Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Tidbits




It’s been two weeks since I’ve updated the site. I apologize to my loyal readers, but life conspired to snatch me away from writing. Life has a way of doing that, no?
Like a good football match snatches one away from reality and the hardships of life.

I’m starting the fine memoir 'Fever Pitch' by renowned author Nick Hornby on his obsession with Arsenal FC. Here’s a grand quote from the beginning of the book.

“I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it.”

Doesn’t that just sum it all up right there? I couldn’t say it better.

- Here’s a great article by Spanish football scribe Phil Ball about mortality, relegation and Real Sociedad. A great, thoughtful read and a sad case of reality for a club that came oh-so-close to winning the Spanish league a few seasons ago.

- What do we make of Ronaldo waddling his big-boned frame to AC Milan? I feel somewhat heartbroken. This man was a phenomenon, the most devastating striker in the world. His performances for Barcelona and in particular, the Brazilian national team, are stuff of legend. But fame and his insatiable appetite for short-term pleasure seem to have caught up with him. Football media is full of reports that he’s lazy, unmotivated and aging rapidly.
Maybe this will be a wake-up call. Maybe the glide will come back into his step and we’ll see small glimpses of the Ronaldo of old, stroking the ball into the net, wagging his finger with that big gap-toothed grin painted on his face. Sadly, I think the train stops here. I’ll always have images of him scoring that hat-trick against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Champions League in 2002. What a display. What a monumentous player he was. How wonderful when the Old Trafford crowd stood up and applauded his masterful effort? How sad that he’s faded so quickly.

- Africa update: I’ve got some exciting things I’m working on for the near future. I can’t say I’m any further along than I was when I started the blog, but the ideas are coming fast and furious. More on this later. And if you have any ideas, please send them to me. I am forever grateful for your input.

More in general later. Thanks for the support so far. I think this is a very doable concept and your support has been wonderful. Stay tuned. More to come in a few.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

My Goals

So let's clarify what I'm doing here:
I'm writing this blog for expression, to get my voice out, to let everyone know what I'm doing.
At the same time, I'm trying to get to South Africa in 2010. Easier said than done, right?

To that end, let me tell you some of the ways I'm thinking I'll get there.

1- A book.
If I can travel to Africa later this year as I intend, I'd like to write a book about African football. It's a subject that really interests me. Granted, I don't know much about Africa, it's history or it's obsession with football. But I'm getting there. I'm reading some fascinating books on the subject and talking to people. Besides, I'll learn as I research the book. I'll watch games, I'll chat with people. I'll experience everything I want to learn. Isn't that the best way, anyways?
The books main theme is still sketchy to me. It could be about my adventure in getting to the final. Or it could be more of an historical, cultural exploration of African football and society. Or it could be a combination of both. I'm not sure. I think my ideas about this will cement more once I get to Africa.

2- A job with MLS
I'd love to work with Major League Soccer. I'm American, I'm passionate for the game and I've a lot to offer. My communication skills, my writing talent (I think?) and my vigorous love of the game. Does this sound like a pitch? Yes. Someone hire me, please! (Maybe this should be my goal? More on this later ...)

3 - Volunteering
I've got some interesting options in this arena. I'll share more about this later. There are great people out there doing wonderful work for the children of Africa. Grassroots Soccer and their establishment come to mind. I'm looking into this possibility. There is also the idea of eventually working towards establishing a football academy in East Africa. This is a goal for post-2010, but it's something I'm interested in. I also think the ideas for this will cement themselves more once I make my way out to Africa.

4 - Get everyone involved (The 6 Degrees of Separation rule)
They say everyone in the world is separated by six degrees. Six people. I'm six people away from the President of the United States. We're connected through our relationships with at most six people.
So maybe I can use this rule to my benefit. Maybe someone out there knows Sepp Blatter, for instance? (Mr. Blatter's the FIFA President ... almost as important as President Bush. No, really.) Or someone knows Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa. He's referred to my blog by someone in his inside circle who is a few degrees away from me. He likes what he reads and invites me to write about the 2010 Cup. Voila! I'm at the Final.
My idea's this: I personally contact the head of every African FA (football association) explaining myself and my project. Through my meetings, I hope to learn more about the game and get an inside view of the preparations for the 2010 Cup. I figure I've got nothing to lose. If no one gets back to me, ok. I'll be disappointed, but at least I tried. If I get some responses, even better. How great would that be? An inside view of the development towards 2010. It's a longshot, but isn't this whole idea a longshot?

