Tag Archives: Soccer

2018 FIFA World Cup

There is something so amazing about the World Cup. It must be that it comes in the dog days of summer when baseball has barely gotten hold of my mind and basketball and hockey are a distant memory. It also is part of my professional life because of GoPlay. We have more than 1,000 young soccer players traveling overseas to play with some of the great international youth teams. We also are privileged to be part of the Celtic FC international football academy program.

And incidentally, I am crazy about soccer!

I love Messi and Ronaldo and just recently came back from the Champion’s League Final in Kiev, Ukraine. I am a lifelong supporter of Manchester United. For these three weeks in the summer every four years, I hold my breath and watch in awe.

Peter (second from left) in a Manchester United book

This year the World Cup is in Russia and takes place in cities I have never been to in the outer reaches of the huge country. It’s played under the watchful eye of Putin and the new regime of FIFA. A supposedly corrupt-free environment. Ojala!

What I like about it the most is that here we are watching the highest level of football played by 32 countries that range from Iran and Egypt to Morocco and Senegal and the mighty Spain, Germany, and Brazil. Oh yeah, and England too…It is a rainbow of humanity, of artists, playing a game that is so difficult to play in the sweltering heat of a Russian summer. They grace us with a sporting ballet, a drama, that even Puccini could not muster and heartbreak, success, and failure for players and fans in stadiums and televisions all over the world. It is our bread and circus.

Soccer has improved. The skill level is amazing and in eight years, the USA, Canada, and Mexico will host an expanded 48 team roster. I believe that the USA will be a force to be reckoned with. There are 25 million kids playing soccer in the USA and a whole lot of Cristiano Ronaldo’s are about to be revealed to the world.

A Trip Through the Old Soviet Union: A Nine-Day Illustrated Story

Sligo

Arriving in Dublin on a Saturday night can be a fun experience under any circumstance.

But renting a car and driving into town after the final of the All-Ireland Gaelic Football game that Dublin won is a whole different world.  The GPS could navigate me into the center but what it did not tell me was that I had to avoid the remnants of celebration walking randomly in front of me as I drove to the Conrad Dublin Hotel by St. Stephen’s Green.  We made it eventually and the hotel was absolutely great.  It was party night in Dublin.  Not a better place in all of the world.

The next morning, we began our journey to the scenic western coast of Ireland.

The drive to Sligo uses a fairly modern highway.  We drove out passing the St. James’s Gate and the Guinness Factory, and followed the River Liffey for several miles.  We traced peat bogs and at one point intersected with the River Shannon at Roosky before arriving in Sligo about 2.5 hours after departure.

The west of Ireland is truly a magnificent part of this tiny country.  Sligo sits in the northwestern part quite close to the Northern Ireland border.  The wealth that came to Sligo because of the port trade gave it the Cathedral of John the Baptist whose original foundation was built in the 13th century although it was completed in the 18th century.  About 30,000 people emigrated from Sligo during the Great Famine in the 19th century.  In the early part of the 20th century, Sligo became a hotbed for Republicanism.  Today, Sligo has the feel of an old colonial Garrison town with beautiful stone houses and on the outskirts there are some massive estates.  The Sligo area was popular with the British aristocracy even after Partition in 1921.

To me, walking through Sligo was a reminder of England in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s; shops were closed on Sunday, family stores, traditional clothing stores, butcher shops, pubs with the patron’s name on it, and tiny terraced houses with barely room to move between the door and the road.  Sligo has its beautiful River Garavogue that has created some activity and a bustle of shops and cafes that 15 years ago did not exist.

This is William Butler Yeats country and the inspiration for his poetry lies in the fields all around this tiny town.

It is easy to get here from Dublin by rental car, by bus, or a three-hour train service.  We stayed at the Glasshouse Hotel which was modest but ample and right on the Hyde Bridge – not fancy but the location was superb and the staff and amenities were brilliant. Sligo is absolutely worthwhile adding to your list.

Sligo Pietro Place Peter Jones

Sligo Pietro Place Peter Jones 3 Sligo Pietro Place Peter Jones 4 Sligo Pietro Place Peter Jones 5 Sligo Pietro Place Peter Jones 6 Sligo Pietro Place Peter Jones 7

Soccer

The Barbarian Invasion – The Dark Side of Soccer

It’s the start of soccer mania.

The greatest game in the world is everywhere this summer. There is the Copa America in the USA, the European Nations Cup in France, and not to mention soccer at the Olympics in Brazil.  This is definitely a summer for los fanáticos.  Carried live on TV in the USA, there is not a day that goes by when some important game is not catching the eye of the devotees.

