simple little game

the not so secret musings of a footy fan

Collected from a variety of places

A lot has been said about Kevin-Prince Boateng walking off the pitch in an AC Milan friendly this past week. Much of it has called for productive discourse about racism in football, while Sepp Blatter’s response is as tin eared as expected. Coming later this week will be some thoughts about Blatter, but right now I’ve rounded up some of the better articles and blog posts I’ve read on the subject this week.

Time Magazine has a column by Tony Karon Is Fifa Facing a Player Revolt Against Racism?

Tribal Football AC Milan president Berlusconi backs Boateng over racism stand Rarely does the former Italian Prime Minister say or do things that I think are commendable, but in this case both he and his daughter Barbara said all the right things.

The Guardian addresses Blatter’s frankly bizarre statement about Boateng running away from problems. Sepp Blatter attacked for ‘nonsensical’ Boateng racism protest comments

The New York Times blogger Jack Bell on Not So ‘Friendly’ In Italy

Musa Okwonga A Short Post on Kevin-Prince Boateng This gentleman always has thoughtful pieces on a variety of issues connected to the beautiful game. He’s a must read in my book.

Finally, I want to point y’all to something I wrote during Euros that I think still applies. Different players targeted, but underscores the fact that no matter how much the powers that be ignore racism it won’t just go away. Van Bommell: You Need to Open Your Ears

On being a fan

I’ve been thinking about this post since Tuesday. The Arsenal match against Bradford FC was pretty awful. I’m not at all going to be defending the squad, but my thoughts are more along the lines of how fans react to hard times at their clubs.

The impetus for this was a comment that I overheard in the pub (when I was doing my only girl in the pub routine again). I can honestly say I have never been more disappointed in an Arsenal fan in person than in the moment he said “Good, I hope he’s hurt. Take him out for the rest of the season. Fucking useless.” The fan later commented “I wish someone would foul him and break his leg again”. It’s obvious the guy was talking about Ramsey. I literally bit my tongue to stop from yelling. I didn’t want to get into it with angry guy who clearly had shown up in a foul mood as well, for a variety of reasons. One being I wasn’t sure I would be able to stop once I started, and I like this pub. The second being that as I’m a female, I really didn’t want my husband to have to finish an argument that I picked. It’s one thing for there to be snarky bar banter, but completely different to to provoke what you know will be a heated argument.

Basically I really don’t care how much you dislike a player or how much you think he sucks and is a burden to the team.* It’s not ok to cheer for injuries to your own players, or players of any other squad. While I admit to being relieved when someone crucial is out with an injury when Arsenal is playing them, I never wish injury on a player. In the case of Ramsey I find it particularly bothersome considering the kid has made a pretty recovery from a possibly career ending broken leg.**

My first reaction to hearing these comments was anger. As I continued to mull it over after that dreadful match (well done to Bradford on penalties, 9 shootout victories in a row for them) it struck me as sad. There are clearly problems at Arsenal, but ill will toward a player who is definitely doing everything he can for the team (and it may not be enough) is pretty icky. His behavior was an example of everything I don’t like, and he didn’t see anything wrong with his statement even after another guy in the pub was like “dude, cut it out”.

The problems in the Manchester City fan section with objects being thrown onto the field and hitting and injurin players, is a bit different but still based on the same inappropriate fan culture.The two events do have something in common. We need to take a step back from the live and die devotion to our clubs and consider acting like reasonable humans. There’s basically no situation in which throwing coins and bottles at people is acceptable, and you will certainly get significant amounts of side eye if you started wishing career ending injury on coworkers or your equivalent at another company. It comes down to the fact that things that are societally unacceptable are expected and allowed behaviors. Sure there are penalties for fan violence, but that doesn’t stop one bad apple from trying to spoil the whole lot at another match. We know that it happens, but we need to make sure we don’t exacerbate those attitudes.

I felt embarrassed to be associated with someone who wanted our player injured and out for the season. I was however, pleased that he wasn’t wearing a jersey. It just would have been worse for him to be wearing the shirt of a team that I love and saying that. I’m sitting there in my Jack Wilshere 19 kit thinking, I will never end up like him, and if I did that’s probably the day I stop watching football because I’ve lost perspective on acting like a decent human. I’d imagine that there are Manchester City fans who feel the same way.

