Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fútbol Mania: Local Teams Featured on Time Warner On Demand

Time Warner's digital on-demand service has a channel dedicated to local amateur soccer. Fútbol Mania profiles teams playing in the 2000 leagues (their figure) in Southern California. I just went through their current offerings (they post new 15 minute episodes every week) and was really psyched - the highlights are good, and the commentary is fun (as far as I can tell - it's in Spanish).

You can find it by going to channel 1, and choosing "local." It should then show up on your menu.

I think I'm just going to tell people who talk about how people "here" are not interested in soccer to just shut up. I mean, what media outlet produces a weekly show about an amateur sport no one cares about? If that was how Time Warner worked, they'd be profiling the women's teams playing in these leagues. (None of the games profiled right now feature women's teams. Shameful!) Anyway, click here for their slightly corny announcement video.

My Favorite Couple: Soccer + Basketball

Soccer's closest cousin is basketball (I'm not alone in thinking this). While basketball's scoreboard couldn't look more different from the minimalist tally of an exemplary football match, the best games in both sports have nearly identical point differentials (1-2 points). They are distinguished by similar brands of spectatorial intensity - the time-outs in a basketball game are all that keeps its audiences from having a mass stroke. Fútbol fans are as crazy as their heroes are fit - we are conditioned by the insane emotional demands of a sport that requires you to spend 90 minutes on the edge of your seat or screaming at the top of your lungs.

I stand by my February comments:
Watching a baseball game has the pleasures of a day out with your friends. Watching a fútbol match is like a crazy one night stand with a sex fiend. There's no rest, no pause for reflection - it's like jumping off a very, very tall cliff. Twice. This is why football fans are so nuts. And sometimes dangerous. Think: Fatal Attraction x 40,000.
I love any attempt to couple basketball and soccer. Like the guys in one of my neighborhood parks who warm up before a soccer match by playing keepy-uppy on the basketball court, and heading the ball into the net. And then, while I was amusing myself with this Kaka homage (recommended to me by youtube, no doubt for its gay disco soundtrack, which I adore) I came across this bit of backyard genius:

I don't understand why there is a hoop in this guy's grassy yard - a few folks on the youtube page ("impossible soccer shot") raise this as evidence of fakery. But if you don't have a paved driveway, and you want to practice free-throws and jump shots, a hoop in a grassy backyard will do. And maybe he put it there to practice this shot. People have dedicated themselves to crazier things. Here, though, the ball sure looks like it goes in and then bounces off the post and lands in the bushes to the right.

Doubters also say this guy's celebration isn't nearly as intense as it should be. But I've seen that particular brand of cocky restraint excersized by teen masters on my own team who act like there is nothing more banal than their jaw-dropping footwork. And then there is Berbatov, famous for the "lack of joy in his celebrations." So I'm not a big fan of using affect as a measure of the magnificance or veracity of the goal given us in these personal videos.

If people resist the idea of this video on the assumption that it can't be done, perhaps it's a reflection of an unwillingness to sit with the idea of this odd couple. But these two sports have more common than people seem able to realize. Both, for example, are associated with underprivileged classes, requiring a minimum of resources to play and enjoy. And yet we continue to imagine them as so far apart.

So, thanks to whoever you are with the marvelous "do" and the shot of shots. I believe it, no doubt because I want to.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Who Wants it?: Playing Against Boys/Playing With Girls

Sometimes I think I play with women, and I play against men.

Let me explain: I play in a weekly scrimmage in which I'm the only woman on the field. Last week I had fairly typical night for a female player in an all-male setting. That sort of game looks like this: My teammate has the ball, and there is plenty of space between us. I call for the ball. I'm open, probably because I am not being marked. This may be because I'm a girl. I would like to be seen as enough of a threat to be marked, but I am not above exploiting my invisibility to defenders. So I call for the ball again.

He now has two defenders on him. He looks around for someone to pass it to. I am still unmarked. I perhaps try to get in a better position to receive a pass, and call for the ball again. It is as if I am not only invisible, I am apparently mute as well. I call for the ball in Spanish, and in maybe even in French. I call for it again. He is still holding onto the ball and then he decides to, say, pass it back or attempt to cross it into a cluster of players.

This happens two, three, four times in a row. By which point I am fully demoralized. If at this point in the game the ball is passed to me, I am not expecting it. I either do a bad job controlling it, or get rid of it too quickly. I stop wanting the ball, so I am not fighting for it, and I drift out of the game entirely.

This is where I usually ask to play defense - which is a funny position for a girl my size in a guy's game. But by this point I am mad - at myself as much as my teammates.

Most of the game has been spent trying to make myself visible, to get in the game, and then digging myself out of the psychic hole that swallows you up as you wonder "Is it because I am a girl?" or "Am I that bad?"

So, once I am on the back line I play with the particular focus bestowed by rage. I think very cynically: "He's going to bring it up on the right, because I am here and he thinks he can get around me." And he probably can, since he's 15 years younger than me and has been playing a lot longer. But I can push him wide, and steer him to the next defender - containing him. That almost always works. Often, guys will call for the ball even when I am marking them. I love this. The more they do that, the more likely I am intercept the pass or force the turn-over. And when my foot is on the ball, they have nobody to blame but their own limited imagination.

I love the very particular frustration that those guys display when I get the ball away from them. I think I enjoy defending against guys for this reason. If I've spent the first half of the game being ignored, I play the second half like a castrating bitch. (This is more or less how I experience certain aspects of my professional life as well!)

When I play soccer with women, this stuff just doesn't happen. You either want the ball or you don't. A player who repeatedly doesn't pass the ball to an unmarked teammate who is calling loudly for the ball will catch shit from the entire team. And if I'm not getting the ball from a teammate, I just think she's an ass. I don't think she's sexist.

I became a much better player by playing with women. I got the ball a lot more often, and was expected to do more with it. (There is nothing quite so awful as that thing guys will do with girl-players - where they act like it's a miracle when you complete a pass. It takes the pleasure from the compliment if you realize that your basic competency has come as a surprise!)

Without the demoralization of playing with boys handy as a rationalization for limits in my ambition, I had to ask much deeper questions of myself. If I wasn't getting the ball, it was because I wasn't calling and fighting for the ball. It wasn't because the team didn't believe in me. It was because I didn't believe in myself.

The players I most admire play with an incredible confidence. The ball seems to find them. It's like they are fueled by a cocktail of desire and belief. Taking the field with women like this is just plain liberating.

And with that, I'll raise my glass to our new President and direct your attention to the video below, made by students at my home university - UC Riverside.

Yes We Did!

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