Archive for June, 2010

Soccer and civility: a changing of the guard?

June 29, 2010

There’s been much made of a changing of the guard evident in this World Cup.

My friend, Mark, an avid fan who has played soccer throughout his life and now coaches his youngest son’s team, has found this a poignant World Cup, and not in a good way.

Not only has he witnessed the international disgrace of his long-time team Les Bleus (he was actually there to see Zidane’s famous head-butt in 2006), he’s also come to believe that the often younger and less celebrated teams simply have more football class. 

This was his email message to me today:

“I’m very sad to see South Korea out, not just because of Jongho but because of the class with which they play. I see so much selfishness that the untrained eye might miss. It’s painful for me to watch.

Why do you think Germany is always so good? Never a hesitation to immediately give the ball to a fellow player. There’s just too much fame and money involved for the football primadona’s to think of anything but scoring for themselves. My predication: all the surviving groups will have one thing in common. They will pass without any thought for themselves.”

Some of you might remember Mark from one of my Olympic Blog posts titled “Bomb scare on the Seabus: a story of Canadian civility.”


Mark is easily ticked off at lack of civility whether it’s on the water, at home, at work, or in sport.  He tends to root for underdogs as long as those dogs can simultaneously hunt well and demonstrate class.

As for the Korean team, well, there’s just never enough for this household. I so loved watching them play in 2006. I remember the day they were sent home, our friend Richard Nam, finished his beer, got up quietly and headed for the door. He said “Now I go home too.”  And Richard is never the first to leave any gathering.

My latest minor obsession is number 10, Park Chu Young, a 24-year-old rock star in Korea who has been dubbed “the prince or Monaco”, where he plays.    

He trained for a year in Brazil; he’s known for his stunning pace, versatility and creativity and I’m sure by some for his good looks (yes, I’m biased). As my neighbour Carl said to me the other day “when did soccer become porn? It’s hard to watch the actual game with all these six-pack, gorgeous players on the pitch.”

Watch this incredible soccer- porn footage of this Prince of Monaco joining the ranks of the great strikers:!

As for whether this kid is a soccer genius or not, this is Park’s reply: 

I’m not a genius; I’m just a soccer geek. I’m not a star; I’m just a soccer player who want to be more good at soccer.” 

As we saw in the final Korean game against Uruguay, when a Korean player is substituted for another, the departing player bows and shakes hands with the coach and the oncoming player. 

And in their final departure, trying their best to hold back tears, they bowed in front of Korea media and to the people back home. Koreans are a feisty, angry bunch, at times, but civility?–they’ve got us all outclassed.  

Korea’s Joong Ahn Daily reported on the manager’s post-game locker room speech. 

“Raise your heads, you guys should not be embarrassed of the result of the game today,” manager Huh Jung-moo told his dejected players in the locker room after the game. “I’m happy to have competed in the World Cup with good players like yourselves.”

If only we could have watched just one more Korean game!

But such is the agony of this round of  World Cup Soccer.    




Germany over England: a short time to mourn

June 28, 2010

We arrived at the Sunset Grill in Kits at 6:50 this morning. All the tables had been reserved and ours was the best seat, right in front of one the largest of a dozen or so screens. 

Just as the game was about to start, a handsome thirty-something fellow sat at the table next to us. He said a purposeful good-morning and then, like an elegant magician, he whipped a German flag from his front pocket. JH and laughed out loud and the mood was set.

Alex from Germany seemed to know a lot about soccer and his team. There was no sniping or chest-pounding. I asked him if the German press was as nasty and harsh as England’s and he said “not so much, no.” I guess when you’re a European economic super power with a shaky past, it’s easy to be dignified about things.  Sometimes, I really feel for England.  

I have to say, we were all pretty stunned at England’s denial of their second goal. WE had some trouble getting over it, you can imagine how the English players felt.

I asked JH and Andrew, “how can everyone in the world KNOW that was a goal and one guy say it wasn’t?” Andrew said this is precisely the kind of thing that might change it. 

So we’ll never know how England’s momentum was affected by that. One Huffpost comment today was something like life IS momentum; of course it mattered! 

But I have heard numerous virtual and life-space comments about England’s being lucky to even be there. The Nyala Restaurant owner told me “England being in at all is a fluke. They don’t belong!”

