham Academy’ in Los Angeles, it seems like an insult to development professionals everywhere to claim he is the right person to make the game ‘a gateway to social and human development’ around the world.

Number 3 (ie, I liked it more than I thought I would): USA

As an American academic, I wanted to be cynical about the US effort: I assumed it would be too corporate and too celebrity-driven.  But I was pleasantly surprised: relative to other bids, the US plans for a social development legacy actually demonstrate some thought and substance.  There is a hokey, Morgan Freeman narrated, video titled ‘I want to show you something’ putting a rosy picture on the US as a nation of happy immigrants (“The world’s home away from home” – if you can get over the walls at our borders).  But I suppose it is better for the bid to celebrate the multi-culturalism of the US rather than portray other false notions of what it means to be “true” American. 

The US bid also elaborates on more specific ideas than other bids (partially because the US bid seems to have made those entire chapters of their full bid-book available on-line: something I couldn’t find on any other bid site).  These “social change” initiatives are put under a schmaltzy slogan of “One on One, One by One” – but they do offer more specific and manageable goals than most other bids.  These include a “FIFA World Cup of Life” to promote worldwide access to clean drinking water, along with a “A social networking site that matches individuals and entities around the globe with projects in the developing world.”  They also promote some kind of partnership with Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs—who has been a major figure in an ambitious United Nations affiliated project of ‘millennium villages’ designed to be demonstrations of how focused use of resources and best-practices can enhance community level development in marginalized global communities.  The US bid thus includes a “an expansion of the 20 centres for 2010’ concept to promote the millenium villages” (though, as noted above, I have mixed feelings about the 20 centres intiative).  Finally, rather than turning over the social responsibility to a celebrity such as Beckham, the US bid also promotes “the establishment of the FIFA Institute for Social Change, a think- and action-tank designed to identify football-based practices and offer a variety of services to assist educators and community groups.”  I like the idea of trying to use actual experts (rather than just footballers) as a resource, even if a “FIFA Institute for Social Change” might end up an Orwellian paean to a multi-national organization that often seems determined to avoid internal change.

Number 2 (ie, some admirable ideas): Holland & Belgium

One of the kitschy themes of the Holland and Belgium bid presentation is ‘Seven Great Goals’ – of which two are prominent ‘social goals:’ “Creating 2,018 Open Football Clubs in Belgium and the Netherlands; [and] Setting up an extensive WorldCoaching (football) programme in developing countries.”  I’m ranking the Holland and Belgium bid highly because of the first of these goals.  Creating over 2000 open football clubs as ‘a contemporary local sports community centre’ with a “focus on health, respect and education, and…a crucial role to play in tackling current issues such as youth unemployment, obesity and the integration of minority groups” sounds like an initiative worthy of a World Cup—it focuses on using the game to provide broad-based access and resources that people can use in their own community.  It does seem that these centers would essentially be enhancements of the many existing football clubs in ‘the low countries,’ but I still really like the idea: successful development work is as much enhancing existing community strengths as it is about swooping in with paternalistic new prescriptions. 

I’m more hesitant about the second of these goals, phrased elsewhere as involving the creation of “10 WorldCoach Academies in collaboration with ‘Football for Hope Centres’ between 2010 and 2018” as part of a broader goal of training 2018 coaches around the world.  Though I can’t speak to Belgian coaching, my experience with the Dutch is that their coaches specialize primarily in explaining the superiority of the Dutch system.  After 2010, however, we have to wonder if that means training in how to break legs and insert studs into opponent chests without garnering any red cards.  Of course I shouldn’t stereotype—I do like the idea of using coach training as a part of community development, and the Dutch do have a proud tradition of good coaching.  I just hope they let the Belgians offer some suggestions.  

Number 1 (ie, most impressive): Japan

Partially because the Japanese bid has mostly gotten hype for its integration of technology, I was surprised to find their information suffused with ambitious goals related to development and global social responsibility.  Their primary tag line seems to be “Our dream: A world united through football” with a bid theme of ‘208 smiles:’ “Through the FIFA World Cup Japan wants to bring a smile to the faces of people in all FIFA’s 208 member countries.”  Ok, it’s a little saccharine, but I’m giving credit for the explicit effort to think about and integrate the rest of the world.  They also have ways of putting that thinking into action, including inviting “6000 children representing all of the 208 countries and regions affiliated with FIFA” to the final tournament as ‘World Cup Ambassadors’ with the chance to attend games, visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, play in a kids tournament, and take part in workshops.

