What to Watch Today: Germany-Netherlands in Hamburg

November 15, 2011 — by Suman


Out of wide array of matches being played and televised today (a bunch of international friendlies, a few South American World Cup qualifying matches, and the final four qualifying playoff matches for Euro 2012), the one to watch is a friendly in Hamburg:

Germany-Netherlands (2:30pmET, ESPN Classic, It’s not really a friendly between these two national sides.  True, this match is worth watching based just on the fact that these two are among the top handful of national sides around right now, and will be the top challengers to unseat Spain as European champions next summer.  But in addition to current form, there’s the history to consider.

It’s a history that on the pitch goes back to the famous 1974 match in Munich, which resulted in (then West) Germany’s first second World Cup title, via a loss that still looms large in the Dutch national memory.

The Oranje got some revenge in 14 years later, beating Germany in the Euro 1988 semifinal, in a match which like today’s took place in Hamburg, on their way to their only major title.  Those two matches got caught up, especially in the Dutch psyche, with a previous, darker history–that of Nazi Germany’s occupation of Holland during World War II.

Two chapters to read for much much more on the Holland-Germany rivalry, and in particular on the legendary 1974 and 1988 matches and their complicated historical context: Chapter 2 of Dutchman Simon Kuper’s Football Against the Enemy, titled “Football Is War”; and Chapter 13 of David Winner’s brilliant Brilliant Orange book, titled “football is not war.”  (At least read them before next summer. If things go according to form, it’s entirely possible these two could meet in yet another Euro semifinal, or perhaps even in the final.)

Remarkably the entire Euro 1988 semifinal Hamburg match is on YouTube, in 10 parts.  Though the last segment ends with the final whistle, and so doesn’t include Ronald Koeman infamously wiping his backside with German midfielder Olaf Thon’s jersey in front of the visiting Dutch fans after swapping shirts.  The description of the YouTube videos does include this quote attributed to Koeman: “1988 didn’t erase 1974 from our memories. The bitterness is still there. Before the match Rinus Michels, who also coached the 1974 squad, told us about that lost final, in order to motivate us. I regret what I did after the match. It was an impulsive reaction, the kind of stupid reaction that follows you for the rest of your life. But for me that case is closed. As I never met Thon again after that, I never had the occasion to apologize.”  Apparently, upon returning to Amsterdam as Euro champions after defeating the Soviet Union in the final and following a water-born parade thru the canals of the city, Michels said to the massive crowd gathered in Dam Square: “We won the tournament, but we all know that the semi-final was the real final.”

If instead of the Germany-Holland “friendly” you’d rather watch some matches that ostensibly “matter”, the four Euro playoff 2nd leg matches are all on


Scattershot Politics: Sport and Its Serpentine Political Meanings

June 14, 2011 — by Ryan1



[Editor’s note: We welcome back contributing writer and longtime friend Ryan Reft.  He’s kindly allowed us to repost this essay from his groupblog Tropics of Meta.  For some of his past contributions to CultFootball see here, here and here.]

Over the past fifteen to twenty years, historians have increasingly emphasized the role of sports as both a driver and reflection of society.  The recent Bill Simmons-inspired and ESPN-produced 30 for 30 documentary series tackled a number of difficult subjects via sport.  In “The Two Escobars“, directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist travelled through 1980s Columbia, following the lives of Pablo (international drug dealer/murder/local philanthropist) and Andres Escobar (captain of Columbia’s 1994 World Cup team murdered in a nightclub alteration several months later).  The two unrelated protagonists encapsulated the travails of late 20th century Columbia.  Drug money filtered into the nation’s soccer infrastructure, boosting its competitive success but also adding layers of complexity and violence to a nation already struggling with decades of conflict.  Writing for the Onion’s AV Club, Todd VanDerWerff summarized its importance similarly: “The film’s portrayal of Colombia as a nation that made its compromises and learned to live with the hell they unleashed is also particularly good, as the story of the two men at the center slowly radiates outward to encompass more and more of the nation’s society.”