As much as we don’t want to consider people who act like this “fans” they are. They are at matches, at pubs, on message boards, and blogs. We may not like their behavior or consider them to be proper fans, but a lot of other people don’t make that distinction. The appearance is that they are a fan even though you and I don’t want anything to do with that type. I know there were fans that were upset by the outcome of Arsenal losing to a League 2 side, but for me the shame on Tuesday was not in the loss but in the behavior of a single fan.

*Gervinho was the one who missed a chance to walk in a goal, but everything is Ramsey’s fault these days.
** Shawcross is in fact exactly “that kind of player” despite denials from fans.

He looks a bit like Michelangelo’s David

As per ESPNESPN it appears that rumors of Fernando Llorente being unhappy at Athletic Bilbao are true. True, he has been spending a lot of time on the bench, but there’s definite target man talent that more than a few clubs would like to get into their squad. The usual big names in Spain will likely come into play, but my guess is he’s going abroad. Juve was said to have been sniffing around in August during the transfer window. Many an Arsenal fan are frantically making all sorts of promises to supreme beings with a hope they might enter the discussion. Chelsea seems unlikely as they already have one Spanish striker who is a fairly big issue in of itself. MUFC and MCFC seem like they’ll at least put feelers out, even if in City’s case it’s a matter of wanting to buy all of the toys so they can have them and you can’t. Might be worth seeing who they could chuck out of the pram to make room. Anyhow, the gist is that as the man himself said, “I’m leaving on June 30.”

Ladies and gentleman, start planning your bids now. Yes, Arsenal I’m talking to you.

even the mascots are doing it

Some thoughts on Arsenal because I don’t get Serie A broadcasts right now

I don’t have much to say about Arsenal that’s particularly positive. I do not however think the sky is falling. It could. Really soon. A win at Schalke 04 would be a sign of positive things to come. A loss will pretty much prove devastating more for morale than Champions League success. The later obviously will be impacted.

Let’s talk about the captain. Vermaelen has been a shadow of himself since putting on the armband. Errors in the run of play, consistently appearing disinterested, and the exceptional painful accidental set up of a goal for He Who Won’t Be Named (RvP). The match against United did not turn into the bloodbath than it could have. I’m still mixed as to whether we were better than the 8-2 debacle. Regardless, Arsenal has to be better. In my twitter rants I’ve discussed the need for sports psychologists to improve mental fitness. I’m now wondering if cattle prods are the answer.

It appears, though I have not run the numbers, that Arsenal players seem to be injured at an alarming rate. It seems that their physios/training room are about as useful as the Milan Lab. We have to stop letting the guys get broken. I think it was overly optimistic to think Diaby wouldn’t be injured. Rosicky came back from Euros injured. The return of Wilshere is a good thing. He brought energy and drive that has been missing. Have we determined if we can clone a mirror image of Sagna so we can have a left back?

The back line is a problem. Yes, Podolski should track back more, but having a giant gaping inability to defend on the left side pretty much would entail losing our wing to defense. We need all the scoring help we can get. My thought is given that Verma has been pretty inconsistent, maybe shift him to left back, since we know he can play it, and put Koscielney into the center back spot with Mertesacker. Verma and Sagna as our backs could be impressive both offensively and defensively.

Something has to give in either the line up or the mentality. The current approach isn’t effective. This does not mean we need a new manager, or a complete regime change, or the club to be sold to a businessman with a particularly suspect economic past in the former Soviet Union. What has to happen is that the players have to be better. We have talent. It’s just not showing. All that said, we need a defensive midfielder. We should have bought one in the off season. It’s a glaring hole. I hope it’s one we correct in the January window. Giroud finding his stride and turning into a goal machine could also be useful. Or maybe we should buy Llorente from Athletic Bilbao. It’s hard to be an Arsenal fan sometimes, but it’s the hope that we can be better than makes it worthwhile, and hurt more.

Last weekend in the EPL wasn’t a great one for any of the big clubs (except for MUFC, which I’m begrudgingly mentioning). That is the only solace in a season where fans are praying for 4th place. Come on you Gunners!