The Japan bid also seems to want to use the World Cup as a platform to promote existing efforts (rather than re-inventing the wheel) by, for example, offering a ‘Universal Fan Fest in 208 Nations’ offering “an opportunity through which various international and domestic organisations and bodies such as the United Nations, NPOs, local governments, and the private sector will be able to conduct activities to build the base for social development and a brighter future for all the countries and regions involved.”  They also note that “On 7 July 2009, JFA became the 93rd Japanese organisation to register with the United Nations Global Compact. Although FC Barcelona of Spain was already a participant, JFA was the world’s first sports organising body to sign up.  The United Nations Global Compact is a platform for UN agencies, private-sector companies, and non-profit organisations to address problems in the international community, in particular wealth inequalities resulting from globalisation.”  This was the only time in any of the bids where I saw any specific attention to wealth inequality—rather than just focusing on “poor countries” in isolation.

There were some things about the Japanese bid I didn’t care for; in their secion on ‘Contribution to World Football and Society,’ for example, they focus on how their “‘Freeviewpoint Vision’ 3D technology will expand business opportunities for FIFA and member associations.”  But overall I just got the sense that their whole approach to football was suffused with a long-term perspective and a global awareness: even the J-League has a ‘one hundred year vision’ that includes “Creating sports clubs where you can enjoy whatever sport you want, not only football.”

So if the sole criteria for hosting the World Cup was planning for development and social responsibility, I’d go with Holland & Belgium in 2018 and Japan in 2022.  Of course, the odds makers tell us those two bids are among the least likely to actually win—which may say as much about modern sporting mega-events as it does about the potential good that could (hypothetically) come from a World Cup.


A New Dawn For Italian Football Supporters?

AnconaThe Summer of 2010 won’t be remembered as the happiest of times for Italian football. The Home Minister introduced a compulsory ID card for fans known as the ‘Tessera del Tifoso’, which has threatened supporters’ freedom and generated chaos, particularly for those travelling to away matches. The national team’s departure from the World Cup came at an embarrassingly early stage, and as the beginning of the season drew closer, the prevailing atmosphere was one of uncertainty and concern. As a result of their chronic financial problems, about 30 clubs were barred from entry by their Leagues, and were relegated to lower divisions or forced out of existence altogether. Such a tragic state of affairs is not unfamiliar to Italian football fans, but this Summer represented the nadir of the crisis.

As a result, the Italian Supporters’ Trust movement has mushroomed, and three organizations have been created with the help of Supporters Direct and their Italian collaborators. Of course, ensuring that these organisations met Supporters Direct’s aims and values required months of behind the scenes meetings, research and education. The fact that these new Trusts developed over the Summer shows why they are so special. Traditionally a season of relaxation, hope and expectation for fans (but increasingly one where thousands of them have to face up to the rumours surrounding their own club’s financial problems), their emergence reflects the level of desire for change amongst Italian football fans.

During the last few months, fans of S.S Cavese 1919, F.B.C. Unione Venezia and U.S. Ancona 1905 provided a tangible response, a hint of hope, a signal that something is changing; even in Italy. Just a few years ago, it would have been risky to place any faith in an Italian Supporters’ Trust movement. Several initiatives, grounded not in fandom but in money-making or political interests, had failed in previous years. The Italian culture of fan ownership is still in its infancy, compared with that of other European countries. But many supporters have become frustrated by what they have seen happen to their clubs, frustrated by their inability to help — until now. Thanks to the Internet, an echo of what has become commonplace elsewhere in Europe is beginning to be heard, and interest in fan ownership is a major part of this development. At the aforementioned three clubs, a total of 3000 supporters decided to take action — and in a few weeks achieved results to be proud of.

By law, Italian professional clubs must be the equivalent of English public or private limited companies, and semi-professional or amateur clubs have chosen this structure as well. Therefore control of clubs, from the top to the bottom of the pyramid, has traditionally been concentrated in the hands of private, individual owners. Fans have always been expected to accept decisions from above, despite the ever-present threat of mass protests. The average Italian football fan is also generally considered a stupid, vulgar and uneducated person (of course, there are also fans of this type in other countries!). This widespread perception has presented a major challenge for the new trust movement, but its first steps have been promising. With legal assistance from Supporters Direct, the first groups chose to structure themselves as associations — a simple, democratic and not for profit organisation, which allows members (i.e fans) to buy and own shares through the trust.