I’ve read just today that the players are spoilt, entitled, too old, arrogant, braggers and to top it all off—their style of play is outdated. 

There was one non-English fan, though,  who said nary a negative word about the team. And that was German Alex, who sat next to us for the game.

He was later joined by his Ukrainian friend, Alex; they’re off to San Francisco tomorrow. 

Alex and Alex (spelled the Ukrainian way)

I asked them if, when they met years ago in Switzerland, it was love at first sight because of their shared name.

German Alex said “no, he spells his differently”!

At this point, we stole his flag, placed it across us like a small banner of shame and raised our left thumbs in support for the other guys.  


I’m thinking of following rugby; I hear soccer is for girls, anyway.  

Watch this:


Footy and food, Africa!

June 27, 2010

Three friends in Gahna colours still beaming after Ghana's first goal

We watched the Ghana-US game at an African restaurant on 26th & Main and had gourmet African appetizers. 

The owner of Nyala is an African who’s cheering for Chile but he was pretty busy high-fiving his customers after Ghana’s win.  

Andrew told me that we have no idea what this means to Africa, to have at least one of their own advance.  South Africa is where the poorest of kids make their own soccer balls with garbage and string.  

It was a warm and family-feel crowd. After the game there was a lot of mingling and beaming and discussion with strangers about the best places to go for tomorrow’s mythical game between England and Germany.  

I told an English  fellow that I’ve changed my mind about Germany over England partly because of the humour thing. He said “why would you be for the Germans. Did you shag one once?” 

Coming from a 60-year-old with a familiar twinkle in his eye and a north country accent made it more hilarious than creepy.     

It was a really special game for us, with real live vuvuzelas.  JH had to work and I so wish he could have been there. 

Tomorrow we’re off to the Sunset Grill in Kits for 7:00 am! 

And yes, I’ll be wearing a white shirt with bits of red on it.

Korean Soccer, Alpen Club-style

June 26, 2010

We hit the Alpen Club this morning to watch the Korea-Uruguay game on the largest screen in the city. 

We were the only ones there for the first 20 minutes of the game; I guess Germans sleep in for other countries’ games. The friendly Fräulein servers  told us that tomorrow’s game will likely pack in about 1000.

Greg and Andrew joined us and, wouldn’t you just know it, the jokes started flying (mostly by me, mind you).

Greg figured that if he dared show up there tomorrow, he would be put in a cage while German fans hurled garbage at him. We met a heavily tattooed and accented German fellow who said that, if you like the smell of tear gas, go to a Euro game between Germany and England–pure hatred. But then, again, he said, everyone in Europe hates Germany.

I asked him if this was changing and he said not when it comes to soccer–pure hatred, pure hatred.  

So I think we might give the Alpen Club a miss tomorrow morning and head out with some more familiar England supporters. I can’t help thinking, though, what an experience it would be to be in the middle of 1000 Germans cheering for their team and country.

But in the event of a loss against England, I’d sure hate to run into our tattooed friend and let it slip that I was born in England.

I’d be lucky to get out of there alive.     

We were forced to say goodbye to team Korea today. They played beautifully against Uruguay and, for some reason, their tears have hurt me the most.  

I’m off now to an African restaurant on Main Street with Greg and Andrew and Giulia to watch Ghana play the US.  Andrew wants to support the last African chance in this World Cup. 

And by the way, Namibian Andrew has a message for us: everyone in South Africa is having a fantastic time and they’re actually enjoying the vuvuzelas!

So there!!

World Cup Comedy and History

June 26, 2010

You don’t have to be a football fan to have heard about the London Independent sports writer, Frank McGhee who, on the eve of the final game between England and Germany in 1966, issued this piece of advice to his fearful countrymen:

“If, on the morrow, the Germans beat us at our national game, we’d do well to remember that, twice this century, we have beaten them at theirs.”

War jokes, you might have noticed, are only funny to the winners who, in this case turned out the be the economic losers. Most of us forget about this tragic fact when we watch in amazement, the pathos that is British football.   

But in Germany, this type of lazy English wit continues to  irritate, if not sting. I do get the sense, though, that the younger generation of Germans have a more alluring international pop culture to engage in than to focus on stuff that happened well over a half a century ago. 

It doesn’t help when infamous English football fans (having redeemed themselves of late, I hear) can still be heard chanting: Two World Wars and One World Cup, as the rest of the crowd groans in unison.

