Let them hate so long as they fear


It all started with Peter Withe.  The bearded, sweat-band wearing centre forward who went on to score the winner in the 1982 European Cup Final for Aston Villa scored the Timbers first ever goal against Seattle Sounders in Portland Timber’s 2-1 victory back in 1975.  Withe was a hit with the Portland fans who referred to him as the “Wizard of Nod”.  A year later when the sides met again, Seattle could boast the legendary skills of Harry Redknapp and Geoff Hurst up top.  Today, the English contingent consists solely of Liam Ridgewell, former West Ham trainee and now campaign of the Timbers.

Forty three years later and the two sides were meeting for the 100th competitive time on a beautiful sunny day in mid-May (there’s a couple of great videos commemorating the occasion here and here from both sides of the state line).  The intense rivalry between the two sides has never let up and noise coming from both sides had been at an intense level since an hour before the game started.  Due to the huge distances in the US, there’s few games where supporters travel in numbers.  Even in New York where the two clubs are less than 20 miles (although technically in different states), the rivalry is muted to say the least.  However, on the Pacific North-West Coast, 175 miles is nothing and so the games have always been played out in front of both sets of fans.  Add in Vancouver Whitecaps and you have a hot-bed of football.  The Cascadia Cup was introduced in 2004 by the fans of the three clubs and awarded annually to the club with the best record during the season against each other, with the current holders being Portland after three wins and a draw from the six games they played.

I’ve been to some pretty insipid MLS games before, where atmosphere was non-existent.  The best I had come across was a New York Red Bulls versus DC United game a few years ago, although just a few weeks later when I returned to Harrison, New Jersey for the RB game against KC Sporting there was no more than a thousand in the stadium (due to the Yankees being at home some 20 miles away apparently).  So I was looking forward to sampling some European-style atmosphere.

Distance makes rivalries hard in the US.  There’s no love lost between the Yankees and the Red Sox in baseball, nor between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL but in reality it is a rivalry played out in and by the media, as few hardcore away fans make the respective trips.  And for those that do, they seem to be able to sit among the home fans albeit with some gentle ribbing.

For The Timber Army and the Emerald City Army, the performance off the pitch of the fans is almost as important as the result on it.  Both sets of fans were in fine voice as the kick-off approached, although they both seemed keen to ‘build a bonfire’ and put each other on the top.  Poor old Vancouver were stuck in the middle of both versions, a rare thing that both sets of fans could agree on!

Providence Park is still a work-in progress with construction underway to make it an even more atmospheric stadium than it is today.  The curve behind the goal, home to the Timbers Army, is being extended around to mean 3/4 of the ground will be covered, just leaving the final end, a very low terrace area, currently with ‘bleacher’-like seats.

At the appointed kick-off time (1pm) there as no sign of any players.  I’m used to this now with US Sports but still have no idea why.  At 1:03pm the players emerged (from very separate tunnels), sang the national anthem, the crowd waved their scarves and finally the game kicked off at 1:09pm.  The Timber Army, led by a couple of Capo’s at the front of the stand kept the beat up during the opening period as the sun beat down on them.  Above the entrance to the tunnel and below the Timber Army was a flag in the colours of the state of Oregon with the latin phrase Oderint Dum Metuant – “let them hate so long as they fear”.  Who could hate such a passionate display of support? OK – apart from the Sounders fans who were doing a pretty impressive job themselves of making themselves heard.

 

The first half was a tense affair.  Portland looked to stretch the play and tried to get their two wide men behind the Seattle defence, whilst the Sounders seemed happy to play on the break.  Timber’s star man, Argentine Diego Valeri was singled out for some “special” treatment from the away side before he had the best chance of the game when he pulled the ball wide after a swift break.  At the other end Clint Dempsey fluffed his lined in front of goal after Nouhou Tolo’s shot had flashed across the area.

Half-time and all square.

Seattle started the second period the brighter of the two sides and Tolo was played in within the first minute but his shot was easily saved by Timbers keeper Attinella.  At the other end Valeri looked odds-on to score before a last-gasp intervention from Marshall ten yards out.  Andy Polo, who I know is Peruvian from my Panini collection (the most un-Peruvian name you ever come across) and he came close to scoring, curling an effort from just inside the box but it was beaten away from Stefan Frei in the Sounders goal.

