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

BooksGeneral KnowledgeHistory

Intersectionality Meets Football

November 23, 2010 — by Ryan1


The Collision of Ethnicity, Class, and Memory in My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes

If one believes the authors of Soccernomics, the provincialism of the nation’s working class remains one of the maladies plaguing English football. Though the authors acknowledge England’s creeping post war “embourgeoisement”, working class attitudes continued to dominate footballing circles and not necessarily for the better. In America, football depends largely on the middle class, but in England, for much of its sporting history, working class culture produced the vast majority of players. Soccernomics laments this development, suggesting the exclusion of the nation’s middle classes from competitive soccer acts as a “brake” on England’s international hopes. Furthermore, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski argue that the provincial proletarian mindset continues to bedevil the sport. Pointing to the insights of Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson as evidence, Britain’s working class players subscribe to a theory of work in which they are “entitled” to a couple pints every night (provided they’ve put in an honest day’s work), not to mention the semi-frequent Saturday night bender. Ferguson identifies this belief system as a direct result of “the shift worker’s mentality”. How very Scottish.

The authors are not completely unkind. They point to long traditions of self education among working peoples, the rise in college attendance among the general British public, and the blame that the middle and upper classes deserve for the wayward educational opportunities of England’s proletariat, yet despite these examples “the anti-intellectual attitudes that the soccer administrators encountered do seem to be widespread in the English game,” write the authors, “These attitudes may help explain why English managers and English players are not known for thinking about soccer.” [21] For many players and managers, education serves as a mark of suspicion rather than achievement; Kuper and Szymanski label this the “anti-educational requirement.”[22] While Soccernomics points to many truths about the game, it is not the rosetta stone of football. The book is sometimes guilty of ahistoricism (or at the very least flawed periodization that doesn’t always fully reveal all the nuances and turns of their subject’s narrative) and economic determinism (which some fairly point out should not be a surprise considering its title). The question is, how to get at these slippages?

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The Cruel Economy of Soccernomics: Capital, Players, and Football in the 21st Century

October 18, 2010 — by Ryan


In 2000’s The Many Headed Hydra, historians Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker explored the transnational revolutionary Atlantic world’s collection of working and enslaved peoples’ of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Linebaugh and Rediker present numerous examples of this burgeoning Atlantic world proletariat as it struggled against the crushing dominance of a nascent capitalism shedding its mercantilist restraints.  The commoditization of labor and peoples, left sailors, slaves, and commoners as physical representations of opposition, providing tangible fervor and ideological depth to various uprisings, revolts, and revolutions from England to the West Indies to the United States.  Acting as “nodes of revolution”, sailors and slaves carried ideas, plots, and oppositional violence against “the dictates of mercantile and imperial authority” targeting the property of the growing merchant class.  (156) In the face of state sponsored violence of the period ranging from slavery to penal colonies to military intervention, revolution through piracy, slave revolt, and riot served as resistance to the formation of new capitalist order.

Strangely, 2009’s Soccernomics (entitled Why England Lose in the UK) represents an interesting correlation to The Many Headed Hydra’s oncoming tsunami of free trade and “open markets”.  No footballers are not, never have been, and are highly unlikely to ever be “nodes of revolution:”, anyone who’s followed recent sex scandals involving prominent players like England’s John Terry (likes 18 year girls  and sleeping with his best friend’s former fiancée) or Wayne Rooney (allegedly cried after “performing” with an escort while his wife was in labor with their first child which makes him simultaneously ridiculous and despicable) knows that even getting them to be “nodes of decency” proves challenging. Yet, throughout Soccernomics the three themes seem central to authors Simon Kuper (soccer journalist/writer) and Stefan Szymanski (economist) economically deterministic approach to football:

  • •  The rising dominance of European style/tactics over the past 30 – 40 years (the authors even argue that Brazil has diminished aspects of its “beautiful game” to adopt much of the European approach)
  • •  The role of capital flows in altering the modern game
  • •  Players themselves, most from working class populations (in the rich and developing world (though differences between poverty in France and South Africa remain stark), serving as nodes of both developments.

“The best soccer today is Champions League Soccer, western European Soccer.  It’s a rapid passing game played by athletes.  Rarely does anyone dribble, or keep the ball for a second. You pass instantly.  It’s not the beautiful game – dribbles are prettier – but it works best.  All good teams everywhere in the world now play this way.  Even the Brazilians adopted the Champions League style in the 1990s.  They still have more skill than the Europeans, but they now try to play at a European pace.” (27)