Posts Tagged ‘ Real Madrid ’

Atlanta Supporter Groups

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I’ve been in Atlanta for over two years and have run into tons of passionate and knowledgeable soccer fans, many of whom have formed official and unofficial supporters groups for their favorite clubs. I started jotting down a list and was surprised how many teams were represented throughout the city. Below is what I’ve come up with so far. If I missed a group or got something wrong, let me know.

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English Premier League
Team Nickname Twitter Facebook Bar
Arsenal (Official) ATL Gooners @ATLGooners Facebook Brewhouse
Chelsea (Official) ATL Blues @ATLBlues  Facebook Hudson FC
Chelsea GA Blues @georgia_blues Facebook Ri Ra
Crystal Palace Crystal Palace ATL @CPFC_ATL Facebook Fado Buckhead
Everton (Official) ATL Evertonians @atlevertonians Facebook Fado Buckhead
Leicester Atlanta Foxes @LCFCAtlanta Facebook Brewhouse
Liverpool (Official) LFC ATL @LFCAtlanta Facebook Meehans Downtown
Manchester City ATL Cityzens @MCATLCityzens Facebook Brewhouse
Man Utd (Official) ATL MUFC @atlmufc Facebook Fado Midtown
Man Utd (Unofficial) MUFC ATL (Brew Crew) @ManUtdScAtl  Facebook Brewhouse
Swansea Atlanta Jacks @Atlanta_Jacks Facebook Meehans Vinings
Tottenham (Official) ATL Spurs @ATLSpurs Facebook Meehans Atlantic Station
West Ham (Official) Atlanta Ironworks @IronsAtlanta Facebook Brewhouse
Europe
Team Nickname Twitter Facebook Bar
Bayern Munich (Official) Mia San ATL @miasanatl  Facebook Der Biergarten
FC Barcelona FC Barcelona Atlanta @barca_atl Facebook Fado Buckhead
Real Madrid (Official) Madridistas ATL @MadridistasATL Facebook Olde Blind Dog
South America
Supporter Group Twitter Facebook Bar
Corinthians Fiel Torcida USA @FielAtlanta Facebook
Atlanta United FC
Supporter Group Twitter Website
Footie Mob @FootieMob Website Midway
Resurgence @ResurgenceATL Website Brewhouse
Terminus Legion @TerminusLegion Website Fado Buckhead
Faction @TheFactionATL Website Fado Midtown
Atlanta Silverbacks
Supporter Group Twitter Facebook Bar
Westside 109 ATLWestside109 Facebook
Atlanta Ultras AtlantaUltras Facebook
Georgia Revolution
Supporter Group Twitter Facebook Bar
The Uprising @TheUprisingRevs Facebook
United States National Teams
Supporter Group Twitter Facebook Bar
America Outlaws ATL @atlantaoutlaws Facebook RiRa

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Top Five Matches

I came across a post on reddit asking Which five matches changed your life?Loved the question and after thinking about it for a bit, here’s what I came up with:

1996       England v Germany Euro 96

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This game created the template for watching soccer while working. ESPN picked up the rights to this tournament and I fell in love with Croatia, saw Gazza’s wonder goal against Scotland, and the Czech Republic’s heartbreak in the Final against Germany. In the previous round, England played Germany in a rematch of the 1990 World Cup Semi. I was working as a summer intern at the FBI and snuck up to a conference room to watch the second half and penalties. England were so close but after 11 perfect spot kicks, Southgate’s miss condemned the Three Lions to defeat.

1999       Bayern Munich v Manchester United   Champions League Final

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As my love for the Red Devils continued to grow, the Treble season reached its dramatic conclusion in Barcelona. With no Keane or Scholes, United was up against it and when Basler scored in the opening minutes, I didn’t believe. Negative by nature I just waited for Bayern to seal the game and accept defeat. But when Sheringham poked home from close range I screamed with excitement. And when Solskjaer put the ball in the Germans net, I ran around the house in sheer joy.

2002       USA v Portugal   World Cup 2002 Group Stage

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In the days leading up to the game, I had a dream that the US crushed Portugal like 6-0 but I had missed it by sleeping in. Due to the time difference, the game kicked off at 4am ET. On the morning of the game, I drove frantically to a friend’s house who was hosting people. After the early US blitz I thought maybe I had had some sort of premonition but alas, Portugal fought back and made for a nervous last couple of minutes. That tournament was amazing and I got up at all hours to watch the matches.

2009       Real Madrid v FC Barcelona     La Liga

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In the late 90s and early 2000s I start following FC Barcelona and watched a dramatic 2006 Champions League Final against Arsenal. In the years following, that magic team was broken up and rebuilt and taken over by Pep Guardiola who drove the Blaugrana to an unprecedented, at the time, Treble. Real Madrid hunted Barca down in the league and set up a crucial meeting at the Bernabeu, and when Los Merengues scored first, a sick feeling came over me. And then magic happened with Henry and Messi tearing apart the hosts, each scoring twice, and also getting goals from Puyol and Piqué. It was breathtaking and set the stage for Iniesta’s moment of magic at Stamford Bridge and an amazing finish to the season.