But there is a dark side to soccer as demonstrated recently in the beautiful port city of southern France, Marseille.

The ugly side of ultra-nationalist thugs fighting against an opposing teams’ army of thugs or tearing apart local restaurants and bars and fighting with the police.  It should not be this way but soccer quite often has a dark side.  This summer it has again reared its ugly head.

When we choose to travel, we travel to open our minds, embrace different cultures, take a chance on speaking a language that we are unfamiliar with, and get close to the sights and sounds of a place that is unfamiliar.

In brief, learn and enrich yourself with the tools of the trade – tolerance, openness, and kindness.  With this, and a guide book or willingness to get lost, one can take a chance with a phrase or two, and get to meet people from different places with different languages, different religions, and different perspectives.  When I see the dark side of soccer, I see such a misconnect between the beautiful game and what this ultra-minority of racist hooligans take from the sport.

Here’s the deal – it’s not their sport, it’s our sport.  Prejudice in any form is a terrible waste of life.

I will sit back, watch the games, marvel at the moves, enjoy the backdrop of beautiful cities, and know that there is nothing wrong with supporting your nation. But that has nothing to do with being an ultra-nationalist.  No wonder they banned alcohol in the cities where the hooligans are heading.  What right do these guys have to paint the Russian or English fan on their drunken bodies?  Shout out against all forms of racism and fanaticism.  You never know, it could be happening at a place near you!  See you out there somewhere.

Soccer

Champion's Final

Champion’s League Final

It has become a habit – catching the two greatest club teams in the world at a venue in some foreign place and watching the drama and spectacle of the absolute pinnacle of soccer’s elite competing for the Champion’s League trophy.

Of course, what better story than a repeat of the story that unfolded two years prior in Lisbon.  It’s the story of Atlético Madrid versus Real Madrid at the San Siro Stadium in Milan, Italy.

This is the story of Madrid’s gritty side and the working class suburbs around the Calderón Stadium (Atléti) and the chic neighborhood along the Castellana where the Bernabéu Stadium (Real) is located.

It’s the struggle and fight against the privileged and wealthy aristocratic classes.

The Republic against the Falange party.  A war and nearly a century later, the marks in the sand have still not been forgotten in Madrid.  Even though the players and multimillion dollar salaries come from many different countries, to wear the badge of Atléti is all together a different story than to wear the badge of Real.  Here we were again in a different stadium to relive the battle.

Italy is one of the only places in the world where two teams share the same stadium.  In the case of San Siro, the teams are AC Milan and Inter Milan.  The fans of both teams have learned to detest each other through family tradition!  But this weekend they would transfer the ownership of the stadium over to the Champion’s League.  Two of the three greatest teams in Spain would vie for honors.  I go every year to this event because I love football.

If you truly love football, and you can only travel to one event, this has to be the event.

More important than a World Cup final or Olympic gold medal, the Champion’s League final is the culmination of a year’s work, a year’s qualifiers, and a celebration of the greatest players in the world.  Not to mention, this year it was in Milan – a revisit to a stadium I had not been to in 15 years.

The game was anything but anticlimactic.  It was amazing.  It came down to 22 exhausted players locked in a dead heat and having to shoot penalties just before midnight.  Of course, as in every sport, there is heartbreak, a lucky break, and a winner or loser.  In this case, my team for the night, Atléti, yet again would lose out in the last seconds of a game that went on for over two hours.  They were the warriors (and in my view the winners) but sport can be cruel.  Penalties are almost the ultimate gladiatorial form of combat.  Sudden death, 12 yards, two players, a striker and a goal keeper, and 85,000 people looking on.  There can be nothing quite like this in any sport in the world.  No heartbreak more imaginable in that moment.

We left our Spanish friends in the stadium and exited as quietly and quickly possible.  It was late and we needed to make other plans so we dove out of the San Siro and into the night ahead of the crowds.  We were sitting in a restaurant that a friend of ours knew very well called the Trattoria Toscana on the Corso di Porta Ticinese.  It stayed open beyond 2 o’clock in the morning.  We had a fabulous seafood pasta, incredible shrimp with the finest olive oil, and some great white wine to wash it down with.  We would live to fight another day.  As they say, it’s only a game!

Champion’s League

Champion’s League

Champion's Final

FIFA

FIFA is the organization responsible for the governance of soccer worldwide.