Once again the howls of disapproval were reserved for another foul on Valeri as he broke at speed and was wrestled to the floor by Norwegian Magnus Wolff-Eikrem, who got a yellow card for his impudence.  By this stage the heat seemed to have drained the effort and energy out of both sides, seemingly happy to settle for a draw.  With ten minutes to go Swede Samuel Armenteros was played in and found himself clear on goal. He took one stride into the area but then fell, slightly theatrically, under a challenge. Looked a clear penalty to me but the referee was having none of it, although didn’t feel the tumble warranted a card for simulation.

And then finally we had a goal. Armenteros robbed a Seattle defender in midfield and played a neat ball behind the centre-back for Blanco to run onto and he slide the ball past Frei and into the net.  Unsurprisingly the reaction from the home fans was deafening, although the Seattle fans certainly weren’t silent. A chorus of a Portland remix of Anarchy in the UK broke out with the Timber Army bouncing around the stand as the game went into six minutes of injury time.

Ninety-five minutes gone and the referee was alerted to something that had happened in the build-up to a Seattle attack with Leerdam laying prostrate on the floor.  He ran over to the monitor behind the goal line, ran back to the middle of the pitch and gave a drop-ball.  Not quite sure what that was all about.  And then it was all over.  A hard-fought victory for the home and the party would go on into the afternoon in the sunshine.  The Sounders went over to thank their fans for playing their part but it was the green flares that belched out into the air from the Timbers fans to celebrate their victory and bragging rights until the two sides met again next month.

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Frank who? Pirlo consigns Lampard to the bargain bin on his debut


Our Englishman in New York, Luge Pravda,  breaks his vow never to set foot in Yankee Stadium, to see the Pirlo show.

Yesterday, Sunday, just as I was wondering how I would get over the void left by the Tour de France finishing my laptop beeped with the familiar sound of a message in my Gmail chat. It was good friend and fellow sports nut Andy, asking me if I fancied seeing NYCFC at Yankee Stadium vs. Orlando City? Furthermore, we would be in the “Ultra’s” section! Moreover, it was a free ticket. I quickly checked the MTA for travel time. I would have to leave before the end of the last TdF stage. Andy informed me of a recent invention called “DVR” and what with the stage being largely processional for the Maillot jaune I was very soon on the subway heading to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Changing for the 4 train at Union Square I was instantly greeted by a sea of sky blue on the platform. 75% of the passengers getting on had on club colours of some sort.

Talking of sky blue, it is probably worth reiterating for newer readers of my extremely occasional pieces for this hallowed blog that I am a lifelong Utd fan, that being Manchester United of course. Since their inception I had vociferously told anyone asking about NYCFC that I could never in a million years endorse a City outfit. That all went up in a puff of smoke when I considered that a) Andy was going b) Pirlo was going to make his debut and c) the ticket was free. I should also add d) courtesy of a friend who tweeted me, somewhat sarcastically:

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Turns out the “Ultra’s” section is simply the “Supporters” section: those most vocal and loyal fans occupying the bleachers (can they be loyal in their inaugural season?) I have to say it was hugely impressive to see such a turn out and so many fans of a new club so into it. The cynic in me may wish to ask if the fandom and apparent passion is all somehow manufactured, but frankly, the more people get into the beautiful game here in the US, the better in my opinion. And New York was crying out for a team that plays in, er, New York (here’s looking at you New York Red Bulls, now home to not one but two Wright-Phillips, in Harrison, New Jersey).

3As for the match? Well, the first half was edged by Orlando until David Villa scored a good goal right on half time. When asked about the quality of the sides, Andy confidently informed me that both teams had a few stars surrounded by “guys like me”. Which means Andy sees himself as English League One quality! And on topic one of the stars on show, Kaka, had a right old barney at least 4 of his teams mates, finger wager and remonstrating with them; presumably for never having won a World Cup.