2012       Manchester City v QPR     English Premier  League

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The dramatic end to the 1988-89 season was before my time, so when United came back from 0-1 against Spurs in the final league game of 1999 to clinch the title, I didn’t think it could get much better than that. I was wrong. A bunch of fellow fans gathered at Buffalo Wild Wings for Fox’s Survival Sunday, with all ten games on an array of channels. With fans from several different teams present, cheers and groans were constant depending on the action. Eventually we started calling out the TV numbers to keep track of the events. United secured victory at Sunderland and with City down 1-2 against QPR, another league title looked secure. But the fickle finger of fate intervened and Dzeko equalized, setting up Aguero’s moment of glory. Stunned I drank several shots as I watched the celebrations at Etihad. Gutted by the result, it was still one of the greatest soccer community events I have ever experienced.

Let me know what games impacted your soccer support in the comments below.

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Check out more posts on my trips, research and memories on the MatchDay Memories page.

Fear and Loathing in La Liga

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Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid, and the World’s Greatest Sports Rivalry, Sid Lowe

When I covered and watched La Liga extensively, Sid Lowe’s Monday La Liga column for the Guardian was a must read. Plus his appearances on Football Weekly and other podcasts brought me up to speed on the league and also gave greater depth.

His book on the these eternal rivals is a fantastic read. A book on either one would be a big enough task but to take both of them head on must have seemed overwhelming. Lowe does a wonderful job guiding the reader through the years, usually taking a particular person or moment to build up the era for the clubs. There is extensive research and discussion into the Di Stefano signing, and I also appreciated the time taken to explain the impact of the Civil War on each city and club, something that’s too often categorized as good/bad, impact/no impact. Everyone in the country was affected and Lowe explains how this moment in Spanish history rippled throughout the following decades.

I really enjoyed this read and further readings will continue to fill in the history of these two historic clubs.

Lansing Kit Nerd September 2014

Mid-Michigan United recently got together to watch Major League Soccer (MLS).  The Watch Party also served as another Kit Nerd gathering (previous event found here).  With the game between the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls delayed by almost 90 minutes due to rain, it gave everyone a chance to chat a little more plus catch the end of the Madrid Derby.  Here are some of the pictures from our afternoon at Peppino’s.

Austin Long (FCB Centenary Kit) and Shawna Henderson (Real Madrid Home 03/04)

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Dan Zolkowski (Manchester United Home 13/14)

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Cedrick Heraux (Ebbsfleet United Home 08/09?)

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Paul Morley (Tottenham Hotspur 3rd 12/13)

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Matt Schartow (Club Cienciano Home Year Unknown)

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A great afternoon of drinks, footy and college football.  Hoping to bring Kit Nerd to Atlanta in the coming months.

Strip Club–Best (and Worst) of 2014/15

Over the last couple of years I have done some sort of post focusing on the best and worst kits for the upcoming season, and this year is no different.  The 2014/15 campaign has started and I’ve tried to cast my net pretty wide, looking at shirts from as many leagues as possible.  Here is a sampling of what I found.

First, the worst.

Porto switched to Warrior for the upcoming season and after horrific designs for Liverpool (and mixed results for Sevilla), my expectations were low.  And Warrior didn’t disappoint.

The Home shirt is fine.  Standard blue and white vertical stripes, featuring 11 subtle sublimation lines that score the bold blue stripes, representing the 11 players on the pitch. These divide the blue stripes in 12, representing the 12th player, FC Porto’s supporters. (Courtesy Football Fashion).

The Away and Third shirts are eye sores.  The Away shirt uses some sort of camoflauge pattern, which has creeped into kit design (Napoli and Everton come to mind).  It’s distracting and takes away from a shade of navy blue.

As for the Third shirt, Warrior went with a pink hue that bolsters the flamboyant footballing style that the two-time European Champions are known for. The firm believes that it has designed a kit that breaks with convention while harnessing FC Porto’s unbridled passion. (Courtesy Football Fashion)

Warrior still has a long way to go, although they are way ahead in the race to push the boundaries.

(Photo courtesy of Footy Headlines)

Pete Nowakowski‎ (@petenowakowski) brought to my attention the set of jerseys that Wolfsburg will be wearing this season.  The European kit is especially atrocious.  Kappa created kits that use a X-shape, which the team states, is meant to represent Wolfsburg’s self-confidence and will to win. (Courtesy Football Fashion)  Have to say go with the obvious and say X does not mark the spot for this kit. (Photo courtesy of Football Fashion)

wolfsburg

Finally there is Blackburn Rovers.  The shirt has come under some criticism because it is not the typical royal blue but instead Nike used a much lighter shade of blue, which is officially called University Blue. Blackburn previously had worn a white / light blue home shirt between 1990-1992 and in the early years of the club. (Courtesy Footy Headlines)  But the real problem with the kit is the commercial used to launch it, #birdysdate.  Beware: it’s awkward and awful.

Now for the best

Nike has taken the sash that has been a recent trend in kit design and added it to the Zenit Away kit. The result is a simple shirt with a hint of flair, using something that I have not seen—the two tone sash.   The bottom half is the marine blue of the home kit with the top half a slightly darker blue. These colors are also used in the collar. Football Fashion provided this additional note: According to the club’s website: The new away kit has a contrasting stripe, similar to the belt that decorated the army uniforms of Peter the Great’s army. Overall very sharp.  (Photo courtesy of Footy Headlines)

Adidas is using the sash as well, adding it to the Anderlecht Home shirt. I’m not familiar with Anderlecht kits but know that the rich purple is the one of the main colors of the club. Typically the home shirts are white with purple accenting but for this season, adidas inverted the colors. I think this shirt works with the sash bringing attention to the club badge.  (Photo courtesy of Football Fashion).