Being a fan isn’t always fun

It’s well known that I’m an Arsenal fan and an AC Milan fan. Generally they don’t come in conflict, though last year’s Champions League meet up nearly gave me an ulcer. I’ve not had the opportunity to watch Milan as much this season due to the BeIN Sport television deal. I don’t get Serie A matches on my cable package anymore. This has been an issue of rage for a bit now. Until I can watch the matches on my TV again, I don’t foresee anything but hostility toward the fact that U-Verse and BeIN don’t have a deal. I used to get the matches on Fox Soccer, and while I find some of their commentators a bit tedious, I still was able to watch Serie A. On a given weekend I was likely to catch at least two Serie A matches besides the Milan match. Oddly enough this has given me more free time as watching on streams can be frustrating. I distinctly miss the streaming ESPN3 broadcasts as well. So, in that sense I am one frustrated Milanista.

Arsenal and Milan have both had what can kindly be described as shaky starts to the season. As of today, Arsenal finds themselves in 9th place; 10 points behind league leader Chelsea. Milan is in 15th, which situates them exactly three spots above the relegation zone. How the mighty have fallen.

There are some interesting similarities in that marquee players left over the summer. The loss of Zlatan and Thiago Silva seriously weakened the Milan side. A once impenetrable Milan defense has lost the plot. Something must be done. Bojan is not a replacement for Zlatan, and every time Pato steps onto the pitch a collective held breath worries about injury. A lot of money may have come in from the sale of the pair to PSG, but the quality drop off in Milan’s play is disappointing. For goodness’ sake Bonera wore the captain’s armband on Saturday.

Arsenal was in complete shambles at Norwich City. It was exceptionally frustrating watch because our guys couldn’t get it together. Santos at left back cannot happen again. He is not an adequate replacement for Gibbs. Depending upon Koscielny’s fitness despite his less than stellar performances, it might be worth dropping him into the center back position, and pushing Vermaelen out to the left. Jenks has been exceptionally consistent, which I never would have expected this time last year, but he’s won me over with his work ethic. That said, getting Sagna back is important from a leadership perspective. Does anyone know if Jenks can play left back? If so that could be another possible solution. I’m not going to talk about the issues with the keeper because who in the hell would have thought Mannone would be goal for us?

The bottom line is that for both clubs their Champions League matches this week are a big deal. Perhaps not in the an earth shattering way, but certainly in a confidence building way. The contentment of fans would be a bonus. On Wednesday October 24, 2012 Arsenal will play Schalke 04 and Milan takes on Malaga. I’m hoping Wednesday night feel very different about my teams’ chances of success in league and Europe than I do right now.

status of this blog

There should be an update tomorrow afternoon focusing on Arsenal and Milan and their performance in their respective leagues. Also forthcoming is a discussion of racism, Danny Rose, and UEFA/FIFA.

PR scandal for Liverpool? Must be a day that ends in Y.

I highly suggest that everyone take a look at the Deadspin article “An Astounding Story Of Fraud, Blackmail, And The Fake Twitter Rumormonger Who Took On Liverpool” and this post on the Duncan Jenkins.

If even half of what Jenkins has posted is true, I would imagine that Jen Chang should be packing up his desk right about now. Regardless of whether or not the tweets from an in the know account actually impacted transfers, the threats are pretty spectacular. In the know accounts are pretty much a dime a dozen during the transfer season, and this guy happened to be right. Maybe he had sources, maybe he didn’t. All I know is that this ends up as another PR blemish for Liverpool. Maybe they can put Chang’s face on t-shirts to show their support?

the only girl in the pub

I spent Easter morning 2012 at a pub in Brooklyn, NY watching Arsenal play Manchester City. Initially I was the sole female there, and my husband playfully teased me about being the only girl in the pub. I ordered a cream ale and ignored him. It was nearly match time, and all I could think about was how it was a must win match for the Gunners.

Being female in what is traditionally considered the domain of males is interesting. For most people it’s not a problem, but for others my mere presence somehow cheapens the importance of their interest. Especially in sports culture, women have long been passively set to the sidelines as casual observers. Time and time again we’ve been told that we don’t understand the game, and football matches are often considered a perfect time for boyfriends and husbands to tell the ladies to go shopping. Those old standards don’t hold true anymore. All one has to do is look on Twitter to see that it’s changing. There are tons of female fans, and it’s a good thing.

