Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rest In Peace Steven Wells

While I'd planned on giving my two cents worth on the US win yesterday - did anyone else check the ESPN picture right after with the caption "Jozy and the Giant Killers" - something else has been brought to my attention, that I think is a bit more pressing to me.

I have a favorite quote about football in the US. It's one of the few that I use if I ever attempt to stand up for the American league and - usually - the national team. Its a quote from an interview with Steven Wells. He says:

Does the respect of the rest of the world matter? Only if you let it. I think the rest of the soccer world sees Americans playing soccer the same way they regard Japanese rock music. It’s not that they’re any good at it; it’s the fact that they’re doing it at all that’s amazing.

Stephen Wells died of cancer yesterday.

He was forty nine.

Swells ( a brilliant nickname ) came from England but lived in Philadelphia until his death from lymphatic cancer. He wrote about a variety of subjects from music and pop culture ( which he was perhaps best known for ) to -most relevant to this blog - football. He used football to explain other political and cultural events. He wrote at length about football and the US - with the soccer debate, MLS, the US at war, and hooliganism.

Steven Wells always had the stones to say what he wanted to say.

I've decided not to ramble on about what an inspiration he is to me, or say that he made me want to go to college for journalism, or anything else like that. I was just going to go through some interesting football articles of his from the Guardian, post some selections from them, and let his work speak for itself. I had all of the clips - but I decided just to post one my favorite articles.

Links to this article and others will be at the bottom of the post. The last link isn't football related - but is his last published article.

15 June 2007-

Americans are soccer-savvy ... and that scares little Englanders

David Beckham is going to the LA Galaxy. Hurrah. Let's all laugh at American soccer. Again.

Modern Englishmen are in two minds about Americans playing proper football. Some think it only right the poor benighted heathens be gifted the game historian Eric Hobsbawn rightly described as an artform. But others fear it'll make Americans more like us and therefore much more difficult to despise.

I am firmly in the former camp. Public toilets, atheism, publicly funded radio and association football - these are all things of which no society can have too much. Witness the fact that soccer-playing America is massively liberal, loving, caring, socially conscious and nice. While soccer-hating America consists of increasingly isolated gangs of Bush-supporting, bible-bashing, gun-crazed, dungaree wearing, banjo-playing, quasi-fascist chicken-lovers and their twelve fingered, pin-headed, cyclopic, drooling monster children.

Alas, Englishmen who live in desperate fear of an American soccer planet are legion. As the recent spate of stories about US businessmen buying British clubs and Goldenballs relocating to LA proved, there's no shortage of stuck up limey soccer snobs who still think it's frightfully funny the ghastly Yanks play the round ball game at all.

Like most prejudices, this hatred disguises fear. Recently a leading English soccer journalist told me he "really hopes football fails in America". Others are less blatant but they make their loathing plain through sarcasm, satire and snidery.

You know whom I'm talking about. Reader, I am about to piss on my chips. I will not only bite the hand that feeds me, I will take the arm off at the shoulder. For no one has mocked American soccer more consistently or with more vigour than the sneering, primly moustached, stiff-lipped cads of the Guardian Unlimited Sports desk.

It's always been thus. In the 1970s, when the star-studded New York Cosmos were filling stadiums during the first American soccer revolution, Roy of the Rovers found himself playing Stateside for the Pine City Pirates. Roy was appalled by the shallowness, ballyhoo and sheer incompetence of American soccer. "I thought I was going to learn something by coming to the States!" he moaned. "I didn't dream I'd have to teach them how to play the game!"

And who could forget the 2002 World Cup and Gary Linker reading from a typically and hilariously stoopid Yank match report: "Wolff procrastinates over a sideline handpass and is ref-charged for clock abuse" and "he top-bodies the sphere into the score-bag, and Mexico have a double-negative stat!"

Oh those pig-ignorant cack-gobbed Yank wankers! How we laughed. What more confirmation could we possibly need that these gibbering, thumb-fingered mouth-breathers will never understand the beautiful game?

Of course, it turned out Gaz was reading a marvellous Guardian Unlimited spoof. Hell, I laughed. And so did Lawrence Dallaglio when he repeated the quotes the next night on a different TV show. And so did the studio audience. Which is when the penny dropped. This isn't just how Brits think Americans perceive soccer - this is how Brits need to think Americans perceive soccer. And that, actually, is a little bit sad.

During that same World Cup, before the US v Germany game, a British TV crew stopped folks in Time Square and asked them (oh hilarity!) if they even knew a game was taking place (lol!!!!!! rotflmao!!!!!!!!!!). Unfortunately almost everyone said yes. One dude in a soccer shirt even invited the reporter to watch the game with him. "We thought there was apathy," muttered a deeply disappointed Gabby Logan back in the studio.

The rest you know. The "USA!" chants at Manchester United games. The MU Rowdies gags in the Fiver, The Guardian Unlimited design-a-new-hilariously-Americanized-MUFC-crest competition that was then ripped off by The Sun so the whole nation could join in the yanks-don't-get-football yukfest.

Then Bex signed for the LA Galaxy-and the whole sad circus started all over again.

Trouble is, the joke tells us nothing about America or American football (or "soccer" as those crazy, propeller beanie-wearing goofballs call it!!!!!!!!!!!!). And it tells us everything about us.

We - a substantial chunk of us, anyway - are desperately scared that association football will succeed in America. That the USA will become a footballing power. That the yanks will develop a version of the beautiful game as irresistible as jazz, rock'n'roll or the amazing American language (and unless you've checked the English/American phrase books handed out to GIs in 1942, you probably have no idea how much American you speak, limey).

Why are we scared? Because as a nation we have a desperate need to feel superior to the vibrant barbarian culture that's replaced us as top global ass-kicker.

Face it, feeling superior to Americans is about all we've got left. But the list of things we actually do better than the Yanks is slim and getting slimmer. Did you know that the bastards even brew decent beer these days?

So what have we got left to be smug about? Wensleydale cheese, Ricky Gervais, Theakston Old Peculier and Helen Mirren. And, oh yeah, football.

Sorry, the Yanks get it. Not all of them. Not even most of them. But enough of them. Even if Bex bombs. Even if the MLS collapses, American soccer isn't going away.

It's time for a new joke.

Americans are soccer-savvy ... and that scares little Englanders

Does Europe really have a bigger hooligan problem than America?

Soccer: the Barack Obama of sports

How football can explain the US elections

Never mind respect - we should be treating our referees like gods

Ultra-parochial America shows of its sporting ignorance

The truth the soccerphobes refuse to face

Have we gone soft on football's fascists?

Steven Wells Says Goodbye

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