It sponsors tournaments directly, like the World Cup, and is responsible for the adjudication of the game. The rules, the referees, and the technology that helps make decisions better. Under FIFA’s umbrella are the various worldwide regional bodies like UEFA that control the soccer programs and tournaments of the continents around the world. In other words, it is a pretty big deal!

So of course the scandal of FIFA over the past couple of years has created great focus on how much money moves in and out of the pockets of the various people who run this organization.

They make money on scams for tickets, bribes for tournament venues like the World Cup, not to mention, the extraordinary wages they get paid and the perks of being part of this secret society of FIFA. Thank goodness for the Americans. They came along, busted a whole bunch of guys, and currently have extradition notices on a number of the top FIFA officials that pocketed more money for one deal than most of us see in a lifetime. The chief executive of FIFA, his assistant, and the chief executive of UEFA have been suspended from anything to do with soccer for six years or more. These disreputable folks who have assaulted the beautiful sport of soccer and turned it into a mafia-driven money laundering vehicle, will probably get away with most of the charges and sit gracefully by their Swiss lakeside chalet houses counting their grubbily earned Swiss Francs. It is a pity because soccer is the fastest growing sport, it is a beautiful game to watch, and in America especially we are getting hip to the intricacies and fun of playing and watching this worldwide phenomena. So as I was driving from Tasch, Switzerland, to connect to the car train through the mountains, I could not help but stop the car and look out into the distance where I saw the Sepp Blatter Primary School in the town of Visp. Wow, I thought, this is where they teach the kids all of that stuff!! Seriously though, Sepp Blatter who was the head of FIFA until he was unceremoniously disposed is from the town of Visp. It is not a very special town but it is a main hub for the various trains that comprise the cog railway system and the high speed intercity trains that connect ski paradises to Geneva and Lausanne. I guess he also put a lot of his “hard earned money” into education. Amidst the mountains and the lakes, this guy even got into the primary school. At least some of the dodgy money went to a good cause! Let us pray for better days at the top of our beloved sport.

FIFA Pietro Place Peter Jones FIFA Pietro Place Peter Jones

Soccer in America

Soccer in America

I had an amazing couple of days at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Convention in Baltimore.

Baltimore is like soccer in America – it is in transition and it’s heading the right way.  A few shady spots here and there, but new waterfront development and a strong convention center are rebuilding the city.

In a country where about 25 million kids play soccer, and close to 5 million play at the club level, it still amazes me that we have not discovered our own Cristiano Ronaldo or Leo Messi.  When I talk to the guys around here, they feel that it’s coming.  Soccer is a craze in the USA.  We get to see it practically every day on primetime TV at the highest level and it is the longest season of any sport in the world.  Ironically through the advance of video soccer games like FIFA (unlike the real institution that governs soccer, the video game is not corrupted) kids now know all of the stars, all of the leagues, and are getting into the rhythm of this great game.

Soccer is a great deal more complicated than any of us think.  I got to talk with a lot of coaches and a scattering of stars during my two days there. The amazingly charismatic Uruguayan International, Ruben Sosa, who played for Inter and Lazio, was one of the great highlights of the convention. I spent some time chatting with him about his coaching schools down in Uruguay. Alegre he said is the key to unlocking the talent.  Getting kids to enjoy the game and developing skills.  Using the brain and ballet to perform beautiful moves and work always as a team.  As one guy said, “Winning games is not what we are here to do. We are here to develop a love for the game so that kids will want to continue playing past the drop off age of 14.  The talent will emerge.  Teaching teamwork and ball skills.  That’s our goal and much more important than an actual  goal scored in an 11 vs. 11 game with 13 year olds.” We even got a little feature on Sirius Radio through our beloved John Kerr, ex-USA and International and now head coach at Duke.

For me, I am a soccer addict and always have been.

I see as much pleasure in 0-0 as a 5-4 result.  Soccer, unlike all of the other American sports, is truly an international phenomenon.  The crowds are crazy, they sing inappropriate songs with tons of swear words aimed at their idols or not, and one day Major League Soccer will provide us with a league worthy of the world stage.  Yes, soccer breeds superstars but ultimately a coach’s configuration is no different than setting up a team project in the office, developing a strategy and working together. Team.

One of my greatest heroes in soccer, George Best, was the first modern, sporty, good-looking superstar – the fifth Beatle.  He was reckless, talented, brilliant, and had a career that was extraordinary and far too short for a man with such talent.  I first saw him play against Chelsea in 1965. He was quite simply the most amazing player I had ever seen, and will probably ever see. A la Pele, a Maradonna, a Leo Messi.  When asked where he spent his money, and he made a lot in the early days, he said, “I spent my money on birds, booze, and fast cars…The rest I squandered.” A life too short, a talent too wasted on mere mortals.  All the Georgie.