Many a weekend morning has been spent watching matches with the boys. It’s amazing how the moment you prove yourself as knowledgeable the anti-girls attitude pretty much disappears. It’s not much different than the experience a new guy in a circle of soccer fans would find. You have to size people up and determine how much they know, which really isn’t different from any other interest on the planet. I don’t have any problem with that as I can hold my own, but I distinctly have been questioned about my knowledge of football spanning from the offsides rule to how I believe Messi would fare in a cold wet night at Stoke. I’d really like to see that match.

There is the immediate assumption that if a female is a fan, she’s only there because she thinks the players are hot or is trying to win over a guy. I don’t really understand this argument as all of us have eyes. We can all see that someone is conventionally attractive. * Just because I might find a player handsome, doesn’t mean I rate him as a player if he doesn’t perform on the pitch. The argument about shallow fangirls who only like the looks is annoying since from the Olympics of Ancient Greece, the athletic form has been revered by our culture. The ESPN Magazine Body issue continues that celebration. Furthermore, there is distinctly a difference between a women who fakes an interest in sports to attract a guy, and women who are fans. The unwillingness to note those distinctions and place all females in one category doesn’t address the personality variance that occurs across genders. There will obviously be fakes who are there for the eye candy, but they aren’t the female fans who watch all the matches, and fret over injury lists. It’s offensive to be considered vapid and ignorant just because I’m female.

Many of today’s female fans grew up playing football. For me, I idolized the US Women’s National Team of the 1990s. They were female role models excelling internationally far more than the Men’s team. In my personal experience I’ve been in love with the game since I started playing as a child. It frustrates me that there are people out there who consider me a dilettante just because of my gender. And they almost certainly believes that I shouldn’t wear a jersey as I can’t be a “real” fan. I can’t possibly appreciate the role of a defensive midfielder, or gasp in awe at the beauty that was Andrea Pirlo’s free kick.* That’s a false premise based on stereotypes rather than truth. When I look at my twitter timeline or the readers of my own blog, I know that there are a lot of female fans. This community of basically live tweeted matches all season and continued to do so for the Euros. Clearly women are still a minority among football fans, but we’re vocal. We’re blogging, podcasting, v-casting, and submitting pieces to magazines. It’s anything but passive.

I think about the female bloggers that I regularly read.*** I don’t choose to follow blogs based on the gender of who is writing them, but on the quality of writing. Discounting strong writing and analysis just because a woman wrote it would be ridiculous. There’s no reason to close yourself off from different perspectives. I don’t care if a person is from Mars, if they’ve got insight I want to know about it. Don’t worry guys, I read y’alls too. If I’m reading you it’s because I like you, and what you have to say. There’s no quota of types of football blogs that I read. If you’re good, I want to see it.

This past spring MLS suspended Simon Borg for 7 days after he made comments regarding passionate female fans being unattractive to the opposite sex. There were two issues present. One: All men think women who really like sports are unattractive. That’s easily disprovable by going to a professional football (soccer) match. Many men welcome the female presence, as having interests in common is typically a good things for a relationship. Two: Why does my interest in football have to be viewed through the lens of “will a man find this attractive?” It’s incredibly self-centered and heterocentric to think that women at sporting events are mostly worried about how they will appeal to men. This discounts lesbian and bisexual fans as even being considered fans, and also again takes the point of view that women are there to be enticing not cheering on their team. Guess what? We buy merchandise too, and teams like selling merchandise.

I guess the short version of what I’m saying is that I’m a fan. A kit wearing, tv yelling, euphoric from wins and despondent from losses fan. I know and like the game, so please don’t discount me because I’m a female. We’re all on the same side as long as you don’t consider club loyalties.

Consider Yoann Gourcuff versus Wayne Rooney. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine which is more attractive. Guys know which one is better looking too.

**I’m not going to wax poetic about that goal again because I’ve covered that ground several times before, and frankly it reaches a point where all I can say is “gorgeous” or “perfect” or “really Milan, you needed to get rid of him?”

*** Blogs I love will be a new post soon.

Football is dead. Long live football.

It’s well known that I support two clubs and really do not enjoy matches where they play each other. AC Milan I started watching because for some reason Serie A was randomly on TV somewhat regularly in New Orleans in the 1990s. The iconic kits of the Rossoneri helped develop and nurture my love of the beautiful game. Arsenal I more of less fell into by accident, but it’s turned out to be a good choice.

