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An Uncivil War

 Posted by on June 27, 2014 at 12:40 pm  Spain, The Ball is Flat
Jun 272014
Being a fan in this country has always been hard. In the days before BeIn Sports there was the NASL, then the indoor leagues on the radio, and maybe the Mexican League stand-offs on the weekends on local Spanish television, but overall this wasn’t considered a real hotbed of soccer fandom. Sure, we’d see a World Cup every 4 years and we’d get a hint of what the great players in the world were doing, we heard of Real Madrid and Manchester United, Milan and Juventus, Barcelona and Liverpool, but they were foreign, seductive to a fault, but from another time and place that had little to do with what was happening in my youth and in my town.

No, where I grew up, in South Central Los Angeles, there were two clubs and only two in the world that anyone knew about: Las Chivas Rayadas de Guadalajara and Las Aguilas de America. Goats and
Eagles, eternal rivals, like Barcelona and Real Madrid, their derby that is not a derby divides not only one country, but divides many cities where the Mexican Diaspora hit, and Los Angeles, the real Los Angeles that visitors fail to venture into when they come and they write about what a supposedly crappy city this is, is filled with passionate, even rabid soccer fans. Rojiblanco or Azulcrema, you could choose either or go with the neutrals best bet of El Tri for the national team, but don’t bother with a European kit or a South American kit.

Real Madrid didn’t exist for my friends until Hugo Sanchez went there, but even the most rabid Hugo-centric fan would rather have seen him doing cartwheels at UNAM or Club America than being out-of-sight out-of mind. We even laughed at his accent. What was this whole affectation he had, lisping his esses like a true Spaniard, the tone and the inflection not of a proud Mexican, but of a poseur. No, my friends had a comfortable disdain for Europeans and the European Leagues.

Sunday afternoon games, at a civilized hour, trips to the Swap Meet before where knock-off kits were going for scandalous prices, soccer balls, hats and caps, paraphernalia, and the sounds of the game in the background, the staccato bursts punctuated by elongated goal celebrations, and the beer of course, always the watered down lagers of cheap Mexican beer.

I was aware of all this, but I’m Cuban and growing up what separated us from our neighbors was our love of Baseball. That was my sport. I played them all certainly, I played horse in the fall, two hand tag in the Winter, sprinkled with five a side pick-up matches, but as soon as February would hit and pitchers and catchers would report to Spring Training, well everything fell by the wayside and it was Baseball Fever in my household.

Soccer? It wasn’t our sport. I spoke the language, to a certain extent, the rhythms are faster for us than for them, the vocabulary miles apart, like Scottish and English you could say, and in a sense that’s the sort of relationship we Cubans have with Mexicans here in California. We held onto what made us different, what we brought with us from home and that was Pelota or Baseball, and when we did consider soccer, it was European. The World Cup would hit, the most memorable in Spain in 1982 and in Mexico City in 1986 after Colombia lost the chance to host it, and my myopic friends insisted that Mexico would win it, and would complain about referee bias after the fact, that Brazil and Argentina were no match for them if everything were equal.

I won’t go into the particulars about my dis-infatuation with most American Sports, there are lots of reasons and no it isn’t about one thing in particular, but a matter of a million mosquito bites. Suffice it to say, that soccer was practically all I had left. I started watching it casually as a kid, and a bit more seriously after the 1994 World Cup, and then the satellite boom hit and the world’s soccer stadiums opened up. England was a good place to start. Italy followed with Spain and Germany neck and neck afterwards. The marketing wing of Sky and Fox were very comfortable extolling the virtues of the sport in Europe, and I lapped it up over that of the game back home.

Starved for the best players playing thousands of miles away, I think we all bought into the myth that the game in Europe was somehow innately better than that in our hemisphere, that the clubs had a grander history or were better suited for our sensibilities. We glommed onto the ghosts of Munich, or Superga, the Kop or the Camp Nou, the derbies, the rivalries of a Old-World social structure that held little meaning for a New World resident. I’m guilty of it. I support a European club, a small one with little fan base outside of Barcelona, but I kiss the shirt, I go through the motions, and in the end I’m no more Catalan than any of you.

No, this is an uncivil war. For 100 years, the top European clubs have been poaching the top talent in the Americas, naturalizing them, making them their own, profiting from them and contributing little to the game here. Certainly players would come back, invest in the clubs, and help with youth development, but always to benefit their adoptive teams in Europe. Think of what Europe did for Diego Maradona. He was already a star, they just made him an addict. What about Ronaldo, the real one, or even more recent Adriano? Used up, washed up, and tossed aside for the latest 17 year old sensation from Cruzeiro or River Plate. What of Gio Dos Santos, Mexican wunderkind, a U-17 World Champion? He was Ronaldinho’s heir, a spectacular player, until the homegrown Bojan took column inches and minutes away from the Mexican starlet. Off he went to Tottenham and then loaned out to Ipswich Town. Horrors.

In the end, the immigrant in Europe is always a commodity to be tossed aside as easily as that.
East v West, Europe v America, I think it’s time we started looking closer to home again, supporting our local team, giving them our money first and building the sport that way. Our players are better off here, the cultural divide much closer between Latin American countries, the language barrier slight if non-existent. They’d be better received here. The more I think about it, if the pay were better, if the stadiums were soccer-specific and we gave the same amount of time and energy to the LA Galaxy or the Chicago Fire that we give to Arsenal or Real Madrid would we see a higher quality of player and game here, especially for that player that is just about to dive into the European abyss, or one who is just coming back from it?

I’m not saying we should give up watching the best players, playing in the best leagues in the World, I love the game in Italy and Spain especially, but our game here in North America and South America, deserves the same amount of respect. If anything, this World Cup in Brazil is establishing that in leaps and bounds.


The Ball is Flat

The Ball is Flat is a website and podcast devoted to the Beautiful Game. Football, Futbol, Fusball or whatever you call it, it is the game that divides and unites us. The Ball is Flat's mission is to cover European football with an eye open, the heart in motion, and the brain colored with the right amount of cheerful cynicism. Read more:

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