5 - Buying a ticket to the game
This would be the easiest way to get there. Just buy a ticket to the game. But this could be hard. For starters, a ticket to the game would probably cost me quite a bit. Also, demand will be through the roof.
But, how fun would that be? I might as well give up the idea of the blog now if I want to do that. There's no romance in this option, no struggle, no fight to get somewhere redeeming. The whole point of this is that I'll go after this goal tooth-and-nail for 3.5 years and at the end, if I'm at the game, great. If I'm not, at least I tried.
If all else fails, I'll buy a ticket. But this is the very last option. I'd much rather get there some other way.
(Let's be clear about what I mean. I intend to purchase a ticket to the game. I'm talking more about the journey to the game. I'd rather go at it this way, make it an adventure. Write a book, help some people out. Sure, I'll buy a ticket. I just hope not to have to take a loan out to buy a ticket to the game.)

All of these will help me get to the final. Writing a book about my goal will hopefully lead me to the big game. Volunteering will expose me to Africa, help people and give me a great view for my book. Working for MLS will expose me to people who can assist with my goal. And I can also help get our team to South Africa. And being invited would be delicious.

So after all is said and done, there's a lot I'd like to accomplish. I hope the relations I make in the interim will help me reach my goal. Knock on wood, this blog can serve as a vehicle to advertise my aspirations. I hope I can help a lot of people with my project. And maybe someone out there can help me get to the big game.

It's a small world after all, no?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Soma

Aldous Huxley’s groundbreaking dystopian novel ‘Brave New World’ introduced us to the fictional drug soma.
Soma is a drug that keeps the masses in check. It deludes them into thinking they’re happy in the utopian state, even though the world around them is actually crumbling.
As stated on Wikipedia, soma is an ‘…”opiate of the masses" that replaces religion and alcohol in a peaceful, but morally controversial, high-tech society far in the future.'

This idea got me thinking about football.

In general, football is a sort of soma. It diverts attention away from the struggles of society and onto the happenings on the pitch. Man vs. man on the soccer field, not the battlefield. And should your tribe win, you’re giddy with excitement.

All over the world, people are exploited and abused. People starve, individuals die, wars are raged and despot’s pockets are filled.
Yet the one constant is this: football is the most popular sport in the world.
How does this relate?
Well, I don’t have the memory space to get into that. That’s one of the scopes of this blog. I hope over the years to have a broader understanding of this phenomenon; how football, politics and society mix.

But the idea is this, as stated to me by a dear friend (ok, my girlfriend! Love ya, babe!):

“Football -- it all has the same meaning in the end. An escape, a brotherhood, something to put above the hardships and struggles.”

I’m recalling anecdotes in Phil Ball’s wonderful work about La Liga, ‘Morbo’. In it, he talks about the hardships Catalans faced under the fierce dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. He banished their language, ideals and customs and instilled a forced Spanish way of life.
But one thing he allowed was Catalan to be spoken at the home stadium of FC Barcelona, the Catalan football club.
It wasn’t only spoken, but shouted from the terraces.
People took this time to voice their vicious opposition to Franco’s mistreatment.
During General’s Cup games, when Franco was present, supporters took the opportunity to let ‘El Generalisimo’ know exactly how they felt.

Why did Franco allow this?
It’s argued Franco thought the people wouldn’t revolt if they put all their suppressed nationalistic energy into their football club. Instead of fighting him, Franco thought the people would use the club as a vehicle to confront injustice. Franco’s pet football squad, Real Madrid, became the whipping boy.
Long after Franco’s death in 1975, El Clasico is still the fiercest, most passionate, politically charged football match in the world.
Games in Barcelona’s home pitch, Nou Camp, look like political rallies when Real Madrid visits. The crowd takes the time to show their opinions by holding aloft giant placards that spell out ‘Catalonia is not Spain’ in English for the nearly 3 billion people watching worldwide.

Just an example, but a brief look as to how football can shape society.
But what got me thinking is, what about these extreme injustices we read about everyday? War in Iraq, genocide in Sudan, AIDS rampant in Africa and on and on? The hardships of the working class, the rotting of our cities, the general indifference to our fellow man’s suffering, especially from the First World?

Football is a diversion in a world filled with hardships. This is just a hypothesis, but I’d think it to be true:
There’s not much fun in a poor person’s life. Getting up in the morning is a hardship. Little food, little discretionary leisure time, backbreaking physical work, even getting on the bus is an act of faith, what with the wild driving and faulty brakes.
People eek out small moments of amusement. Drinking, unprotected sex, drug use. And soccer.
Clan mentality plays into it. Relations with others and the ‘water cooler’ mentality of having common interests to talk about is a big draw.