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The Leeds United kit came to my attention as I read The Damned United again this summer. Their iconic all white home kit, introduced in 1961 by coach Don Revie in hopes of emulating Spanish side Real Madrid, is subtly accented by the yellow and royal blue of the club. What really interested me about this shirt was the collar. Rides slightly high up the neck and is a unique design to me, with a notch at the throat area. Like the look of this shirt and maybe one day this storied club will return to the Premier League.  (Photo courtesy of Footy Headlines)

Feyenoord’s iconic home halved kit gets some nice touches with opposite colored sleeves and black stripes along the shoulders. This shirt gets an updated OPEL logo at the center of the shirt and the color of the logo goes well with the shirt.  (Photo courtesy of Football Headlines)

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The checkered sleeves of the Fortuna Dusseldorf Home shirt grabbed me and these added an element of style to an otherwise straightforward shirt. What an interesting badge as well. I don’t speak German but the official name of the club is Düsseldorfer Turn-und Sportverein Fortuna 1895. Fortuna was the goddess of fortune and personification of luck in Roman religion. (Thanks Wikipedia!) I might keep an eye out for this one at the end of the season and pick it up on clearance.  (Photo courtesy of Football Fashion)

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The Celtic Away shirts have been not to my liking the last couple of seasons, with the all black strip of 2012/13 being the exception, but this one caught my attention. I usually don’t go for green shirts but the dark, rich green is accented by several different colors. From Football Fashion: The new Bhoys’ away shirt features an enlarged graphic of the Celtic tartan on its front to reflect the club’s Scottish heritage. Gold-infused horizontal and vertical lines from the tartan run through the club crest to replicate the Celtic cross. Gold also appears as trim at the neck and sleeve areas. The entire strip is sharp and might be worth adding to a collection.  (Photo courtesy of Football Fashion)

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Then there’s the Real Madrid Away strip. I don’t know where to put this one. Obviously there is the color of the kit, which Football Fashion called a vibrant pink. Much different than the pink of Palermo and of Juve’s away kit from a couple of years ago. Then there is the collar, which is using the button that seems to be popular at the moment. Footy Headlines called it a classical henley collar. Think I will have to wait to see this in person on TV.  (Photo courtesy Footy Headlines).

Real Madrid 14-15 Away Kit (1)

So that’s a random selection of this year’s shirts for the upcoming season.  There are hundreds of kits from all over the world, but I only have so much time.  Doing research I realized how much access fans have to kits worldwide.  It used to be just a Eurosport magazine, showing uniforms of big European teams.  Now strips from almost every team in at least the top division in the major leagues in Europe can be seen if you look hard enough. These are the ones that jumped out to me.  If you want to see more, visit the following sites.

Football Fashion

Football Kit News

Football Shirt Culture

Footy Headlines

Quality posts, great pictures and a wide selection on offer.

MatchDay Memory–1974: Part 1 (Johan Cruyff)

Forty years ago I came into the world and while I may not have made an impact on the game of soccer, it has surely made an impact on me.  Playing the game from a very early age, I didn’t start following the game until my early 20’s.  Starting with Manchester United, I eventually started reading everything I could get my hands on and watching whatever game was on, learning about the rich and complex history of the game.  My MatchDay Memory posts over the next few weeks will focus on events in world soccer during the year of my birth, 1974.  It is in no way a comprehensive summation but rather an examination of teams and incidents that I was drawn to in my research.

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Starting my journey in Europe, the 1970’s saw the emergence of Total Football.  A post at Football Bible traces the path of footballing principles from England to Holland, focusing on Jimmy Hogan in the early 1900’s to Jack Reynolds at Ajax.  Former player turned manager Rinus Michaels laid the foundations at the Dutch club for unprecedented levels of success, and this style of play changed the game in terms of pressure, possession and spacing and continues to impact the game today.

David Winner spends a chapter diving into Total Football in his wonderful book Brilliant Orange.  Based on his interviews with many members of the Ajax and Dutch teams of the era, the system developed as a way to have a team instinctively know how and where to move to create space and press the ball in order to dominate matches.  The chapter makes the case that it was a collaborative effort between coaches and players and the more everyone engaged the system, the better it got.

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The post at Football Bible also identified an intelligent midfielder as key to making the system work.  For Ajax and the Netherlands, that player was Johan Cruyff.  After three consecutive European Cups (1971-73) with Ajax, Cruyff was transferred to Barcelona in August of 1973.  In reading Chris Clement’s recap of the season for Estadios de Futbol en Espana, I was stunned to read the following passage:

Faced with a veritable can of worms, the Federation relented and allowed clubs to sign two overseas players from the start of the 1973-74 season. Anticipating the change, Real Madrid reached an agreement with Ajax for Johan Cruyff, but the world’s best player would have nothing to do with the deal that had been agreed behind his back. Sensing an opportunity, Barcelona moved in and on 13 August 1973, Cruyff signed for the Catalan giants. As news of the agreement of Real Madrid and Ajax’s deal surfaced, the RFEF refused to sanction the deal and memories of the controversial Di Stéfano transfer resurfaced. However, Barcelona and Cruyff stood firm and eventually, eight weeks into the season, Barça got their man.

To think how close Cruyff was to wearing white instead of the blaugrana.  Reading Barca: A People’s Passion by Jimmy Burns, I was struck by how Cruyff’s signing was not only a sporting coup, but was, maybe even more importantly, a political statement.  The transfer had been in the works for a couple of years and the amendment by the Spanish Football Federation finally allowed the move to take place.  In October 1973, the Dutchman appeared in the blaugrana colors for an official match, and FCB President Montal had his signature signing, and the fans could now cheer for one of the best players in the world at Camp Nou.