Let’s have a closer look at these three trusts, which are now officially Supporters Direct affiliates. They all aim to be involved in the running of their club, to be represented on the board, and in the end to become shareholders, as well as to be active in the community and in social initiatives under their club colours.

SOGNO CAVESE

Cavese currently compete in Girone B of the Lega Pro Prima Divisione, so it’s a professional club. Their status came under serious threat last Summer, when the club risked going out of existence because of a deep financial crisis. It was saved at the last moment, thanks to the actions of many fans and citizens, who donated more than €200,000. This wasn’t the first desperate moment in the history of Cavese, and the supporters decided to do something to protect their beloved club. The footballing environment in Cava dei Tirreni is complicated, but Sogno Cavese has rapidly become a reference point for everyone who cares about the club; thanks to their credibility, transparency and independence. The trust was launched at the beginning of July, includes fans from every section of the stadium and has 600 members, including local hero Rino Santin, who was the manager during the club’s golden era.

When all the people who had given money during the preseason fundraising were asked to choose a representative, the trust Chairman won the election hands down, and is now on the club’s board, with advisory, proactive and checking functions.

“Through Sogno Cavese, we want to become protagonists in our own history. The unbreakable bond between a town and its population, a footballing history that stretches back to 1919, and the passion for the club shirt are the reasons behind our decision to start a supporters’ trust”, says board member Giuseppe Abbamonte. “To us, Cavese is more than a mere football team: it embodies our passion, our love for the local area, and respect for our history. As an integral part of the community, we believe that the club should be governed by democratic principles, and based on participation and representation. We’re committing ourselves with passion, and setting aside self-interest. We are aware we’re not the only ones who have chosen to do this, and we hope that our dream [the Italian word for which is 'sogno'] will soon become a reality.”

VENEZIA UNITED

One of Italy’s most famous cities, Venice was also among the first to produce an alternative model for running the local football club, Venezia. It wasn’t implemented but left as a legacy the idea that it is possible for fans to collaborate with local institutions and businesses. In the Summer of 2009 the club was unable to weather yet another crisis, and thus was relegated from Lega Pro Prima Divisione to the amateur Serie D, where it competes today. As a result of this, the fans decided that they wanted to have an important role in the new era, and to help the club become successful and sustainable. At the beginning of July they founded Venezia United. The trust now has some 1200 members, including important figures from the local sporting and civil arena, as well as the team captain.

Their goals for the future are ambitious: they want to double in membership size over the next three months, and to add €50,000 to their capital by the end of 2010. They also hope to buy some of the shares that are due to be issued soon, following the owner’s announcement that he can no longer be responsible for the running of the club. Local institutions gave – and are still giving – their help, but it’s not sufficient and at the time of writing, no credible buyer has emerged. Venezia United needs to be part of the future ownership structure, in order to let their opinions on how the club should be run going forward be heard; and acted upon.

“More than 1100 members in just over three months is quite a number, and it indicates that the route being taken is the right one. Now comes the challenging task of broadening our focus, reducing the influence of militant supporters, and beginning to work on the economic realities affecting our project”, says Chairman Franco Vianello Moro. “Our goal is still some way off, but the scope of the commitment that we have made has been recognised by the Town Council, as well as the FBC Unione Venezia- with whom we are discussing a possible position on the club board, initially as auditors.”

SOSTENIAMOLANCONA

Ancona was one of the clubs to suffer the most last Summer: it wasn’t accepted into Serie B (where it finished 17th last season) and was sent down to the regional Eccellenza. SOSTENIAMOLANCONA (let’s support Ancona) was born at the end of August, and the fans were heavily involved in the early development of the new club. They voted on the new name, the colours, and the stadium. The trust now has around 800 members gathered under the motto “our passion can’t be relegated” — sentiments which have been borne out by the average attendance of 3500 fans for each home game.

The trust is working closely with the club, and has two elected representatives on the board. The present owner has already announced that if the club are promoted at the end of this season it will become a limited company and SOSTENIAMOLANCONA will take possession of 17% of the shares. He will retain 34% and sell the remaining 49% on the market. This arrangement ensures that the Trust will continue to have a crucial role in the decision-making process.

“Our association is truly the result of spontaneous action, precipitated by a desperate situation. The project has grown step by step, with widespread fan involvement. Now I’m more convinced than ever that the supporters are what really counts”, said chairman David Miani. “It was important for us to try and bring about change, not just to talk. We really tried to do something different for our passion, for our club, in its difficult moment. We wanted to be able to say that when needed, we did everything that we could possibly do. It seemed impossible but now we are 800-strong, we have two auditors on the club board, we’re working towards a brighter future; and we are reviving the people’s passion for the club, even in a very low league”.

