Henry's arrival stirs memories -- but scarves in summer?

By Paul Gardner

After the upheavals to personal lives and routines imposed by the World Cup, things are getting back to normal. What a relief that must be to those poor guys up at ESPN -- Chris Fowler, Mike Tirico and Bob Ley, the studio hosts who had to spend a whole month pretending they were English.

It didn’t quite reach the stage where they got dressed up in bowler hats and said Pip! Pip! all the time, but it was bad enough. Someone in the upper reaches of ESPN, one of their soccer geniuses, it might have been the executive producer Jed Drake, decided that they must use English, rather than American terms. Why? Anyone have an answer to that question, one that makes any sort of sense , I mean?

So we got these guys using, awkwardly, terms they would never naturally use -- terms like match, and pitch, and nil-nil and clean-sheet and, inevitably, football when they meant soccer. My sympathies to them -- especially to Bob Ley, with whom I have worked in the past, and who I know to be sympathetic to soccer -- that they should be subjected to this childish nonsense.

The development of a truly American soccer culture, built on American conditions and attitudes and traditions and language is not helped by incidents like this.

We’ve had a similar happening here in New York quite recently. The Red Bulls announced a tournament -- to be titled the New York Football Challenge. I’ll pass over the New York bit (it should be New Jersey) -- but why the word “football”? What on earth could possibly be wrong with, who would object in any way to, using “soccer”?

While I was wondering whom I should hector about this, the title suddenly changed. It became the New York Challenge. No explanation, of course. Football had gone -- but it had not been replaced by soccer. Then the title changed again as a sponsor appeared, and we now have the Barclays New York Challenge. Still no sport specified. The people at the Red Bulls profess mystification. I was referred to a group called The Football World Series, or maybe it was the World Series of Football -- whatever, this is supposed to be an American company, I gather. Enough already. On the not unreasonable assumption that they would have changed the title again by the time I found out who to speak to, I gave up. I’ll wait for the next change before I pounce.

Yesterday I was assailed by yet another example of how fatuous Brit soccer traditions are lapped up by our sport, or at any rate, by the mindless marketers who now infest it.

On a sweltering summer’s day, some 150 journalists and photographers, waited in the Red Bull Arena for Thierry Henry to make his appearance. When he walked on to the field, accompanied by, among others, Red Bulls coach Hans Backe and General Manager Erik Soler, there they were ... wearing scarves. On a 90-degree day.

OK, OK, calm down -- I know the scarves are not really being worn, they’re only symbols, but, heck they are scarves and they’re winter accessories. Did I add that they’re also rather cheap looking, and quite ugly? And they didn’t look any better indoors, at the press conference, when everyone on the dais continued the farce, sitting there with the scarves draped over their necks. Everyone except MLS Commissioner Don Garber, that is -- I would congratulate him, except that I suspect his motivation to be political correctness rather than common sense.

And so to Thierry Henry. One of the world’s most famous players, maybe a year or two past his prime, but surely good enough to play up a storm in MLS. Backe made it clear that he expects Henry to inspire the rest of the team -- to bring it to life, really.

That is certainly an important requirement. Last time out for the Red Bulls was a soporific 0-0 with D.C. United. Players too intent on their defensive duties, not enough risk-taking, lamented Backe.

The hope is that Henry’s dash and verve -- and that’s what the Red Bulls and MLS are relying on him to still have -- will change that. The image forms of a prolific goalscoring partnership with Juan Pablo Angel, who has never really been offered much skilled support during his three-plus seasons with the Red Bulls.

Maybe, though I haven’t seen that sort of thing -- when one new player galvanizes a whole team -- happen too often. Maybe it would happen, though, with two new players ... and so the rumors persist of the arrival of Mexico’s Rafa Marquez as the Red Bulls third Designated Player.

Now, that would be an event to stir some memories ... of the days when the Cosmos used to announce big signings every season, and introduced the players at press conferences that featured food and drink ... but never scarves.

Agreed, that was 30 years ago, and times have changed. Scarves are in, but maybe I shouldn’t bitch too much -- it could have been worse. We could have had the whole dais wearing fancy dress and blasting us with the latest soccer marketing lunacy, this one direct from the South African World Cup, those ghastly vuvuzelas.

22 comments about "Henry's arrival stirs memories -- but scarves in summer?".
  1. Tony Molledo, July 16, 2010 at 8:23 a.m.

    Another rant on the usual subject.

  2. Anthony Calabrese, July 16, 2010 at 8:35 a.m.

    You have to HAND it to Red Bull on signing Henry.