In the last couple of weeks both clubs have dropped bombshells on their fans. The realities of the transfer window have made me question a lot about being a football fan in general. What does it mean to me and why does it hurt to lose certain players? Bloggers and tweets have discussed this being the death of football as large and frankly incomprehensibly large amounts of money become the norm not the exception. Football isn’t dead for the simple fact that fans exist. There have always been rich club, and we we always have clubs with limited resources. Inequities are a constant, but football continues.

The best center back in the world is going to play in Ligue 1?

Apologies to my PSG friends, but right now I feel about your club the way that many EPL fans feel about City. Jealous of your financial resources, with a heavy dose of bitter that Milan has sold Thiago Silva to you as part of a £51 million deal, which means the he and Ibrahimovic cost less than Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson (£55 million).

It’s likely my bias in favor of the EPL and Serie A that makes me look a bit askance at a player in his prime going to Ligue 1. Again though, with the clubs rumored to be interested in Thiago Silva, Barcelona for one, it’s hard to see this move to PSG as anything aside from being in the financial interest of one Silvio Berlusconi. We know it isn’t because conquering Ligue 1 is such a glamourous prize. It’s because PSG is willing to pay a premium to buy all the toys they desire. Obviously questions are raised about when Financial Fair Play is going to be instituted. Many big clubs, Milan included have debt issues, but those issues will be written on by people with a better grasp of budgets of football clubs. I write as someone who really enjoys football.

I thought the deal was shocking. With Nesta finally leaving Milan at the end of this last season, I saw Thiago Silva filling the big shoes of defenders who stepped onto the pitch at the San Siro before him. This does however, make me feel good about not having a Milan kit with a name on the back of it. I wanted to be able to watch Silva run the defense like a general. Like a future captain. Like Milan has come to expect.

He’s left us with good memories, such as defending against some of the best in the world, and of course scoring that extra time header against Barcelona. Silva seemed determined to stay, but in the end money does talk, and there comes a price point where an owner and board would be irresponsible not to take what’s offered. PSG quite literally made and offer that Milan couldn’t refuse.

Robin van Persie: this is not a love letter *

I thought that this would happen. Scratch that. I really really really didn’t want this to happen. As a fan I had faith in the player who had stepped up and been the captain that Arsenal needed during a particularly dark fall of 2011. AFC stood by him through injuries because there was obvious talent and potential. Last year he was the Player of the Year in the EPL, and a truly bright spot for fans still smarting from Fabregas backing his bags for Barcelona. He was a damned good captain on and off the pitch during 2011-2012. I will always be appreciative of the leadership he showed during that time.

It’s stupid to get emotionally attached to players. Players aren’t expected to have the same loyalty that fans do. Fans live and breathe a club, while players represent that club. We want players to love their clubs, but we also have to be reasonable and not expect it. There are far more in it for the money (as they likely should be) players than those who want a legacy at one club. Football isn’t populated by multiple Tony Adams or Paolo Maldinis. It’s hard to accept that most players will never love a club like I do, but frankly it’s better for my heart. I just have to learn how to make myself believe that idea.

Speaking with other fans about the letter released on van Persie’s website http://www.robinvanpersie.com made me realize that it was the faith we had in him as the club’s captain that he wouldn’t leave which makes this feel like a betrayal. Many felt blindsided. Others were angry. I was sad. Very sad. People choose players that they love for many reasons. Everyone has a favorite. Robin was mine. Robin had a chance to become a legend, and he’s chosen not to.

I jokingly mentioned on twitter that this was heartbreak that hurt similarly to the break up of that first great love that everyone has in high school. The heart stomping, hope destroying, innocence losing, and a variety of other hyperbolic terms. And it hurts like hell. Intellectually you know it’s a small problem of decidedly small importance relative to poverty or hunger, but at the moment you’re told the news it can feel like your entire world is crumbling.

No matter who wears the captain’s armband, I’m still going to be up way too early on Saturday mornings here in the US to watch the Gunners. I’m going to wear my kit and yell at the tv. It’s going to be glorious because I will be watching Arsenal.

Players leave. Clubs remain.

* This section of the post previously appeared on my Arsenal specific blog http://www.acoupleofgoons.wordpress.com

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