Supporters Direct is also in touch with other fan groups in Italy, including myRoma (an AS Roma fan group with more than 300 members and 0.0045% of the club’s shares), Modena Sport Club co-operative (more than 150 members), and Il Mio Potenza association (more than 100 members). A new initiative in Brescia is also expected over the next few months.

The Italian movement for fan involvement and ownership is part of a wider movement that is growing across Europe with the help of Supporters Direct; which includes clubs from several countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Israel. Each country clearly has its own particular contexts and problems, but it has become clear that the factors which unite the fans are far more numerous than those which divide them. The sense of being part of a wider movement is a source of pride and confidence for all concerned.


The African Women’s Championship and the Curious Case of Equatorial Guinea

I suspect few world fans knew that South Africa’s first post-World Cup chance to host an international soccer event starts this week.  In fact, in trying to track down information about the 2010 African Women’s Championships—which are scheduled to start October 31st and conclude November 14th—I’ve come to suspect that few South Africans themselves know much about the event (though President Jacob Zuma did make a late appeal for national support).  The challenges faced by women’s soccer in achieving support and recognition are nowhere more stark than in Africa.  Fortunately for fans like me, that doesn’t mean there is an absence of good soccer stories.

Though I’ve written previously on Pitch Invasion about women’s soccer in Africa, I don’t claim any special expertise on this specific event—particularly as I write from my distant home office on another continent.  But given all the attention to the men’s World Cup in South Africa last summer, and various vague claims that the event would help develop the game at all levels, I do find myself intrigued by the women’s championship as an opportunity to fulfill that promise.  Also, given the many social, historical, and structural obstacles to the women’s game in Africa, I just admire the pluck of many African women’s players who do succeed.

Nevertheless, although it will determine Africa’s two representatives to the 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany, the 2010 African Women’s Championship promises to be a relatively modest endeavor (the eight competitors are South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria, Mali, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Algeria, and Ghana). Not only are none of the 2010 men’s World Cup stadiums being used, but almost all the games are being held at one 15,000 seat stadium in the far eastern townships of the greater Johannesburg area.  That stadium was refurbished for the men’s World Cup and served as the training base for New Zealand—though it’s most notable World Cup moment may have been when cooking smoke from the nearby township forced the Kiwis to modify their training. (Another small neighboring stadium will be used for two of the last group stage games, presumably to accommodate concurrent kick-offs).

Even these arrangements were only made public last month—a circumstance Peter Alegi rightly identified as an “inexcusable delay [that] makes it more difficult for fans and media to participate in and cover the premier event in women’s football on the continent.”  As if to substantiate that point, as of the week-end before the tournament begins the official tournament page on the Confederation of African Football (CAF) web-site had only been updated once since September—and ironically that update was to announce that the deadline to apply for press credentials had been extended.

CAF does have the excuse of not having much practice in hosting continental championships for women.  Though there were official competitions in 1991 and 1995, those were played on a home and away basis, so the first centrally hosted tournament was played in Nigeria in 1998.  Since that event, the African Women’s Championship has been hosted biannually in either Nigeria or South Africa—with the lone exception of the 2008 tournament hosted in Equatorial Guinea.

Equatorial Guinea also happens to be the only country to win the continental women’s championship besides Nigeria—which had won every African women’s championship prior to 2008, and is the only African team to attend every Women’s World Cup.  In my mind, this raises two interesting questions: why has Nigeria been so good, and how could Equatorial Guinea be their only competition?

The Champions

The reasons Nigeria have tended to be so good is probably at least partially attributable to the simple fact that Nigeria is a populous place with a lot of talented women.  According to a 2003 case study by Martha Saavedra, “women have been playing football on a regular basis in Nigeria only since 1978” but since there have been several iterations of reasonably successful women’s clubs and leagues—which is more than can be said for many African nations.  In addition, Saavedra notes, the relative strength of Nigerian women’s soccer may relate to a more general “history of activism among Nigerian women, especially in the South.”  More recently there has been some concern that the full women’s national team has lost some of its dominance, and that broader problems in Nigerian soccer may hurt further improvements, but there are also signs of hope: as was noted here on Pitch Invasion over the summer, the Nigerian U-20 women were an impressive success ending up as the first African team to reach the final of a FIFA World Cup of any sort.

