Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Amanda Palmer's 'Leeds United'

Amanda Palmer is one half of The Dresden Dolls. "Leeds United" is off her solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?. The track isn't directly about Leeds but the pounding on the keys, the blaring horns, the voice hoarse from shouting/screaming/singing taps into the riot of football crowds. She explains that the whole idea of turning out to support your team & getting into brawls with each other struck her as "Roman" and a good subject for her. I think this song is also picking at the interface of unruly feelings and the desire for control with lines like
Who needs love, when there's Law and Order?
And who needs love when there's Southern Comfort?
And who needs love when the sandwiches are wicked
And they know you at the Mac store?
Indeed. It gets more intense as the song expands into mayhem. [Football fandom is folded into these retreats from love & then the flip into chaos.] The vocal was, apparently, done in a single take - all the better to sound "unhinged". "My voice was completely in the gutter," she explains. And what a great place that is. Enjoy.

video

[I should say, this is a preview for my review of The Damned UTD (2009) - I saw it the other week under the promise I'd wait until its official release to publish my thoughts.]

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Soccer in Ciudad Juárez

Amazing that the network of soccer haters produced this gem about fans of Ciudad Juárez's Indios [Click here if the video isn't loading on this page]:



I understand that they just fired their coach. Last year "El Profesor" Eugui led them through improbable playoff victories against Chivas and Toluca. This season, apparently, the team hasn't been doing nearly so well. Let's hope things start looking up for them real soon. Tip courtesy of Pablo Miralles (of Ahí Vienen Los Gringos).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Las Fútbolistas (Great Grandma on the Left Wing)

"Las Fútbolistas" Ángel Zárraga (Mexico, 1886-1946)

A friend recommended this painting to me - amazing, given the year it was painted and the commonly held view that women's football is a recent phenomenon spearheaded by post Title IX generations of American women. By chance, I happen to be just finishing Barbara Jacobs's incredible portrait of perhaps the most successful and famous side in English women's football, The Dick, Kerr's Ladies (see also this recent Guardian story). Jacobs charts the development of this team during and after World War I - Lancashire women working in factories (while men were on the front) formed recreational teams, and then played charity matches to raise funds for returning soldiers. These matches drew impressive crowds by any standard - 10,000, 15,000, 35,000, 53,000, 65,000. People with almost nothing to spend on themselves paid for tickets - and all the money raised (beyond expenses for the players) was turned over to local charities. (Interesting detail: the women's games from these years produced what is arguably the first night match in a Boxing Day derby.)

As these women became national - and even international celebrities - and as women's football developed rapidly into a form of popular entertainment - the establishment decided that it was too dangerous. It was deemed inappropriate for women by the FA in 1921. Jacobs points out that this ban was likely issued as much for reasons of class as gender - these teams forward images of working class women doing something other than laboring as servants and in factories, and breeding more workers to do the same. It also foregrounded the very different gender dynamics within the laboring communities of the northwest of England. Matches raised huge sums to support returning soldiers - wounded, traumatized, and re-entering a very changed labor market (changed, in no small part, by the war itself and by the women's work in the factories). Men in the northwest actively supported the women's game - the success of the women's game, in other words, not only challenged ideas about femininity, it challenged the social organization of relationships between men and women (thus not only were women banned from FA grounds, men were banned from refereeing women's matches).

Jacobs also points out that the FA must have been getting nervous - all of the profits raised by these matches went back to the communities which hosted them. In fact, were it not for the women, the FA could not have taken any credit for charity works during these years. But as thousands of people spent their hard earned dollars to see the women play, and to support their neighbors - it was inevitable that they would begin to ask: "Where does all the money raised by the men's games go?" Indeed!