This is not a wholly unusual conclusion for the series.  In “Pony Exce$$,” director Thaddeus Matula explored the corruption and ultimate destruction of Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) then dominant football program as booster money flowed in from the oil wealth that defined the Southwest US in the 1980s. Though the Southwestern Conference consisted of eight schools (Baylor, Rice, SMU, Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Texas Christian University), Dallas served as a hub for numerous successful graduates of each school.  As several observers note in the documentary, football rivalries crackled in the board room meetings of Dallas high rises as alumni from all schools engaged in recruiting practices that seemed to define the decade.

Likewise, Billy Corben’s film,“The U” about the dominance and bravado of Miami University’s 1980s football teams reflects similar themes.  Miami’s football team served to unite a divided city behind a collection of local talent that also rewrote the rules of the game.  Miami’s players excelled spectacularly on the field but stoked controversy with their trash talk and exuberance.  If oil money shaped SMU, Miami’s notoriously tough African American neighborhoods, embraced by Miami’s first successful coach Howard Schnellenberger, came to symbolize “The U’s” power.  Along with cultural productions like Scarface, Miami Vice and the notorious Two Live Crew, players like Michael Irvin challenged college football and its fans.  Unlike “Pony Exce$$”, “The U” reveals the racial undertones that marked some of the criticism faced by the Miami program.  When teamed with Steve James’ masterful “No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson” and the recent “Fab Five” film about the innovative early 1990s Michigan basketball team, “The U” reveals so much more about American life than just college football.  Race, money, and a changing cultural landscape collided.  As one writer observed, James’ movie looks at Allen Iverson “more as a phenomenon, a human inkblot whose polarizing effect on people often says more about them than it does about him. They see whatever they want to see, and that may or may not be the truth.”  In essence, all these films and others in the 30 for 30 series function to elevate sports to a level of political and social importance that might have been derided in early decades.

“Architecture is the simplest means of articulating time and pace of modulating reality and engendering dreams.  It is a matter of not only of plastic articulation and modulation expressing an ephemeral beauty, but of a modulation of producing influences in accordance with the eternal spectrum of human desires and the progress in fulfilling them.  The architecture of tomorrow will be a means of modifying present conceptions of time and pace.  It will be both a means of knowledge and a means of action.” – Ivan Chtcheglov, Forumulary for a New Urbanism, 1953


Writing in 1953, nineteen year old architect and devotee of the Situationist movement, Ivan Chtcheglov published his sweeping indictment of mid-century urban planning.  For Chtcheglov, the architecture of cities past reflected the dead life of capitalist production.   City dwellers had been hypnotized by the built environment, thus, focusing exclusively on capitalist accumulation to the extent that when “presented with the alternative of love or a garbage disposal unit, young people of all countries have chosen the garbage disposal.”  One can see parallels with sport, most clearly in the above examples regarding SMU and the Escobars. The excess capital of drug and oil money created a vehicle for the egos and dreams of ruling classes that were then imposed. (To be fair, soccer teams as several interviewees in The Two Escobar note, serve as great money laundering devices.  One might suggest the same of Enron and other corporate entities in recent years.)

For Americans, sports provided both meaningless entertainment and incredible important cultural moments of resistance.  Dave Zirin documents athlete resistance of the twentieth century in his 2005 work, What’s My Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States.  To Zirin’s credit, What’s My Name, Fool? gathers countless examples of political acts by athletes across the sports spectrum, engaging in issues of race, gender, and class.  For example, Zirin traces the complicated politics of Jackie Robinson who, despite his bravery in desegregating MLB, came to be unfairly seen by radical Black nationalists of the late 1960s as a sell out. Some have described Zirin as sort of Howard Zinn of spors journalism.  Perhaps.  He does look at major historical events like the 1968 Mexico City Olympic protest by Tommy Smith and John Carlos, in which both athletes upheld closed black gloved fists.  Zirin explores many facets of the event that had gone unnoticed.  Unfortunately, while Zirin collects valuable stories worth reflection, he too often veers in the direction of soap box oratory. Moreover, Zirin seems to feel the need to conclude paragraphs with zingers. For example, how about this gem regarding the failure of several WNBA sports franchises: “while some franchises found success, others have folded faster than a rib joint in Tel Aviv.” (186)  When discussing Allen Iverson, Zirin notes Iverson’s role as an anti-corporate anti-hero summarizing his nickname may have been A.I. but “there was nothing artificial about him.” (163)  Nuance is not the most prominent feature of  What’s My Name, Fool.  Still, even if the equivalent of street corner radical, Zirin contributes something to our knowledge of American culture and sport.

