liverpool

I think it was back in 2007 when I decided I had to pick some European teams to root for. Before that, there wasn't much to watch here in the States, but gradually, most of the big European leagues were being shown fairly regularly to us, and while it seemed unlikely only a few years before, it got to the point where there was actually too much soccer for an American to watch. I already had our San Jose Earthquakes, although at the time they had moved to Houston and no replacement had yet arrived. I had been following Mexican soccer forever, since the days when it was the only club soccer we could watch, and rooted for Chivas of Guadalajara. I felt a connection to a small club in Wrexham, Wales, which is a different story. But by 2007, it was a cacophony, too many teams, and I thought perhaps if I just chose one team from each major European league, it would be easier to follow, and I might actually learn something about those teams.

I picked teams that were good, with history, but also ones that weren't dominant at the time ... that sounded boring. I tried to avoid the bad teams because they were never on television here. My choices have had various success over the years ... Inter Milan in Italy have won 6 Serie A titles since then, as well as one Champions League title. In Spain, Sevilla is usually in the running for a title, although they never actually win it, but at one point, they won three straight Europa League championships. Werder Bremen of Germany have had the worst of it since 2007 ... they never win anything, and are currently in danger of relegation.

But then there was Liverpool. When I latched onto them, they had won 18 titles at the top tier of English soccer. They had also won 5 European Cup/Champions League titles. Their history was as storied as any in England, but they hadn't won the league since 1989-90, although they always had top players and they usually were close to the leaders.

That first team of the Steven Era (2007-08), Liverpool was managed by Spaniard Rafa Benítez. They were unbeaten through their first 14 league games, but faded and finished fourth. They did get to the semi-finals in the Champions League. Spaniard Fernando Torres scored 33 goals in all competitions, and I became a big fan of the hard-working Dutchman Dirt Kuyt.

Over the years, they finished second in the Premier League three times. Last year, they won the Champions League. But a 19th domestic title eluded them.

Early in the 2015-16 season, they hired German Jürgen Klopp as the manager. Klopp had won two Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund. Klopp is charismatic, and is considered one of the great managers of the modern game. Under Klopp, Liverpool have played an entertaining style, one that leads to plenty of goals. Their defense often suffered, but Klopp and Liverpool signed Virgil van Dijk, arguably the best defender in the game, in January of 2018, and followed that by getting Brazilian goalie Alisson, also a candidate for the best at his position. Those two players shored up the defense, the offense continued to score, and Liverpool were a real threat, as their Champions League victory last year showed.

This season, Liverpool have run away with the Premier League. Their front line of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané, and Mohamed Salah thrill on a weekly basis, and young Trent Alexander-Arnold has developed into one of the best right backs in the world. It's been a pleasure watching them play.

They would have clinched their first title in 30 years long ago, but the COVID-19 crisis delayed things. Play finally resumed last week, and after a dull 0-0 draw, Liverpool reminded us of what they do in their second match back (the crowd noise is fake ... there is no one in the stands due to the virus):

It may have seemed anti-climactic when Liverpool clinched the title Thursday after Manchester City lost, but I don't think the long-suffering Liverpool fans minded (not a lot of masks or social distancing here):

The club released this video, featuring their theme song, "You'll Never Walk Alone":

Finally, this, after they won the Champions League last season. The fans lead the singing ... it is their song, after all:


opening day 1987

(There isn't going to be any baseball for a long time. I have been to 40 consecutive Giants Opening Days, and have/had tickets for #41, but it is entirely possible my streak is ending. So I thought I'd occasionally look back at some of those 40 Openers, make up a bit for the absence of current baseball. Some of these have gotten mentions in blog posts past, but whatever.)

1986 was a promising year for the Giants. It was the first full year under manager Roger Craig, it was their first winning season in four years, and it was the rookie season for Forever Giants Will Clark and Robby Thompson. So it was with a feeling of optimism that we showed up for the 1987 opener at Candlestick.

