The Unseen Tournament: AFR Captures the Copa Centroamericana

It can be tempting to write off any football tournament not named the World Cup, Copa America or European Championship as something of an excess. Without the most prominent international sides taking part, it can seem to the casual observer that tournaments outside of the most prominent few lack major stakes, with a trophy given out for the sake of giving out a trophy.

That perspective, while easy to slip into, is entirely misguided. No matter the venue, no matter the teams, no matter the players, international matches are perpetually imbued with history, culture, and aspiration, with fans always ready at a moment’s notice to display their national pride.

This past weekend, we took in the final round of the Copa Centroamericana, a tournament that serves as the Central American regional championship, with berths for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup and 2016 Copa América — the 100th anniversary of the famed tournament — up for grabs.

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SV Robinhood – From Suriname’s best to worst

By Nathan Carr

Success can be fickle. From perennial champions to relegation for the first time in their history, SV Robinhood’s plight is a reminder of how success is not always sustainable. Here is their story…
Based in Suriname’s capital city, Paramaribo, the birthplace of some of the world’s most revered footballers such as Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Robinhood is a club steeped in history. Indeed, their trophy cabinet is packed with silverware: five Surinamese bekers, five Super Cups and an astounding 23 Hoofdklasse titles. But in recent times their dominance has waned, and now, after finishing bottom of the 2013/14 standings, they will play the new season in the second division, the Eerste Klasse. Something they have never done before.
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Founded in 1945, the primary reason for the club’s formation was to create community cohesion by offering Paramaribo’s poorest men the opportunity to play football. In an area where money and basic facilities were in short supply, Robinhood began in a barefoot league called the Tweede Klasse. Impressing in the lower levels, their route to the next stage in the pyramid was blocked purely because of a requirement to wear boots; an issue when Robinhood couldn’t afford to buy them. Eventually, two years after the club’s inception, they were presented with a dozen pairs of boots and promotion to the Eerste Klasse. At this time, Robinhood was a team comprised of naturally gifted players with raw abilities, and the people of Paramaribo were captivated, as Robinhood gained the nickname Geen Strijd, Geen Kroon (No Fight, No Glory). 
The team’s rise to the top was inexorable and in 1949, a mere four years following their creation, Robinhood found themselves in the Hoofdklasse, where all the best sides wanted to be. After finding their feet for the first couple of years, adjusting to the league’s differences, Robinhood were crowned top-flight champions in 1953 in style, sweeping aside well-known competitors Transvaal 5-0. This marked the beginning of a very special period. 
Jule Gersie was the man who engineered such a triumph, as he was able to mould together a great team which went on to win the title a further three times during his tenure. The legendary figures of Humphrey Mijnals, who, in 1999, was selected Surinamese footballer of the century, and Charly Marbach, represented the timeless quality of Robinhood’s squad at the time. 