If baseball and to a lesser extent American football and basketball have served as venues for political expression, predictably, football occupies a similar position for Europeans. In How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization, Franklin Foer traipses through countries around the world, but predominantly Europe, exploring the meanings and processes that manifest themselves in the sport. Throughout How Soccer Explains the World one thing becomes clear, the political complexity of football and more generally, sport, radiates in countless directions.  When Foer presents Barcelona’s “bourgeois nationalism” as a model for 21st century cosmopolitanism,  he goes so far as to claim that it “redeems the concept of nationalism.” (198)  For Foer, Barca never demonizes opponents the way supporters at Red Star (Belgrade- the subject of a previous chapter, one that found soccer fan bases and clubs of the former Yugoslavia as germs for the paramilitary organizations of the Balkan wars in the 1990s) have. Instead, Barca illustrates that “fans can love a club and a country with passion and without turning into a thug or terrorist.” (197)

A central aspect of Barca’s identity rests on its foundational myth, its role as a means of Catalan resistance toward the post Spanish Civil War fascist Franco regime. According to this myth, Camp Nou, Barca’s legendary stadium, enabled Catalan fans to express themselves in ways forbidden by Franco.  Camp Nou allowed for political and social subversiveness. “Its fans like to brag that their stadium gave them a space to vent their outrage against the regime,” writes Foer.  “Emboldened by 100,000 people chanting in unison, safety in numbers, fans seized the opportunity to scream things that could never be said, even furtively, on the street or in the café.” (204) Yet, as Foer acknowledges, there is another way to view Barca’s history.  More likely, Franco saw Camp Nou and Barca as harmless outlets for his repressed populations.  Unlike the Basque region and its terrorist/separatist movement ETA, Catalonia never developed any similar liberation fronts.


Marca on Madrid: “Con 10 Se Juega Mejor”

April 17, 2011 — by Suman1


We’ve been digesting Saturday’s Real Madrid-Barcelona 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu–just the first installment of this month’s 4-part El Clásico series; the second is coming up this Wednesday with the Copa del Rey final, to be contested on neutral turf–at the Mestalla in Valencia. In the meantime, it’s always entertaining to see how Madridista tabloid Marca spins the latest big result.

There’s much to savor in this cover. The screaming lead (“Con 10 se juega mejor”) seems pedestrian enough. Translating to “It’s better to play with 10” (or “We play better with 10”?), Marca is seemingly remarking simply that Madrid played better after losing Albiol to a red card and playing a man short for the final 40 minutes of the match.

But it turns out the headline may actually be an allusion to an aphorism attributed to the legendary manager Helenio Herrera–which leads to something of a Möbius strip of historical resonances: Herrera, nicknamed Il Mago (“The Wizard”), is best known for managing Barcelona (1958-1960) and subsequently Inter Milan (1960-1968).  His Barcelona sides successfully challenged the 5-time European champions Real Madrid on the domestic front. Then in Milan he gave birth to Catenaccio and led “La Grande Inter” to two consecutive European championships (1964 and 1965).  Inter didn’t conquer Europe again until last year–led by Jose Mourinho of course, defeating Barcelona along the way in the semifinal, which led to headlines such as “In José Mourinho Inter finally have a true heir to Helenio Herrera.”

