This is the Life of a Manager

By Jordan Brown

The chant rang around Tehrir Square over the weekend—the chant of the revolution, the chant that brought down deposed Mubarak, ‘The people want to bring down the regime!” They shouted it this time for a new leader, the democratically elected Mohammend Morsi—a man who is suddenly discovering the confines of power, the limits of his reach.

Somewhere in London a dour Frenchman was ending his day, and if he were to have seen the scenes in Cairo, heard the chant of the young revolutionaries, it would probably sound to him much like, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” A game as ubiquitous in global culture as football finds itself mirroring many other spheres of human society, none so often as politics, and no role in football is so neatly politicized as Manager.

Football is a republic built on popular momentum; it is the modern circus maximus played out in coliseums of steel and glass, and the mobs are still the masters. In every seat of the stands sits a revolutionary, a fan who holds their own individual ideal of their club’s perfection. They know the way their team should play, who they should sign, and exactly what great heights of achievement each season should hold. Their minds are filled with gleaming trophy cabinets and memorable performances, and to all of them the one standing in the way of the dream made life is the flesh and blood man in the puffy jacket pacing the byline in front of them. Everyone is the best fit for the job except for the one who currently holds the title.

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Coming Home: Learning To Be An American Soccer Fan

By Jordan Brown, writing from Chicago

Watching last Tuesday’s United States Men’s National Team match against Guatemala, what struck me most—beyond the team’s confident performance—was the support in the stands. The stadium was a packed array of red, white, and blue. The atmosphere was fantastic; the crowd was active and loud, the American Outlaws section enthusiastic in both dress and volume. They also seemed so distinct from a European crowd, so uniquely American in the whole endeavor of support—the Dempsey big-head that got a top billing, the ‘Shot, Shot, Shot’ chant that came out a few times—hints of bombast and swagger, beer in the stands, questionable body paint all spake very American.

The antics weren’t a simulacrum of our European cousins, but instead showed an individual character, and I was suddenly aware that I wasn’t a part of it and dearly wanted to be. The match made me realize that for all my fervent interest in the Beautiful Game, when it came to my own nation’s expression of the sport, I have been an absent participant. It’s taken the week ‘till now for me to consider my situation, but I feel I’ve found a reason: for all the grassroots movement and growing national interest, most Americans are and have been Soccer Orphans.

In Luke Dempsey’s fantastic piece in Howler’s recent first issue, he discusses the difficult position of growing up a Manchester United fan in the West Midlands, home to of clubs like Aston Villa and West Brom—essentially not Manchester.

“If you’ve watched British football from early childhood, your loyalty is probably going to be about your father and which team he supported. I have an American friend who picked Chelsea when she came to the sport as an adult, because she had watched them lose the Community Shield in 2006 and ‘always likes to root for the underdog.’ Bless her.”

In two sentences, Dempsey effectively sums up the identity crisis facing American soccer fans. The America I grew up into is a land of many fathers, but I’d wager that very few of them supported soccer, much less any individual club with any ardor. And the other side of the coin Dempsey has tossed out is a good-natured, but still somewhat common view of the modern American support of European clubs—that it is more novelty than authenticity.

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On Spontaneity in a Universal Sport, and the week that was

By Jordan Brown

In the flawed, but truly engaging drama Another Happy Day, Ezra Miller’s wonderfully screwed up young Elliot sits down for breakfast with his Grandmother—Ellen Burstyn—and in contemplation of their family’s issues states, “If we came down here for a funeral instead of a wedding, we might actually all be getting along. Now it begs the question, ‘What does that mean?’ And the only conclusion I’ve been able to come to is that death is actually a more unifying force within a family than love. Now that’s a mindblowing concept.”  The Elliot in the film has known nothing but years of tense relations and family drama—a young man caught in the tidal cycle of family fault and recrimination, and it has turned him into a cynic. Ellen Burstyn, in her response, springs his trap, “Well now, Elliot,” she says, “perhaps it’s just the way you were brought up.” The scene closes with Elliot’s wry response, “I am myself and my circumstances.”

The banner headline early in this week of football was the emotional release of the independent Hillsborough investigation’s findings. The true causes of the tragic death of 96 fans in Sheffield were released, and a remarkable step towards vindicating the memories of those lost in the disaster was taken. The footballing community was united in its support and condolence to the city of Liverpool. My time spent on Twitter and Facebook scrolling through media and fan reactions proved that in the long and terrible grief of those affected, we were all tied—the outpouring camaraderie was powerful—if not unique. Miller’s character touched on what is a fundamental truth of human nature: we are united in tragedy.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s letter to the Manchester United fans, a strong case for rivalry as natural but never personal in enmity, was timely and well-said. The praise of its release prior to today’s Liverpool vs. Manchester United match was universal—as it should’ve been. Attempting, as I was, an ocean away and a generation apart from the significant moment that the Hillsborough represents in global football, I found myself wondering if we’re about to miss an incredible opportunity—a watershed moment where we realize what was truly on offer for us this week amongst all the emotion and muted tribalism.

