A “Hallmark Holiday” for American Soccer

By | December 22nd, 2012 | 1 Comment


Guest Post by Tom McCabe

I’ve been invited to not one, but three Boxing Day parties this year, which got me thinking that the day after Christmas should become a soccer holiday in the United States. Like other manufactured holidays such as Grandparent’s Day, Secretary’s Day, and Boss’s Day, Boxing Day can become American soccer’s Hallmark Holiday.

This country has no real tradition for December 26th, unlike England and some other Commonwealth countries, so two Englishmen and one American I know have co-opted the day and made it an “unofficial” soccer holiday.

My friend Jimmie’s son was born seven years ago on Boxing Day, and ever since he has an open house for his soccer-loving friends and family. He wants his son’s birthday to always be filled with soccer. His house is just seven exits away on the Garden State Parkway (yes, the “Which exit?” New Jersey joke lives on) so my son and I watch a Premier League match as we eat an early morning English breakfast.

Phil, an Englishman, just started his Boxing Day party, but we’ll have to pass on it as one in our hometown gets top billing. Steve, a Scouser who supports Liverpool, has hosted a match and after-party for a number of years now.

The event starts as an eleven-a-side “international” between England and the U.S.A., but disintegrates into a twenty-a-side melee when the kids join in. It ends with a party at the local Elks Lodge. Last year, the Stars and Stripes posted a convincing 4-1 victory over Mother England on a clear, cold day. One player dressed as a Victorian-era Englishman with a retro Three Lions jersey, long white shorts, and a faux mustache. After the match we warm ourselves with meat pies and beer.

It’s a festive day of food and football that others should partake in. Soccer clubs could use it as a get-together after the fall season. Professional clubs might use the opportunity to stage an exhibition match, advertise the coming season (Major League Soccer just announced its home openers for 2013 this past week), or just host fans for a holiday party.

Whatever the motivation, December 26 could become a day that gets you off the couch and back onto the field. With soccer as its focus, it would be better than any of those other Hallmark Holidays.


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Hamba Kahle Sedick Isaacs: Lessons for Football and Politics in South Africa

By | December 17th, 2012 | 2 Comments

These are interesting times for politics and football in South Africa. The African National Congress is meeting this week in Bloemfontein/Mangaung to select the ruling party’s new leaders while 94-year-old Nelson Mandela is still hospitalized recovering from surgery and a lung infection. Domestic football has been rocked by a FIFA match fixing report alleging that a transnational match-fixing syndicate based in Singapore, assisted by South African Football Association (SAFA) officials, fixed Bafana Bafana’s friendlies against Thailand, Bulgaria, Colombia and Guatemala in the build up to the 2010 World Cup. Five SAFA men, including its president, Kirsten Nematandani (in photo above), have been suspended pending “further examination” of possible “criminal intent in collusion” with a front organization set up by the convicted match fixer Wilson Raj Perumal.

Consumed by the details of this latest sporting malfeasance as well as the tensions in ANC politics at a particularly difficult moment for South Africa, I was stunned to belatedly learn of the death of Sedick Isaacs at the age of 72. I had the extraordinary privilege to meet him in 2010 while a Fulbright Scholar at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). I was humbled and honored to share the stage with Isaacs in a symposium on football history held on the UKZN Westville campus and sponsored by the German cultural exchange program, DAAD.

Isaacs spoke matter-of-factly about the cruelty and hardships endured during his 13 years on Robben Island. What had earned him a place in apartheid’s most notorious prison had been his role as saboteur in the armed struggle. Standing before us wearing a blue sweater in the humidity of sub-tropical Durban, Isaacs pointed out that his years on Robben Island had left him always feeling cold regardless of the temperature. A point he reiterated in Cape Town two weeks later when he spoke at my book launch for African Soccerscapes. (That’s us in the photo below.)

By studying and playing on Robben Island, Isaacs told us, prisoners formed and maintained communities of survival and resistance. He earned a university degree while behind bars and also helped to build and administer the prisoners’ Makana Football Association. (The story is admirably told by Chuck Korr and Marvin Close in More Than Just a Game: Football v Apartheid.) When the prisoners finally secured the warden’s approval for their league after three years of struggle, Isaacs ended up handling much of the day-to-day operations of the Makana FA.

Dr. Isaacs explained that the weekly cycle of matches proved crucial in fighting “eventless time” — a debilitating condition for prisoners serving lengthy sentences. The cycle worked something like this: teams started the week by analyzing the previous match and then by midweek there was growing anticipation for upcoming matches. Conversations, banter, and meetings stoked the hype and created heroes and personalities. By the weekend, excitement surrounding the matches reached fever pitch. Football’s importance, Isaacs said, was enhanced by its force as a provider of human emotions in an emotionally neutral context.

Isaacs pointed out that the only positive effects of long prison sentences is that they can strengthen prisoners’ organizational skills and improve their understanding of human nature. The activities of the Makana FA reinforced this outcome. Intriguingly, both candidates for the ANC presidency in 2012, South African President Jacob Zuma and his challenger Kgalema Motlanthe, played football on Robben Island. “If it had not been for the beautiful game and these community building devices,” Isaacs concluded, “we could have become psychological and physical wrecks incapable of integration into a multicultural world, let alone be able to contribute positively to it.” May you rest in peace Sedick Isaacs. An exemplary South African who can teach folks in Mangaung and at SAFA a few lessons about doing the right thing in politics and football.

Motor City Celebrates US Women’s Team

By | December 9th, 2012 | 7 Comments

Guest Post by Sophie Alegi
11-year-old soccer player and writer in Michigan. This is her first match report.

December 8, 2012

Detroit –17,371 people came to Ford Field to watch USA vs. China: an attendance record for a women’s soccer game in Michigan.

The US was not used to the artificial surface. Players struggled to control the ball. The surface was clearly not appropriate for soccer because when they passed the ball, it bounced up and down slightly, as if the carpet was ruffled.

China’s defense was shaky in the first five minutes, letting at least six shots be hammered at their goalkeeper, Zhang Yue. The best chance was for Amy Rodriguez who was playing in her 100th international match. China let the US pin them down in their own half. But the Chinese pulled together, playing tight defense.

All of the players were extremely close together; making it very difficult for the US to connect their usual passes. The US started to look a little wobbly in the back, with Shannon Boxx giving up ball after ball in the defensive third. Hope Solo managed to keep out a powerful shot by the Chinese number ten with a spectacular aerial save.

In the midfield, the US gave up at least ten balls, giving China easy opportunities to go forward. But the US defense held up, and only a few shots were directed at Solo.

Unfortunately, the two times the ball went down the wing Megan Rapinoe failed to get the ball to Abby Wambach’s head. China started to get physical about eighteen minutes into the half. Every time an American player turned, she would get brutally fouled. It hurts to fall on that carpet surface!

Twenty minutes in, a Chinese player got a yellow card. On the resulting play, Wambach received a cross. The ball glanced off her head and out. She probably wanted that one back. The young Chinese team did well to close up the gaps, but the US team was playing at the speed of molasses.

Thirty minutes in the US began to play in the Chinese penalty box. They would pass around on the outskirts, trying to find an opening. The referee was not very good. She botched a corner kick call and awarded a goal kick instead. A corner was awarded to the US thirty-one minutes in. Wambach got clattered on the back post by a giant Chinese defender.