What Will it Take for Women's Pro Soccer to Survive?

On Wednesday, December 5, at 3:30pm EST, our final “game” of the 2012 season will feature Jun Stinson’s short film, The 90th Minute.

The 20-minute documentary follows three members of FC Gold Pride, the 2010 Women’s Professional Soccer champions. The film sheds light on what it’s like to be a female professional soccer player in the U.S. — a dream that has become more elusive after the demise of the WPS.

Why are Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach and others struggling to play professionally in their country? Why have two pro women’s soccer leagues failed since the heady days of Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and the 1999 Women’s World Cup? What needs to happen for a new women’s league in the U.S. to be sustainable? How does the situation in the U.S. compare with international trends?

Unfortunately, Jun Stinson is unable to join us for the session. However, Peter Alegi interviewed Jun on the film and asked a few questions on behalf of the group. To listen to Peter’s interview with the director, click here. We are pleased that Gwen Oxenham, former Duke and Santos player and one of the producers of the film Pelada , will join us for a terrific season finale!

Send Alex Galarza (galarza1 [at] msu [dot] edu) your Skype name to be included in the call. Alex can also email you the link and password to view the film.

Update: On November 21, “U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati announced the launch of a women’s professional league which will start play in March,” according to ESPN. Read more about it here and here.

From Aristotle to Zidane: Soccer and Philosophy

PhilosophyOn Wednesday, November 7, at 1pm EST (the day after the U.S. presidential election), the Football Scholars Forum will convene to discuss Ted Richards’s edited book Soccer and Philosophy: Beautiful Thoughts on the Beautiful Game. This session promises to expand the horizons of those of us whose knowledge of the intersections of philosophy and football is limited to Monty Python’s famously hilarious “Germany vs. Greece” video.

“This book is a delight,” Simon Kuper notes, “and it taught me more philosophy than I learned in my entire time at university.”

Ted Richards, “a philosopher who loves soccer,” will be joining the conversation via Skype, along with chapter authors David Kilpatrick and Jesús Ilundáin. We have selected several chapters to discuss, though participants are free to delve as deeply into the book as they wish. The selected chapters are:

•    Stephen Minister, “What’s Wrong with Negative Soccer?”
•    John Foster, “Tell Me How You Play and I’ll Tell You Who You Are”
•    Victor Durà-Vilà, “Why Playing Beautifully is Morally Better”
•    David Kilpatrick, “Nietzsche’s Arsenal”
•    Jesús Ilundáin and Cesar Torres, “Embellishing the Ugly Side”

Please RSVP by emailing your Skype name to Alex Galarza (galarza1 AT msu DOT edu) so that you can be included in the online call.

Globalizing "El Tri": Mexican fans in the U.S.A.

Our inaugural meeting of 2012-13 was an exciting affair. It revolved around Javier Pescador’s new work on Mexican fans of “El Tri” in the United States. The uses of wrestling masks, Aztec symbols, churros and other markers of Mexican-ness demonstrate some of the ways in which fans are helping to transform the Mexican national team into a global brand.

The discussion covered many important topics and themes, including youth soccer, commercial and media imperatives, differences between Mexico-based and U.S.-based fan experiences, club vs. national team tensions (in MLS, for example), and the sources and methodology informing this research. Pescador’s Flickr photostream here is worth checking out.

Participants: Alejandro Gonzales, Hikabwa Chipande, Ben Smith, Ed Murphy, and Peter Alegi (all with the author in East Lansing); David Keyes, Corry Cropper, Melissa Forbis, Ana Paula Martinez, Andrew Guest, Sean Jacobs, Chris Bolsmann, and David Kilpatrick (via Skype).

Listen to the audio recording here. (For educational/personal use only.)

2012-13 Season Gets Underway: Mexican Fans in the U.S. & the "El Tricolor" Brand

On Wednesday, September 26, at 1pm EDT, historian Juan Javier Pescador (Michigan State University) will participate in a discussion of his paper entitled “Global Fútbol, the Masked Fan and Flat Screen Arenas: Mexican Soccer Communities in the United States and the Genesis of the Tricolor Brand in Global Landscapes, 1970-2012.”

This paper analyzes the profile, evolution and transformation of Mexican soccer communities in the United States in the context of current globalization processes that are redefining national identities, recreational activities, ideals of youth and manhood, and consumer practices among people of Mexican origin or descent in the United States. Focusing on the interactions and connections U.S. Mexican soccer communities have developed with the Mexican national team and with the increasingly dominant Big Time sports global media, this study discusses new ways of producing and framing Mexican nationalist symbols in global arenas with significant and unexpected consequences.

The session, as is our custom, will be physically held in East Lansing, Michigan, and live online via Skype. For a copy of the paper and to participate online please contact Peter Alegi at alegi [at] msu [dot] edu and provide your Skype name.

One Giant Leap Day for US Soccer

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.
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FSF Nov. 9: "Soccer in the Classroom" Draws Record Crowd

“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. (For educational/personal use only.)

Participants (in random order):

Graham Stinnett
Alejandro Gonzalez

Klinsmann's USA project: Reform or Revolution?

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?

Women’s Football Session Breaks New Ground

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. (For educational/personal use only.)

In attendance:
Jennifer Doyle
Cynthia Pelak
Martha Saavedra
David Toms
Tom McCabe
Laurent Dubois
John Turnbull
Andrew Guest
David Roberts
David Keyes
Alex Galarza
Peter Alegi

Cairo Ultras in Egyptian Protests

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.

[Editor’s note: in December 2021, FSF hosted a session with Carl Rommel on this topic.]

Inaugural Sessions of 2010

January: The Global Game: Writers on Soccer, with John Turnbull and Alon Raab.

Listen to an audio recording here (for educational/personal use only).

February: Spartak Moscow: A History of the People’s Team in the Worker’s State, with Robert Edelman.

Listen to an audio recording here (for educational/personal use only).

March: Golden and Blue Like my Heart: Masculinity, Youth, and Power Among Soccer Fans in Mexico City, with Roger Magazine

Listen to an audio recording here (for educational/personal use only).