Tuesday, January 29, 2008

TFC varia

Ok, now I'm so totally psyched about the new season (a condition that will presumably last until the CSA decide to make some boneheaded announcement which will result in the Serbian White Eagles representing Canada in the CONCACAF Champions League) that I can barely do anything else. So, time to catch up on some TFC news.

First, cheers to the fans, who this year purchased 16,000 season tickets. With 2,500 or so seats going in mini-packages that leaves less than 2,000 tickets for walk-up crowds. Which means tickets will be scarce and scalpers will do well. An excellent boost for the economy all around.

Second, you may have noticed that there was something called the Superdraft a week or two ago. I chose to deliberately ignore this on the grounds that there was no point getting too attached to anyone we drafted because Mo would almost certainly trade them immediately. Now, trying to figure out Mo's motives in these things is a mug's game, but I am starting to think that he might - just might - actually not want to trade anybody.

Hear me out: Prior to the draft, we had five, maybe six defenders worthy of the name. Three of them (Wynne, Brennan and Dunivant) are at least theoretically capable of playing midfield as well, though Dunivant in midfield is technically something one should avoid. The arrival of Julius James and Pat Phelan (our two first-round picks) mean that at least two of these eight (including Phelan) would now be available for midfield duty.

Now, although much was made of TFC's offensive woes last year, the real problem was actually not in attack but in midfield. TFC have three genuinely good midfielders (Edu, Robbo, and O'Brien). When all three played, TFC were very tough to beat. When one or more of them were gone, they were god-awful. So to the extent that depth in defence is going to lead to more options in midfield, life has to be getting better.

And now add to this the East Country rumours that Mo is sniffing around yet another Norwich player - Darren Huckerby (pictured) to join former Canaries Jim Brennan and Carl Robinson. Unlike a lot of the other rumours out there about TFC-bound players (the Stefano Fiore rumour being the most ludicrous), this one seems to have a lot of traction, and frankly makes more sense given how close he is to the Dichio mold. If Huckerby plays on the left of midfield, that plugs the most serious gap on the squad.

Less promising are the Josh Wagenaar rumours. It's not obvious to me why he'd prefer being the reserve keeper at TFC to being the reserve keeper at Den Haag - unless he's being brought in to be the number one. This would suggest that Sutton is considered too brain-scrambled to play any more or he's trade-bait (though suspicions of brain-scrambledness obviously won't do much for his trade value).

59 days 'til kick off.

Absolutely Fabulous

I have been dying for three months. No TFC. And still 2 months until we kick off in Columbus.

My body aches every time I drive down the Gardner or Lakeshore and see Our House"; the big bubble on the field, the snow on the bright red seats, the floodlights standing guard against the metallic grey skies. I want to drink beer in the summer sun and indulge in bitchy sarcasm about our porous defence. I want to huddle with my son in the cold wind and rain coming off the lake through another abject performance and then argue with my wife about why the team's crapness can't possibly affect the number of games I attend. I want to sing and cheer and celebrate with Michael and Sonny and the gang in Section 221. I want my TFC and I want it now.

But my life - no, everyone's life - just got a little bit better with the announcement of the new CONCACAF Champions League, which will replace the Champions Cup as of this year. 24 teams will begin the competition in late August with 16 teams playing home-and-away qualifiers from which the winner will join 8 seeded teams for a group stage lasting through to the end of October. Quarter-finals in February, Semis in March, Finals in April.

But all that's as maybe: the important thing here is that Canada's been given on of the 24 spots. This is somewhat problematic because alone among CONCACAF nations, we have no real national championships. Our three professional teams all play in American leagues,and as fans of Swansea and Cardiff know, international football has tended to look askance at teams playing in one country's league and representing another country internationally.

But what does that leave? The Canadian Soccer League is semi-pro at best, and it clubs are almost entirely from Ontario - and, hilariously, has two divisions: a "national" division of regionally-based teams (one of which - the Trois-Rivieres Attak - is the Montreal Impact's reserve squad) and an "international" division of ethnic Toronto teams - Toronto Croatia, Serbian White Eagles, Italian Shooters, Canadian Lions (I believe a Caribbean team) and Portuguese Supra. If any of these teams were to represent Canada, they would get creamed.

The Canadian Soccer Association, displaying its usual lightning-quick reflexes, put up the CONCACAF announcement on its website yesterday but failed to make any announcement about how Canada's representative would be chosen. A hopeful but poorly-sourced article in the Vancouver Sun suggests that a triangular championship featuring home-and-homes between the Whitecaps, Impact and FC is in the works.

God bless. At a minimum, that means road trips to Montreal and Vancouver this year, plus two more dates on my season ticket. And...miracle of miracles...the possibility of away games in Mexcio, Costa Rica and the Caribbean.

Absolutely fabulous!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

This is Too Easy

Surely no modern sports figure has been photgraphed in as many bizarre and humiliating poses as Kevin Keegan. As a result, any schmo with five minutes on his hands can put together a series of photos making this man look like a complete buffoon.

Is this fair? Of course not. He wasn't the worst manager England's ever had - unlike some people we could mention, he managed to get the Three Lions to qualify for a major tournament. As a player, he was not only one of England's all-time finest, but he also - unlike today's squad - took up the challenge of playing outside England and learning about foreign cultures and playing styles. And as a club manager, his record at Toon and City may not be stellar, but few if any of his successors can claim a better one.