(For more on Herrera, confer this post on The Equaliser (which also has a post about La Grande Inter); Chapter 9 of Simon Kuper’s Soccer Against The World, titled “A Day with Helenio Herrera”; the chapter of Jimmy Burns’s Barça: A People’s Passion covering Herrera’s tenure at Barcelona, titled “El Salvador”; or this post titled “The Really Special One – Helenio Herrera.”)

Back to the Marca cover: Mou(rinho)’s comment on the matter gets put across the top (“Me cansa jugar siempre contra ellos con diez jugadores” / “I am tired of always playing against them with 10 players”), and Marca asks whether the “roja directo” (straight red) for Albiol versus no yellow (“ni amarilla”) for Alves on the respective penalties represents a double standard (“¿doble rasero?”).

Of course it’s CR7 and Messi that dominate the image–another fine piece of photoshopping. Ronaldo striding with the ball, looking up, clawing at the air like some sort of big cat (perhaps an allusion to Mourinho’s hunting with cats?), while Messi shuffles behind him, eyeing the ball, looking disturbed/disturbing.

But we also rather like the little image of Guardiola and Mourinho inserted at the top: the two managers with their backs to each other, pistols in hand.  One round of the duel completed–three more to go.


Gelukkige Verjaardag Ruud Krol!

March 24, 2011 — by Suman1

Ruud Krol at the 1978 World Cup - captaining the Dutch team with his lucky necklace

Ruud Krol, one of the original Dutch masters, was born in Amsterdam on this day in 1949. So: Gelukkige Verjaardag Ruud Krol!

Krol was part of the great Dutch generation of the 1970s: he played on the great Ajax side that was managed by Rinus Michels and led on the field by Johan Cruijff, Johan NeeskensPiet Keizer and Krol.  Together they famously won three consecutive UEFA European Cups (the precursor to today’s Champions League), and in doing so introduced totaalvoetbal to the world.

Indeed, Krol stayed at Ajax throughout the ’70s, after Cruiff and Neeskens had left for Barcelona and Keizer had also left the squad (for retirement?), leaving only in 1980 to spend a year with the Vancouver Whitecaps of NASL, followed by four seasons in Serie A with Napoli and a couple seasons in France with Cannes.

Krol was also a featured member of the great Dutch national teams of that era–the legendary 1974 team that was probably the best side to not win the World Cup, and he captained the 1978 team that returned to the championship game only to lose to the host nation yet again.

PS: A hat-tip to @retro_mbm for re-tweeting @barafundler‘s message that noted today is Krol’s brirthday and included the link this video. Follow @retro_mbm if you’re interested in the history of the game (“Modern football? No thanks! Classic matches, as they happened.”).


Kung-Fu Philosopher-King Cantona Comes to NYC

January 19, 2011 — by Suman

Via Facebook: “Today and tomorrow, from 4 PM – Midnight, The New York Cosmos will be unveiling a digital billboard of epic proportions in Times Square to celebrate King Eric Cantona taking the throne at the New York Cosmos.”

Naturally that brought to the CultFootball mind the following aphorism: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea. Thank you very much.”

Eric Cantona: Kung-Fu Philosopher-King


Arsenal v Leeds 1972 – Centenary FA Cup Final

January 8, 2011 — by Suman

The two historied English clubs played earlier today, in a 3rd Round FA Cup matchup at the Emirates.  While today’s was an interesting match, their most famous FA Cup clash was on May 6, 1972 at Wembley–in the centenary FA Cup Final.  Leeds won 1-0 to win their 1st and only FA Cup.

Unlike today, when it would have been a major upset for Leeds to hang on for a victory against Arsenal, in 1972 they were perhaps the two strongest sides in English football.  Arsenal had pulled off the double the previous season, winning both the league and the FA Cup, with Leeds finishing 2nd in the 1970-71 First Division table–just a single point behind the Gunners.