After a successful period during the 1950’s, Barca had suffered during the 1960’s, winning only one league title during the decade.  After a slow start to the 73/74 campaign, FCB climbed up the table, winning 20 of their last 28 matches, including a 5-0 demolition of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, to claim the championship.  A post from Alex Mott for Football Espana recaps an amazing period in which Cruyff won a European Cup with Ajax, led FC Barcelona to the title and appeared in the World Cup Final with a series of dazzling displays.

However, after delivering La Liga in 1974, further success did not follow.  A combination of a poor coaching relationship, a fractured locker room and the absence of players able to perform Total Football saw Barca return to trophyless seasons and Cruyff left in 1978.  Burns ends his chapter entitled the Flying Dutchman with these quotes from Cruyff:

It is a challenge but you know when people cheer you on a Sunday when you do well and you win, it means more to them than simply the pleasure of winning.  It’s not just a game, football; it’s not just about the people on the terraces.  But you know what struck me most when we won the championship?  They didn’t say, “Congratulations.”  They said, “Thank you” That made a very deep impression.

Cruyff playing at Barca still impacts the club.  He later coached the team in the early 90’s, overseeing the Dream Team that won four straight La Liga titles in the early 90’s and the European Cup at Wembley in 1992.  A key player on that team was Pep Guardiola, who as manager would deliver another amazing cycle of success in the 2000’s. The Dutchman continues to wield power at the club, influencing decisions and offering his opinions.  A polarizing figure, it’s hard to argue his contribution to the Spanish giants.

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I chose 1974 simply because it was the year I was born, yet in reviewing the events of those 12 months it was interesting to see how many precursors and foundations and glimpses into the future were present.  The eternal battle between disciplined defenses against attack minded opponents; players and clubs searching for the next dollar/euro/monetary unit; shock results;  the constant emergence of new and dynamic talent from all around the world.  In 1974 I imagine that there were unknown pockets of activity around the world, complete with rich storylines and regional influence, and stories these days are now part of the worldwide narrative thanks to the internet and globalization.  Teams, players, coaches and cultures are more familiar and are part of a global fabric, with the game belonging to the world and being shared with the world.  Part of the sharing is this project, which was hard work, but informative and enlightening, and I hope you have enjoyed this look back into footballing history.

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Bibliography

MatchDay Memory–Memorial Day Weekend

For Memorial Day Weekend, my family and I headed to Detroit for a weekend full of soccer and here are some of the highlights from our trip.

On Friday night Lansing United travelled to Cass Tech for their first away game of the season against Detroit City FC.  The first half was dominated by Lansing United, and I was surprised by how well they possessed the ball and kept DCFC on the back foot.  Zach Myers was a peripheral figure in the opening half but Cyrus Sadee and #8 (Shaun Cloud Lawson?) had a nice chemistry and definitely kept the backline of Lansing United honest.  10 minutes into the match Le Rouge won a PK that I felt was marginal.  In the context of the game, the ref hadn’t blown the whistle for until that point and then gave a foul with the Detroit player moving away from the goal and still a lot to do.  But as a fellow fan pointed out a foul is a foul, regardless of when and where, and Josh Rogers converted the spot kick to put the hosts up 1-0.

The game was more balanced in the second half.  Looks like LANU changed their formation a little bit.  Got Kreutz closer to Brown up top and maybe went to three in the back.  The speed and aggressiveness of the forwards troubled DCFC but the players lacked that final touch.  Chances were sparse with a lot of the game played between the penalty areas.  There was a moment of handbags towards the end of the match that saw Ben Lamb eventually sent off.  After that it looked like the visitors were done but they kept pressing, with Brown missing a chance just seconds before the end.

Couple of other notes.  Thought Greg Timmer had quite a good game.  Strong in the tackle, good possession play, I really enjoyed watching him.  Love watching Leigh Rumbold and Ben Lamb get stuck in as well.  A great battle between Brown and Rogers throughout the match, with neither player giving an inch.  Still concerned about how the team will score goals and was surprised that Julian Myers wasn’t inserted earlier.  Many kudos to the Sons of Ransom who stayed loud and proud throughout.  These guys have really stepped up and came prepared with drums and flags and chants.

Pic courtesy of Detroit News match recap

A record crowd of over 3000 saw a game with a little bit of everything. Chants of Little Brother, several cards, a PK, tough challenges, some fancy footwork from both sides and a nightmare from the referee.  DCFC is off to another strong start and am interested to see how the two teams progress before the July 13 rematch.

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For Saturday’s Champions League Final, my family checked out the Eastern Market in the hours before the game.  We spent the morning walking around checking out this massive event.  So many stands and so many people.  Eventually I ended up at Thomas Magee’s to join the Motor City Supporters Watch Party.

In the lead up to the game, there was concern about injuries.  Arda Turan didn’t even make the bench, while Diego Costa and CR7 both started.  I imagine Ronaldo had been rested down the stretch just for this match.  As for Costa, not sure if Simeone went for a Willis Reed moment or what and have to second guess the decision a little as Simeone was forced to use a sub only 10 minutes into the match, which would impact Atleti later.

I missed most of the first half talking to a couple sitting next to me at the bar discussing my devotion to soccer, the future of American sports, the revitalization of Detroit and the notion of the fifth migration.  Here’s a little tidbit I found on the internet about this concept.