Soccer in America

Champions League Final 2015 – Berlin

 

I’ve been to Berlin three times. Once when it was a divided city, and the last two times over the space of 2 or 3 years. This time it was football (aka soccer) that drove me back; my annual visit to the Champions League Final, between the great Barcelona and the black and white of Juventus.

The city had changed again – not just that there were 70,000 people milling around with football jerseys. This place is actually one of the most cutting-edge cities in the world. It’s youthful, there are clubs and restaurants on every corner. New buildings are popping up, especially in the Eastern sector and the bicycle paths are on par with most Danish and Dutch cities. If you’re feeling athletic, check out BikeMap.net for some cool ride suggestions.

ChampionsFestivalVillage

So here I am, standing in what’s called the Champions League Village, a hastily erected mockup of the event itself, except the Germans had figured out how to put an AstroTurf soccer pitch underneath the Brandenburg Gate. Yes, the same gate that Napoleon did a victory march through in the 1800s. Man these guys are good. In spite of the vast marauds of Spanish and Italian fans wondering around the city with Heinekens held in their hand – yep Heineken is a sponsor – everything worked perfectly. Transportation didn’t skip a beat. You could grab an Uber when you wanted to. Yeah. And the bars stayed open late. If I could think of a better venue for a champions league event, I would probably have to say Copenhagen or Amsterdam. But in the end I actually think the Germans have it. Berlin is an awesome city that has pretty much everything – except, oh yah, they don’t have a soccer team!

The Language Of Sports

Life seems to be about sports at the moment. I am fascinated by the Language of Sports. In soccer, the English Premier League just completed its season with incredible coverage from NBC. Americans could wake up any Saturday or Sunday and watch the full gamut of games live with incredible coverage and smart informed announcers. The Spanish League (probably the best in the world) is coming to a final crescendo, a cup final of sorts this weekend, between the great Barcelona and the upstart Atlético Madrid. Hockey is on the TV it seems nearly every night thanks again to great coverage by NBC. Basketball, in between scandals, draws down its season as baseball picks up the baton and rolls through the summer in its lazy way as the Yankees and Red Sox slug it out between themselves.

I was thinking the other day about team sports, language, and global awareness. In the Premiership’s top clubs, there are more languages spoken in the dressing rooms than you can imagine. Manchester City has 18 foreign players in their 24-man squad, Manchester United has 17 foreign players in their 26-man squad, Liverpool has 17 foreign players in their 22-man squad, Arsenal has 23 foreign players in their 27-man squad, and Chelsea has 21 foreign players in their 24-man squad. As English as a vindaloo curry!

At the post match interviews, it is always amusing to listen to the one or two English players who are on the team offer their thoughts on the game. More often than not, it is easier to understand the foreign players speaking English than it is to understand the English players speaking English.

Either way, I am always impressed by how fast the foreign players adapt to the English environment and the English language. Let’s face it, you have to be impressed when you come from a sunny country like Brazil, Spain, or Portugal, and you end up living the dream in the rain soaked grayness of a Manchester morning. Yep, we know why they are there. It’s not the language and the culture but the $20,000,000 they are offered every year in the highest paid league in the world. But still, they grasp the language and even take on the regional dialect of the places they are playing in. It is strange to hear a Spanish player speaking in a Liverpudlian scouse accent, a French player speaking in a cockneyesque accent, and a German player speaking with a Geordie accent! But that is exactly what happens. They immerse themselves in our culture.

In hockey, the Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara, speaks five languages and most of his teammates, with the exception of the Americans (who are the minority) speak numerous languages too. Plus, all of the Canadians speak French as well. But the point is that all of them speak English.

This says a lot about sports. The Cuban baseball player who jumped ship, the Dominican Republic guy just recently brought up from the minors in his native country, and countless other players, all speaking English. They easily can converse with their colleagues on the pitch in both English and Spanish.

Sports have become incredibly multilingual. On the American soccer scene, the Hispanic influence is everywhere but the Uruguayan and the Columbian guys speak English. However, more often than not, the English guys speak just English and sometimes really bad English! David Beckham, handsome, rich, footballing icon, spent a year in Spain, a year in Italy, and a year in France. His language advancement never got beyond a “Si” or “Grazie, Si, I don’t understand” and “Grazie for the huge amount of money you are paying me!” Even his English seems a little stilted!

This is where every teacher and every school should focus on.