It’s a game that’s well-documented online, by and for Leeds supporters; e.g., a Yorkshire Evening Post photo gallery which includes the front pages from the programmes of the match (left) and the May 8, 1972 special edition of the Evening Post (which includes pics of Leeds captain Billy Bremner receiving the Cup from Queen Elizabeth II and lifting the Cup above the squad):

CommentaryHistoryThey ReminisceVideo

La Magica Roma: 1982-1984

December 17, 2010 — by Simeone1


I am an hardcore fan of the “magica” Roma…I fell in love with the “giallorossi” (“red-yellow”) when I was a kid, 10 years old (1980), Roma-Udinese 0-0, at the old Olimpic Stadium with my mum and dad. We got there at the last minute and we could only find standing “seats”, at the bottom of the Curva Nord (the other curve, Curva Sud, is the home of Roma’s fans). Tw years later Italy won the World Cup, defeating Argentina with Passarella and an already famous Maradona.  (Gentile, the rough italian defender, still has a piece of his jersey!)  Then Italy-Brazil, 3-2, an amazing game, with three goals by Rossi (and a great counterattack goal by Antognoni disallowed)….I am talking about the great Brazil of Zico, Falcao (a Roma’s player by then), Socrates, Junior, Eder….I think one of the best games ever by the Azzurri, second only to the 1970 semifinal victory against Germany (4-3 in overtime). Poland of Lato in the semifinal was a joke and then the usual win against Germany…we rarely (never?) lost against Germany in the World Cup.

There was always a party in the streets during that summer of 1982 in Rome, Italian flags everywhere, people crazy rallying for hours after each game…and remember that we barely made it through the first round, with a tie against Cameroon.

Well, a few months later, in the ’82-83 Serie A season, Liedholm (Swedish coach), Falcao (5), Conti (7), Di Bartolomei (10), and Tancredi (goalie) lead the Roma squad to the second scudetto after 40 years!!  Nobody removed their flags from the windows and balconies, they just added the Roma flag!!!  I remember those days with a lot of joy. I was 12….still a kid.  Me and my dad going to the stadium by subway, then bus, sometimes walking for a couple of miles just for the heck of it (waiting for the bus was boring and we were usually early for the game, since the sooner we got there, the better seats we could get). Bringing paninis with us, spending hours in the stadium, cutting newspapers to use when the teams stepped into the field, singing the Roma anthem by Venditti (see below).  Many times my cousins came along, as well as some friends from school, but it was mainly me and my dad…always there.


Battles at Old Trafford: A Bit of Man U vs Arsenal History

December 13, 2010 — by Suman

Cole, Keown, van Nistelrooy - The Battle of Old Trafford, Sept 2003

A very highly anticipated Premier League matchup today, with Man U vs Arsenal kicking off in a matter of minutes at Old Trafford.  Certainly it’s a significant match for this edition of the Premier League race, with Arsenal one point ahead of Manchester United at the top of the table (Man U do have a game in hand, and in fact are undefeated so far in the Premier League–but they definitely haven’t looked invincible).  Beyond just the current standings, however, Man U and Arsenal have developed quite the heated rivalry over the past couple decades–not as historically/geographically rooted as some other English football rivalries perhaps, but given the clashing personalities of their famous managers and especially the strength of their sides, it’s become one of the mostly highly anticipated fixtures in the Premier League. Two clashes in particular stand out–as evidenced by the fact that they have their own Wikipedia entries: The Battle of Old Trafford (a 0-0 draw in Sept 2003) and The Battle of the Buffet (a 2-0 victory for Man U the following season, in Oct 2004).

The events of the Battle of Old Trafford feature heavily in the videos below: van Nistelrooy drawing a second yellow for Patrick Vieira, with Vieira subsequently going buckwild after the Dutchman; and then van Nistelrooy missing a PK in extra time to preserve the draw–with Arsenal defender then getting in van Nistelrooy’s face.  It was a miss that became especially significant in Premier League history, as that was the year of the Invincibles–the only side to go undefeated thru an entire season.