The case of Equatorial Guinea is harder to figure, partially just because it seems to be a generally curious place.  I’ve never been there, and don’t feel able to fully pass judgment, but in the world of African politics Equatorial Guinea is known mostly for suspicious oddities.  A former Spanish colony comprising a tiny set of islands and land near the coasts of Cameroon and Gabon with only around 600,000 people, it has massive oil income that the United Nations computes to a GDP per capita higher than that of Italy or Bahrain (at $30,627), but a human poverty index worse than Haiti (according to IRIN News, estimates suggest that “60 percent of its population lives on less than US$1 a day”).  This extreme discrepancy is often attributed to massive corruption, particularly among its dictatorial ruling family—whose son Teodoro Obiang is known for buying a $35 million mansion in Malibu and paying $700,000 for a spin on a yacht to impress sometime girlfriend/rapper Eve, and whose patriarch has been in the news for promoting a multi-million dollar UNESCO prize to publicize science and perhaps distract people from his poor human rights record.  The problems of the ruling family even emboldened a group of mercenary South African plotters with few local connections, linked famously to Margaret Thatcher’s son, to attempt a (failed) coup in 2004.

So how did a place like Equatorial Guinea end up hosting a women’s African championship tournament, and becoming the first winner other than Nigeria?  The event generated so little media attention that it is almost impossible to know, but I’d be interested to learn.  I’m particularly intrigued by how a country of only 600,000 people—which wouldn’t even qualify as one of the top ten most-populous cities in Nigeria—manages to produce a continental class football team.

I do know what the Nigerians said: that the Equatorial Guinea women’s team succeeds by not limiting itself to women.  In another curious twist that was mentioned by Jennifer Doyle here on Pitch Invasion, and discussed in a bit more detail on the TransGriot blog, the Nigerians claimed at least two of Equatorial Guinea’s players were men (a claim that doesn’t seem to have any evidence other than appearance).  Sadly, these claims seem to get flung around fairly casually in African women’s soccer—in a 2009 story that TransGriot described as “Nigerian Gender Chickens Coming Home To Roost” a Nigerian women’s player was excluded because “while being given her medical exam for the national team they discovered she was intersex.”  These and other events led to the claim that CAF was going to institute ‘gender testing’ before the 2010 championship—something that I’ve not seen any news of since 2009, and suspect fell prey to the realization that ‘gender testing’ in sports is far from an objective scientific process (something particularly loaded in South Africa after last year’s messy Caster Semenya controversy).

So barring the gender bending argument, my best guess is simply that Equatorial Guinea has actually decided to support women’s soccer—possibly as a part of a larger strategy of soccer diplomacy that includes its status as a co-host of the 2012 men’s African Cup of Nations (with Gabon—another oil rich neighbor).  If you’re rich and dictatorial, what better PR boost than good old-fashioned sport success?  Though this is just a guess, it is supported by the silver medal performance of a youth women’s national team from Equatorial Guinea at last summer’s Youth Olympic Games.  How else could a tiny oil dictatorship whose prior athletic fame derived entirely from mocking ‘Eric the Eel’ have turned itself into a presence in African soccer?  And that is not meant only as a rhetorical question—does anyone out there know the whole story?

Other Stories and Legacies

One other curious story from the 2010 African Women’s Championship that may actually get some documentation is the first appearance of Tanzania’s ‘Twiga Stars.’  In fact, the only two films I know of about women’s soccer in Africa are both set in Tanzania: in addition to an excellent 2007 documentary on women’s soccer in Zanzibar (which combined with Tanganyika in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania), it now seems another film-maker has been following the Tanzanian women’s national team (if you’re curious, check out the goal around 1:02 of the trailer—it’s a cracker).  As part of their reward for qualifying the team earned a sponsored trip to Seattle to train and play local teams—ending up with a mixed record against amateur women’s teams from Washington state.  Given their record against the locals in Seattle, the Twiga Stars may not yet be world class on the field—but the fact that they were there at all, and that Tanzania seems to be starting to take women’s soccer seriously, seems well worth documenting.

Ultimately I suspect that each of the eight women’s teams at the African Women’s Championship in South Africa represents many more fascinating stories that we’ll never see.    Even South Africa, with its relatively developed infrastructure and a history of some support for women’s soccer, is struggling to get Banyana Banyana to an international level (at last summer’s U-17 Women’s World Cup South Africa finished the group stage with 2 goals for and 17 against, including a 10-1 drubbing by Germany).  So, as Peter Alegi notes, beyond its limited press attention perhaps the most important question of this particular tournament is: “what will be the impact of this tournament on the development and growth of South African (and African) women’s football at junior, amateur, and elite levels?  This is a crucial question given that the number of female players — mostly black — continues to grow alongside their ongoing marginalization and exclusion in a male-dominated football world.”