The match ended 5-3 to the home team, and in typical LP style, I was not actually looking in the right direction for about 3 of those goals. But I was most definitely concentrating in the 56th minute. Pirlo time:

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And boy the place went bonkers. As in full on popcorn showering bonkers. And boy did Pirlo look good out there. As one of Andy’s friends succinctly put it: “every time Pirlo passes the ball it is the best pass in the history of MLS”! I think my tweet sums it up:

All-in-all a very enjoyable experience. Mostly I have to admit for the Pirlo show. But also to see a large crowd so into it, even trying to sing chants that don’t along the standard US “let’s go____ <insert team name>”whilst flinging beer and popcorn everywhere. There were even some flares being set off outside after the match. Ultra’s indeed. Even if this is a City franchise, my wish to see soccer the biggest sport in the USA, outweighs my own personal club allegiance. And quite why the Glazers don’t do something similar I will never know.

Lastly, very different circumstances to the last time I saw Orlando play, last year up in Rochester, in the league below the MLS. Which you can read all about here.

US and them


We are very keen on eulogising about the magic of the FA Cup in this country and quite rightly so.  It is the oldest football competition in the world, full of nostalgia and goosebump-inducing moments.  Every fan of every club will have a story, a moment in history that they will never forget.  Some of us have experienced the elation at seeing our team win the trophy, such as I did as a ten-year old when perhaps the last ever second tier side, West Ham United, won the trophy. Some have had the despair at losing in a final, perhaps none so cruel as on penalties (stand up again West Ham fans for the last final to be settled in this way back in 2006). Today, with football dominated by money at the top-level of the game, many fans of Premier League clubs may not care about the FA Cup anymore. The Football Association themselves showed their true colours by selling naming rights and moving the semi-finals to Wembley Stadium, scheduling kick-off times when fans can’t use public transport to get home.

Many fans don’t know that the tournament actually starts before the Premier League kicks off in August.  Why would hundreds of thousands of fans want to know that?  After all, they are only interested in when their team plays – which for the most part is the Third Round on the first weekend of January.  By then, on average, there will be one “plucky” Non-League side left in the competition.  This season 736 teams entered the cup, with the first game being played on Friday 15th August when Hebburn Town kicked off against West Allotment Celtic.  The 182 winners in the Extra Preliminary Round back in August all received £1,500, whilst when Arsenal scooped the trophy in May they walked away with a cumulative sum of £3,737,500 which is not quite a drop in the ocean to them but enough to keep Jack Wilshere in tabs for a few more weeks.

Our national treasure is slowly becoming blighted by the same disease that has tainted the top-level of football in this country – money. Whilst the winners of the tournament pick up a cheque for £1.8million for lifting the trophy, Emirates will sponsor the tournament from next season for £10m.  Does the world’s oldest football challenge cup really need a sponsor?  As with most of football, if it has public recognition, then it can be sold.  FA Cup semi-finals are now played at the convenience of the global TV audience rather than so fans of the teams involved can actually easily get to and home again.

As luck, or more precise, work would have it, I was back in New York this week.  Of course I did my research into what sporting events I could attend post work.  I seemed to have chosen a good week – The Mets and Yankees were both at home, but more importantly it was the Fourth Round of the 2015 Lamar Hunt U.S Open Cup, the American equivalent of our FA Cup.

Now in its 102nd year, it is an older competition that the Super Bowl and the NBA Championship Play-Offs.  Whilst early winners such as Bethlehem Steel and St Luis Simkins-Ford are no longer around, it was the first tournament that united “soccer” in the country.  Last seasons winners, Seattle Sounders pocketed just $250,000 for winning the trophy, but they had already kissed goodbye to this year’s challenge, losing 3-1 at home to bitter rivals Portland Timber, finishing the game with just seven men.  Even better was the sending off of Clint Dempsey who then proceeded to snatch the referees notebook and rip out the page featuring his misdemeanour.

I had the choice of two games.  Tuesday had the New York RedBulls hosting Atlanta Silverbacks and Wednesday saw moneybags Manch…sorry, New York City travel to Long Island to play the legendary New York Cosmos.  Alas, whilst I would have loved to have seen both, I promised to be a little bit social and go out for dinner with the team in New York so it came down to a coin toss (which is ironically how they decide who will play at home in the US Open cup).  The RedBulls won.  Part of me was a little disappointed but in terms of logistics it was the better choice.