The Journal of the American Planning Association contains an article from Robert Fishman articulating his concept of the “Fifth Migration”.  Here is an excerpt:

In the 1920s, Lewis Mumford correctly predicted that the rest of the century would be dominated by a “Fourth Migration” from the central cities to their suburbs. In this article I argue that we are now at the beginning of a fifth migration that will reurbanize precisely those inner-city districts that were previously depopulated. I identify four sources for this trend: downtown reurbanism; immigrant reurbanism; Black reurbanism; and White middle-class reurbanism, and point out the challenges involved in planning the fifth migration.

Some food for thought.  Anyway, to make matters worse, I had to go to the bathroom for the opening goal, which unfortunately is standard operating procedure for me.

For the second half, I was able to sit in the MCS section and had a great time trading barbs about the Lan U/DCFC game, commenting about the match and discussing each supporters group.

In the end, history repeated itself. In 1974, Atleti was moments away from claiming the European Cup when Bayern equalized and crushed them in the replay.  In 2014, Atleti again was just minutes from the title when Sergio Ramos headed in a goal and sent the match to extra time.  From there it was all Real Madrid and Los Merengues scored three goals against a team dead on their feet.  One of those goals came from Bale, who redeemed himself after missing several clear chances in normal time.  Great footwork from di Maria forced a save from Courtois that Bale headed home.  As for the Ronaldo strip show, not sure that was necessary.  Besides Balotelli had already done that move.  To be fair, this trophy confirms his place in history—a second European Cup and a stunning amount of goals in this European campaign.

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Finally, Sunday saw Lansing United travel to Dearborn Heights to battle Michigan Stars FC, who were playing their home opener.  The hosts were off to rough start this season, losing their opening three matches by a combined score of 10-1.

Eric Rudland made a couple of changes to the lineup due to fitness and suspensions and this game was much more balanced than the previous game in Lansing.  Matt Brown, who had a hat trick in the previous encounter scored a free kick 10 minutes before half, choosing to go under the wall instead of over and United went into the break up 1-0.  However the Stars made a couple of personnel changes and took the game to the visitors in the second half, really pinning United back.  Their #7 (Ardit Dushkaj) was quite tricky and created all kinds of havoc for the Lansing defense, but the goal came from a perfect ball from Danny Dragoi who clipped the ball to the far post to Mohamad “Moody” Saad.  His finish levelled the scores and set up a tense finish, full of cards and half chances.   Lansing United finally punished the hosts on a long set piece, of which they must have had half a dozen throughout the match.  The initial clearance wasn’t made and Tyler Moorman flicked in the rebound for the winner.

Picture courtesy of Lansing United

Big props to the Junior Sons of Ransom who led the travelling support in chants of I Believe, Lansing United and Come On United Score a Goal.  It really was a sight to see.

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Picture courtesy of Lansing United

Lansing United had an impressive weekend and now head to Pennsylvania this weekend for two games.

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All in all a great weekend for me and my family, with fantastic games and wonderful weather.  Hopefully my next post will be a recap of my trip to Texas to see the Houston Dynamo and FC Dallas.

MatchDay Memory–America’s Next Top Soccer Fan

Men in Blazers is currently running a competition to determine “America’s Next Top Fan”. Here is my submission:

Once I heard about the Savile Rogue competition, I immediately stopped checking Europa League scores and started scribbling down all the reasons why I am America’s Next Top Fan. Me I’m just a guy, struggling to balance work, family and the beautiful game.  Over the years it has slowly overtaken my life to the point I’ve had to enter couples’ therapy with my wife in an attempt to save my family rather than descend into a state reminiscent of Fever Pitch narrated by David Peace’s Brian Clough.  In the beginning I would just watch an occasional game, play once in a while, pick up a copy of Four Four Two and search the burgeoning internet for info and a crappy game feed.  That routine evolved into playing almost every night, coaching several teams, spending money on PPV games and going to MLS games in the formative years of the league.  

Then I got married and my wife and I had a child.  An equilibrium was maintained until a wedding anniversary weekend when I watched Arsenal v Manchester United on my computer while my wife waited for us to go to breakfast.  Or the time I missed my son’s floor hockey game to rush to the bar to drink in another match and a couple of pints.

The game has consumed my life.  Like any good American I eventually started a blog with the simplest of intentions—write a couple of thoughts on what happened over the weekend.  That lasted a couple of weeks until I started blogging three to four times a week, including writing for sites that found my work and asked me to contribute for them.  Watching a game or two on the weekend became a half dozen games, catching up on highlights of the games I missed, listening to dozens of podcasts, reading every single soccer article on the internet, and constantly writing to keep up with my commitments.  After my wife and I started counseling, I finally caved and gave up the blog and after like three days without my fingers hitting the keyboard, I started a podcast, which I now spend any free moment editing and planning.

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The pod is a change for me as I don’t talk that much in day to day life but nearly got punched out in a men’s room in a Florida bar because I told a stranger that Gareth Southgate was a twat for missing a penalty at Euro 96.  (Turns out the English stranger was a big Southgate fan.) And put a couple of beers in me and a dose of tension, and I become another person—screaming, pacing, even more anti-social.

Plus I help run a local supporters group: setting up watch parties, including the dreaded 7:45am Saturday kickoff or the 8:30 Sunday morning games; planning pick up games at crappy parks; talking trash on facebook and twitter with other supporters throughout the week; developing a new logo for the group; and working on possible road trips for the future.