I am inclined to think that this - the anti-capitalist, labor-oriented ethos of women's football and its fans - must have been the bigger challenge to the (fragile, shifting) social structures of the day. (Jacobs is very good at breaking down the complex class dynamics of sport and leisure in the UK.) The success of the league, and the FA's hysterical reaction proves a point made by a range of radical feminist thinkers - a truly feminist environment seeks to destroy mythologies of gender difference. In doing so, it tackles the very architecture of capitalism. And that's the bit that really freaks people out.

[I am researching the story behind this painting - there is a probably link between it & The Dick, Kerr Ladies - Zárraga was in France when he painted this and other gorgeous sports tableaux. It may have emerged from his contact with French women's teams - one of the great stories of the Dick, Kerr's Ladies were their matches against a French team both in England and in France. Seems very likely there is only one or two degrees separation between the painter and the Lancashire lasses.]

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Are You Serious?" - notes on Williams's outrage

When confronted with the accusation that she'd threatened to kill the line judge, echoing John McEnroe's mantra of complaint, Serena Williams looked at the officials and asked "Are you serious?"

Williams had lost her cool, that much is indisputable. This happens to many of the best athletes when things aren't going as they'd hoped and planned. As she stated herself, her passion got the better of her when it disintegrated into anger. You can see that here as she is walking back to take her serve again, she loses her focus and is pulled out of the game by anger at the quite obviously bad call.



Athletes lose their cool all the time, in a wide range of sports - Zidane's headbutt is perhaps the most famous example of a player losing his temper spectacularly. Of course, that was worlds worse that what Williams did - the two actions are hardly comparable though you would never know it from the media reaction to the tennis player.

Not every athlete has their verbal and affective expression of anger read as life-threatening. No, this accusation - that Williams issued a death threat to the line judge - is the kind of thing reserved for Black and Latino men and women.

In the men's league I help run, a white linesman not used to working in our part of town walked off the field because he felt his life was in danger after a Latino player yelled at him - the center referee, an older Latino guy, was glad to see him go - the guy's racial hysteria had been a problem from the match's start. Our league is mixed, our referees are white, Latino, Armenian and more - they share a commitment to fairness, including an active refusal to allow bias shape how they call a game, and react to players.

Jasmine Cannick writes on Black Tennis Pro's:
Williams could be heard saying to the lineswoman: “I didn’t say I would kill you. Are you serious?”

Yeah, are you serious?

Most Black women can relate to what happened to Serena. We get mad like everyone else. The only difference is that for some reason when white women get angry, they’re not seen as threatening as we are. Maybe it’s the expression on our face. Maybe it’s the seriousness with which we address issues when we are upset. Maybe it’s the tone of our voice. You know that “don’t fuck with me today” tone that can stop a person dead in their tracks and scares the shit out of most white people.

Like comedian Dick Gregory said about Black people’s hair, when we’re 'relaxed', white people are 'relaxed'. You could say the same applies in tennis.
This is an important point. While it doesn't seem unreasonable that an official might take issue with Williams's expressed desire to shove the ball down the line judge's throat, the reaction to it - from the accusation that she'd threatened to kill the line judge to smug media reaction to her "disgraceful" conduct - is quite obviously amplified by racism and sexism, and reminds me of why I'm not such a big fan of tennis (the culture of which can seem as airless and uptight as the country clubs from which it emerged).

Of course such eruptions happen in tennis, and as many have pointed out, it in fact defined the personas of a range of male players. Other sports have furthermore made an art out of conflict between players, managers, coaches and referees. Baseball has perhaps perfected this - fully integrating this drama into the sport. Bruce Weber explains how umpires are instructed to take the abuse directed at them, and how to tell the difference between the anger that is part of the game, and anger which threatens the authority of the refereeing official. His Fresh Air interview is well worth listening to - there he explains how argument with the umpire works:
An umpire goes against his instincts as a human being. Most people when they get in an argument, they try to win it. But an umpire's job is not to win an argument it's to end the argument....

You have to read your opponent....Wait him out, don't bait, don't try to get the last word in, don't insult him, don't do anything that is going to perpetuate the argument.