I grew up in a household where German jokes were accepted, if not expected, until a real live German joined our family. Dad and I used to joke that he and I would likely  have been Zeig Heiling before Frank ever would have.  

As posted earlier, I joined friends and other English fans to watch the England – USA game, which I’ve heard was reported in some US publications as the US beating  England in a one-one tie. But for the fledgling US soccer, a tie with England, is sweet victory indeed.  

Jon Stewart has capitalized on America’s newly found soccer frenzy by sending the brilliant 32-year old Birmingham native John Oliver to South Africa for the assignment of his life. The banter back and forth is rife with nationalist barbs and completely unsurprising to this Bristol lass.   

Here’s John Oliver, as a boastful English nouveau-nerd and Jon Stewart as an American whose had enough of all the snot:

Soccer (can I please just call it that?) brings out the best and worst in us.

After South Korean Ahn Jung-Hwan’s deciding goal against Italy in 2002 (he still retains rock-star status in Korea), the president of the Italian team he played for in his regular job fired him  vowing “that gentleman will never set foot in Perugia again. He was a phenomenon only when he played against Italy. I am a nationalist and I regard such behaviour not only as an affront to Italian pride but also an offence to a country which two years ago opened its doors to him.”

South Korea, in alternating fits of horror and giggles, knew they had arrived on the international football scene. 

English novelist, playwright and broadcaster, J.B. Priestly, defended soccer against the reductive criticism of people who just don’t get it by claiming: To say that these men paid their shillings to watch twenty-two hirelings kick a ball is merely to say that a violin is wood and catgut, that Hamlet is so much paper and ink.

You hear this kind of nonsense more often than you think: literature (or God forbid, book learning) is just an indulgence for those who should get a real job—or my five-year old son could have painted that (to which my mother would have at least wanted to reply during her days as a tour guide at the Vancouver Art Gallery: but your kid didn’t, did he?”   

There’s obviously something profound in this game that has gripped most of the planet. 

1960’s Liverpool coach, Bill Shankley, once said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

As Italy was sent packing yesterday, you couldn’t help but feel their pain expressed in mea maxima culpas, tears and exaggerated arm movements. 

Just watch some of these teams at the moment of elimination and tell me that this is not exhilarating theatre! 

For tomorrow’s drama, JH and I will be up at the crack of dawn to pick up our English friend, Greg, and head out to watch the Korea- Uruguay game on a mega screen. 

I’m so hopeful it hurts. Korean fans are some of the most passionate in the world; gentlemen, farmers, hostesses and professors–all will be watching in Korea tomorrow. The least I can do is get suited-up and publically support my sweetheart and his team.

As for the England-Germany game on Sunday, I’m keeping my team pick pretty close to my chest. 

I can tell you one thing though, we’ll be watching this weekend’s games at the Alpen Club on Victoria Drive. 

The upshot for me is that, if England beats Germany on Sunday, I have an England jersey in the car.

And I have my history.

Saturday night morality

June 21, 2010

Annie’s Vancouver Salon held a real-space meeting on Saturday night. 

It started off like any other impromptu gathering –a few friends over for a barbeque, a few intense personalities delighting in the company of like-minds. You know–the usual stuff. 

Somehow, the problem of morality surfaced. I was scrubbing new potatoes and preparing my special barbeque sauce when the conversation erupted. 

Giulia claimed that she knows for certain that her morality is correct because it has to do with minimum harm, compassionate intentions and a fairly solid understanding of 19th and 20th century oppression of weaker nations. 

Mark and I understood her points but pointed out, through various examples, that other peoples’ morality doesn’t necessarily look like that thus proving that universal morality is impossible. 

At this point, I suggested that her view might be a bit religious in its foundation of brother and sisterly love as the highest value. Mark then cited a recent study suggesting that capitalist systems actually foster altruism.

Andrew appeared a bit disturbed by this finding and Giulia shook her head at the very thought of it. They both offered reasons why this doesn’t mean much and Mark and I didn’t push it. After all, with smart and good people in your midst, rationality does get a bit boring–especially when you only half believe what you’re saying.  

For some of us, it’s sport but for others, it’s not. And understanding the difference can be tricky.  

