Saturday, 7 June 2008

American Wasteland: First Half

Written by warhorse

America is a land of plenty in almost any area, but for soccer fans...we are desert travellers. We search for the few and far between oases' of soccer passion and fandom. Maybe it's not that desperate, in fact, let's just say water is sweeter in a desert. I'll explain that in the second half, but first a bit of personal history (Sorry, I'm a history teacher).

Looking over my father's shoulder through teary eyes, I stared at red, white, and blue fireworks. The Memphis Americans had won! Great, but why did those fireworks have to be so loud and scary? Most American kids at this age are introduced to the traditional American games. Baseball, basketball, or football. My situation was unique. My father didn't take me to baseball games, too boring! He didn't teach me how to golf, that was for rich douche bags. He wasn't worried about my football/basketball education, plenty of that on television. He taught me soccer, and part of that was attending games. The only game in town those days was the doomed semi-pro indoor team, the Memphis Americans. I can't say I was that fascinated. The souvenir ball was cool, especially when dad kicked it around with me.

Whoops! Indoor soccer giveth, and it taketh away. Dad joined a league and in time permanently damaged his knee in the process. "Those who can't do, teach." Already a professional teacher, my father expanded his work day by founding his school's first soccer program. This was before "soccer moms" and countless city soccer leagues. This program ran from elementary all the way up to high school, and I was promptly entered into it. Most American parents enter "Junior" into a soccer league to prep him for the "real" sports later on. It's also an opportunity for "Junior" to get socially active, not necessarily to improve one's footskills! Many lessons were learned in those early years, not the least of which...don't clear the ball toward your own goal. Key words being...own goal. I did fall in love with the sport, playing defense, midfield, and a little goalie. Hey, I was better at it than basketball! The smell of grass, the taste of orange Gatorade, all in the suffocating Tennessee humidity.

High School
Now the sport had grown into a quasi-passion. Some of my teammates were just using soccer to get in shape for basketball season. I was invited to a national competition, where I played my best game, clearing the ball off the goal line in a foggy, muddy mess. My father had been our coach for five years. The rivalries had been cultivated in our small league. The chemistry with life-long teammates was there. Now it was time to win state. It was tough enough to win the local championship, but we did it year after year. State was the goal. Last try, but it wasn't to be. We lost to Tri-City in the semi-finals our senior year. I learned there were better players outside my bubble, sometimes my best needed to be better. My lasting memory is walking off the field that cold morning with my father's arm around my shoulder. Silence, tears, and finality. Dad went on to win state three times in the next four years. I always claimed it was because those scrubs had to practice against us.

This is where it all changed, and, I suspect, it changes for many American soccer fans/players. On my first night on campus, I jump into a pick-up game. "Play the ball, not the man!" a red-faced Irish student screams at me. I was in a whole new league. There was no school team, so a frat team was were I played. The Alpha Beta Delta Panthers! A medley of players were in the league, ranging from foreign superstars to geeks trying something new. My passion was waning. Studies, girls, the beach (Florida) were eclipsing sports. I still enjoyed playing, but life was getting in the way. New opportunities started looking sweeter. Academic demands were all too real. My new world had little room for a "kid's game."

A kid's game? Why do all these American soccer players grow up to be indifferent? Were did my passion go? How do I get back in? What is out there for an American soccer fan? What is the cost? What is the payoff? Is it worth it?

Halftime! See you in the second half.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

EURO 2000: AKA: “ZZ is tops…”

Written by Daz

EURO 2000 “ZZ is tops…”

Hosts: Belgium & Netherlands (Joint)

Euro 2000 instigated a curious new idea - the co-host. The reasons behind this idea were not exactly clear as both countries had at least 4 Stadia each that were UEFA approved, more than enough to cover the on average 2 games per day schedule. The only logical conclusion was that there was a touch of cynicism in electing to have two hosts who both qualified without playing a game, at any rate it meant that a complicated qualification process was put in place with four teams having to qualify by playing additional play off matches instead of traditional qualifying group placing.

The teams qualifying were:

Group A


Group B


Group C


Group D

Czech Republic

Group A and D were rightly considered the toughest groups but there was also a fascinating match-up in in Group C which pitted the newly reconstituted Yugoslavia against Slovenia, a former part of the communist Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which had dissolved into messy civil war in the 90s, the game lived up to it’s billing too as the teams fought out a thrilling 3:3 draw.

