Uncovering the Game in Madrid: El Campo de la Cebada

It wasn’t supposed to be part of the plan, which was exactly the plan.
The itinerary was set in the most flexible stone that can be found in all of Spain. The trip had its destinations, of course, but it was as much about a city as it was exploration.
Must See Madrid was the mission statement, which meant hitting up more than a few highlighted circles on a map.
The goal was to see Madrid and the beautiful game that lives and beats on so many different wavelengths here. The journey featured Real, Atlético, and Rayo, but before we get there, I want to show you part of Madrid’s unseen scene. The spot where the game is not only rampant, but integrated with every subset of culture that can be found.
I arrived after a tip-off from Twitter recommended that I go to La Latina. Specifically, El Campo de la Cebada. I found out quickly that it’s a place you discover, even after you set foot within the park’s barriers and smell its surrounding tapas restaurants.
Gates surrounded the pitch, and the welcome sign outside stated quite clearly, “we’ll leave when we want.” The following few steps did not disappoint.

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We came for Ronaldinho, but found Tijuana

By Maxi Rodriguez and Zack Goldman

There’s a first time for everything, and this weekend, the AFR team took hopefully the first of many trips South of the Border.

With intentions to track Ronaldinho as he suited up for Querétaro against Tijuana’s Xolos, it was a pilgrimage of sorts; an opportunity to see a legend in the flesh before he hangs up his boots.

But while Ronaldinho was the original focus of our journey, the city of Tijuana and its football club were its biggest stars.

Ask most people north of the border what they think of Tijuana, and you’ll be overwhelmed with less-than-informed talk of Mexico’s socio-political landscape, second-hand stories of the city’s dark underbelly, and warnings over the range of narco-inspired violence just miles from the U.S.

While these topics are worthy of a responsibly contextualized conversation, it goes without saying that the first thing any visitor to Tijuana learns is that Tijuana is, in many ways, much like any other city across the world. Sure, it shares many of Mexico’s present-day challenges, but it just as strongly speaks to its promising future — progress that can be seen in the city center and at the stadium.

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Can the Indian Super League wake a sleeping giant?

By Greg Lea

An initial glance at the latest FIFA World Rankings yields few surprises: world champions Germany sit top while Argentina, the runners-up in Brazil, are second. However, as you scroll further down the list, one name sticks out above all others. Way down in 158th place, below Puerto Rico, Curacao and Kyrgyzstan, are India.

In Soccernomics, Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski argue that population, football experience and per capita income are the best indicators of the strength of a national side. With 1.2 billion people and the world’s tenth largest economy, India – all set for the launch of the Indian Super League on Sunday – are undoubtedly the planet’s biggest underachievers.

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Uncovering the Game in Madrid
Just a couple hundred meters from the Santiago Bernabéu, there are a hundred little Madrileños playing on a rooftop. A bell rings every 20 minutes. Each time, the pitch empties for a moment, only to be filled by another hundred students-turned-footballers who dream of playing on a patch of grass that’s only five minutes away. They may stand in the shadows of giants and galacticos, but they’re also the ones who play with the passion that makes Spanish football what it is.
Over the next few days, we’re collaborating with the Spanish Tourism Board to explore Madrid’s football culture and its endless stories. But here’s the thing: We can (and will) see Atletico and Cristiano and even Rayo Vallecano. But, really, anyone can do that. And, indeed, we’re sure many you have. So we want to hear from you about the unexpected, unforgettable experiences: the hidden pitches, the graffiti, and definitely that one place with an incredible bocadillo named after Diego Simeone that made your trip to the Calderón 100 times better.
Our eyes and ears are wide open.
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We just landed yesterday, and we’ll be documenting everything here, as well as on Instagram and on Twitter. You can even find some shots of Madrid that go beyond the pitch on my personal Instagram. Everything will be tracked with the #whereisfootball & #mustseemadrid hashtags. Let’s uncover some hidden gems in a city that lives and breathes the game! Words and photo taken by Eric, writing while thoroughly jetlagged and only moments away from a siesta.