Jongho joined in with his observations about traditional Korean morality and how this is changing rapidly for a morality based on success and shopping. 

Philosophical poseurs

Andrew, who has lived all his life in Africa, suggested that the white-black paradigm is a bit tired and that, at least in the case of India, British occupation was a blip in a vast and varied history.  

Julia reiterated that modern Western influence should not be minimized. I agreed, as did, Mark. JH nodded, as did Andrew. Then we  realized we were talking about very fine points in a huge conversation—and that we were pretty much all on the same side. 

The Sausage has no time for this kind of splitting of hairs. In fact, he was baffled as to how we could engage in such lofty conversations about morality and leave a cold, wet Dachshund in an empty bath. 

People! It's a bit chilly in here, people!

And the moral of the story is: morality begins at home.

Now I REALLY get why I can’t stand Sarah Palin

June 18, 2010

I’ve said more than once that words are not enough to express my feelings about Sarah Palin. But words are all we have.

We know that she wears her ignorance like a badge bestowed on her by many of the worst 19th, 20th and 21st century ideas.  

She’s 1980’s flight attendant attractive—and no offense to flight attendants; some of my best friends and family members are flight attendants. 

But weren’t flight attendants hired and marketed to elicit feelings of comfort and confidence? They’re usually pretty and well-groomed. They bring you food and drinks with a smile. They even bring you pillows and blankets when you’re feeling a little bit sleepy.

When you wake up, they’re all clean and fresh, offering you coffee and breakfast. Throw in the Hollywood coffee- tea -or me fantasy and plant one of these women in the Fox News spotlight as a leader of all men, who hunts, fishes, bakes and breeds, and VOILA—you have a right-wing American feministi politician, who rumour has it, is likely planning another run for the White House. 

Remember this one? What’s the difference between a soccer mom and a pit bull? Answer: lipstick.

How many of us cringed at the ensuing applause?–at this pit bull mangling of ignorance and wink-wink, say no more, working-class schtick (I actually like pit bulls but Oscar abhors all the bully breeds)? Again, nothing against the working class–just against the spin doctors and nurses who encourage them not to think.     

But isn’t this politics as usual in the age of cutthroat mass media?

So why the recurring nauseating reaction to this woman?

According to Geoffrey Dunn, it’s Sarah Palin’s inner rage that triggers us. 

Maybe this is why so many women I know go emotionally ballistic when trying to understand her appeal. 

I actually have no problem with rage. We all own it and most of us experience it frequently, whether we admit it or not. 

The problem isn’t when it’s expressed, but when it’s unacknowledged, and when it’s packaged and spun as righteousness and courage.

Finally, finally, I’m on to the likes of Sarah Palin. Even when my mind can’t quite get it, my body tells me for certain that something is rotten with this ugliest manifestation of “new” feminism (and yes, it’s going on here in Canada).   

Unacknowledged anger is a problem for grown-ups to at least try to overcome–not one to celebrate. 

Here’s to Geoffrey Dunn for helping me clarify my openly-acknowledged rage against Sarah Palin!

Rage, rage against Robert Green—“the cries of babies, not men!”

June 15, 2010

In today’s Telegraph, columnist Kevin Garside argues that the British media lynching of Robert Green is more tragic than the football blunder itself. 

A number of people, including my own mother, expressed some horror at the thought of what this means to Robert Green’s life. 

Even my most die-hard sports gurus, who repeatedly warn me against too much sympathy for either the other guys or our guys who err gravely in the heat of battle, must have felt a twinge of sadness–not just anger–at England’s shame. 

Local TV chatterers were all saying, in the finest Vancouver fashion, “well, it’s just the first game” and JH responded to me and the TV, ” but if they don’t ultimately advance, this is the ONLY game.”    

As I watched the Germany-Australia match at my sister and brother-in-law’s house (HD TV – WOW!), Clare winced at the fourth German goal. And I winced with her as I rubbed the fine fabric of my Adidas Germany jersey.

For today, I’m a Kevin Garside fan (whoever you are). The bitchy British press, after all the Olympics nastiness, is not one voice. 

In my last post, I included a picture of England fans, Hamish et al. Hamish is the balding chap on the far left. As the subdued crowd was thinning out, I said to him, “that US goal is pretty hard to take.”

He smiled at me and said “it’s done; I’m over it.”

Wise words from a grown-up England fan!      