Because if the legacy of the South African World Cup isn’t to develop the game at all levels, we’ll not only miss some good soccer stories—we’ll miss good soccer.

Football, Blogs and Newspapers Unite? Part Six

So, in summary, a partnership between online newspapers and blogs—for example, an online network linked on a football mainpage with rotating featured posts—comes with both potential advantages and drawbacks.

For bloggers, a network could provide a bigger readership and a closer working relationship with an expert newspaper editorial staff who could pitch story angles or offer general advice. Depending on the advertising model in place, it could also provide potentially higher revenue incentives to keep invest the time and energy necessary to maintain a top quality site, and motivate writers to build blogs worthy of joining one of these networks, improving the current standard above the eyeball-hungry, SEO shlock banner ad approach. For newspapers, a blog network can offer readers a much wider area of coverage, global perspectives, differing opinions, historical analysis than a single newsroom could produce on its own. It could also provide lower-cost content on the web, should news organizations decide to make news content available only through paid Smart Phone or iPad-like apps.

The drawbacks, however, are significant. For newspapers, a network would rob overseers of direct editorial control, leaving the possibility for some major legal department snafus. For bloggers too, the arrangement might cede more control to advertisers and newspapers. As someone who hasn’t put up an ad banner yet in three years going, I completely understand.

But any talk of newspaper/blog coops is just pipe-dreamery if there there’s no money to be made, and for that reason I think it’s important to leave this final part to a discussion about the absolutely woeful state of online advertising, especially with regard to football blogging. Keep in mind, this is going to be a low-tech breakdown; the issue is with philosophy, not mechanics.

Currently, advertising through blogs is fairly low-maintenance. The model is simple, generalized across the board, and easy to start up. If you have a Blogger blog for example, you can sign up for AdSense and watch as the pennies roll in from the rare wayward ad clicks from your reading audience. Or perhaps you want to be connected to advertisers in search of blogs of a particular kind. Well, Ahmed Bilal does a bang-up job helping out soccer bloggers with his Football Media ad network. But even with the narrower focus on content-appropriate advertisers, you’re still stuck with these two options—banner ads, meaning the more “Wayne Rooney is a Fuckhead” stories, the more clicks, the more revenue; or “Social Advertising,” which essentially means astroturfing your posts (the blogging equivalent of this).

This kind of advertising is built on the Necessary Nuisance model. You want to watch the newest episode of your favourite TV show? Go to a newly-released movie? Walk downtown? Watch a popular YouTube vid? Listen to top 40 radio? Read a magazine or a newspaper? You have to deal with ads. Advertisers don’t care as much if you hate them, because the endgame is not necessarily consumption (a common mistake among anti-consumerist lefties, incidentally). The end game is product awareness, which helps consolidate brand loyalty. Ads legitimize brand, which comes in handy for producers when you’re at the grocery store buying one of the several thousand deodorants on sale.

This kind of advertising this is usually expensive to produce and sell. We know the famous line about ads costing more than the shows they appear on than the show itself. And selling print ad space in the analog age, as we know now apres le deluge, was (and still is) the primary source of revenue for both newspapers and magazines. Yet the high costs are justified; while TV shows and magazines are expensive to produce, the networks and media conglomerates share a much larger portion of their respective markets than an individual blogger floating on the interweb, and therefore get a lot of eyeballs by default (e.g. two national papers in Canada, three major networks). And the bigger the content-producers’ chunk of the media consumer pie (measured in ratings, circulation), the more they can charge advertisers for access to said chunk. The system works!

The online incorporation of this model is, on the surface, ingenious. Contrary to other media, banner ads and widgets are often cheap to produce (and cheap looking), and endlessly reproducible. Pretty much anyone can put them up on their site, and because of the miracle PPC and CPM, the onus is on the individual blogger to get in the necessary eyeballs to generate more revenue. No clumsy Nielson ratings, no circulation statistics. You take an hour to post something up, a reader takes thirty seconds to give you a page impression, and five seconds to click on an ad. Clink, penny in a cup. The more eyeballs you get, the more clinks you get.