In Group A, there were shocks all round as the heavily backed England team, who despite finally defeating Germany one nil, were beaten by Portugal and Romania to crash out at the first round. Even worst was to come for the defending Champions Germany who finished bottom of the group and in disarray, possibly the Germans poorest display ever, well apart from that whole invading Poland affair in the late 1930's...

Belgium could not find their way out of Group B and were eventually knocked out by underdogs Turkey who qualified with Italy who were untroubled. In Group C, Spain started with a shock loss to Norway but recovered to win the group with Yugoslavia coming second. In Group D, the second “Group of Death”, the co-host Dutch team finally lived up to a pre-tournament billing as they imperiously brushed aside all competition with 3 straight wins including a victory over Tournament favourites and reigning World Champions, France. Holland seemed to have one hand on the trophy but a man named Zinedine Zidane or Zizou for short was just preparing to strut his stuff, there would be some va va voom to come.

The Quarter Finals saw these match-ups:

Turkey v Portugal
Spain v France
Netherlands v Yugoslavia
Italy v Romania

The Portugeuse, inspired by the mercurial Luis Figo overcame Turkey whilst the ever talented Dutch ripped apart Yugoslavia recording a 6:1 win with a hat-trick from Patrick Kluivert and brace from Marc Overmars. The Spanish once again could not mount a serious challenge and were put to the sword by France, the World Champions were growing in confidence and their attacking threat was nearly unmatched with the likes of Thierry Henry, Youri Djorkaeff and David Trezegeut blasting in the goals. There was one player in particular however who was starting to stride like a colossus above the tournament and his name was Zinedine Zidane. Zidane was an elegant play-maker in the Michel Platini mold with a knack for a defence splitting pass, incredible technique and an eye for a goal. Unlike Platini though he was also a physically imposing man, tall and strong and whilst not blessed with pace his astonishing skill on the ball could take opposing players out of a game completely with a deft flick of the ball. Italy were also quietly and efficiently progressing and a comfortable 2:0 win over Romania set up a big name Semi Final line-up with France v Portugal and Italy v Holland. Both games were close affairs, a Zidane penalty winning it for France in extra time whilst the Italians held their nerve from the spot to knock-out the Dutch side who had seemed rampant in earlier games.

So to the final, France v Italy there was a classic match-up of attacking Gallic flair vs. stern Italian defence. The Italians scored in the second half courtesy of a Delvechio goal, time ticked away and it seemed that the title was slipping from the French grasp when a 90th minute equaliser from Sylvain Wiltord saved Les Bleus Baguette! The French would go on to grab a Golden Goal courtesy of David Trezeguet in the 103rd minute and complete their World and European Cup double. So dominant were the French that it seemed that nobody could stop them…still, the rest of Europe could comfort themselves in knowing that they were also a bunch of surrender monkeys who smelled of Garlic, as would be proven at the 2002 World Cup.

Belgium’s abject failure and group stage exit as co-tournament hosts hammered home a key failure of Euro 2000 which was mostly saved by the Dutch and the powerhouse last four showdown, one truism emerged; the longer the host nation stay in with the accompanying fans, the better the tournament will normally be. A lesson which may be particularly interesting to observe this year with Switzerland and Austria…

Looking back on Euro's Past.

Written by Daz

Ahead of Saturday’s opening ceremony, I thought it would be fun to look back at some past EURO Tournaments, mainly just so that this blog gets to say something about England losing on penalties…so today we start with:

EURO 96 – “It’s coming home…”

Hosts: England

Euro ’96 marked England’s return from the wilderness, the team having failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1994 in the USA and having been embarrassed at the 1992 Euro Championships where they finished bottom of their group. The nation now boasting full seater stadia after the Taylor Report following the Hillsborough Disaster was well versed to hold the newly expanded 16 team tournament and the English nation hoped against hope for another performance like World Cup 1990 where England were beaten semi-finalists. The tournament was also notable for some other reasons – it marked the first appearance at a major tournament of Croatia after the collapse of Yugoslavia, the Czech Republic after the dissolution of old Czechoslovakia, and it also saw the first appearance of Russia after the separation of the Soviet Union. The Tournament also introduced the “Golden Goal” rule which meant a goal scored in any period of extra time during the knock out stages would end the game.

The list of participating teams were:

Group A


Group B


Group C

Czech Republic

Group D


The official England song was by Simply Red called “We’re in this together” but this was instantly eclipsed by another song released by comedians David Baddiel & Frank Skinner and Liverpool based indie band The Lightning Seeds called “Three Lions”, it became the song sang from the terraces and was so catchy that years later, the Germans even nicked it for their team, albeit slightly changed lyrically!