But there’s more and I’m not sure I can put my finger on it.

Is it the artistic nature of the game? The way it dulls the pain of everyday life? The joy of seeing a neighborhood child run out onto the pitch and become a local hero, even international superstar? The identification with the poor who becomes rich?

Soccer’s a beautiful game. But in some ways, it clouds society. Instead of facing the daunting problems, we play them out on the pitch. This isn’t a bad thing.

I’m just wondering if we’re drinking too much soma.

More on this later …

More Beckham

A tidbit on the Beckham news:

I'm worried the Beckham signing could backfire some.

Let's say the fence-sitting American sports fan goes to an LA Galaxy game. They've seen the highlights and read the hype. 'Beckham is magnificent! Beckham is the second coming of Pele! Beckham is the greatest soccer player in the world!'

They go to a game expecting to see proverbial fireworks. And what they get is Beckham making a few long passes (his specialty) and nothing more. He's subbed in the 70th minute of a 0-0 draw.

How many of these people will be back to watch an MLS game?

The danger is in winning over the casual fan only to lose them as quickly. What I worry about is whether or not this comes crashing down on Beckham and the MLS: will the fair weather fan care if Beckham doesn't play up to billing? Will they understand when he doesn't score the bending free kick or the jaw-dropping pass?

The pressure will be immense. He's not in the Real Madrid 'Galatico' system anymore. Here, he's expected to move soccer into the higher echelon of American sports.
People will come out at first, but will they stay when he's shown to be a supporting midfielder and not the glamorous soccer star people are under the impression he is?
The pressure's different here. In Europe, the pressure's about getting to the Champions League, winning cups, etc. One doesn't have to worry about winning over fans. The fans already have a deep psychological investment in clubs.

Here, he's expected to be much more. I'm worried people will bail when they see he's not a dribbling machine. They'll never come back when they observe he's not a scoring dynamo. Or they'll cancel their season ticket plans when they notice he's slower than the goalkeeper.
People want bang for their buck. Audiences pay big money to see Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant perform and most of the time, they're satisfied. Even if they're not, the psychological investment is there from seeing them perform in the past. The athletes hooked their emotional tendrils into our souls long ago.

Soccer's a blank slate here. There's no emotional attachment to MLS, Beckham or his previous exploits.

Then again, it can be argued his name appeal by itself will pay off in the end. Only time will tell. I sure hope he's worth the investment.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Beckham to LA Galaxy

Today's big news focuses on David Beckham's impending arrival on American shores.
He's coming here, so brace yourselves for the publicity machine that arrives with him. You've been warned.
Beckham confirms LA Galaxy move.

He's the most popular athlete in the world. He's arguably the most dynamic football player around. He's not the most talented and he's not even a starter on Real Madrid, but he has movie-star good looks and tremendous appeal. He transcends football. He's a fashion icon, a pop culture idol and more recognizeable than most world leaders.

So what's he doing here in the United States, the arid prairie of football?
Money, that's what. $250 million over 5 years would make anyone cross shores. (Granted, Major League Soccer isn't paying him that outright. The bulk of his contract comes from ownership of his image rights, which he's shared with Real Madrid in the past. He's getting close to 90% image ownership according to published reports. So he's not getting that much from the league here. But he's still making out ok due to his enormous endorsement contracts.)

But let's not discount his arrival as merely a stunt. His presence in Major League Soccer (MLS) gives the league instant credibility. Beckham is a household name. Housewives in Peoria know who he is. And now that he's playing here, maybe those housewives will want to see him play a game or two. All of a sudden, attendance rises. With that comes some exposure on sports shows like ESPN's SportsCenter and write-ups in magazines like Sports Illustrated.

This is all about publicity for the league. The money spent is worth it. Beckham gives instant credibility to a league looking for identity. And he's young. He's 31 and coming here in his relative prime.

It's a win-win situation, in my opinion. The MLS soaks up the exposure, Beckham makes a boatload of money and the sport gets a much needed dose of publicity.

The only downside could be the dramatic rise of ticket prices. Someone has to pay for this contract. Although it's been shown in study after economic study that scarcity of seats, not big-ticket free agents cause ticket prices to go up (read this for more on that: Tighter supply of tickets, and continued popularity of game, driving ticket price increases far more than millionaire players' salaries., the average fan may see the dramatic rise in prices as their being boxed out. That makes going to a game a treat, not something you can do many times a year.

