“Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver explains soccer and society in England to David Letterman.
The rich win. The poor lose. And most Americans don’t care.
Except, of course, those of us who screeched about John getting the number of EPL teams wrong. Enjoy!
Spectators went beyond the usual gamesmanship at Sierra Leone’s practice in Yaoundé, Cameroon: chants of “Ebola, Ebola” rained on the visitors. “You feel humiliated, like garbage, and you want to punch someone,” said John Trye, a reserve goalkeeper, speaking to Jeré Longman of The New York Times (click here to read the article).
Two months ago, Sierra Leone had reached number 50 in FIFA’s world ranking–an excellent result for a country ranked 183rd in the Human Development Index. Coached by Johnny McKinstry, an ambitious 29-year-old from Belfast, the team seemed poised to qualify for the 2015 African Nations Cup before the catastrophic Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The Confederation of African Football decreed that Sierra Leone’s Nations Cup home qualifiers had to be played outside the country. When the team journeyed to Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, to play a “home” match against the DRC, midfielder Khalifa Jabbie reported that “they treated us like aliens.” In Abidjan, the Ivory Coast players opted for fist-bumps with their opponents instead of shaking hands; fans in the stands taunted the visitors with “Stop Ebola” signs and insulting chants (see photo above).
Already facing stiff competition in a qualifying group that includes Ivory Coast and Cameroon, the itinerant Sierra Leoneans lost matches and became demoralized. “The players tried their very best but sometimes what the mind’s willing to do, the body simply can’t anymore,” said their Irish coach. Making matters worse, a couple of weeks before Sierra Leone’s away match in Cameroon, McKinstry was fired with a curt email from the sports ministry, which then fought publicly with the country’s Football Association over the selection of his successor.
While Sierra Leonans have much more serious matters to deal with than sport, the stigma and fear associated with Ebola is also denying emotional solace to a nation generously endowed with football passion and patriotism. As their new coach, Atto Mensah, put it, “This is the only way we can make people happy. We owe them joy.”
Quinton Fortune played seven seasons with Manchester United and 46 times for South Africa. On September 23, he wrote an excellent piece in The Guardian about a topic dear to me and to many readers of this blog: the impact of the 2010 World Cup on the growth and development of South African football.
Given the billions of rands spent on new and revamped stadiums and transport infrastructure, Fortune asks, was hosting the tournament a boon for the local game? “Judging by the poor attendances at top-flight games not involving the country’s two most popular clubs, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates, who are also by far the most powerful in financial terms, and the poor performances of the national team Bafana Bafana, the answer unfortunately has to be a resounding ‘no’,” Fortune writes.
His concerns are numerous, important, and inter-related. The World Cup, Fortune asserts, did nothing to alter the Chiefs-Pirates duopoly, which continues to capture the lion’s share of the attention from fans, media, and sponsorship money. He points out that the quality of play in the Premier Soccer League is not terribly good, as evidenced by last year’s top scorer, Bernard Parker, boasting a meager 10 goals.
Fortune then notes how the swanky World Cup stadiums in Cape Town, Nelspruit, Polokwane, and Port Elizabeth are now massive financial drains on local municipalities struggling to deal with many pressing social needs in perhaps the most unequal country in the world.
The former Man United midfielder does not spare the PSL’s satellite broadcaster, SuperSport, which bankrolls the South African league while offering 24/7 matches and highlights of European football (such as EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Champions League). This contradiction is another reason why the PSL is “losing fans who prefer to watch the football from the comfort of their homes, receiving high definition pictures, while also having a choice of watching (better quality) football from other parts of the world,” says Fortune.
The way forward, Fortune concludes, requires harnessing South Africa’s world-class infrastructure and abundance of football talent to forge “a well-planned development programme which will develop that talent into realising its full potential.” How this should be done is the challenging part.
With the Scottish independence referendum a week away, Stefan Szymanski of the University of Michigan is thinking about what the outcome might mean for football.
Writing on the Soccernomics blog, he reminds us that the UK is the only nation-state with four members in FIFA and points to a historically tense relationship between the world body and the founders of the modern game.
