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Archives for Football

Soccer Riots: History and Politics


Only a few months after winning the World Cup, Italian football is in crisis – again. Last year a referee-tampering scandal sent Series A champions and Italy’s most famous club Juventus to the barren wastelands of Serie B. Last weekend Italian football was shut down after a policeman was killed by a crowd in a Series A game in Sicily.

Currently a 17-year-old is the main suspect. And the government has reacted strongly. Apparently only six stadiums are going to be allowed to reopen any time soon. The others lack the suddenly required safety features (including close circuit TV) which they’ve supposed to have had for several years. This includes Italy’s most famous arena, the San Siro in Milan which is shared between the two giant Milan clubs, AC and Inter.

Anyone who’s ever seen the briefest scenes of Italian football on TV will probably have been astonished by the huge fluorescent purpley-red flares set off by the fans standing behind the goals. They usually are lit when their team scores, but in some cases they’ve been used to disrupt games. The most notable case was in the quarter-final of the 2005 European Champions League played in the San Siro Stadium between the two Milan clubs. Inter were losing, then had a goal disallowed, and their fans threw flares onto the field. One hit the AC Milan goalkeeper. The game was halted, then abandoned, and later awarded to AC Milan (who went on to lose the final to Liverpool). Inter’s penalty was the proverbial slap on the wrist – they were forced to play their next 4 home games in an empty stadium.

The bad news, clearly, is that fan violence in Italy is out of control.


Posted by Matt Holt at 11:22 AM | Permalink

Even ESPN Can’t Spoil the World Cup


So we have the single most important soccer tournament, and the Disney Mouse decides that apparently we prefer dumb American voices rather than intelligent English ones. Even the American viewing audience has noticed that putting a middling play-by-play baseball announcer in as the lead commentator on soccer does not for a great World Cup viewing experience make. Yup, apparently Dave O’Brien has been chosen to boost viewership, as it says in the Wall Street Journal.
I for one can’t even stand the mad Irish man that ESPN uses for its European Champions League coverage, but at least he (Tommy Smyth)has a clue as to who the players are, what’s happening in the game, and doesn’t make the basic idiotic mistakes that apparently we’re expected to think are building popularity for new fans. As you might expect, real soccer fans here in the U.S. are really pissed, and you can sign a petition complaining.


Posted by Matt Holt at 12:35 AM | Permalink

Football, bloody hell


Somewhere around now the World Cup stops getting fun and starts getting pretty serious. If you’re reading this on Friday the quarter finals are just getting underway. Argentina, who appear to be the on-form team, will take on Germany, who have been surprisingly good so far. Then the cynical and somewhat lucky Italians—a last minute disputed penalty got them past the Australians—will take on the Ukrainian team which also advanced out of the group stage because of a dodgy penalty decision, when Andrei Shevchenko tripped himself up in the Tunisian penalty area.

The real economic impact though happens on Saturday when England play the Portuguese, who fought a cynical football war against the equally cynical Dutch.


Posted by Matt Holt at 11:57 PM | Permalink

Globalization, Money, Football? It’s World Cup time!


Jetlag is a marvelous thing. The drilling outside the hostal wakes you up at 9am, but you’re so tired from the previous three nights not sleeping, that when you go back to sleep you find that you’re getting up when the Spanish have already finished their siesta. Yes I’m on a quick vacation having flown off on what passes as a cheap ticket these days–the 9/11 recession having put paid to available frequent flyer seats–to Yurp.
This 4am insomnia is happening in the deep south of Spain, at Terifa, the jumping off point to Morocco. So this gives me the chance to discuss the world conversation. That conversation is of course not immigration, Iraq or oil–it’s football. But it all comes back to topics we know well, especially those of immigration and globalization as the World Cup is underway.


Posted by Matt Holt at 5:01 AM | Permalink

How to save soccer? Get rid of the ref!


The European club soccer season finished today when Barcelona beat Arsenal 2 – 1 in the Champions League final. The best team in Europe this year and some might say last too, won so justice was done. And now we’re looking forward to the World Cup this summer, which will be a major cause of lost productivity all over the world. But although things are much better than the dark days of the 1980s something is a little sick in the state of football.

It’s not the game itself—the skill of the players on display in the major European leagues and the excitement of the games far out-classes my days of standing on the terraces at Stamford Bridge freezing my arse off in the mid-1980s.

The big problem is with the refereeing. For today’s final the neutrals among us were vexed by an appalling referring performance—the Norwegian ref sent off the Arsenal goal keeper for tripping Samuel Eto, the Barca forward, when he was through on goal. The ball ended up in the net, but the ref didn’t play the advantage rule that soccer stole from American football (the equivalent of throwing a flag, while letting play continue). The ref also managed to bizarrely book Arsenal’s star player Thierry Henry for a perfectly fair challenge while ignoring the Barca defenders kicking lumps out of him, Lundberg, Hleb and the rest of his team. Eventually, after Henry missed two chances he normally buries, Barca’s pressure on the ten men told, and they scored twice with veteran Swedish striker Henrik Henrik Larson coming on and out-shining the bigger names (Eto’o, Ronaldhino and Henry) by making two goals. Arsenal said the first was off-side. So this is like having at least one and maybe three or four officiating errors wreck the Superbowl.


Posted by Matt Holt at 6:17 PM | Permalink

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