18852242056_a32ecb4972_kWhilst New York Cosmos actually play in New York State rather than the RedBulls in New Jersey, it is a pain to get to.  Subway, then train into the heart of the ‘Burbs of Long Island then a school bus to Hofstra University where the James M. Shuart Stadium is.  Tickets were selling for over $50 on StubHub, which would get you a small place to park your bum on a metal bench, with no shelter from the forecasted storms heading in from the Atlantic.  You could also bet that Man…sorry, New York City wouldn’t be fielding “designated” players David Villa or Frank Lampard for the game.  Instead I paid the grand sum of $7.77 for 3 tickets for the RedBulls.  It was only fair that I treated Luge Pravda (of course) and TBIR rookie Tom Wells, who for those of you who want to be nosy, is the 13th different picture of “Tom Wells” on a Google Images search.  Generous to a tee.

RedBull Arena sits in Harrison, New Jersey, a twenty-minute train ride from Manhattan.  I’m not sure what else would bring people to or from Harrison as alighting from the train all you can see is derelict buildings and parking lots that were once derelict buildings.  Since the 25,000 capacity stadium opened in 2010 the area around the stadium has remained, to put it politely “undeveloped”.  Whereas new build stadiums in this country always seem to be quickly surrounded by bland, uniform retail parks, the Americans, who love an out-of-town mall, seem to be missing a trick here.  There’s not even a spot to have a beer.

18690660598_6a98567ab8_kThe tickets I’d procured were in the name of Joey Levensberg.  As we entered the stadium we got a very warm welcome – “Welcome back Mr Levensberg.  Enjoy the game” – either he was a known name in these parts or the staff were simply very happy to see someone, anyone come to the game.  I had a feeling that based on previous experience that the crowd would be on the sparse side.  Back in 2012 I made my first trip here to see the RedBulls take on “rivals” DC United.  The place was rocking and both sets of fans gave a great account of themselves.  A few months later I returned and saw Sporting KC visit.  The official crowd that day was 11,000.  I’d estimate there was around a tenth of that in the stadium.  Apparently, the crowd was so low because the Yankees were playing on the same night.

Last year I was lucky to get a ticket for the World Cup Warm Up game between USA and Turkey – once again, superb atmosphere.  For this one we could choose which section we could have to ourselves.  I appreciate that the cup doesn’t hold the same interest as the league – that is a reserve of Germany and Germany alone it appears these days and that the Atlanta Silverbacks, who had just finished the Spring Season of the 2nd Tier NASL rock bottom weren’t the biggest draw, but surely the club could have given tickets away to local schools or community groups to boost the attendance?

18255958174_51fc4905a0_kThe visitors were managed by the English duo of ex-Enfield, Aylesbury and Welling United player Gary Smith, ably supported by ex-Leicester City winger and one-cap England wonder Steve Guppy.  However, with miserable league form had only been brightened up by an extra-time win away to NPSL (Third Tier) side Chattanooga in the previous round.  The RedBulls weren’t taking any chances and whilst across the Hudson and the East River, MLS rivals  New York City would be resting “designated” players Villa and Lampard, and Steven Gerrard wouldn’t be included in the LA Galaxy’s squad for their game against PSA Elite, their English star would be starting.

Many people may be surprised to hear that alongside the English duo, plus global stars Villa and Kaka, the MLS also features Bradley Wright-Phillips.  Son of Ian and brother of Shaun, it is fair to say he has been a bit of a sensation since he pitched up at the RedBulls in 2013 after leaving Charlton Athletic.  33 goals in just 51 games tells its own story.  Wright-Phillips can arguably call himself the most valuable Englishman in the MLS at the moment.

We waited for kick off which was supposed to be 7.30pm, but as usual in US sports when the time arrived, nobody was where they should be.  Luge had gone to sniff out some IPA whilst a small group of the RedBulls hardcore fans at the far end struck up a version of Twist and Shout.  At 7.39pm we got underway.  A couple brazenly came and sat in our section, although quickly apologised.  Apparently the low crowd was partly due to the Mets being at home and a new episode of Orange is the new Black on TV.

New York RedBulls 3 Atlanta Silverbacks 0 – RedBull Arena – Tuesday 16th June 2015
With fifteen minutes on the clock, Ronald Zubar tapped in from close range to put the home side 2-0 up and effectively end the tie.  The RedBulls had come out of the traps flying and dominated the opening exchanges with another ex-Charlton Athletic player, Lloyd Sam stroking home on 7 minutes after great work from Wright-Phillips and then Zubar in the right place at the right time.  It could have been an embarrassing night for the Silverbacks but the home side took their foot off the gas until the closing stages.