As for work, HA!  I have a pirated ESPN3 feed and illegal internet windows going so that I can watch games while “working”.  Great plan except when FCB mounted a stirring comeback only to nearly throw it away in the last 10 minutes, with me pacing my office, willing the ball to stay out of Valdes’ net and screaming and slamming my desk when Alba ran the length of the field to score the fourth and send Milan packing.  And don’t tell my boss about the inordinate amount of time I spend on twitter and facebook interacting, reading, and learning.  I would say in a given week, I do about 15 minutes of real, actual work.  I bank all of my personal and vacation days. Why?  So I can go on a relaxing trip with the fam?  Hell no.  So I can watch Champions League all spring and take MLS trips.  Last summer I took a week off to go to the Pacific Northwest to see the amazing supporters in Portland and Seattle.  By myself.  No wife, no kid.  Best vacation ever.

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I have a drawer full of kits.  Even after several purgings, I could wear a different kit every day for a month without repeating.  And I wear them all the time.  If I am not constrained by work or socially accepted norms—weddings, funerals, or jacket required restaurants—it’s what I wear.

The game makes me nuts.  During United v Real Madrid, I turned red, not with devilish pride but with murderous rage when Nani got sent off.  In a surprising moment of self-control, I removed myself from the group at the bar and put myself in time out, finding a TV off in the corner so that I could die a slow, painful death without raging against friends, acquaintances and strangers or throwing my glass at the TV.

time out corner

And why?  Why risk everything on men I will never meet, on results I cannot control no matter how many kit variations I try or seats I switch or Jedi exercises I do.  Why?  Because of Iniesta’s moment of brilliance against Chelsea, Donovan’s goal against Algeria, Cantona against Liverpool in 1996, Zakuani’s return, the current generation of La Furia Roja, Del Piero against Madrid, and that glorious spring of 1999.

After going through an entire pen’s worth of ink and all the napkins at the coffee bar, I took a breath and realized that I am not even the biggest fan in my city—Lansing, MI.  Just over a year ago, I joined forces with Aaron Passman, who started Mid-Michigan United, the supporters group I mentioned.  We have John who has a mancave in his basement with flags and banners from around the world, complete with a mankini that makes an appearance from time to time; then there’s Cedrick who takes over the bar screaming obscenities at the TV in several languages while amassing a list of soccer players he wants to die in a bus crash.  I’Shawnna who supports several clubs based on a mix of charitable contributions, talent, and injustice in an equation that makes your head spin trying to unravel it.

Manchester+City+v+Stoke+City+Premier+League+J8oQ4dIfuerl

But back to me, a topic I’m very fond of, if I could take one thing from Manchester City, it wouldn’t be Ya Ya or Kompany or the petro dollars, it would be Mancini’s scarf style.  If the Italian manager put a video on YouTube about how to properly tie and wear a scarf I would study it like the Zapruder film.  But alas, I’m stuck with acrylic scarves in a culture that doesn’t quite get why a grown man has something tied around his neck while wearing a full strip during matches.  But if I had a Savile Rogue scarf, made of the finest cashmere, I think I could turn things around.

MatchDay Memory–Going Hollywood

During one of our Mid-Michigan United watch parties, after yet another Joe Hart/Rachel Maddow joke, I had the idea to do a post about players who like actors/characters.  I started jotting down some ideas and kept my notebook with me watching games in case something came to mind.  As usual, I was a day late and a dollar short to an idea.  Putting the post together, I came across the tumblr page Footballers Who Look Like Actorswhich had already gotten quite a head start.  Disheartened I pushed on, because I had a couple in my notes that they did not have, so here is my starting eleven plus a manager, a referee and a mayor.

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From the moment I saw David de Gea at Atleti, I was convinced he was the starting keeper for the Whoville National Team.  Look at him.  Crazy hair and sideburns, little button nose, scrawny as Calista Flockhart on a bad day.  As a United fan I want him to bulk up and be more of a controlling presence in the penalty area.  As a bitter, snarky prick, I want him to remain ridiculously frail so that everyone can make fun of him.

Val Kilmer is preparing himself for his role as Sergio Ramos in the upcoming biopic about the Spanish defender.  Not a single part of the last sentence is true, especially because Val would have to lose too much weight to even make that happen.  When I see the current Sergio Ramos (beard, highlights, shorthair), I think Ice Man and Thunderheart.

mexes-renner

Philippe Mexes has an uncanny resemblance to actor Jeremy Renner.  Credit to Footballers Who Like Actors for the pic, who did the hard work for me on that one.  Mexes occasionally has a moment of glory but sometimes (read: most of the time) can be utterly useless.  Likewise Renner has been in decent movies (The Town and Hurt Locker) but also has made some bad choices (The Avengers and Ghost Protocol).

Cedrick suggested that Thomas Vermaelen IS Jude Law.  Have to agree that some of the pics on the interwebs are striking in their similarities.  Tough to say whether the Belgian player is actually a decent defender or impersonating one in hopes of running off with Arsenal’s great fortunes.  Wait, what?

Fabio Coentrao is probably not chasing around supernatural forces or writing another best seller but he does have a resemblance to David Duchovny’s characters over the years, especially Hank Moody from Californication.  The actor has a little squarer jaw but Coentrao could probably do in a pinch.

ashley young

Another United player has a twin in the acting world.  Skimming the Footballers Who Look Like Actors website, a recent post showed side by side pics of Ashley Young and Jaime Hector.  Think what you want about Young (diver, poor crosser of the ball, waste of space) but Hector’s performance as Marlo Stanfield in the Wire was amazing.  What you say.  You haven’t seen the Wire.  Stop reading this post and start watching the series right now.

