When I think of how my sons’ experiences as soccer fans – assuming, of course, they will be fans of soccer and maybe even of the same teams – will differ from mine, one of the biggest aspects will be in how they watch matches. The great soccer writer Eduardo Galeano described himself as a “beggar for good football.” Growing up in rural America in the 90’s, four hours away from the nearest professional team, I was a beggar for any football. The most consuming habit of my youth was trying to find ways to watch televised soccer games and begging someone to drive me to these amazing televisions that beamed in match feeds from outer space. Most of the time that meant spending Sunday evenings at my friend Trevor’s house where we would religiously watch the English Premier League Soccer Show with Lionel Bienvenu. Other nights, I would go to my grandfather’s house and watch San Jose Clash games with my brother. My grandfather didn’t much care about the game, and he would retire for the evening and leave us to lock up when we left.
I would find out about games after checking the paper or finding a listing in a Sports Illustrated. More than once, I would show up to my grandfather’s or Trevor’s house to find that the listing was actually for Eastern Time and we had completely missed it. The most frustrating of all would be when we got the time right, but the soccer had been bumped for something like Super Bowl post-game coverage.
Now, however, I can watch games live on my cell phone (Thanks, Ben, for your Comcast password!), or at a more convenient time (Thanks, NBC, for buying those Premier League rights!). Thanks to the magic of the internet, I can even watch the British Match of the Day, which far outshines it’s American counterpart. Or at least it did. While it provides more highlights than just the goals from the day that the American show focuses on, it gives a rotating cast of ex-players punditry duties to dissect various aspects of the games being shown. Some acquit themselves well, others not so much.
Martin Keown and Ruud Gullit appeared on the show to run the rule over Saturday’s action two weeks ago. Keown – who has been brilliantly described as looking “sad and brave, like a man giving an urgent, heartfelt funeral oration for a much-loved family gerbil” – offered up a criticism of his Arsenal that they were too nice; he was frustrated that they refused to crowd the referee on rough challenges or kick out at their opponents. Gullit nodded approvingly and even gave some more specific instructions on how to crowd the tackler to ensure a yellow card. Basically, I don’t think anyone capable of such s***housery as Martin Keown should be given a platform to express his views on the game. Had I been watching Keown’s punditry 15 years ago, I would have had to endure it, as I would have no other option.
That night, after watching Keown and Gullit, I happened upon the Sunday night BBC Sportscene for Scotland, presented by Jonathan Sutherland with Michael Stewart and Stuart McCall. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. In a week that featured a number of controversial red cards up and down Scotland, the pundits steadfastly refused to offer advice on how to get opponents sent off. Indeed, in an incident that involved two players squaring up and going forehead to forehead, they both were disappointed that the persnickety referee had decided to send someone off. I did find myself being frustrated at the lack of multiple replays of certain events; that frustration revealed that I had been so conditioned by watching the Premier League and American sports that I was waiting for the spidercam to drop down and give me the perfect, high definition shot of every controversial incident. Perhaps being able to watch every incident in high definition and slow motion is actually taking away from the enjoyment of sport; perhaps in having every innocuous coming together examined over and over again, we open the door for pundits like Keown or Robbie Savage to enter into our world and befoul it. The thought of watching a game in real time, forming my own judgment without benefit of replay, and continuing to appreciate the soccer on display seemed reminiscent of another time: a time when I had convince my dad to give me a ride over to my grandfather’s and return in two hours. So, thanks, Sportscene, for reminding me to enjoy the sport I love with the same enthusiasm I had as a youth.
I was so full of warm feelings toward Sportscene that I checked out the Northern Ireland show, which attracted me after having spent several seasons with Glenavon on Football Manager. It was crap.