Bizarre licensing laws meant that despite even our poshest English accents couldn’t get us a beer after the 67th minute and our last cheer of the evening was reserved for Sean Davis (not that Sean Davis) scoring his first ever professional goal with just under twenty minutes to play.  It was time to leave and head back to the big city.  The official crowd had been announced as 5,585 – even the most ardent Red Bull fans would have scoffed at that number.  But it is what it is.  The US soccer fans seem to have the same attitude to the cup as those football fans in England, Italy or Azerbaijan.

Two days later the draw was made for the next round and what would you know, the Cosmos, fresh from beating New York City on penalties who make the trip to New Jersey to play the RedBulls. Let’s hope there are a few more fans in the stadium for that one.

Twice in a night time


14872309423_d2ca07abff_zIt’s not often you can tick off two things from your “bucket list” in one evening without it involving whipped cream, a private room at Spearmint Rhinos or Holly Willoughby but last week I managed to achieve it without really breaking into a sweat.  It’s also not often that many visitors to New York would even think of trying to get to see one of the 50 Teams That Mattered (An excellent read from the pen of David Hartrick) in the development of the beautiful game. The New York Cosmos’s impact on the global game we see today cannot be underestimated.  They were the first global marketing machine, realising the pot of gold that was on offer when selling football in the domestic market and abroad not as a ninety minute game but as a two to three-hour event.

The North American Soccer League, formed in 1968, was designed to try to win the hearts and minds of the attention-deficient Americans.  The 1966 World Cup in England had surprisingly fueled interest in the game in the US, coupled with the strange United Soccer League which had seen European teams such as Stoke City, Hibernian, Sunderland and Cagliari imported into the US to play under the names Cleveland Stokers, Toronto City, Vancouver Royal Canadians and Chicago Mustangs respectively.  The concept of Franchise Football was copied straight from the models adopted by the National Football League, Hockey League and Major League Baseball with 17 teams ranging from Atlanta to Vancouver taking part in the first season. The franchise from New York, “The Generals” lasted just one season, playing at Yankee Stadium, thus leaving the biggest city in America without a team.   Three seasons later in 1971 the league accepted an application for a new team, paying the princely sum of $25,000 entrance fee.  And so the legend of the Cosmos was born.

14665808209_1bdf60aab4_zThe NASL still needed to sell football to the North Americans, which was then completely foreign to the majority of them. A number of rules changes were made in those first few years to try to keep the fans attentions.   A clock that counted time down to zero as was typical of other timed American sports, rather than upwards to 90 minutes was standard at all grounds.  In 1972 they implemented the 35 yard line which meant that players couldn’t be offside unless they were in that final zone.  But the most famous rule change was the introduction of the Shootout in 1974.  The US didn’t do “tied” games – the concept that you could play for a couple of hours and still not have a winner was just as alien as referring to underwear as pants or not pouring porridge over bacon for breakfast.  The concept of the shoot out was that a player had a five seconds to score from running from the 35 yard line.  They could take as many touches or rebounds as they wanted but as long as it happened within 5 seconds.

The Cosmos became the NASL to many youngsters like me.  They realised that the way to market the team overseas was to bring in the players everyone knew.  Queue Pelé, Beckenbaur, Carlos Alberto and England star Terry Garbett (of course, Terry Garbett, ex-Watford and Middlesborough star midfielder) arriving to a great fanfare in the city.  For a short period of time, they became the most talked about sporting team not only in New York but also the whole of America.  But just like the dreams created by Pan-Am, TWA and Ronco, the NASL and consequently the Cosmos burnt itself out.  By 1984 the dream had died.  If you want to understand the who’s, the why’s and the wherefore’s of the Cosmos and NASL then grab a copy of Gavin Newsham’s excellent book Once In A Lifetime.

Ironically, the new reformed Cosmos would return to Long Island, forty years after they left in 1973 having won their first Championship (of five) in 1972.  Their home would again be the James M. Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University, some 45 minutes east of Manhattan.  Now you can understand why Andy and me are sitting on one of those yellow School Buses, winding its way through the ‘Burbs of Long Island.  Tick one – Seeing the Cosmos, tick two – a ride on an American school bus. I felt like I was on the set of Charlie Brown, Forrest Gump, American Pie and every other American film, although the fact we were sitting on it drinking bottle of Honkers Ale meant we were probably breaking a thousand laws.