The Padres' lineup included one future Hall-of-Famer, Tony Gwynn. It also included three players who were traded to San Francisco later in the season, one of the biggest Giants' trades of the time, acquiring Kevin Mitchell, Dave Dravecky, and Craig Lefferts. (They also had Tim Flannery, who later became a legendary coach for the Giants.) The starting pitchers were Eric Show and Mike Krukow. And there was one more future Hall-of-Famer: plate umpire Doug Harvey.

The Giants struggled against Show, and while Krukow mostly held off the Padres, going into the bottom of the 8th the Giants trailed, 3-0. But the Giants' bats awoke in the 8th. With one out, Mike Aldrete pinch-hit for Krukow and drew a walk. Chris Speier pinch-ran for Aldrete, and Clark singled. Chris Brown, who was later dealt to the Padres in that mid-season trade, doubled home Speier, and one out later, Candy Maldonado, appearing in his first game for the Giants, doubled home Clark and Brown to tie the game.

After which, no one scored for a while. The Giants threatened in the bottom of the 10th when Clark led off with a triple against Lefferts. Padres manager Larry Bowa ordered two intentional walks to load the bases with no one out. But Joel Youngblood hit one back to the mound, with Clark out at the plate, and Chili Davis hit into a double play.

It all came together in the bottom of the 12th. After new pitcher Craig Lefferts retired the first two batters, he gave up consecutive singles to Jeffery Leonard, Bob Melvin, and Chili Davis, sending the fans home happy with a 4-3 Giants win.

The Giants went on to win the NL West, marking their first trip to the post-season in 16 years. They won 3 of the first 5 games against the St. Louis Cardinals, but didn't score in the final two games, ending the season.

Here is Game Five of the NLCS against the Cardinals. That series was the first I had ever attended in person, and after this game, which put the Giants up 3 games to 2 as they went to St. Louis, all of us in the stands said we'd see each other at the World Series. Oops.


opening day 1983

(There isn't going to be any baseball for a long time. I have been to 40 consecutive Giants Opening Days, and have/had tickets for #41, but it is entirely possible my streak is ending. So I thought I'd occasionally look back at some of those 40 Openers, make up a bit for the absence of current baseball. Some of these have gotten mentions in blog posts past, but whatever.)

1983 was my 4th Opening Day, and it was quite eventful. The 1982 season was exciting, although it's often forgotten now. So we felt optimistic for 1983. The Giants opened at home against the Padres, with Mike Krukow (pitching in his first game as a Giant) going against Tim Lollar. Krukow came to the Giants in a trade that saw Joe Morgan sent to Philadelphia, where he went to the World Series.

There were no future Hall-of-Famers in this game, but there were some interesting names. The hated Steve Garvey was making his debut as a Padre. Future Giants legend Tim Flannery, who was only 25, got a couple of at-bats for San Diego. Krukow's debut was inauspicious ... he gave up 4 runs in an inning-and-a-third. The Giants had clawed back to a 5-3 deficit going into the top of the fifth. Jim Barr came in to pitch. Here's how the Padres' half of the fifth went:

Single, single, single, single, single, wild pitch, out, single, new pitcher, out, walk, error, double, out. When the dust had cleared, San Diego had sent 12 men to the plate and scored 8 runs to take a 13-3 lead.

The Giants got 3 of those runs back in the bottom of the inning, but the Padres weren't done ... they got those 3 runs back in the top of the sixth to make it 16-6. The Giants weren't done, either, scoring 3 in the 6th, 1 in the 7th, and 3 more in the 8th to make it 16-13. Tom O'Malley came up with two on, representing the potential tying run. But he flied out, and the end of the game was anti-climatic. The Giants went in order in the ninth, the game ending when Gary Lucas struck out Duane Kuiper.

