By David Kilpatrick, DKilpatrick [AT] mercy [DOT] edu
“There are no friendlies in football” is a well-worn cliché of the game, one that supporters of the sport in the United States are resorting to in defense of their enthusiasm for the men’s national team’s 0-1 victory over Italy in Genoa this week. As any Yank who has ever played overseas knows well, each match – whether pickup or pro – is a battle for respectability.
To be sure, there have been more shocking and significant results in the history of American soccer, from the win over England by the same scoreline in Belo Horizonte at the 1950 World Cup, to the 2-0 win over the defending European and eventual World Champion Spanish side in the semifinal of the 2009 Confederations Cup in Johannesburg. But this was the first time in eleven efforts that the Americans were able to defeat the Azzurri. The 1-1 draw between the sides in the group stages of the 2006 World Cup Finals, the US playing much of the match with ten men, may well have been a greater accomplishment, as they were the only side to play but not lose to the eventual champions of that tournament. While no title was at stake this week, the result would be less impressive if earned on neutral soil; one cannot overstate the significance of Italy suffering their first defeat in Genoa since 1924.
“Football/Fútbol/Soccer in the Classroom” drew 17 people, a new record for FSF! It was an extremely productive and fulfilling session. Peter Alegi, Tom McCabe, Steven Apostolov, Sean Jacobs, Alon Raab, and David Kilpatrick kicked off with brief comments on each of their soccer courses. A vigorous and wide ranging discussion ensued.
Among the many questions and issues tackled by the collective, were the following: how can we integrate technical and tactical aspects of the game into broader intellectual analysis? Given the huge canvas of “global soccer,” how have instructors dealt with thematic, geographic, and chronological coverage? Which films and popular literary works have worked well and why? What is the state of “football archives”?
Several individuals spoke of the importance of knowing your audiences and valuing diversity. Other participants commented on the challenges and rewards of being the first to teach sport-focused courses in their departments and institutions. After nearly two hours, the session ended with Alon reminding us of what Swami Yogananda once said: “You will be closer to Heaven through football than by the Gita.”
Audio of the session is available here.
Participants (in random order)
The international break generated debate about Jürgen Klinsmann’s short tenure as USA selector and coach. Results of friendlies aside, George Vecsey of the New York Times points out that the German is a proponent of “the revolutionary theory for young players that soccer should be fun” and invites fans to watch the team’s training sessions. Together with Claudio Reyna — the former fantasista turned head of US player development — Klinsmann believes “coaches can teach soccer, but on the field, soccer is not a teachable sport. [ . . .] Athletes must play the game by themselves; they must be creative.”
Of course, the US soccer system has demonstrated little such creativity so far. In general, its pay-for-play youth system marginalizes or excludes the working class and the poor and almost invariably produces robotic, Anglophile, tactically troglodytic teams. So is Klinsmann’s project reformist or revolutionary?
Amy Lawrence in The Guardian’s Sports Blog writes that “the great German enthusiast is trying to overhaul football in the US not just the national team.” The post picks up on some of Vecsey’s insights and adds Klinsmann’s criticism of both the short MLS season and the archaic system of using college soccer to form professional players. Readers’ comments on the blog page make for fascinating reading. What do you think about the Klinsi debate?
With the 2011 Women’s World Cup around the corner, it seemed especially appropriate to hold our first session on the women’s game on April 18. Facilitated by Jennifer Doyle and featuring author Cynthia Pelak, the group covered some key issues and topics, including the hidden history of women’s football; gender, sexuality, and class; media disinterest about women’s sports; the impact of FIFA’s takeover of the women’s game; South African dynamics; law and government policy; coaching and playing styles; empowerment and disempowerment.
The audio for the meeting is available here.
Anti-government protests in Egypt are being driven by young men, including Egyptian ultras writes FSF member James Dorsey. “Soccer fans constitute a well-organized and feared pillar of the marshalling grassroots coalition determined to ensure that President Hosni Mubarak suffers the same fate as Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who was toppled earlier this month by mass demonstrations.” Full article here.
For more details on Egyptian ultras and the social and political implications of the game in Cairo, listen to David Goldblatt’s The Secret Policeman’s Football: Al Ahly v Zamalek (part 2 of his BBC radio documentary “The Power and the Passion”) and read this multimedia essay by one of the founders of Egypt’s first ultras group.