Bombs Away, Lads!

By Paul Gardner

American owners of English soccer clubs, it seems to me, walk a rather delicate line between being welcomed for their money, and condemned for -- well, for being American.

To most English devotees Americans are still soccer outsiders, a whole population with weird, mockable accents who call football soccer and who invent funny terms like assist and shutout, which the Brits, simply because those terms are American, won’t use.

That’s all good, clean fun -- and besides, it makes it quite acceptable for totally inexperienced Brits to come over here to teach us how to play the game. Their game, as they would have it.

We’ve just had a lovely example of that attitude from Sporting Kansas City, which have engaged a 21-year-old English TV announcer, Callum Williams. “Covering Major League Soccer is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Williams tells us. Always? Can that be right? Never mind, let’s not quibble, as Williams sails merrily on, telling us that he wants “inject some British passion into MLS -- although some of it is already here.”

Oh please, the passion thing again. It was rather unfortunate for Williams that his plea for British passion coincided with Manchester United’s Jonny Evans giving us a splendid example of passionate play. His passionate tackle has put the USA’s Stuart Holden out of the game for six months with a horrendous 26-stitch gash in his knee.

No malice, says Evans -- and I’m sure he’s right. No malice. Just passion. Getting stuck in, as they say. Whatever, 26 stitches is a hell of a lot of stitches.

Williams has also let us know that we’re just not good enough when it comes to TV. As if ESPN’s Jed Drake hadn’t already made it brutally clear that the only way to get on the air is to have a Brit accent (ESPN’s recent canning of JP DellaCamera, with his American accent, is simply appalling, unconscionable), here we have Williams telling us that he is going to “improve the viewing experience of MLS soccer.” Maybe he is, but that sort of boasting, from a 21-year-old, comes over as something rather more obnoxious than passion.

To even matters out, we have an American who was also caught out by Evans’s passionate display. I had never heard of General Charles Krulak before a few days ago. Now, I rather wish I had remained ignorant of his existence. Krulak is a former American marine, a Vietnam veteran. He is now a director at Aston Villa, which is owned by the American Randy Lerner.

Krulak has offered his advice to the Aston Villa team -- which, at the moment, is not doing at all well, being in danger of relegation from the Premier League. True to the basic simplicities of warfare and trials of strength, Krulak’s advice is this: “What we need now is to quit pointing fingers and everyone look at the Claret and Blue of our kit and the badge they are wearing and go out and kick the crap out of the next teams we play until the end of the season!”

I suppose there might be some excuse for Krulak in that the phrase “kick the crap out of” is pretty standard American usage and that he therefore didn’t mean to encourage the Villa players to go out and really kick opponents.

But his words are still offensive. I, for one, do not regard it as acceptable to compare a soccer game to the horrors of a bloody battleground. Krulak apparently sees no difference between what is supposed to be a game played in a spirit of sportsmanship and a grim battle where a man’s duty is to kill as many of his enemies as possible: “When my Marines put on their uniforms and the emblem of the Corps and went into battle and things got tough, they did not fight for their Commander, they fought for their brothers-in-arms, the men wearing their uniform and emblem.”

Krulak goes on, and of course, here comes the passion bit: “We have very good lads who know how to play with passion.” That bit about “lads” doesn’t sound too marine-ish, but the appeal to passion is far too familiar. It is also likely to be inflammatory and dangerous.

A week before Evans’ passionate tackle there was a pretty good example of just how volatile a game soccer can be when passion takes over. The occasion was a game between two old rivals, Liverpool and Manchester United. One of the most passionate rivalries in English soccer, I think it’s fair to say.

In keeping with that status, this was a game that featured four red cards, trouble in the crowd, police action against drunken fans, and the singing of offensive songs by ManU supporters about the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives.

And this was a youth game. Former Liverpool player John Aldridge was there, and commented: “I have never seen anything like that before at a youth game and I never want to see anything like it again. It was disgusting.” Yet, even in that healthy condemnation is a sort of admission that this wouldn’t have been so bad if it had occurred at a senior team game.

That is where we are with passionate behavior. It far too easily boils over into something dangerous. Passion is not the simple, admirable quality that it used to be. There is too much money at stake in the modern game of soccer for something as apparently wholesome as passion to remain an innocent quality.

Of course it has been tainted. It has been taken up by commercial interests, it has become a regular part of soccer salesmanship -- no matter what these guys are trying to sell you, whether it’s soccer shoes or game tickets, they’re going to work passion in there somehow.

The advertisers are relying on the word still maintaining its honorable meaning while they do everything they can to cheapen that honor.

All of that is deplorable. It is not made any better by General Krulak’s mindless reference to his Vietnam days and his exhortation to kick the crap out of everybody. One is reminded, yet again, of former Liverpool coach Bill Shankly’s famous -- and equally mindless -- remark about soccer being a more important matter than mere life and death.