So: 29 runs, 33 hits, 3 errors, and 5 home runs. More than 50,000 showed up and got their money's worth, even if the home team lost.


throwback thursday: opening day 1980

There isn't going to be any baseball for a long time. I have been to 40 consecutive Giants Opening Days, and have/had tickets for #41, but it is entirely possible my streak is ending. So I thought I'd occasionally look back at those 40 Openers, make up a bit for the absence of current baseball. Some of these have gotten mentions in blog posts past, but whatever.

My first Opening Day was April 17, 1980. The Giants had stunk in 1979, and in 1980 they kicked off the season on the road by losing 6 of 7 games. I remember a few things about that afternoon. For one, I had a broken foot (which hadn't prevented me from seeing The Ramones a few days earlier). For another, our seats were not only in the nosebleeds, but way up in the nosebleeds. I had to walk up a lot of stairs before I could sit down. I could take it ... I was only 26 years old.

The visitors were the San Diego Padres, who boasted two future Hall of Famers in Ozzie Smith and Dave Winfield. (I find it interesting that seemingly any old box score you look at includes future Hall of Famers, even if we didn't realize it at the time. Ozzie Smith was 25, in his third season, and had yet to win one of those bazillon Gold Gloves. Winfield looked a little better ... 28 years old, 3-time All-Star, Gold Glover, led the NL in RBI in 1979.) The Giants countered with a future Hall-of-Famer of the their own in Willie McCovey, who had established his Hall credentials by 1980, having by Opening Day a total of 520 home runs.

There were only 3 umpires ... someone missed a flight. The Giants sent Vida Blue to the mound; the Padres offered Eric Rasmussen. Rasmussen is best-known today as The Man Formerly Called Harry. He was born with the name Harold Rasmussen, and was called Harry through the 1976 season. Turned out, he hated the name Harry, and hated Harold even more. So he changed his name legally to Eric, and that's the man who started against the Giants on that Opening Day.

The Giants wasted no time making the fans happy. In the bottom of the first, two walks put runners on for the legendary McCovey, who singled home the first run of the game. Willie ended the day with 3 hits and 3 RBI ... he was the best player in the game. He was also 42 years old. He only managed 9 more RBI that season before retiring in early July.

The Giants coasted the rest of the game. Jack Clark and Milt May also had three hits, and the Padres didn't score until Vida gave up a 3-run homer to Gene Tenace in the 9th inning. Final score: Giants 7, Padres 3.

Here is the 1980 Giants Team Highlight Film, "Tradition for Today":


long tales

Sometimes I wish I had gotten into Star Trek when I was a teenager. I've never had anything against the show, the various permutations that have followed, or their fans. Jealous of those fans, actually. I never watched any of the series. I saw a couple of movies. Like most people, I know who Kirk and Picard and Spock are. I just never watched.

Marvel is another example. I read a few comics back in the day, most specifically the original Dr. Strange series (I was a wannabe hippie, what can I say). And my wife watches the movies, so I've seen some of them. But I'm never quite sure who does what.

Doctor Who, Star Wars ... I know little (Doctor Who) or some (Star Wars), but I am no fanatic, and I don't get tingly when a new Star Wars movie turns up. Again, I don't hate them or their fans, I'm just not a part of that.

My jealousy comes from wishing I was a part of it. Star Trek especially ... there are so many series and movies that I could binge the rest of my life and not catch up with all of it. That sounds appealing ... not the binging, just the part where there is so much and you are part of it.

Then I realized, there is one area where I participate that is similar to what Trekkers enjoy: sports. You follow something over the years, as history builds up and each season brings a freshness you don't find anywhere else. The Giants are in Spring Training, and Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence are back, and they are "Good Giants" and I think of the past when I see them in the present. Johnny Antonelli died the other day, and he was a Giants ace pitcher the first few years after they came to San Francisco. I relate to the Giants the way Trekkers relate to Star Trek: a continuing story that I take part it, year after year, drawing enjoyment not just from the present, but from the present's connection to the past.