But there is a major problem: this model works against the essence of what makes the internet the internet. No, it’s not memes or viral videos or any of that HuffPo hooey. To put it simply, it’s diversity. While many of us would be content to visit Slate, Gawker, Boing Boing and the Huffington Post before calling it a day, there are many online readers who prefer something more personalized to their tastes. Some prefer even more specialization within their chosen niche. Even though the bloggers who attract these like-minded readers might get fewer uniques (meaning, under the current model, less penny clinks), they carry a significant level of value for a producer with a niche product geared toward a particular demographic (educated, psychic, Japanese, whatever). Some of these producers don’t have much of an ad budget, and never have.

Some bloggers have already realized this and formed their own ad networks. Yet bloggers aren’t in the ad business, and don’t have the time, resources or energy to pitch to companies that aren’t used to doing much advertising beyond word of mouth at all. Ad companies don’t have the resources (finance and time) either to deal with a myriad of different blogging networks, each focusing on a niche within a niche. Much better to deal with a single ad department at a newspaper, for example. This is obviously where a newspaper blog network could come in handy, but I think the real key difference is the noise filter that newspapers could provide.

There is a reason why Andrew Sullivan’s “Daily Dish” is one of the most popular blogs on the internet—it is an incredible filter for the most relevant political and cultural happenings of the moment. But Sullivan’s blog is still a general colloquium featuring this and that interesting article or video; most of the time, a lay reader who wants to get into a particular subject, like football history for example, will have to try using Google to find blogs suited to her tastes. She might click on the top-rated site, which could be great, or, could be crap. Maybe there are also countless other sites she might find interesting, but she’ll have to dedicate a lot of time on the web, carefully looking among blog link lists and compiling her own personal network of top football history blogs. After awhile, she might go extra mile and set up an elaborate system of RSS feeds or bookmarks or saved browser tabs. But at this point, she’ll probably have to be a hardcore football history nerd to keep this effort up.

What if I just want to get an overview of the best sites covering a particular angle on a particular topic? Where do I go to find what I’m looking for? Newspapers would go beyond self-appointed networks in that they provide key editorial oversight, oversight that would likely reflect the readership of the paper (quite a different list of football blogs you’d see on the Sun than on the Guardian). And as these networks attract more online newspaper readers interested in particular subjects, trusting in the editorial judgment and brand behind the selection, the value of these readers for advertisers despite their smaller numbers, increases. And that doesn’t just (or at all) mean the big brand, product legitimacy advertisers—that means advertisers working on behalf of much smaller, niche companies, to get people to directly buy a particular product. And the product ad might not even be a nuisance; depending on the specialization, it may be something these blog readers want to buy. EFW readers might want cheap flights from Gatwick to Barcelona; Run of Play readers might want to buy a copy of the latest Football Manager, or a subscription to WSC.

This is the value I think the web provides, a value that it has yet to take advantage of. I think a partnership between newspapers and blogs, especially in football, could form a group of dedicated, special interest readers. But I think the movement in making this happen has to come from advertisers. Perhaps as more money goes into online advertising, we might see this kind of thing, or perhaps the money will go into making flashier videos that obstruct text and clutter websites. It’s an idea, anyway. Thanks for reading.

Image credit: burtonwood + holmes.


Football, Blogs and Newspapers Unite? Part Five

This series came about in part from a post from the not-so-anonymous-anymore blogger, Fake Sigi, which discussed the post rate on Pitch Invasion since the end of the summer, especially in light of the editor’s new column at BigSoccer. FS wrote:

My main concern was that Tom [Dunmore] would start posting more and more at BigSoccer, leaving Pitch Invasion to slowly decompose. From my experience, it’s hard enough to maintain one web writing medium when you’re not a hard core freelancer. And mostly those fears turned out to be unfounded through July when Pitch Invasion posted something on the order of nearly three new articles a day.

And then Tom went on short “week-long” hiatus on August 12, and Pitch Invasion has for all intents and purposes gone dark since then.

From there, FS goes on to say—to use an expression that jumped the shark years ago—PI has jumped the shark. So I spoke to Tom about the drop-off in the rate of posts here, and he put it this way:

It’s really rather simple…I was finishing writing a 400 page soccer book and running the Chicago Fire’s Independent Supporters’ Association…the former took up about 20 hours a week, the latter 40 hours a week, and I blasted out a few BigSoccer pieces for some $ as well, in part for the cash, in part for the interest of reaching a new audience. And I also have a life!

Plus [PI contributors, including yours truly] eased up post-WC on PI too so the site lost its regular momentum.  I guess at the end of the day, it’s not a successful business (nor was it ever meant to earn full-time income for anyone) and it’s not going to run itself when nobody has 30 hours a week to work on it for very little $ reward.  At the end of the day, I’d rather run nothing on it than run low quality crap.