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On playing yet another FIFA: A Bridge Too Near in Simulation?

By Jordan Brown

Fall is here, and tagging along behind the start of major European football—as it annually does—is the release of another iteration of Electronic Arts’ FIFA Soccer franchise. It is part of our yearly calendar, as expected as any other recurring event like Christmas or V-E Day. As such, it shouldn’t be a cause for much preoccupation on my part, but this year I find myself facing a choice which for so long has been as determined as the change of seasons: will I be buying FIFA this year?

An indicator of just how existentially fraught this question is for me would be the pre-order receipt in my desk which was purchased six months ago. It was a transaction done with the same compulsory spirit as submitting my taxes. The evolving soccer simulator has ingrained itself into my life, serving as a short time-waster between dressing and waiting for friends to go out, as an expressive outlet for my aesthetic of short and quick passing which builds to a fluid goal execution, and most often as my nearest available analogue to experience the world of professional football. The thought though, that has been constantly nagging through this year’s swelling marketing and looming release is, “Is this even the football game I want to be playing?”

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Disrupting Accepted Narratives: On Spain’s Olympics and Selective Memory

By Jordan Brown

Spain’s summer tournaments are over, with the results being a glorious and historic victory, and a quietly disgraceful defeat.  For all the glowing press that came out of Spain’s record-setting Euro 2012 performance, there is a comparative hill of silence with regards to their Olympic stumble. Sources that can usually be trusted to have something to say about such a story have been moot, both online and in print.

Michael Cox’s Zonal-Marking seems to be on hiatus after the Euros—offering us no autopsy of the exit, the usually insightful Sid Lowe only wrote an early Olympics piece on De Gea’s expectations for the tournament (pre-ignominy), but curiously—nothing since. No feature on the Football Ramble, nothing but match recaps on Soccernet, and in some cosmic coincidence Spanishfootball.info is down for maintenance. Now these may not be everyone’s personal sources for football coverage, but they’re on my daily round, so to find no real response to Spain’s poor display was surprising. Why aren’t we talking about this?

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Ronaldo the father. Myself the gullible?

By Jordan Brown

There is a small humanity in me when it comes to football. I found it in between the transfer sagas of Robin Van Persie and Jovetic—nestled amongst the endless moneyed sagas of a dozen moneyed clubs, Cristiano Ronaldo—of all the possible people—cried out for a sympathetic ear, and of all the people, this Barcelona fan heard it. He said, as Goal.com puts it, “I try to be romantic, but no one believes me!” I’ve been trapped by the soap opera of his broken heart, who knew it could happen—this Messi rival and dramatic villain—he’s hooked me into the most personal of his trials, and I don’t know who I am now. Am I still the fevered observer, the tribalist cule bent towards complete distaste of all things Madrid, or a man—some flesh and bone recorder of human truth, a fellow of love and loss to the most distant personage I could ever imagine: the underwear model and millionaire that is Cristiano Ronaldo?

Some unyet-unnamed Thai television station has achieved the unbelievable and made the Real Madrid star humane— they have turned him into a father and wounded man, “He has the same hair as me. Strong and curly,” he gushed, “I sleep and wake with him. My son is always with me.” They have made him the father—the indistinguishable totem of male sympathy, which I among many cannot resist, and who must in his vocalized emotional desperation will to be loved. The report is surely spurious—Ronaldo is utterly personified, in a way that screams manufactured reportage.

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Drogba’s Dream: The Last Charge of the Ancients

By Jordan Brown

Didier Drogba emerged from the confines of his tent to the thrum of a busy camp. All around him the army of Chelsea were preparing for war. Infantrymen were rushing to formation, their tall pikes bobbing rhythmically as they ran. Plated warhorses stomped and bit at paiges checking the readiness of mounts, bowmen were fitting their strings and chatting nervously in small circles while the sounds of grinding steel poured from the row of armorers keening the edges of hundreds. Smoke and fire, sweat and leather, wood and steel, Drogba closed his eyes and breathed in deep - savoring the air of battle. It would be his last.

The thought of his waiting men broke him from his reverie and he set off, joining the rushing humanity of the camp. The blue livery of his army made like a river flowing down muddy paths, wearing the telling lines of man’s device into the rich green valleys of Bavaria.

It was a miracle they were even moving at all. Not so long before the army had been in Catalonia, and the experience had nearly ended them. The whole of the known world had expected them to falter in the Spanish leg of their campaign. Wave after wave of Barcelona’s attacks had broken upon their ranks. Halfway through their battle, the venerable Iniesta led his troops into a thrust which had seemingly put the Londoners paid. But tired and outnumbered, the strength of The Blues remained steadfast, and they found that their resolution outlasted the Blaugranas, and the late charge of the nigh forgotten General Torres shocked living world of their expectations. Chelsea would march from victory to Munchen.

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