Yes, English is the language of the world, it is the computer language of the world, and it probably is the default sporting language of the world. But the speed at which people adapt to language speaks more to the openness of their minds, the willingness to take on a different culture, and not just the $25,000,000 a year that they get at the end of the day. Wake up English speakers everywhere! Learn to converse in the reverse!!

If too American – me I’ve my. Some the. Handle. Some still to most reputable canadian pharmacy don’t your its pleased my water spin by is.

Soccer Reflections

I am a soccer addict. I have been one for my whole life. Looking back at my Soccer reflections, I have lived through World Cup wins and more often defeats, Champions League victories and many defeats, and I love the buzz of the game, the stadiums, the fans, and the colors as the lights illuminate the spectacle and change daytime into night. It’s a pageant and a combat of gladiatorial proportions. Out on the pitch at the end, victors stand triumphant over the defeated and deflated bodies of the losing team. It is pure theater.

At the Estádio de Luz, S.L. Benfica’s beautiful home stadium in Lisbon, I saw the Champions League final. The teams were Real Madrid C.F. against its neighbor Atlético Madrid (Atléti). There were two teams and one moment of cruel magic which turned the game upside down.
Every year I travel to the Champions League finals and have seen these breathtaking moments before. There is the penalty kick that goes awry, the last minute equalizer, and the tired bodies dragging themselves through what seems like a marshland of swamp, cramping, and calling on every reserve in their body as they wait for the end – the glory, the ecstasy, the victory, or the agony of defeat. In the end, one team stands there watching the other team rejoice but both teams know the chances of being there again next year will be stacked against them.

Bart Giamatti, the great commissioner of baseball, said it all when he talked of his beloved sport: “It breaks your heart; it is designed to break your heart. You count on it, you rely on it to buffer the passage of time, and then when you need it most, it stops.”

The soccer season is the longest season in sports. The Champions League final is the ultimate game that brings together the two top teams in Europe and arguably in the world. The game can last for just 90 minutes or the heartbreak of extra time and potentially a penalty shootout can occur. These are moments of sheer delight or absolute nightmares.

This year it matched up the two teams in Madrid – hardly amicable neighbors! Goliath against David. A wagebill of 35 million Euros for the Atléti team compared to hundreds of millions of Euros for the Real Madrid team. The “rough around the edges” stars with their ruddy faces, the red and white jerseys, a consummate team that leaves everything on the pitch against the pomposity, the arrogance and wealth of the Real Madrid players including arguably the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo. One could sense the calm of Carlo Ancelotti, the Real manager, against the gritty Don-like figure of the Argentinian, Diego Simeone, the Atléti manager. A match up for the ages.

Lisbon soccer stadium collage 053014

The fans sat in their designated areas wearing shirts of their favorite players while fanatically chanting their songs. According to the Atléti folklore, if you are an Atléti fan then you are a true madrileño and your home is the Calderon Stadium. You live and breathe around the gritty streets that surround the stadium. Your father or grandfather was a Republican during the Civil War and you fought against Franco. If you are a Real fan, you live in the luxury condos around the Bernabéu Stadium out on the Castellana which is the more sophisticated and modern Madrid. Your father or grandfather probably supported Franco. Chances are that you have seen many cups in your time as your team is one of the wealthiest in the world. You can attract players at any price and you expect to win. The Atléti fans must fight to win. One is a team, the other an assemblage of highly paid superstars. The story is set.

Lisbon soccer fans collage 053014

It was a day to remember. The swaths of red and white spilling out onto the streets of Lisbon before the game, the expectation against the odds of their first victory in the Champion’s League – this was to be Atléti’s day. They took the lead, they held the lead, and then Real Madrid attacked and attacked and attacked. In that 93rd minute, the cruelest thing in sports happened. The game changed on a magnificent header and Real Madrid equalized, Atléti’s legs were finished, and the story had turned. The Atléti fans knew what was coming. Real went on to score more in extra time. How close were Atléti to pulling off a remarkable victory? They were two minutes shy of the fairytale ending.

Lisbon soccer friends collage 053014

There will be other battles and other moments as there always are in sports. The fans who live and die by this game, who love and hate the thrills and the ups and downs, will be back again next year. As we walked out of the Estádio de Luz at night, it was as if the Atléti fans had lost a loved one. You could hear the celebrations inside of the stadium but outside it was deathly quiet. They were inconsolable. This was no ordinary night.

It is the wonder of sports. It takes you to the edge, it rings you out, it makes you happy beyond anything else, and it drops you down into the abyss as if you did not count or care. But still you come back for more.

Peter with the cup 2 060514