Uncovering the Game in Madrid

Just a couple hundred meters from the Santiago Bernabéu, there are a hundred little Madrileños playing on a rooftop. A bell rings every 20 minutes. Each time, the pitch empties for a moment, only to be filled by another hundred students-turned-footballers who dream of playing on a patch of grass that’s only five minutes away. They may stand in the shadows of giants and galacticos, but they’re also the ones who play with the passion that makes Spanish football what it is.

Over the next few days, we’re collaborating with the Spanish Tourism Board to explore Madrid’s football culture and its endless stories. But here’s the thing: We can (and will) see Atletico and Cristiano and even Rayo Vallecano. But, really, anyone can do that. And, indeed, we’re sure many you have. So we want to hear from you about the unexpected, unforgettable experiences: the hidden pitches, the graffiti, and definitely that one place with an incredible bocadillo named after Diego Simeone that made your trip to the Calderón 100 times better.

Our eyes and ears are wide open.

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The Return of Nilmar

By Gordon Fleetwood

“Don’t they have anyone better than those two?”

This question and its variants were prevalent during the World Cup as bewildered fans gazed upon host nation Brazil’s less than glamorous forward line. Given a response of a binary nature, “no” would be the closest answer to the truth.

Outside of the mostly ignored Diego Costa (until he decided to play for Spain that is) there were few names with the shine capable of obscuring Fred and Jô in Luis Felipe Scolari’s vision. The presence of Diego Tardelli as the foremost replacement in Dunga’s new-look Brazil only underlines the current lack of quality in the position. Those capable of ably carrying the burden of Brazil’s number nine shirt in this era faded away long before the World Cup.

Now, months after Brazil’s ignominious exit from the competition, one of these dimmed lights has returned to the country from a luxurious, self-imposed exile. After five years on the road, Nilmar is home, not just in the land of his birth, but at Internacional, the club where he is an idol.

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Where Unrest Fights Regret: A Reflection on Maradona

By Kizito Madu

The folly of youth is thinking itself invincible; so the adage of not declaring a man as having lived a happy life until he is on his deathbed still holds true mainly because of youth’s naïveté. Diego Maradona isn’t dead –in fact he’s full of life; recently recorded participating in a street fight after a night out—but he is an old man, and from his own words, he’s much older than his age suggests. In a recent interview with TyC Sports, Diego lamented that if he had not taken drugs, he would be a phenomenal player, adding “However, my daughters know that their old man - even though I am 53 years old - in reality it is as if I am 78 because my life has not been normal. It’s as if I had lived 80 years.”

There are two tragedies in this story: One of lost time and talent in the sense that the best player to ever bully and prance through a football pitch could have somehow been better, and the more funereal allegory of an ancient tragedy; the same characteristics that makes a hero endearing and admirable, become the cause of his downfall. Achilles with pride, Diego and grit. 

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The Oldest Footballer in England

Meet Dickie Borthwick. He’s approaching 79, and still plays football.

Beyond the immediate desire to want to kick around with him, this short film by Alex Knowles & James Callum focuses on a man who has been fortunate enough to share his whole life with the game. They made the film with the intent to dispel the myth that ‘old people are past it’ and instead introduce us to inspirational people with invaluable insight, exceptional passion, a never-ending supply of wonderful stories and a thirst for life that refuses to fade.

Mr. Borthwick notes that "football brings a lot of friends into your life… I’m there with young people all the time, playing football! At my age! What more can I ask for?" Cheers, Dickie, for reminding us to appreciate what we all have at our feet.

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Away Days: America in Europe

Words and Photos by Nathen McVittie, from USA vs Czech Republic in Prague.

After the World Cup dust has settled, soccer continues.

International teams take to friendly matches to tune up ahead of competitive fixtures or to test the youth of tomorrow.

Their fans turn up, from near and far, to pay respect to old heroes or to catch a glimpse of heroes-to-be.

This past week, close to a thousand American fans took the plunge and traveled to Central Europe from all over the world in order to witness the continued evolution of an emerging power.

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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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