And there you have it: one major pitfall for any successful blog (and blogger) is the lack of any solid financial return on what can be an enormous investment of time and energy (it’s a “hustle,” as Jason Davis wrote). And it’s not as if there is money awaiting the hard-working blogger down the long and windy road, outside of using the blog as a platform for almost invariably better-paying external freelance work. Needless to say, Dunmore, nor anyone (save me on occasion) has anything to apologize for with regard to Pitch Invasion’s contribution to independent football writing. The problem is that for most of us (hi Brooks!) right now, blogging is for the most part its own reward. Which is why so many great blogs, even those loaded with up PPC banners and decent ad deals and a bunch of subscriptions, will eventually start to peter out, oh, say, around the three year mark.

For some, this isn’t actually a problem at all. Blogs are great in part because of the low threshold involved in starting up. Anyone can get a domain on Blogger or WordPress and hang their dirty footballing laundry out to dry for millions to read (or not read). And anyone can just as easily stop posting, often with nobody the wiser. This is in many ways what makes blogs great. They live and die in the moment, they have their time, and then they cease to be relevant. Then someone else fills in the empty space, although never in quite the same way.

Other writers question whether there is any intrinsic financial worth in blogging at all. Local Kings Cross blogger William Perrin, quoted in the Alan Rusbridger lecture I keep banging on about, believes there isn’t anything about independent journalism that “deserves” remuneration:

[The site] costs us about £11 a month in cash, which is about three of four pints of beer … we have a very strong community of people around here who send us stuff. None of the people who work with me are journalists. I’m not a journalist by any stretch of the imagination; it’s an entirely volunteer effort … Some people what I do in my community some people label journalism, it’s a label I actually resist.

Indeed, once you add the expectation of post-rates, editorial control, the concerns of a legal department, and the expectation you will always cover a certain topic in a certain way—all, by the way, possible elements of any network blog/newspaper partnership—well, it’s not blogging anymore, is it?

With some of these questions this in mind, I spoke with a successful blogger who is already branching out into a major media organization with his Guardian Chalkboards feature, Zonal Marking author Michael Cox. I asked him if he thought ZM would continue unaffected even with the prospect of further outside work, and whether he thought there was any incentive for blogs and media orgs to cooperate:

Yes, ZM will continue, really the Guardian stuff is irrelevant from that point of view – not to do it down, it’s great and a privilege to do, but but doesn’t really change the way I operate. I just do a column for them on Monday mornings, and will happily go in for the podcast if I’m invited back, but ZM is still my main task. There hasn’t really been any change in it now that I’m working for a ‘bigger’ publication.

I suppose it depends if the blog can sustain itself on its own financially (through other means than through a link with a mainstream organisation). If not, then the blogger will probably be forced to either accept money from a publication (in which case editorial control might suffer, understandably) or they’ll just work full-time for the newspaper and do the blog as an ‘extra’. But that’s not really the case here – ZM’s got me a chance to write for the Guardian but now that’s me doing it, not Zonal Marking being featured on the Guardian.

Cox, like most football bloggers, considers his blog an end in itself. When I started my own site, A More Splendid Life, I deliberately intended it to be an experimental platform for my own football writing, just to see if I could do it. After a while though, it took on a life of its own. Even when it was in my best interest to stop, I kept going because people kept reading; I didn’t feel it was right to just kill it off. To this day, I have often contemplated chucking it out entirely and starting my own personal site featuring writing on a host of different topics, but I don’t want to wreck AMSL as a soccer-only site.

The sense of your blog as an autonomous creation is a powerful motivation to keep going, but it over the long haul it is no match for sustainable financial incentives. Even if you’re wildly successful at blogging, additional freelance work will sap your energy and resources. A very small percentage of individual bloggers might get bought or “sponsored” by print pubs, able to maintain the creative and editorial control they had before, but the reality is most independent football writers will either hand over the reigns to someone else, cut down on the post rate, or just stop. That might not be necessarily a bad thing, but when readers come to rely on certain sites to provide coverage on a topic badly neglected by mainstream media organizations with finite resources, the loss of an excellent independent blog leaves a marked gap. While most football bloggers have more than a little William Perrin in them, it’s worth considering that establishing a means for providing sustainable financial rewards for bloggers might not necessarily corrupt the spontaneity, freedom and creativity of the medium.

Image Credit: CarbonNYC.