But it was in the 1970s and 1980s when Robinhood really started to gain a stranglehold on the Hoofdklasse, in a golden era which was overseen by Ronald Kolf, perceived as one of the best coaches in the history of the Surinamese game. Otherwise known as “Ro”, he was formerly on the books of Robinhood as a youth team player before leaving for pastures new, but was brought back after scout Andre de Vries recommended signing him. The outspoken Kolf’s time with the club only lasted three years because, according to reports, he “had problems with the technical leadership.” He soon left to join Robinhood’s rivals, Transvaal, but that didn’t last long either, and Kolf then decided to begin training as a coach. Given his first job as boss of Transvaal’s juniors, his side went unbeaten and won the championship. Sure enough, he was entrusted with the role of managing the seniors and that was no issue as Kolf guided them to titles in 1967 and 1968. His impressive work gained the attention of Robinhood, who signed Kolf on the very first day of 1969, and the rest was history.
In this glorious era of success, Robinhood ruled Surinamese football with only occasional bouts of interference from Transvaal. From 1971 to 1989, Geen Strijd, Geen Kroon picked up a total of 13 Hoofdklasse trophies. Kolf’s men were fighting on all fronts, finishing runners-up in the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup (now the CONCACAF Champions League) in the 1976 and 1977 campaigns. In the 1980s, the club kept up their pursuit of winning a piece of silverware on the continental stage, but could only manage runners-up again, losing out in the 1982 and 1983 finals.
The club enjoyed two decades of glory and waved goodbye to the 80’s by playing Ajax, one of the most well-known clubs on the planet, in a double-header where they won one and lost one. Not only that, but Robinhood also set up its own youth development centre as a symbol of their progression. This proved to be very useful in the 1990s, as the nucleus of the team was taken apart – the inevitable result of success - and key players left for the Netherlands and other places. Robinhood did manage to win another two Hoofdklasse’s in 1993/94 and 1994/95, but sustained success certainly became less assured. At this stage, the academy had been running for around 10 years and had produced some talented players such as Marcel Reidewald, Johan Vorstwijk and Ricardo Anches, but the squad was nowhere near the standard of previous eras.
It is important to point out that Suriname football is not-professional, but rather, functions in an amateur way: players receive small amounts of compensation from their clubs on a semi-professional basis. Because of this, the majority of players tend to leave after one year as clubs cannot tie them down for a prolonged period of time. This results in a situation where it is extremely difficult to build a familiar, consistent team. The death of former Surinamese Minister of Sport, Caribbean Football Union President and FIFA Vice President, Andre Kamperveen, also had a significant effect on the exportation of the country’s top players and Robinhood’s downward spiral. Under Kamperveen’s supervision of football in Suriname, many players fled to the Netherlands and the quality of the Hoofdklasse decreased, leaving teams feeling rather empty-handed.
The current chairman, Ludwig Van Dijk, has been in his position for over a decade. From 2000 to 2014, Robinhood has won the title just twice (2004/5, 2011/12). Other teams have come to the fore during this time like reigning champions Inter Moengotapoe – who are harboring hopes of becoming the first Surinamese club to turn professional – and Walking Bout Company. As a consequence of key players and the great Kolf (who ended his long spell as coach in 2003, replaced by Ricardo Winter) leaving, Robinhood have suffered. Their title triumph three years ago was a blip as last season they fared terribly, failing to win a single game in 18 attempts. They conceded 53 goals, the most in the league, and finished 12 points adrift of Boskamp in ninth. The Eerste Klasse is unknown territory for Robinhood and they’ll be expected to go straight back up, back to where their supporters no doubt feel they ‘belong’. 
Those golden years seem an awful long time ago now. 
This piece was written by Nathan Carr, who also runs The Home of Caribbean Football. Comments below please.