When a guy is calling your mother all kinds of names, and questioning your ethnicity and manhood...it's hard to keep your head.

You can use all the profanity you want [when arguing with an umpire], as long as you don't make it personal....the magic word is "you." You can say "That was a horseshit call!" but you can't say "You're horseshit!"
Should you say the latter, the umpire has every right to eject you from the game. Does the world stop when this happens? Or when a yellow or red card is issued for dissent? Of course not.

Few sports cultures expect players to accept outrageously bad calls made at critical junctures. And sports have mechanisms for absorbing that complaint into the practice of the game. Referees in basketball, baseball, American football, and soccer expect anger and hostility at such moments, and have experience and professional guidance on how to keep oneself from being intimidated by such things, while also acknowledging that you can't write conflict, dispute, and anger out of the game.

I'm sure Williams wished she said something else. Like: "That was a fucking horseshit call and you know it." But given the culture within which she must work, I am not convinced that this would have made the slightest difference.

[For more commentary on this, see Troubling Comments from the US Open, as well as recent posts on Black Tennis Pro's and Women Talk Sports.]

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tomorrow: European Championship match England v Germany

Tomorrow England and Germany will compete for the European Championship. Germany rules the hen house and has for far too long - having won every European Championship since 1995.

The annoyingly titled Die Besten Frauen der Welt (subtitled in English) shows the level of their training, and that pretty much says it all. Few women's teams in the world enjoy the material and technical support that are given to top players in Germany.

That said, England had a good result against Germany in the last World Cup - holding the eventual champions to a scoreless draw. The English players have a lot of skill and experience - and a lot more riding on their performance than the Germans. They have more to prove to a country that is strangely aware of the women's game (your average Brit can name the best women's team, where your average American can't) and yet hosts a persistently unsupportive media and FA - this is, of course, why so many English players are on WPS rosters.

I'll leave the previews to UEFA & the English press:

The Guardian: England out to poop the German party and England's women are pitch perfect and Who's who in the England Squad.
The Telegraph: England women face tricky Germany test
UEFA's site: Germany, England, ready for a classic

Not sure if it's being broadcast in the US, but you can watch the match here.

David Beckham + Ellen


Another one for the archive in support of David Beckham: Lesbian Icon. Check out David Beckham's appearance yesterday on Ellen, sporting Ellen underwear. [My youtube link to this segment is not working - you can hunt around for the full interview by searching for David Beckham on Ellen.]

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Film (in production): Gringos at the Gate (Ahi Vienen los Gringos)

Pablo Miralles and Michael Whalen are making Gringos at the Gate (Ahi Vienen Los Gringos), a documentary about the US/Mexico rivalry. The preview below is composed of interviews with fans of both teams filmed before a February match in Columbus, Ohio. They promise to post another video on youtube about the August match at Azteca. A film like this is long overdue!

By the way, it looked like fans of El Salvador outnumbered "Uncle Sam's Army" 6-4 at the World Cup qualifying match played this past weekend in Utah. Too bad US Soccer doesn't have the guts to play a match like that in Los Angeles, where you'd probably get a similar ratio, but four times as many people. Personally, I think it'd be good for all if the folks in charge embraced the fans of the sport instead of running away from them.


Editorial linking the stories of Semenya and Simelane

To follow up on posts about Caster Semenya and Eudy Simelane: Mark Gevisser writes a great editorial in South Africa's The Times calling attention to the links between the two stories, "Celebrated and Castigated." Gevisser asks if the conversations about gender sparked by Semenya's visibility had happened a couple years ago, would Simelane have been murdered? His question is rhetorical - but he goes on to sketch some of the intense contradictions that shape discourse on gender, sexuality, colonialism and nationalism. I really recommend reading articles in The Times for South African perspectives on both stories, and how they relate to each other.

As he was writing this, Semenya appeared on the pages of a Sunday magazine femme-d up, The Times covers the debates about this as well in "Caster Gets Made Over."
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