14665803359_bd4ebca731_zIt is fair to say that the announcement of a new franchise to be created in New York City a few years ago set pulses racing in the Cosmos camp.  With the New York Red Bulls actually being camped across the Hudson in New Jersey (ditto the New York Giants and Jets), the opportunity for the re-birth of the Cosmos was never more alive.  The club had been reformed through the efforts of ex-Spurs director Paul Kemsley, ex-Liverpool CEO Rick Parry and of course, Pelé in 2010.  However, without a stadium, a league and more importantly a squad, the only hope the Cosmos had of playing was on FIFA 11.

The significant event in their re-birth was the decision that the Cosmos would be the opponents in Paul Scholes’s testimonial game at Old Trafford in August 2011.  By that time Eric Cantona had been appointed as Director of Football, and although his squad for that first game included the likes of Viera, Neville, Pires and even Robbie Keane (obviously playing for the club he supported as a child), the Cosmos were back.

Alas, the dream of a return to the top tier of US football was dashed in May 2013 when the MLS announced the new franchise team in the city would be New York City FC, a joint venture between Manchester City and the Yankees.  The Cosmos would stay forever in the second tier of US football, ironically now called the NASL.

In their first season at this level the club won the Soccer Bowl.  With the season split into two halves, the Cosmos won the “Fall” championship and then beat the “Spring” champions Atlanta Silverbacks to claim the title. Building on the success from last season they claimed second spot in the Spring championship.  However, it was in the US Open Cup (the US version of the FA Cup without any need for sponsorship from poor brewers) that the club have once again grabbed the nation’s attention.  In their first season in the competition they drew the RedBulls out of the hat and proceeded to smash their richer, more caffeine-boosted rivals out of the park.  They then took MLS Philadelphia Union to extra time before they lost 2-1.

Being in New York for business, it was a 100/1 shot that the Cosmos would be at home (honest) but once I saw they were, I had to be there.  This would be like finding a Bejams or a Berni Inn, a chance to revisit something from my childhood.

New York Cosmos 0 FC Edmonton 0 – Shuart Stadium, New York – Wednesday 6th August 2014
Our big yellow bus arrived at the Shuart Stadium at 7.30pm, kick off time.  Of course, being in America meant that the game didn’t actually kick off at the official time, but some 7 minutes later once the faffing had been completed.  Whilst the official attendance was announced later as 4,524, there seemed barely half of that in the stadium.  With the sun setting over Manhattan in the distance, the majority of the crowd’s applause was reserved for the impressive sunset rather than anything happening early doors on the pitch.

14665737820_72b4396e41_zA handy guide produced by the Cosmos Media Team meant we understood the players from the visitors from Edmonton, with full pronunciation guide (Tomi Ameobi is:- Am-E-O-Be for your information), although every single event that happened on the pitch was announced to the world by the PA.  He didn’t have a lot to talk about though during the ninety minutes as neither team could break the deadlock.

In the first half the highlights were three yellow cards and then the pint of Samuel Adams beer in the Beer Garden (a roped off area behind the Main Stand where we still had to prove we were adults.  The second half  saw the Cosmos try to break down the stubborn Canadians, having fifteen shots although the main talking point was the missed penalty in the 50th minute by the Cosmos when Senna saw his spot kick almost take out a flight departing from JFK.  With the clock ticking down, Tomi Ameobi, the middle of the three Newcastle United Ameobi brothers, put in a two-footed challenge on Szetela which saw him red-carded.

The draw was a disappointment for all involved.  The Cosmos fans including the Borough Boys behind the goal had kept up the beat during the game but even they had to admit defeat in the entertainment stakes.  But football is never about just 90 minutes on the pitch.  The evening was about catching up with old friends over a beer and taking a step back to my childhood and imagining what could have been.