According to Szymanski, “a vote for independence would change things.” FIFA might gain control of IFAB (responsible for the rules of the game); Welsh nationalism could receive a boost; and perhaps other football nations would call more loudly for the UK to field a single team, as it does in the Olympics.
Meanwhile in Scotland, the New York Times reports that “the country’s stadiums have become key battlegrounds for the yes and no campaigns.”
On Sunday, FC Kansas City defeated Seattle Reign 2-1 to win the 2014 National Women’s Soccer League championship. Playing at the Reign’s home ground of Starfire Sports Stadium on an artificial surface, FCKC’s solid tactical organization, relentless collective defense, and excellent finishing proved decisive.
The league’s best teams put on an entertaining and well-played spectacle for ESPN2’s national television audience. Amy Rodriguez’s perfectly calibrated chip shot over Hope Solo opened the scoring in the 22nd minute. In a rare chance, Seattle’s Nahomi Kawasumi shockingly missed a wide open header later in the first half. But overall FCKC frustrated the Reign’s offensive play and effectively neutralized NWSL MVP Kim Little.
Ten minutes into the second half, Lauren Holiday put on a dribbling display of the finest quality in the Seattle box and generously served the ball to Rodriguez. Left inexplicably unmarked, the U.S. national team player slid into her shot to the far post for her second of the day and a 2-0 FCKC lead. Megan Rapinoe eventually pulled one back for Seattle three minutes from time. But it was not enough, as FCKC held on for a deserved victory.
The NWSL crown means that Kansas City now holds both the men’s and women’s professional titles in the United States. For a sport usually associated with the coasts, could this moment represent the beginning of a broader power shift into the interior of the country?
With the 2014 World Cup in the history books, the Football Scholars Forum, an online think tank based at Michigan State University, announced the start of its 2014-15 season.
On September 25, 3pm Eastern Time (-5 GMT), historian Roger Kittleson (@rogerkittleson) joins the group to discuss his new book The Country of Football: Soccer and the Making of Modern Brazil. To participate in the 90-minute Skype session please send Alex Galarza (galarza.alex AT gmail.com) your Skype name to be added to the call.
On October 30 (time TBD), FSF welcomes the “Indiana Jones of soccer journalism,” in the words of Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl: James Montague (@JamesPiotr). The session will be devoted to his recent book: Thirty-One-Nil: On the Road With Football’s Outsiders: A World Cup Odyssey.
The third event of the (northern) fall will consist of a vibrant roundtable on the state of women’s football internationally. It will take place during the week of December 9-11 (day/time TBA), just after the Decenber 6 draw for the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Jean Williams (@JeanMWilliams), Martha Saavedra (@tricontinental), Gwendolyn Oxenham, and Brenda Elsey (@politicultura) are among the confirmed participants who will pre-circulate blog posts on the FSF website to stimulate discussion and debate.
Albert Ebossé, the Algerian league’s top striker last season, was killed by a stone thrown from the stands during a match on Saturday in Tizi Ouzou. It was hurled by someone in a section of the stadium occupied by supporters of his own team, JSK.
The Algerian authorities have opened an investigation on this senseless killing. Meanwhile, the Tizi Ouzou stadium is closed until further notice.
Born in 1989 in Douala, Cameroon, Ebossé stood out on the pitch for his physical size, scoring ability, and unbreakable spirit. In a series of tweets, the Algerian football analyst Mezahi Maher described him as “one of the best I’ve seen in the Algerian league. [He] Seemed invincible against the nastiest defenders. That air of indestructibility further adds to the shock.”
Widely respected by teammates and the media in Algeria, Ebossé embodied the hemle (Bassa for “pride”) so revered in Douala, as Ntone Ndjabe explained in a terrific World Cup preview of the Cameroon squad published in the Financial Times.
When, during a match in Sétif, spectators spewed monkey chants at him, Maher recalled, Ebossé remained composed and focused. Later in the match he soared above the defenders to score on a powerful header. Ebossé celebrated by doing a “monkey dance” for the crowd. Hemle.
His 17 goals in 2013-14 attracted the attention of several European clubs. However, with a daughter born just one week ago and a year left on his JSK contract, Ebossé decided to stay put: “Tizi Ouzou is special. Here I feel as if I’m with my own family in Douala.”
It was a member of his “family” who killed him.