Group A had thrown up a tantalizing clash between England & Scotland and with the Dutch in the mix too, it seemed the Home Nation were in for a tough ride. England’s opening game was against the group underdogs Switzerland and amidst a sprawling show of patriotism and Knights and Dragons, the England team limped to an uninspired 1:1 draw. The Dutch quickly took control of the group and England were left with the possibility that if suffering a loss to the Scots in the next game it would leave them staring down the barrel of being knocked out at the first hurdle if Scotland triumphed over Switzerland and England failed to beat Holland. In a tense game, England triumphed 2:0 with a piece of magic from Paul Gascoigne for the second goal being one of the tournament high points. In the final game between Netherlands & England, it was expected that England would struggle against a Dutch side teeming with young talent but incredibly inspired by a rejuvenated Gascoigne and a strike partnership of Alan Shearer and Teddy Sherringham, the Dutch were destroyed 4:1, both teams progressed despite Holland’s defeat with Scotland missing out by the narrowest of margins after a victory over the Swiss wasn’t quite enough and they were eliminated on goals scored.

Elsewhere, Germany and tournament surprise package Czech Republic escaped from the “Group of Death” at Italy’s expense, Spain and France progressed with out too much trouble with Portugal and Croatia making up the Quarter Finals line up. The QFs’ were:

England v Spain
Germany v Croatia
Holland v France
Czech Republic v Portugal

England and France advanced thanks to nervous penalty shoot-outs with England keeper David Seaman the hero and France also re-establishing their footballing credentials after their World Cup 94 qualifying failure. In the games with goals, Germany triumphed 2:1 against a plucky Croatian side whilst Czech Republic shocked Portugal 1:0. France faced the Czech’s and were knocked out in a penalty shoot-out. The other semi-Final threw up a game that had not only the home nation fans but most neutrals salivating – England v Germany in a re-match of the 1990 World Cup Semi Final. It was also ironic as England had played West Germany in the Final the last time a major football tournament had been played on it’s shores in 1966 with a thrilling final triumph for the English and a famous footballing by-line from commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme consigned to history. England expected this would be revenge, fate seemed to be on their side. However despite a supreme effort from both sides they could once more not be separated and the score was 1:1, extra time ensued and penalties loomed, it was a repeat of the 1990 semi-final. Both teams struck home their initial 5 penalties with a perfect strike rate and England encouraged by their Quarter Final victory over Spain and inspired penalty saver David Seaman dared to hope this would be their time but as the German machine slotted away it’s 6th penalty, it was left to the odd choice of Defender Gareth Southgate to step up and his weak penalty was easily saved to give Germany the victory. Southgate would later be involved in a mocking Pizza Hut advert with Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle who had missed the penalties in England’s 1990 defeat, it would not be the last time the phrase “England lose on penalties” would be used in years to come. Some England fans did not take defeat well and fueled by disappointment and alcohol there were scenes of trouble and minor riots across the country, sadly the English football thug had not been knocked out with it’s team.

The Final threw up a David v Goliath contest between Germany and Czech Republic which looked a forgone conclusion, however Germany had been in a similar situation before in the 1992 final against Denmark and had been defeated and so the Germans took nothing for granted. The Czech’s took the lead through a Patrik Berger penalty before Oliver Bierhoff equalized for the Germans. The game headed into extra time and ended with heartbreak for the Czech’s as Bierhoff took advantage of a mistake by Czech keeper Petr Kouba to net the first ever Golden Goal winner and give the prize to the Germans.

So Germany claimed their first victory since the re-unification of East and West, no doubt they had already put down their towel to reserve the space the trophy occupied the night before the tournament had actually begun. England’s “Three Lions” song sang about “30 years of hurt…”, the hurt would continue.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

England v USA!

A battle that commenced hundreds of years ago with the dumping of some tea in a Boston harbour resumes tonight as the United States of America Football/Soccer team return to the shores from whence the Mayflower set sail to once again stick it to us, their former colonial masters!

Of course this is only a friendly although I am sure both sides will want to win, the USA to demonstrate they are continuously improving and England because their start under Fabio Cappello has been less than inspired with a laboured win over Switzerland and a limp defeat at the hands of France.