A more reasoned reference point might be Bertrand Russell’s observation that “opinions that are held with passion are always those for which no good ground exists.”

13 comments about "Bombs Away, Lads!".
  1. Mark Edge, March 25, 2011 at 8:38 a.m.

    Haven't you written this article, or at least a thinly disguised facsimile, a dozen times before?

  2. Paul Lorinczi, March 25, 2011 at 8:42 a.m.

    Yeah...I am not happy with the changes at ESPN. How is it, we have an English bloke calling US games? Or, are we all so enamored with the EPL that we think English commentators are the only ones capable of announcing games. Take away the charming accents and sayings, their announcers say stupid things too. English players going in on leg breaking tackles are acceptable in the minds of the English commentators. Johnny Evans fouls all the time.

  3. beautiful game, March 25, 2011 at 9:44 a.m.

    Every single American announcer currently doing TV soccer is winded, not to the point and uninspirational... by calling MLS players great during a match is a joke. ..good plays are not great plays so why paint a Picasso when it's not. The game speaks for itself and unfortunately, too many Dick Vitale wannabes suffocate the match.

  4. David Raybould, March 25, 2011 at 9:57 a.m.

    Hey Paul, I don't know which Premier League games you watch but, being English, I can assure you that such tackles are definitely not viewed as acceptable by 'English' commentators. Have you ever watched a game not broadcast on ESPN or Fox Soccer?!

    And maybe ask yourself why this 21 year old kid is commentating over here on the MLS instead of in England on the Premier League?!

    Oh, and Jonny Evans is from Northern Ireland, not England.

    And @Paul Gardner, do you not think professional footballers in England can distinguish between the metaphorical and literal meaning of 'kicking the crap out of'?? I would put this down to Krulak's inability to express himself in anything but a violent way.

    I also think you'll find that we don't use your 'funny' terms because we have our own terminology that is far older and instilled in the tradition of the game!

  5. Charles O'Cain, March 25, 2011 at 11:20 a.m.

    I think Mr Gardner should move on to "Cricket America" or "Golf Digest". I don't think he has what it takes to continue in Football (American exceptionalism aside, that IS what the rest of the world prefers to call it, having no need to distinguish it from the truly violent game our nation seems to prefer which is actually played mostly with the hands). Both Holden (a Scot) and Evans (N Irish) play with the "passion" derided here. Both went committedly for the ball. A fraction of a second or a few inches different, Evans might have the gash, and I think Holden realizes this perfectly well, even though Mr Gardner can't. Evans is not a serial offender ... this was his first career red card.

    As for the announcers, give me a literate voice of whatever nationality, speaking (not screaming) English. Ruud Gullit, Roberto Martinez, Jurgen Klinsmann come to mind. John Harkes doesn't.

  6. David Raybould, March 25, 2011 at 11:38 a.m.

    I hear ya Charles. After all, football is a game of inches, right?!

  7. Brian Something, March 25, 2011 at 1:11 p.m.

    "Every single American announcer currently doing TV soccer is winded, not to the point and uninspirational... "

    Except Glenn Davis.

    And Kyle Martino.

    And Greg Lalas.

    I'd take any of these over Brits Steve McMananam, Ally McCoist or Efan Ekoku in a heartbeat!

  8. Steven Jeremenko, March 25, 2011 at 3:07 p.m.

    Paul - Please stop attacking all those self-appointed soccer experts who are trying to distort, for their own interests, what we both know is the real way the game could be and should be played. We all know that money will always call the shots and as we've seen over the pass few years the outcome is not always rosey. Pele recently stated that soccer has lost it's passion due to over-inflated salaries which he believes is taking the FUN out of the game for many. He might be on to the obvious. Those who might believe that the beautiful game that they watch can't get any more beautiful - please stop with the rhetorical statements that favor idiots that shout out about how soccer is a man's game and how we need to beat the crap out of the other team. Whether your professional or U-10 that is interpreted by most functioning homosapiens as a license to throw out intelligence or skill and utilize your physicality to overrun your opponent. A war without guns so to speak. I've seen it happen. Is it passionate? Maybe, but what Paul is suggesting is that perhaps that word has taken on a different meaning in modern soccer from what it originally meant; and not in a good way. Everyone knows that Paul Gardner with exception of Toby Charles is the only English accented commentator allowed on the American soccer scene because of his brutal but accurate critical analysis and of course his entertaining humorous wit. American commentators however do suck but it's true for most sports not just soccer. The soccer fan in my opinion expects quick accurate analysis and play by play with some tid bits of interest without ruining the most important thing of all - ta da - the game itself. I sometimes turn off the sound and just watch the game in silence. It's real nice. Try it sometimes. However, I do believe that just like gifted soccer players in the U.S. the country is overflowing with gifted commentators who we just haven't discovered yet or more accurately perhaps who we already have discovered but we cast them aside because of their "not so right" personality or lack of social connections. Give it up for John Harkes!