 

Getting past third base…


It’s a very chilly, but sunny afternoon in early April and the baseball season in the US is under way for another year. I’m sitting in the top tier of CitiField, the 42,000 all seater stadium in Queens, New York. I can virtually count the number of fans in the stadium as the Mets and the San Diego Padres struggle to entertain the sparse crowd. As part of their commitments to the TV schedules, this game started at 1:10pm on a Thursday. Can you image a Premier League game being scheduled for mid-afternoon on a working day? Bear in mind that the Padres fans watching on TV are doing so over their bagels at 8:30am in California.

photo (22)Welcome to the world of US Sports, where fans are often seen as an inconvenient truth to professional sports. Let me start by saying that I am a Baseball fan. Since coming to a Yankees game in the old Yankee stadium some 10 years ago I can see the magic, the history and the fan interaction in the game. But perhaps it is time for a little make-over. When I said to people in the office in New York I was heading to the game they asked me how much my ticket was. “$5 on StubHub”…the reply was almost universal – “$5 too much, the Mets suck”. And based on the fact that after 6 innings the score was just 1-0 to the Padres I had to agree. Fans were huddled under blankets, enjoying a day off work, but hardly being warmed by the game which was limping along and crying out for someone to put it out of its misery.

Last month I went to see the New Jersey Devils play an NHL game, and my five proposed changes had certainly caused some debate both with my sports-mad work colleagues but also blog readers. So I thought I would take the opportunity of another break in play for a TV Ad to make five suggestions about how I would improve Baseball for the watching public. Continue reading

“When the chips are down…


…I’ll be around
With my death-defying love for you”

Three months ago I made my first trip west from New York to the barren lands of Harrison, New Jersey where the shining beacon of the Red Bull Arena lit up the decaying industrial landscape of an area of New Jersey that was desperately in need of investment, inspiration and excitement. On that day, the New York Red Bulls won a pulsating game against rivals DC United in a matchday atmosphere that really surprised me. I stood corrected in my view that the Red Bulls had no fans or identity and thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

Three months on and I was back in New York for work with the Englishman in New York, Luge Pravda. As luck would have it, the Red Bulls were at home again, this time against those Wizards from Kansas. Or, the team that used to be called the Wizards. It appeared that a PR agency, probably headed by a Siobhan Sharpe-type decided that “The Wiz” wasn’t a MLS-type name anymore, so they were rebranded as “Sporting Kansas Club”, or SKC for short. Another “franchise” struggling to know who it really was. Continue reading

Above us only stars….


In just under a year’s time, a famous name from the past will once again begin to shine in the public domain.  The New York Cosmos are back, and who would bet that in a few more seasons they will dominate US Soccer, just like they did some 35 years ago.

In 2013, The Cosmos will join the North American Soccer League, the “second tier” of US soccer. They will be playing alongside teams such as the Carolina Railhawks, Puerto Rico Islanders and San Antonio Scorpions in a league that still has no automatic promotion to the MLS.  Whilst these teams are relatively new, they will be playing alongside old rivals Fort Lauderdale Strikers and the Tampa Bay Rowdies.

As of yet they are still to confirm where they will call home, although it is rumoured it will be at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York state – a far cry from the heady days of sell out crowds at the old Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford.  In an interview with the New York Times on announcing the plans for next season, the club put forward their plans.

“It had long been thought that the Cosmos would gain entry to Major League Soccer, but those efforts have obviously not come to fruition, at least not yet. M.L.S. remains committed to expansion and has said it would like to place its 20th team in New York City. That is still possible if the league and New York can reach an agreement on where to put a new stadium — with Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (site of two past World’s Fairs) at the top of the list. Once a stadium is more than a pipe dream, it stands to reason that several groups, perhaps including the Cosmos, would start a bidding war to land in M.L.S.”

Wearing the famous white Umbro shirt will be all the rage in Manhattan once again.  In fact, since the club relaunched a few years ago, the Umbro clothing range of retro shirts and tracksuit tops have been some of the best sellers in sports retailers across the globe. We picked ours up a few months ago, online from Zalando who are one of the biggest online retailers in the UK.

It is yet to be revealed what the Cosmos shirt will look like for 2013 but in terms of design it is hard to beat the retro number we bought, of course complete with the No.10 representing the world’s greatest player, Pele.  If football shirts could be called timeless, then this would certainly fall into that category.  You cannot walk further than a few hundred yards in New York in the summer without now seeing an English Premier League shirt, so here is your opportunity to “beat them at their own game”.  The 100% cotton shirt is perfect for the blistering hot days of the English summer, which as we know always hits us in late September.