In terms of world sporting power, the USA are normally of course right at the top of the tree but in Football terms the country has never really caught the bug and so the team whilst well organised and structured has never really set anything alight in terms of success. Players of note in the USA side include Jonathan Spector, the former West Ham defender, Michael Bradley an energetic midfielder who has been trying to shake off accusations of nepotism (his father Bob Bradley is the USA Coach) and Landon Donovan, the in form LA Galaxy striker and team mate of David Beckham.

Speaking of Beckham, there are some who might wonder which side he should be lining up for tonight since his move to LA Galaxy and embracing of USA culture, Beckham is available for selection but may not start which may raise the eyebrows of some American spectators. Some have argued that Beckham's move to the USA have effectively ended his international career, of course a victory for the USA tonight would be a major irony in respect of that debate.

The last time the two met in 2005, England were victorious 2:1, the USA will take heart though from the fact that this is an England side very much in transition and a shock could be on the cards if England don't concentrate.

Hopefully an entertaining game will be had and hopefully those American rebels will keep away from our stocks of English tea!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Top Team Challenge

Written by Sarah

Originally I was going to do an entry about my Top Ten Footballers but it was a lot harder to narrow down so we now have My Top Team (with subs). So here it is...oh but have to bear in mind a few things those being that:

(1) I'm a girl;
(2) I didn't really truly get into supporting football until about 1995/6;
(3) I'm a Man U fan.

On the subs bench would be:

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Peter Schmichael
Tony Adams
Denis Berkamp
Edgar Davids

Manager/Coach - Terry Venables.

So who would be your Top Team, how would they fair against others.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Arsenal get the last laugh...

Written by Daz

It's not a big belly laugh though, more of a bit of a reluctant "Heh". The source of this is the fact that Mathieu Flamini's new club, AC Milan will only at best be playing in the UEFA Cup next season after finishing a fairly woeful 5th in Serie A whereas Arsenal of course have Champions League Qualifiers to look forward to. Not that qualification is assured or easy, in fact this being a European Championship year, it will mean a tired and fatigued group of players whilst the East European teams in particular are growing in strength year on year and represent a threat.

Still, the Flamster said that money was not his only motivation for moving. I guess a burning desire to play Racing Santandar and Motherwell was driving him on too.

Not bitter. Well, not much.

Good luck Mathieu.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Will your Celebrity fanbase save you from Zombies?

Written by Daz

It's a very important question. Picture this: Armageddon day is upon us and you have managed to save your family, maybe some of your friends, some pets (apart from your Aunts cat which smells of pee) and you have some room left on your space ship...maybe even enough room to save your favourite football team from the rampaging hordes of zombies and vampires encroaching! Huzzah! Wait are you going to do it? Popular culture suggests only movie stars can save the world, so...are your teams Celeb fans up to scratch?

As an Arsenal fan, I feel blessed that I have a strong world saving Celeb sprinkling to stop Fabregas being turned into werewolf chow, consider:

Sarah Michelle Gellar: It's Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Yeah, OK, so she is like only 3ft tall but man, those zombies are so toast and she might even bring Freddie Prinze Jr. with her as bait which equals double money!

Gillian Anderson: More supernatural fighting expertise here, with Scully from The X-Files! OK, so she may only go and save Ray Parlour thanks to their ginger twin bonding but man, she probably knows loads about zombies, enough to brief our next warrior:

Kevin Costner: "If you build it, they will come" Kev once said. Possibly he was talking about the Channel Tunnel and Polish Immigrants but I like to think that Kev was actually talking about The Emirates Stadium and was just, like, really psychic. Of course you would think that Kev would be a Nottingham Forest fan considering his film history but seeing as how Arsenal (in the form of Dial Square) were donated their first ever kit by Forest, there is some nice strands of fate there. Sadly we will let the Forest team be turned into the undead though as we make our plucky escape, sorry guys. If it helps, we'll leave you Eboue as a snack.

David Soul: Not only was he the blonder, less sad cardigan wearing half of Starsky & Hutch but he also killed vampires in Salem's Lot! I'm telling you now, they shouldn't have bothered to head for the Winchester in "Shaun of the Dead", they should have gone straight to Highbury!

David Schwimmer: If all else fails, if Buffy is eaten and David Soul crushed under foot, you can throw David Schwimmer to the rampaging zombie horde and scarper, it's win/win. You may want to shout "Hey David...we're on a break!" before watching him be ripped apart and his liver digested with a nice piece of Dover Soul from the Emirates restaurant. Then run like Theo Walcott.

All in all, I'm pretty confident of the survival of the heroes from N5 thanks to their warrior like Celebrity support, how does your teams Celebs stack up?