SV Robinhood – From Suriname’s best to worst

By Nathan Carr

Success can be fickle. From perennial champions to relegation for the first time in their history, SV Robinhood’s plight is a reminder of how success is not always sustainable. Here is their story…

Based in Suriname’s capital city, Paramaribo, the birthplace of some of the world’s most revered footballers such as Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Robinhood is a club steeped in history. Indeed, their trophy cabinet is packed with silverware: five Surinamese bekers, five Super Cups and an astounding 23 Hoofdklasse titles. But in recent times their dominance has waned, and now, after finishing bottom of the 2013/14 standings, they will play the new season in the second division, the Eerste Klasse. Something they have never done before.

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The problem isn’t Sepp Blatter; it’s FIFA
Within the murky waters that surround the FIFA executive committee wherever it roams, there was a bright moment three years ago when Sepp Blatter, in the midst of campaigning for a fourth-term as president of FIFA, vowed that if elected, he would not seek a fifth term. The same Sepp Blatter who has consistently been trailed by allegations of financial misappropriation, accusations of corruption, blatant sexism, enabling homophobia and racism, and altogether an antiquated view of modern society, promised to hand over the most powerful position in football at the height of the sport’s global expansion, and more or less, fans of the game stomached the promise and looked ahead to a light at the end of the tunnel.
Fast-forward three years and we’re still wading through muddy water with no end in site. On Monday morning, Sepp Blatter confirmed his bid for a fifth term as President of FIFA with a bold assertion that perfectly embodies Blatter’s view of his own place within the history of the game. Rather than quietly announce his campaign, Blatter portrayed his bid as a reluctant one, brought on by downtrodden federation representatives who had practically begged him to carry on. “Please go on, be our president also in future,” Blatter recounted, presumably with a smirk and an open checkbook not far away.
Understandably, the response was swift, with everyone from journalists to pundits and fans alike decrying Blatter’s re-election campaign as another example of the nepotism within FIFA’s ranks. Fingers were pointed, vitriol thrown and a few curse words muttered, all directed towards Blatter himself. And let’s be honest: if anyone deserves to be vilified, it’s Sepp Blatter. But for all the caustic response to Blatter’s decision, most onlookers seemed to discount one major fact: there’s no corrupt FIFA-branded rule book (that we know of) that forces FIFA electors to vote for Sepp Blatter come election time; federation representatives are free to launch their own campaigns or vote for an alternative.
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This is a significant point. Blatter’s deplorable character is well known, but he’s not a self-perpetuating force in and of himself; each of the six FIFA federations enable his behavior by regularly re-electing him to the sport’s most prominent position. The anger so regularly directed towards Blatter is certainly justifiable, but it misses the larger point.
The problem isn’t Sepp Blatter the individual, so much as FIFA’s structure as a whole. While Blatter is sure to benefit from his perch above world football, and certainly makes the most of his position to prolong his career, have no doubt that confederation representatives cast a vote for Blatter free from any type of reluctance. From FIFA-funded local programs in isolated nations to supporting African and Asian calls for more representation at the World Cup, Blatter works for his supporters in what always was and continues to be a mutually beneficial relationship.
And yet while calls for Blatter’s dismissal seem to follow each revolution of the news cycle, regular columns written in opposition to Blatter supporters are increasingly rare. Especially when the reality of the situation is that a vote in favor of Blatter is quiet acquiescence for ongoing corruption and narrow-mindedness in the sport. 
At the 61st FIFA Congress in 2011, Sepp Blatter was awarded the presidency after earning 186 votes out of a total of 203. 186 representatives tacitly supported the Blatter regime rather than voice their opposition by abstaining. 
While the relationship between the highest levels of FIFA and confederation representatives is akin to a feudal lord supporting his peasants, some claim quiet acquiescence is the only way to attempt to change the sport internally. That’s an honorable goal, but the reality is that so long as one attempts to play the game, the game will continue unhindered. A Sepp Blatter presidency ensures continued corruption, financial malfeasance and a rejection of social progress, even if there happens to be a reform-minded ExCo member who’s worked through the system to get a seat at the table. Silence begets silence.
I’m looking at you, Sunil Gulati.
This all paints a bleak image, but if there’s any hope for the future, it begins by affecting the process from a local, grassroots level by demanding change from our domestic federations. That anger and frustration you feel towards Sepp Blatter? Redirect it towards your federation and demand change. Pressure your local representatives with the same amount of coverage that Blatter earns. Use those in-depth investigations of the ExCo as a guide for tracking your federation. Abstain until your federation makes its opposition public; until it takes a stand on the international stage.
Sepp Blatter and the FIFA Executive Committee perpetuate corruption and graft in the sport, but it’s local, regional representatives who give them the power to do so, and FIFA’s framework that awards them. It’s time we redirect our focus. [Posted by Maxi]

The problem isn’t Sepp Blatter; it’s FIFA

Within the murky waters that surround the FIFA executive committee wherever it roams, there was a bright moment three years ago when Sepp Blatter, in the midst of campaigning for a fourth-term as president of FIFA, vowed that if elected, he would not seek a fifth term. The same Sepp Blatter who has consistently been trailed by allegations of financial misappropriation, accusations of corruption, blatant sexism, enabling homophobia and racism, and altogether an antiquated view of modern society, promised to hand over the most powerful position in football at the height of the sport’s global expansion, and more or less, fans of the game stomached the promise and looked ahead to a light at the end of the tunnel.