I've never held it against people who are "fair weather fans", who show up at Giants games when they are winning World Series but are absent the rest of the time. Why shouldn't they get in on the enjoyment? But when the Giants won the Series in 2010, it was especially sweet for those of us who remember 1958 and had been waiting our whole lives for that moment. Same thing with the Warriors ... I remember when they were NBA champs in the mid-70s, but I also remember decades of underachievement, and so their revival in recent years was particularly cool.

Maybe we all need long tales to help us survive.


throwback thursday: iran in the u.s. 20 years ago

At the 1998 World Cup in France, a match took place which was called "the most politically charged match in World Cup history". The participants were the United States and Iran. Iran won the match, 2-1, eliminating the USA from the tournament.

In January of 2000, Iran's men's soccer team took a brief tour of friendlies in the United States, including one against the Americans. The first match on the tour was against Mexico, and was played 20 years ago today in Oakland. We were there.

A sign of how relations between Iran and the United States were in 2000 can be seen in the demand by the Iranians that fingerprint formalities would be waived (in those days, Iranian visitors to the U.S. were frequented fingerprinted by immigration authorities).

More than 34,000 fans showed up for the match against Mexico. Soccer fans will recognize some of the names that played in the match. For Mexico, there was "El Emperador", Claudio Suárez, Cuauhtémoc Blanco (currently the Governor of the State of Morelos in Mexico), and Luis Hernández, "El Matador". Iran featured Ali Daei, who scored more than 100 goals for the national team, and Khodadad Azizi, who later spent a season with the San Jose Earthquakes. Goals were scored by Hernández, Blanco, and Daei, as Mexico won, 2-1.

Here's a short video showing Blanco's trademark move, the Cuauhtemiña:


champions once again

In a tournament where the USA's most marketable player was Alex Morgan, who is in the Mia Hamm mold (pretty, scores goals), it was a "purple-haired lesbian goddess" who was the face of the World Cup. Morgan is so good, she tied for the most goals scored yet seemed to be off her game. But Megan Rapinoe rose to the occasion as few others have. She scored as many goals as Morgan, she was named MVP, and she pissed off the President of the United States. Nothing is more American.

It's a tradition here to post this quotation at the end of a World Cup:

One thing I know for sure about being a fan is this: it is not a vicarious pleasure, despite all appearances to the contrary, and those who say that they would rather do than watch are missing the point.... When there is some kind of triumph, the pleasure does not radiate from the players outwards until it reaches the likes of us at the back of the terraces in a pale and diminished form; our fun is not a watery version of the team's fun ... The joy we feel on occasions like this is not a celebration of others' good fortune, but a celebration of our own; and when there is a disastrous defeat the sorrow that engulfs us is, in effect, self-pity, and anyone who wishes to understand how football is consumed must realise this above all things.

--Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

Image result for megan rapinoe


world cup announcers

I usually get around to discussing the announcers as the World Cup gets closer to the end. This year is the first where I have only watched in Spanish on Telemundo, so I don't have anything to say about the English-language announcers, with one exception to come later. As I always say when I'm giving opinions on Spanish-language announcers, my take should be filtered through my less-than-perfect command of the language. Having said that, I get better with every year, and I feel more confident about my comprehension nowadays.

I have a World Cup blog I have used in previous tournaments. It remains online as an archive, but I haven't used it in 2019. I have very few readers of this blog, but the size of my audience is Twitter compared to the 1 or 2 people who stopped by the Cup blog. So I've just moved my occasional comments to this regular blog.

Also, while I'm not proud of it, the truth is I don't give as much of my attention to the Women's Cup than I do to the men's. Oh, I spend more time than most, I suppose ... I'd be surprised if very many readers have watched a single match that didn't include the USA, or even if anyone has watched the Americans at all. But I don't let the Women's World Cup take over my life, the way I do every four years for the men. One result is that I haven't seen every match ... maybe half at most.