  3. Loren C. Klein, July 16, 2010 at 8:47 a.m.

    You know Paul, there are these things called "synonyms". They're amazing little creatures; they are words that on the surface very different from each other, but when you look at them in the dictionary, they have the same meaning! Astounding really! Muppet.

  4. Jonny Sinclair, July 16, 2010 at 9:05 a.m.

    I can't believe I still take the time to read this tripe. Every day, I wonder how long into the article before Paul 'Grumpy Old Man' Gardner slates the English, and today made me laugh harder than I have in a long time. An artcile about a FRENCH man signing for an AMERICAN team, and the very first paragraph (or first 6 if you want to be really picky) are dedicated to Paul hating the Brits. What a plum. Grow up and get over it Paul, PLEASE!!

  5. Mary Galbraith, July 16, 2010 at 9:16 a.m.

    Well said, Jonny (see above). Everyone is entitled to their curmudgeonly moments, but this particular hobby horse has had its day. Time to change horses and tally ho!

    I'm with you on the vuvuzelas, though.

  6. predrag borna, July 16, 2010 at 9:22 a.m.

    Scarves in summer?I think they were in some air-conditioned room.Of course this was not a purpose of wearing it but you see how easy is to be a journalist...They write some garbage(this column is garbage,right?)and they simply do not care for that!Tomorrow they give you something else and it goes on and on.The only thing that counts is Gardners pay check.You gays write what you want but you get nothing for that!I already have an idea for tomorrow ...Why Henry does not wear bushy hair?Colour of underwear,does he watch porns .You name it.I could write pages and pages but I will get zero money.

  7. E Russell, July 16, 2010 at 9:28 a.m.

    I appreciate the ESPN crew using global terminology. In order for the global game to be accepted in the one country that routinely ignores it, we need to first recognize that it's a GLOBAL GAME. As such, it helps to establish a GLOBAL terminology. Therefor, we're all talking about the same things in the same way. The rest of the world calls the field a pitch? Fine, it's a pitch. What in the world could be offensive about that? You probably still call them Freedom Fries, don't you?

  8. Brian Something, July 16, 2010 at 10:34 a.m.

    Great pick by the MLS. A well-rounded foreigner with great technical ability but also flair, verve and highlight making ability. Now if only my ultra-boring Revs could pick up at least one player that didn't put me to sleep.

  9. Carl Mann, July 16, 2010 at 11:02 a.m.

    I am assuming that this consistent drivel is regurgitated because the "author" is attempting to win some inane "get the most responses per article" award.
    Mr. Gardner, please feel free to use whatever term you wish (and for goodness sake please respect other people's freedom to do the same) to describe the Beautiful Game, football, soccer, call it "Paul" for all I care, but please stop assaulting our eyes with this boring, unnecessary, diatribe.

  10. Kevin Erdman, July 16, 2010 at 11:08 a.m.

    ESPN bought the rights to broadcast many EPL matches in England and USA, and they are using the brit announcers. Figure it out, they want the USA fan who may not watch the EPL to get used to the brit announcing.

  11. beautiful game, July 16, 2010 at 11:19 a.m. is football, all over the world...the NFL is not football, it's pass & catch, carry & run in the hands and of course a kick-off, punt and field's more hand than not by a mile...what's your beef, I like it to be football, the World game variety.

  12. William Slattery, July 16, 2010 at 11:37 a.m.

    I attended 7 games in South Africa (at Rustenberg, Pretoria, Ellis Park & Soccer City). I hardly noticed the vuvuzelas. Among the US fans in my section, vuvuzelas were not an issue. Mark Zeigler, a reporter from the San Diego Union Tribune, took a poll at the lodge where I was staying. The vast majority of foreign fans opposed banning the vuvuzelas. This seems to have been a made for TV issue. To me, anything that drowned out the TV announcers was a good thing. I would be in favor of TV soccer with fan noise & no announcers. The silence of muting ruins the game experience, although it's useful when either Tommy Smith or Eric Wynalda is doing the color.

  13. Jim Dickinson, July 16, 2010 at 12:23 p.m.

    The vote to award Paul the GMOB (Grumpy Man of the Blog) is at 14-0. I don't see anyone else getting close to him.
    At Dynamo fixtures (games) here in Houston the diehards wear their scarves. I wore mine once when it was appropriately cool in the fall. I am with Paul on this one.
    If you come to the MLS Allstar game (fixture) at the Reliant Stadium on July 28th you will hear vuvuzelas which are a long standing tradition at international matches. I think they add to the atmosphere of these major events (unless blown directly in my ear). The South Africans did not invent them.