And had he not played during the only decade in human history where mullets and perms were not only not cause for corporal punishment but actually fashionable, I'm quite sure he'd be considered among the sagest individuals ever to grace a football pitch. Or, at least, he wouldn't suffer in comparison to Bobby Robson.

However, as we blog-writers say, "never look a gift horse in the mouth". And oh my God what a horse this is. And so, forthwith, a photo caption contest. Provide the best captions (I am the judge, my decision final, etc.) to the following four photos of Kevin Keegan and win my copy of David Peace's Damned United, to be delivered just as soon as I finish reading it.





Do your worst.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


So, this book by Steve Menary seems to be all the rage among the blogeratti at the moment. A reasonably thorough review was justed posted over on Culture of Soccer, and there's been some chatter elsewhere, too.

Generally, the book has been pretty well received. However, I'm going to have to be the contrarian on this score. I desperately wanted to like this book. The premise is brilliant the material is great and the settings are exotic. The problem is that Menary simply doesn't deliver.

The opening chapter, which lays bare the many oddities of FIFA membership rules (the Faroe Islands are allwed in but Greenland is not, depsite having roughly similar legal relationships with their parent country, Denmark) is meant to set the stage for the book that follows by demonstrating that FIFA is "forgetting" various parts of the world. But while these forst thirty pages are by far the book's best, they fail to convince that current rules are in fact terribly unjust. Previous admission rules - such as the ones that allowed the Faroes and the Palestinians in in the first place may have been dumb-ass. But present ones?

The only country I can see that has a case here is Gibraltar (about which more later). Zanzibar? Part of Tanzania. Get over it. The channel islands? Part of the UK. Get over it. Greenland? Part of Denmark and there's only two pitches on the whole damn island. Get over it. The Kurds? The Sami? They may be people but they ain't countries. North Cyprus? Tibet? Tougher call, and one which sucks for Turkish Cypriots and Tibetans, but international recognition is kind of important if you're going to play international matches.

So what's the problem here? Not much, really, but that doesn't stop Menary from doing a little hopscotching around Europe trying to find whiny local FA people who want to achieve some kind of recognition for their plight. Their cases are almost uniformly unconvincing.

The exception is Gibraltar, which has basic self-rule and whose football is not part of the UK pyramid. They are best positioned on legal grounds to make the leap to international football, but for deep-rooted historical reasons, the Spanish have dug in and threatened to withdraw their teams (i.e. Real madrid and Barcelona) from UEFA competitions if Gibraltar is allowed in. And so UEFA prevaricates on Gibraltar's application, despite having lost the case at the Court for Arbitration in Sport. It is, in fact, the Gibraltar-Spain situation which has cause both FIFA and UEFA to become choosier about admitting micro-states, albeit only after letting in a lot of farily dubious candidates over the past twenty years, thus setting the stage for whiny books like this one.

This book screams "quickie". The research and editing are both sloppy. You can mostly overlook this because of the exotic locales, but it grates after a while. Less forgiveably, it underplays what is possibly the most interesting story of all here - namely, the shambles that is the NF Board. They are an eccentric bunch, these NF Board types, and the many chancers who seem to have glommed on to it. They seem to want to re-create a lot of the pageantry associated with FIFA, only to give it a "Springtime of Nations" gloss as they represent the oppressed nations of the world (oppressed? Padania were given provisional membership last month...). But their crtieria for membership is, shall we say, flexible - and seems to consist of a lot of internet searches. Who is the Masaai FA, anyway? They don't seem to exist in actual fact - yet they are listed as a member by the NF-Board.

And, indeed, as the book progresses, the NF-Board is put to shame by the happy-go-lucky types at St. Pauli FC who managed to organize the FIFI World Cup for "nations without countries" with no bureaucracy and minimal fuss in the summer of 2006. The NF-Board has yet to organize a serious tournament. That's the real story in this netherworld of International football, and while Menary dutifully reports some of it, he doesn't follow it to it's logical conclusion (i.e. "this non-FIFA stuff is quite insubstantial") for the obvious reasons that it undermines the rationale for the book in the first place.

There is room, of course, for non-FIFA international football. There are lots of peoples out there who do not form a nation-state but who still want to express their collective identities through sport. That's legitimate. But it's ludicrous to expect that FIFA or the IOC or any other international sporting body should be under any obligation to satisfy them. In sport, the Westphalian settlement still holds; were it to crumble, the result would be anarchy, not justice.

(And that's the last time in 2008 you'll hear me defend FIFA. I feel dirty.)

Anyways, if you're a devotee of footie lit, Outcasts is probably worth a gander, if only because the rest of the 2007 crop of books was so dismal. But scale down your expectations; like its subjects, this book isn't ready for the big leagues.

Back to the Future

This just in (snicker).

The New Newcastle mana(snort!)...manager is...tee hee!


This is priceless.

And yes, sorry for the gap in posting. A tough couple of months. It took something this absurd to get me going again.


Seriously, though, spare a thought for Sam Allardyce. How'd you like to be him today?