Football and politics: now that’s just silly!

June 15, 2010

When my students tell me they don’t like politics, I tell them they’ve just told me about their politics. They’re pretty much fine with the way things are and with the ways things have been. And they’re at peace with what they need to do to get to where they want to be.    

The World Cup has to be political; after all,  it’s bloodless (well, mostly)  international combat. Picking a side is an emotional, tribal act.  

But how do we come to identify with a certain team? Other than personal ethnic background, why do so many people attach themselves to teams with which they share none of those dreadful things called blood lines

I figure that we might love these guys because they’re not the other guys. Or maybe we don’t share any ethnic history with these guys, but the other guys beat them up historically just like they beat us up. Politics, anyone? 

JH has an Australian friend who thinks that rugby rules and soccer is for sissies. I’ve also heard white South Africans are far, far less likely to be interested in soccer than black South Africans. Whites prefer to watch rugby.   

And in the UK, there’s a lingering sense that rugby is for the spoilt kids of the establishment and football is for the unwashed masses.

There’s an English/Irish saying that “rugby is a game for barbarians  played by gentlemen; football is a game for gentlemen played by barbarians.” At this point it’s had to keep the barbarians and gentlemen straight (but that’s a homo-erotic sports analysis for another day).  

The pub on Saturday was filled with English supporters, 85% or so wearing England football shirts. 

I chatted outside with a group who found it SO wrong that I could support Germany AND England. One confessed to going with England and Brazil but said that was fine. But England and Germany was just daft.

One said it would be like supporting England and the Argies or, even worse, Spain and Portugal. Then his friend proceeded to tell a story about his grandfather shot down in WWII and I laughed and said “Wow, you guys are really into war!” 

New friends: England supporters, Hamish et al.

But aren’t we all? Another fellow said that England and Germany was certainly better than England and France because France was (is??) the real enemy. I genuinely liked these guys right off the bat but I wondered just how different they were from my father and his ex-pat friends sitting around drinking beer on a Sunday, re-hashing the war. 

American attitudes toward soccer are sometimes insufferable. BORING!—they say. Too slow, too few goals—no excitement, they say, as the rest of the world sighs, if they even bother to listen. Ummm…sounds suspiciously political to me. 

My brother in-law, interested in history, politics and the Korean war, would like to see North and South Korea play. I figure most South Koreans would find it all too painful to revel in a hypothetical win against their downtrodden neighbour whose people are starving.  

I asked Jongho about this and he said that Koreans would, of course, find such a game interesting because they basically want to win but, due to the recent sinking of a South Korean ship by the North, tensions would be higher. Now if they played Japan, he said, that would be a big game!  Politics all the way! 

I’ve come to that I’ve been a Germany supporter partly because (as a colleague recently pointed out to me with no malice or insult), I’m a bit of a rebel. I think I’m for Germany because Germany is NOT England.  

The so-called German national character is still subject to the slings and arrows of many minds rooted in the past–and this is to be expected.  

But for me, Germany has learned and evolved while still managing to keep, as far as The Beautiful Game goes, their reputed national traits of discipline, team work and consistency. If football fans are any indication, I wonder if the same thing can be said of my England.   

When I was in Germany, I used to run in the vineyards a few minutes from where I was staying. I wrote a poem in which I observed myself looking at the neat rows of grapevines as “my dirty English mind turned to thoughts of war.” It was then that I began to fall in love with the country—history and all.  

If you think I’m waxing too romantic, look at Oscar on the eve of the Germany-Australia game. I’ve never witnessed such national spirit. 

And he’s “just” a dog! 

If Germany doesn't win, don't expect much of me for the next little while, okay?

Good moooorning, South Korea!

June 12, 2010

Eggs Benedict at 5:oo am goes down well with victory. 

And a Korean goal within the first seven minutes against Greece made for one spectacular sunrise. 

First there was nothing but fog; and then came the sun

Even the Sausage was glued to the set as Korea scored their second goal.  

Go, Greece, go!

And when it was all said and done, Johnny Korea squealed in patriotic delight.   

Who doesn't like kimchi, now?

I’m off to The Academic Public House at Broadway and Fir to watch the US-England game with some ex-pats.  

I’m bringing a small cow-prod, just in case there’s some hooliganism going on! 

Go mad Rooney; go England.