For the purposes of this post and as an acknowledgment of the Spanish Waiter’s tactical creativity with Chelsea at the 2012 Club World Cup, I have moved David Luiz into central midfield, and his doppelganger is easy: Sideshow Bob.  Next.

Mesut Ozil / Peter Lorre(submitted by mimirose)

Out on the left side of the pitch I have put Mesut Ozil.  Again the Footballers Who Look Like Actors website provided the comparison, in this case—Peter Lorre.  His name sounded familiar but had no idea who he was.  After a little research, found out he was in Casablanca, the Maltese Falcon, the Mr. Moto movies and Arsenic and Old Lace.  Who knew?

Pulling the strings for this eleven has to be everyone’s favorite Uruguayan—Luis Suarez.  Hopefully in some hypothetical match he doesn’t offend the opposition, try to dive for a penalty or save a goal bound shot with his hand.  His twin, Anne Hathaway, has been a running gag on the Men in Blazers podcast for a while now, even generating an entry on the MIB wiki.

Roberto-Soldado-111123-Celebrates-AI-300bradley-cooper

Hopefully scoring the goals for the team would be Roberto Soldado and Edison Cavani. I started referring to the Spanish striker as Bradley Cooper in my early posts on La Liga, while Cavani’s particular facial features reminded me of days gone by and Masters of the Universe villain Skeletor.

holloway sloth

Mean-spirit-ness ahoy. Managing this team has to be Iain Dowie.  Due to his long record of success?  No.  Due to his inspiring man management skills?  No.  Because he is Sloth, again a touchstone to another movie of my youth—The Goonies.  Not nice to say but most think it and don’t say it out loud.  Credit to ROLFrazzi for pic.

Finally, taking charge of the match must be Spanish referee Cesar Nunez Fernandez who, along with University of Kentucky Lead Car Salesman Head Basketball Coach John Calipari, is keeping the world’s hair gel economy afloat.  Obviously he’s been hitting the beach or tanning bed more than the UK coach, and I’m sure he could make sure that any game goes off without a hitch.  Even with Suarez on the field.

Overseeing all of the festivities would be Mayor Quimby from the Simpsons, giving the match a sense of decorum.  And if he couldn’t make it, I’m sure his understudy, Brendan Rodgers, could step in.  Have to give a shout to Mid-Michigan United Supporters John and Ravi who tipped me off to this one.

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So that’s the list.

GK      David de Gea              Who from Whoville

RB       Sergio Ramos              Val Kilmer

CB       Thomas Vermaelen     Jude Law

CB       Philippe Mexes            Jeremy Renner

LB       Fabio Coentrao           David Duchovny

RM      Ashley Young             Jaime Hector

DM      David Luiz                  Sideshow Bob

AM      Luis Suarez                 Anne Hathaway

LM      Mesut Ozil                  Peter Lorre

ST        Edison Cavani             Skeletor

ST        Roberto Soldado         Bradley Cooper

MGR   Iain Dowie                  Sloth

Referee Cesar Nunez Fernandez        John Calipari

The goal now becomes creating another squad for this team to play against.  The notebook will be at the ready and if I can’t create it on my own, then I’ll “borrow” from Footballers Who Look Like Actors.

In my research I found some more resources:

Enjoy and thanks to everyone for their suggestions and notes.

Morbo Minute–Back to Work

La Liga returned from the Winter Break and the goals were plentiful. Again no scoreless draws, with a crazy game at the Bernabeu, a thrashing at the Nou Camp, a dramatic turnaround at Los Carmenes (Granada) and three points for Depor under new manager Domingos Paciencia.

After Round 18’s results, a greater net has been cast around relegation candidates as six teams are within four points of each other at the bottom.  This aspect of the league will probably be the story of the season along Levante’s quest to return to Europe.

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FC Barcelona 4  Espanyol 0

Before we get talking about the game, (not much to say), glad to see that Alves and Alba found their razors over the festive period.  Cesc, however, was still doing the quasi-beard thing and I’m still looking for confirmation that he got a new tattoo on his elbow.

The first half was a feast of attacking play as Barca put their city rivals to the sword in under 30 minutes.  Los Pericos came out in a narrow 4-1-4-1 with Forlin shielding the backline.  The visitors conceded width allowing Iniesta to hang on Barca’s left hand fringe ready to attack.  Espanyol’s central players switched off and allowed Xavi to walk in and turn in Iniesta’s cross to open the game. From there, Pedro scored two (hopefully getting him back on track) before Messi converted a dodgy penalty.

After that, tactics and the result went out the window.  Espanyol had very little to offer and FCB tried for 40+ minutes to get Pedro his hat trick, which went unfulfilled due to two very tight offside calls.  The defeat was Aguirre’s first in charge of Espanyol and keeps them firmly in the relegation battle.  As for the Blaugrana, they continue their record setting season thus far.  Dropped points are on the horizon but for now they are out of sight.

Kxevin of Barcelona Football Blog worried about this match, identifying the possible ingredients for failure: holiday break, resurgent opponent with something to play for, rust.  In the end Barca overwhelmed their opponents, putting them under pressure from the first moment to the last.  The second half, as he rightly noted, was a testament to this team’s hunger and desire.  With the match all but over, every turnover was immediately challenged, Valdes kept a clean sheet with a big save and the search for another goal continued.  Kxevin encourages everyone to keep watching, to keep admiring, to keep appreciating.