OK, with all that throat clearing out of the way, some thoughts about some (not all) of the Telemundo crew.

As usual, it begins with Andres Cantor, and his analysis partner Manuel Sol. Cantor is the best-known soccer announcer in the country, and he deserves his reputation. If there's a problem, it's that there are many excellent play-by-play Spanish-language guys who are ignored by the mainstream media, which tends to act as if Cantor is the only one we have. Sol had a long career in Mexican league soccer, and has been a commentator for several years now. He has a good rapport with Cantor, and is OK with analysis. (In fact, no one I've heard has been less than OK ... there are no stinkers.) One problem, though, is that Telemundo also has the U.S. rights to Copa América, a men's tournament featuring South American teams. Telemundo's announcers are doing double-duty, and while Telemundo's commitment to the Women's Cup is solid, Copa América is probably more important to them. So Cantor isn't doing as many Women's games as you'd like, since he is also doing the Copa.

Sammy Sadovnik is the #2 play-by-play guy, which is more like #1A with Cantor's absences. Sadovnik has long been a favorite of mine, so I'm glad to see him here. His voice is unique, which means I recognize him immediately, which I can't say for the other play-by-play guys (and thus, they'll go without mention here except to reiterate that all are at least OK).

Besides Sol, the most interesting color commentator is Viviana Vila. Vila worked the men's tournament last year, which was a landmark in itself (Aly Wagner was her counterpart on the English-language side). Now Vila returns, and she is excellent in her analysis. And she is different from almost all color commentators, including Wagner and the various men who do the job, in that Vila is not an ex-player. She's a professional journalist, a fan of the sport, unequaled in her knowledge ... all important qualities, but it is exceedingly rare for analysts on TV in any sport who weren't first a player in the game.

Deyna Castellanos is the complete opposite of Vila. Castellanos is only 20 years old (I still can't believe this, thinking it's a typo or something). She plays for Florida State, which is one of the top women's programs in the country, but is obviously not professional. Castellanos has played for the Venezuelan national team ... she is not a complete unknown ... and she's done a decent job with her commentary during the Cup. (Interestingly, two years ago Castellanos was a finalist for the FIFA Best Women's Player. This was taken as an insult by some veterans, notably WWC 2019 star Megan Rapinoe, who felt it showed FIFA's lack of interest in the women's game to nominate a little-known non-professional over more veteran players.)

The man who I find most fascinating in the Telemundo coverage is Marco Antonio Rodríguez, an ex-referee who has the job of commenting on and explaining referee decisions during the matches. Rodríguez spent close to 20 years refereeing in the Mexican League, and was chosen for three World Cups, where he took part in some infamous matches. It's not that Rodríguez was a poor referee, but he was someone you noticed, and not everyone wants a sports official to be the center of attention during a game. He became known as "Chiquidrácula" due to his resemblance to a character on Mexican TV, a fact I don't think I knew ... I just thought he looked like a Bela Lugosi Dracula clone. Truth is, he was a fine referee, but fans are always looking for reasons to hate the men in black, so Chiquidrácula wasn't very popular. He prefers the nickname "Chiquimarco", as he is a devout Christian, and this seems to be taking with the general populace. Anyway, his analysis of referee decisions has been very good during this World Cup. More remarkable, from my viewpoint, is that he is a fine team member with his fellow announcers, who all enjoy banter with Marco Antonio. I'm sure he's always been a nice guy, but I had no idea, and it's still a bit startling to hear him and his colleagues chatting happily about the match.

Finally, switching for a moment to the English-language announcers, I want to single out Danielle Slaton. Of course, I haven't heard her this time around, but she does commentary for San Jose Earthquakes games, so I'm used to her work, and she is top-notch. Slaton, a fine defender in her playing days, gives solid analysis and works well with the announcing team. I'm sure she's done the same for the World Cup. I couldn't let this post go without mentioning her.