Case in point: the National Hockey League. Attendance continues to be good, averaging about 13,000/game. But the game's a ratings disaster on TV. Hardly anyone watches it. And in the United States (actually, the entire planet), TV is where the money is.
Let's hope the novelty of Beckham doesn't wear off after a year and that people return again and again to watch football.
The fan base will increase, the pool of players will expand and be technically better and the league will flourish.

Am I overreaching here? Maybe. But this could be the ripple in the ocean that causes football to make it in this country. One major move here by a world-class player could have remarkable payoffs down the road.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Shackled Continent

I'm reading an interesting book about African politics and society at the moment.
It's called 'The Shackled Continent: Power, Corruption & African Lives" by Robert Guest, a journalist for the Economist.

I figured it'd be a good primer going forward for my study of African football.
Football, society and politics go hand-in-hand.
For an example of this in Iraq, read this article from the New York Times: Iraq’s Escape Is Soccer, but Soccer Can’t Escape War.

You can't separate the two. Politicians use football clubs to boost their platforms and voting registers (read the wonderful book 'Futebol: Soccer: The Brazilian Way' by Alex Bellos for more about this). Club supporters follow political ideologies, like fascism or social policies, like racism. And football holds up a mirror to society, as France's 1998-World Cup winning team did to French society at that moment.

So as I go forward, I'd like to learn more about Africa and its political workings.
What I'm learning so far is that politicians there, more or less, are very corrupt. They don't hold their constituents' best interests to heart. They're more concerned with filling their bank accounts. A case in point is Mobutu Sese Seko and his exploitation of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) for 32 years. It's harrowing and makes a case for the political follies that now trouble Africa.

I'm by no means an expert. I'm just curious and want to know more about why Africa's where it is and how football ties into that.
If you have any suggestions for what I should read or what I should know, please let me know. I am interested in all opinions and eager to devour this information.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Road to the World Cup Final, July 11th, 2010

I'm in love with the game of football.

It's silly as an adult to say you're in love with a game. A child's game. A game so basic.
Football consists of kicking a ball, trying to get it into a designated space as often as you can, more times than the opposing team.

But the game has so much power. It unites. It divides. It makes people dream and it makes people cry.
It makes people's hearts skip with joy. And it makes others' heads pound with despair.

I'm not alone in my passion for the game. It's estimated more than half the population of the planet enjoys a kickabout now and again. What makes me unique is my passion for the game in the remote cornerstone of the United States, a football wasteland.

Soccer (as football is known here) is not a popular sport in the US. It's not even a blip on the radar. Golf, NASCAR, horse racing and pro wrestling are more popular than footie. Luckily, I live in New York City, a goldmine for the American soccer fan.

Here, we can watch games with like-minded souls almost every day. Walk into most Irish pubs and football is on the screen. Some pubs even specialize in football, like Nevada Smith's in downtown Manhattan. New York is unique in its international flavor. Ex-pats from almost every country in the world live here. Football appeals to the internationals and they follow it in droves.

I fell into my love for football by accident. Like a lover who takes time to warm to you, I skipped by the game often in my life without paying attention. Then one day, it hit me between the eyes and my heart was forever taken. I'm now full-blown in love, married to the bounces of a leather ball.

Now, I want to devote a significant portion of my time to the game. I want to watch matches. I want to start a supporter's group for my club (Valencia CF). I want to volunteer in Africa and help children through the game.

And I want to go to the World Cup Final in South Africa in 2010.

The main goal of this blog is to chronicle my journey from Brooklyn, NY on a cold, wintery morning January 4th, 2007 to the World Cup Final match in South Africa July 11th, 2010. I have no idea how I'll get there. I don't have any money.
I don't have any connections. Just a burning desire to work in the game, see the game and make my passion my life's work.

This will be a long journey. Probably a frustrating journey. Along the way, I'd like to meet a few people, watch a couple of matches and share my adventures with the readers of this blog.

My goals are to volunteer in Africa using the game as a medium to help children live better lives. I'd like to write a book on African football. I'd like to utilize my ability to communicate to discuss the game in all its subtle elements. And I'd like to travel and watch as much football as possible.

Eventually, I'd like to turn my passion for this game into a living. I'd like to work in the football industry, even though I have no experience, didn't grow up watching the game and can barely play.

And doing all this, all this writing, watching, communicating, volunteering and travelling, I'd like to go to the World Cup Final game in South Africa July 11th, 2010.

Wish me luck, because I've no concrete idea how I'll get there.

But ya know? I know I'll be there.