Chalk on the Boots focused on the passing of Busquets and the movement of the Barca players in the demolition of Espanyol.  Iniesta and Fabregas interchanged on the left, supported by Alba, while Pedro cut in from the right, all the while Messi drifted around the field.  At its peak, the dynamism was breathtaking.  Add to this a poor effort from the opponent, which he also touched on, and you get Sunday’s scoreline.

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Podcast, Articles, and Kits

Inside Spanish Football produced a winter break podcast, which broke down the season month by month.  Then the panel shared their moments of the season thus far.  Definitely worth a listen as it put the opening months in perspective and set the stage for the rest of the season.

Phil Ball returned to Spain just in time to stop by the pub for Real Sociedad’s visit to the Bernabeu.  Mourinho went with Adan again only for the young keeper to be sent off and replaced by Saint Iker.  Prieto’s hat-trick was not enough as the hosts survived with a makeshift defense (Arbeloa, Varane, Carvalho and Essien) and playing with 10 men for 80+ minutes.

I was able to catch the last nine minutes plus injury time so I missed all off the goals.  Prieto’s finishes were nice but a lot of attention was given to Ronaldo’s free kick.  It was well struck but the goalkeeper really should have done better.  Any touch by Bravo and the shot would have been saved.

Los Merengues gained two points on Atleti to cut the gap to five, but alarm bells must be going off in the defense.  Real Madrid has given up 20 goals this season, conceding 10 in last four games.  They now turn their focus to the return Copa match against Celta.  Down 2-1, Real Madrid will need to put their internal conflicts behind them in order to progress.

Sid Lowe also examined the Real Madrid/Real Sociedad game for his weekly column, noting the special circumstances with which Iker Casillas arrived on the scene over 10 years ago: coming on as substitute in the European Cup Final and taking over for Canizares before the World Cup after the Valencia keeper injured himself just before the tournament.  Since then Saint Iker has been an institution and Mourinho has been playing with fire by demoting him to the bench, and the Special One looks to burn all of his bridges before exiting the capital.

Kaushik took over for Madridista Mac at Real Madrid Football Blog, lauding the midfield performance of Alonso and Khedira and giving special praise to CR7, who was captain for the match.  This game also saw the return of Higuain, giving Los Blancos much need depth as they fight on three fronts.

For the other side of the capital, Martin Rosenow recapped the game for Atletico Fans and saw Los Colchoneros give up a late equalizer away to Mallorca.  The visitors were without Miranda, Turan and Falcao, and manager Diego Simeone was pleased with his team’s performance, which including fine efforts from Diego Costa, Koke, Tiago and goalscorer Raul Garcia.  Atleti should progress in the Copa and then get back at it against Zaragoza on the weekend.

Tim Stannard commented on the return of La Liga for Football365.  Besides Barca’s destruction and Real’s crazy victory, he looked at Atleti’s possible prospects next season without Falcao and Turan and Betis’ continued success before concluding with Depor’s vital three points.

Garreth Nunn did a La Liga Top 11 for 2012 for Forza Futbol, with one small tweak—no Real Madrid or FC Barcelona players.  He has a much better grasp of the league than I do, so his picks made sense to me.  Imagine his proposed midfield—Joaquin, Isco, Benat and Turan. Wow!  I would have gone with Leo Baptistao up top instead of Vela but not sure how the young Brazilian striker did in the second of half of the 2011/12 campaign.

Peter Alegi turned me on to Spanish Football Tales, a blog that looks at snippets from the history of the Spanish league.  I read a post called the Tenerife Leagues, which saw Real Madrid surrender the league title to FC Barcelona two seasons (91/92 and 92/93) in a row against Tenerife in the most dramatic circumstances.  Nice slice of history and shows how narrow the margins of victory were for Cruyff’s Dream Team.

A Football Report released their best of football writing of 2012, broken into the following categories: Most Compelling, Most Creative, Best Research, and Best Storytelling.  The list is overwhelming and not sure when I’ll find time to go through it, but I clicked on Brian Phillips’ eulogy for Pep Guardiola from last spring as he examined the “cocoon of silence” created in a world of noise and hype and tension.  Not only did Pep fashion a team that was pleasing to the eye, but the players performed with a joy and a spirit that was captivating.  Eventually Mourinho came in and upset the balance, yet for a short period the Blaugrana were the greatest show on Earth and under Tito Vilanova they are returning to those levels.

Many times I have stressed that this cycle will end and hopefully everyone can enjoy this moment now instead of waiting for time to pass and being forced to remember, to put it back together.  It’s happening, right now. We are in the midst of a glorious epoch in footballing history.  Take a second to let it wash over you because it will be gone soon enough.

Couple of kit related items:

Tom Conn reported on Inside Spanish Football that Atletico have finally secured a shirt sponsor—Chinese communications brand, Huawei.  The company has partnered with the club in the past but now look to go full time.  Currently Los Colchoneros have Azerbaijan: Land of Fire across their chest.

According to Football Fashion, Celta Vigo will be changing kit manufacturer’s next season, switching from Li-Ning to adidas.  The brand with the three stripes is already getting a jump on proceedings and released a special kit that the club will wear against Real Madrid during the second leg of the Copa del Rey.