  9. Steven Jeremenko, March 25, 2011 at 3:07 p.m.

    Concerning the 26 stitches - I watched Manchester United against Bolton not once but twice - it was hard - and specifically kept my eye on Holden. He has a habit of lunging for the ball instead of having the ability to be perceptive enough to position himself where he can intercept the ball easily without going 50/50 with the opponent. He is unfortunately right on par with a lot of American players who are very re-active on the field instead of having the vision and instinct to effectively intercept balls cleanly on defense. This does not excuse Evans of his reckless studs up off the ground tackle. A couple of inches higher and he would have resembled a Northern Irish Ninja. Holden and Evans are not alone. A lot of modern players are constantly reaching, extending, lunging, or throwing themselves at opponents in order to win the ball. Which brings me to another point: Is the modern game to fast for the skill level of it's participants? Hmmm? That would be a good article Paul. Being a soccer artist - a dying breed - I was thrown aside by the American soccer machine long ago partly for my Rodney Marsh antics but mostly because I didn't fit into the physical speed soccer that was to take over the game I loved. But regardless of my failures in life here is my spin on how I would have acted in Stuart Holden's place ... If only. The ball that was played to Holden sucked. Personally I wouldn't haven't even ran after it and would've let Jonny Evans smash it up the field so my team could easily gain possession again. I would have then turned around to my teamate who "passed" the ball to me and with PASSION, explained to him that I expect him to pass the ball much more accurately to me in the future if this whole "beat the crap of the other team" thing is going to work out. I then would have been taken off the field by my coach Owen Coyle who would've said my work rate wasn't good enough and I wasn't winning enough 50/50 challenges despite previously entertaining the crowd with a manificent and creative display of skill and intelligence. At least both my legs would've still been in one piece. Sorry Stuart.

  10. Tim Shelmerdine, March 25, 2011 at 5:01 p.m.

    I have always wondered about Paul's belief in the competence of most American soccer announcers, especially J.P. Dellacamera. Most fail to do what I think is the most important aspect of their job, indeed the only reason they should be paid, namely not only to demystify "the beautiful game" for those who are not familiar with it, but also to add an insight into various aspects that we viewers might miss, or to enhance the viewing experience of all viewers. A typical J.P. broadcast would include multiple use of generic terms that often did not accurately described what a player had done, as well as misinformation on the reason for various free kicks. I say it is about time he was let go. There are all too few good soccer announcers around, and no, having an accent, British or otherwise, does not guarantee quality, but for heaven's sake, let's get a few people in the booths who not only can quickly interpret and accurately describe what they are seeing, but also can make us want to listen to them by giving even the knowledgeable viewer something he or she might not have gotten/known on their own.

  11. Chris Ogle, March 25, 2011 at 9:52 p.m.

    What I don't like about most of the British announcers that are used by ESPN is their blatant bias in favor of all things English. Martin Tyler,Ian Darke,Steve McMannaman etc. are chosen to call games that don't involve England in any way and won't be shown in England but they still use British slang to talk about things that only people in England would know anything about.On top of that,every ten seconds they have to some how mention the EPL, which the refer to as the "premiership", despite neither team being British. During ESPN broadcasts of La Liga games,the British announcers always make degrading comments about Spanish football calling it "Scotland in the sun" and insinuating that Spanish clubs couldn't compete in the mighty EPL.For just once I'd like to see some unbiased commentators on an ESPN broadcast talk about how backward and crude British football is and how the only reason EPL clubs have been successful in recent years is because 65% of the players in that league are non-British.

  12. Rich H, April 5, 2011 at 3:30 p.m.

    Absolute pile of crap.

    1) Why would you slate a young, promising and up and coming commentator. He clearly has a passion for the game, and has been chosen for a reason other than just being 'English'

    2) What on Earth is the link between Mr. Williams commentary and Holden's injury, the wording makes it sound like he is to blame, terrible journalism.

    3) General Krulak's comments are intended to inspire the team and anyone reading into it literally thinking they are going to 'kick the crap' out of anyone isn't worth the time of day.

    4) (Addressed to Ric Fonseca in the comments below): What has Mr. Williams age got to do with his knowledge of football, unless you know how extensive his knowledge is and know his aspirations then you have no right to comment.

  13. S Isaacson, April 5, 2011 at 7:16 p.m.

    Hey Paul, did you take the time to interview Mr. Williams or are you just a lazy pig?

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