Monday, February 25, 2008

My Clubs, Part One: The sawcker

I am a firm believer that the one of the best ways to truly internalize universal lessons is to glean them from very particular narratives. I may have relatively little to add to the discussion on broader cultural trends and themes surrounding sports and why we love them, but I do see those trends and themes at work in my own experiences, which I offer as a few more data points for the subconscious statistical analysis we all do to come to our conclusions about such things. Without further ado, my list of clubs:

Who: FC Dallas (nee Dallas Burn)
Where: Pizza Hut Park, Frisco, Texas. A beautiful stadium in a perfectly tidy suburb. Of course, there is no THERE there, but that will all change once the construction is done, at which point one will say that there certainly is a THERE there, though the THERE will still look and feel exactly like a large number of other faux-urban THERES that still require a car to get to them and to get from one chain retailer/restaurant concept to the next. Does that negate the THERE?
Why I Care: I live in Fort Worth. This is the team my father-in-law took us to until I had seen enough to realize that there was something great going on with this soccer thing. I have been told that one must attend an ice hockey game live to truly appreciate it, and for the uninitiated, that goes double for soccer. This is my home town club, and as long as they're around, they're my team, warts and all.
Why you might find them interesting: They are a microcosm of everything that is both promising and troubling about American soccer. On the one hand, they are actually profitable, have a lovely place to play, and have partnered with a local youth club to begin a player development academy. On the other, well, there are struggles. They struggle for attention in a market that is obsessed with the gridiron game, to the point where on any given weekend towards the end of the MLS season, local news outlets will devote more coverage to EACH of several High School gridiron games than to the Hoops' match(es) on the pitch of Pizza Hut Park; that's alright, though, because one or two of those gridiron games will ALSO have been played on the pitch of Pizza Hut Park. They have also re-branded the team, which many decry, but then, the original name grew out of a wave of ill-considered 90's EXTREME ATTITUDE, doomed from day one to fall into the realm of kitsch. Still, the fire-puking horse is pretty cool. Finally, the club is mired in mediocrity on the field, either a victim or beneficiary (depending on whom you ask) of the parity rules that govern MLS.

Who: Cardiff City
Where: Ninian Park, Cardiff Wales. An old ground full of character... and rust. I am so glad I got to go, but from a business standpoint, I can understand why the powers-that-be are so thrilled to be building a new stadium across the street.
Why I Care: Easy enough. Click here.
Why you might find them interesting: Some of this is also outlined in the link above, but they are an interesting case in European football. They are in Wales, which as far as FIFA is concerned is an independent country, but they play in the English system. English referees give red cards, but Welsh bureaucrats decide the fines and suspensions. Both countries' governing associations are rather uncomfortable with the situation, so along with the five other so-called Exile clubs, they have literally no chance to be entered into meaningful European tournaments. Even better, the current chairman is the man who ran Leeds United into the ground, but he is arguably an improvement over the last one, the man who set the wheel in motion for the end of Wimbledon FC. Finally, if you're into this sort of thing, some of the Bluebirds' fans have... a bit of a reputation.

Where: Guru Gobind Singh Stadium, Ludhiana, Punjab, India
Why I Care: My wife's dad was born in India, in the state of Punjab. He grew up in Phagwara, which is the base of operations for JCT FC. JCT is the only Punjabi team in the I-League, the newly reorganized, ostensibly professional league in India. I want to see Indian football develop, and I want to follow a team in the country and town where my soccer-loving father-in-law grew up, and which fosters a national team my children might aspire to play for should they ever become high-level players (and are somehow overlooked for the US National team(s), of course). Honestly though, if the team were based anywhere but Phagwara, even I might not have looked into it.
Why you might find them interesting: In a league where almost all the teams spring from the huge cities of Mumbai and Kolkata, or else come from the Portuguese-influenced coastal region of Goa, JCT hails from rural, mountainous Punjab near the Pakistani border, and more specifically Phagwara, a town of under 100,000 people, though they play their matches in nearby Ludhiana, which is a good bit larger, but still would flatter itself to claim 10% of the population of either Mumbai or Kolkata. In this sense, the Millmen (named for the JCT Textile company which sponsors/owns the team) are somewhat akin to the NFL's Green Bay Packers, playing in a tiny northern outpost that looks just a bit out of place in their league. Also, following an I-League team from the US becomes a unique test of one's psychological endurance and willingness to scour the Internet. Alas, I was unable to catch a broadcast from a p2p website before the season ended, with the Millmen coming in a very respectable third, led by Indian National team striker Sunil Chetri and BRAZILIAN Eduardo da Silva Escobar. How a Brazilian striker ends up plying his trade in Punjab is probably quite a story, and I'll be sure to write about it if I ever learn more.

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