  14. John Polis, July 16, 2010 at 1:41 p.m.

    Actually I don't have a problem with ESPN commentators embracing some of the slang that has developed around the game through the years. Especially when it comes to someone like Bob Ley, someone I first met in the very early 1980's when he was covering indoor soccer in Portland. To see mainstream American announcers not only covering the game, but also being willing to use some of the slang that might tweak Americans toward terms used in England doesn't bother me. What would really bother me is if American reporters made fun of these terms, which the press, in very large numbers, used to so 25-30 years ago. Watching all the coverage this World Cup, with American announcers finally immersed in the World Cup onsite, was personally rewarding for me. I remember when there were less than 10 reporters all told following the U.S. team to Italy in 1990. We've come a long way. Personally, the more our American announcers and "pull" the rest of the country toward looking at the game as others see it around the world, the better off the sport will be.

    Knowing Bob (The General) Ley, I am certain that he utilizes terms that he feels most comfortable with and I would be shocked if he or anyone were specially told to use English or any other terminology. I think it's great that the announcers are getting their own "feel" for the game and are beginning to embrace the sport as others do around the world. I see this as progress.

    But let's say, for a minute, that they were pushed toward English-type terminology? Still it doesn't bother me because the English, which you total it all up, have contributed mightily toward the development of the game in the United States. Add up all the English coaches who came here and took up the mantle in helping us promote the game through the years, and it's easy to see how British terms have become a considerable part of America's soccer lexicon.

  15. Gerald Laing, July 16, 2010 at 4:29 p.m.

    This is the first time I am going to comment on Paul Gardner's rants. I remember a time when he wrote some thought engaging essays about the game in our country and the world. But the last several (I've lost count) have become quite narrow minded. Paul seems to hate the English, Northern Europe, RBNY and ESPN, am I forgeting anything else guys. While he bashed ESPN, did he make mention about the outstanding number of our countrymen that watched ESPN in their homes, bars and public viewing areas. How about World Cup Tonight, great attempt by ESPN. Maybe he forgot that in 1994 they didn't even cover the trophy presentation. But keep up the B&C it shows that you have become a grumpy old man and the World's Game and how it is covered has passed you by.

  16. Bill Anderson, July 16, 2010 at 6:03 p.m.

    Paul, I hope the Red Bull sale 5 million scarves, and people wear them all summer long. My kids love the scarves and we live in Texas. They were wearing them during the World Cup in Port Aransas ON THE BEACH! Please get off your high horse, and live and let live. Its a BIG Soccer World out there, a large portion of which calls it Football. It would be like arguing if a woman had sexy legs or alluring legs, Everybody Wins!

  17. Terence Chu, July 16, 2010 at 8:05 p.m.

    Wow. I didn't know cultural xenophobes still existed in the journalism community.

  18. James Madison, July 16, 2010 at 11:19 p.m.

    Paul, like many, points four fingers at himself when he points one at the usage of the ABC-ESPN WCup studio hosts and then uses a verb like "hector" and a noun like "verve." No American sportswriter could possibly have such an enlightened vocabulary, let alone be able to use it appropriately. I will not only wear my Earthquakes scarf to tomorrow's match against Spurs, but I will stand and hold it when the EQ lineup is announced.

  19. Eric R., July 17, 2010 at 11:40 a.m.

    I think Paul got this one right. Not so much the thing about British commentators on ESPN; there were Americans there to. But the whole thing with using British terms to discuss the American game...and the bit about the scarves. I grew up calling a soccer field a "soccer field" and not a "pitch". I grew up calling a game a "Game" not a "match." I don't know what the deal is with people feeling the need to refer to things with British terminology. Don't get me started on my pet peeve-soccer scarves. I can understand if you want to show off your Blackburn Rovers scarf in November, but American teams play in the scorching summer heat and wearing a scarf (like I saw last Thursday at a DC United game) is weird. I understand the Brits invented the game, but not all good traditions come from Britain's soccer culture. Hell! I'd rather have Brazil or Argentina's tradition of winning lots of games, than the British scarf tradition.

  20. Brian Something, July 17, 2010 at 12:28 p.m.

    A rant about scarves?

    C'mon Paul... if you have nothing to say, take a day off now and again.

  21. John Riley, July 17, 2010 at 8:10 p.m.


    I have enjoyed your thoughtful comments for some time but on the issue of how liong it will tkae for the US ti switchand call football football you seem to have a burr sticking into you somewhere. It is time to go to the beach or maybe a WPS game. FC Gold Pride are a whole lot of fun to watch.

  22. Christopher Holden, July 18, 2010 at 8:41 p.m.

    Hey Paul. At least 23 comments on scarves and soccer terminology -- I guess you hit a nerve. It must be difficult to come up with a theme for a post that at least 20 people will comment on. Somehow you nailed it. Way to stir it up.

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