Fast-forward three years and we’re still wading through muddy water with no end in site. On Monday morning, Sepp Blatter confirmed his bid for a fifth term as President of FIFA with a bold assertion that perfectly embodies Blatter’s view of his own place within the history of the game. Rather than quietly announce his campaign, Blatter portrayed his bid as a reluctant one, brought on by downtrodden federation representatives who had practically begged him to carry on. “Please go on, be our president also in future,” Blatter recounted, presumably with a smirk and an open checkbook not far away.

Understandably, the response was swift, with everyone from journalists to pundits and fans alike decrying Blatter’s re-election campaign as another example of the nepotism within FIFA’s ranks. Fingers were pointed, vitriol thrown and a few curse words muttered, all directed towards Blatter himself. And let’s be honest: if anyone deserves to be vilified, it’s Sepp Blatter. But for all the caustic response to Blatter’s decision, most onlookers seemed to discount one major fact: there’s no corrupt FIFA-branded rule book (that we know of) that forces FIFA electors to vote for Sepp Blatter come election time; federation representatives are free to launch their own campaigns or vote for an alternative.

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Crossing the Chasm: The Polder Cup

Whether it’s a controversy over goal-line technology, a linesman plastered across newspapers after a dubious call, or a referee put to the sword after falling prey to a bit of simulation in the box, football is a sport preoccupied with its own minutiae. So much so, that for all the vitriol and passion that trails every small incident on the pitch, it’s often easy to forget that at the end of the day, football is just a game.

San Sebastian-based artist Maider López built upon that premise with her Polder Cup project, where she hosted a football tournament in Southern Holland across a series of mismatched pitches. From jagged boundary lines to hollows and bumps littering the field and even ditches of water splitting fields in two, Maider parodied the rigid official rule-set by creating a situation in which players had to adapt their strategy and interpretation of the rules to the environment around them.

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"Wake Up!"

Words and Photos by Eric Beard and Julie Logan, from the NWSL Final between the Seattle Reign and FC Kansas City at Starfire Stadium

There’s something immeasurably inspiring about witnessing a winner lose. It silences a stadium full of ardent supporters. Amongst immediate despair, there’s a fire that has yet to be fully extinguished. It’s an unnatural air of defeat in the lungs of those who know what it means to transcend second best. Above all, it’s a wake-up call.

Because anyone can step up at any time. New champions can always be made. And they aren’t playing to provide a reminder to always bring your best; they’re emphatically declaring that your best isn’t good enough anymore.

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Ground From Above - Terrão de Cima by Renato Stockler

"A ‘terrão’ (earthen field) is an oasis in the urban landscape. The reddish tone of a soccer field turns into a stage for resistance of popular soccer. These fields are increasingly rare to be seen because of property speculation and land occupation, and they standing as a spirit of resilience." - Renato Stockler

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An Ode to Wembley

Wembley may be the crown jewel of English football, but its real soul resides further east in London.  

In the shadow of the Olympic Stadium — England’s other, beaming and gleaming monument to sport — lies Hackney Marshes. 

There, the grass may be thicker, higher, and muddier than Wembley’s pristine green, but the passion exhibited for the beautiful game is right on par. 

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Where The Average Weekend Is Anything But: Portland and The Timbers Army

Photos captured by Jordan Beard

Over the past week, Portland, Oregon was situated right on the middle of the global game’s map. From Thierry Henry to Mario Götze, icons and phenoms were filling the streets as the MLS All-Stars welcomed Bayern Munich to town. We were at Providence Park for that match, and it was great. But it wasn’t Portland.

The stadium was packed to the brim and full of fans from overseas, but it wasn’t Portland. So, we returned to see this city’s side play Chivas USA to take in an "average game" and witness the atmosphere that the Timbers Army and company could create.

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Welcome Home

As another summer winds to a close, club football returns to English cities and towns. And while much of what makes that significant happens on the pitch, the signs of the beautiful game’s return can be seen even more poignantly in the elements that surround the match.

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