Saturday, 25 August 2007

Anyone here speak football?

First published in Sons View, 25 August 2007, Dumbarton -v- Albion Rovers

While your intrepid Sons View editor was working his way across Canada with the Tartan Army a few weeks ago, I was lounging on the east coast of the USA. My wife is American, so we have to keep putting pennies in the pot to be able to visit relatives and friends from time-to-time.

As everyone knows, the US of A is, contradictorily, both a football desert and a place where a huge number of kids play ‘soccer’ until they are about 14 years old – when most then lose touch with the game altogether.

The solution, in reality, has nothing to do with David Beckham, and a lot to do with the language he struggles to speak. No, not English – give the poor boy a break. I’m thinking about Spanish.

Latinos make up a massive and growing proportion of the US population, and many of them are football fanatics. They are also far more liable to be poor, and to fall out of the thin financial net that supports young athletes. Which is why ‘soccer’ will most likely continue to languish, whatever happens to LA Galaxy.

Helping talented and enthusiastic Latino kids into proper training programmes – that’s where the real investment should be going. But the free market sees it otherwise. And so does the media.

Certainly if you are looking for footie coverage on US TV or in the big papers, forget it. The very word is reserved for a game where, ironically, people pick up a ball and throw it. Go figure.

To me the rules of American Football (insofar as I can fathom them) seem rather better suited to deploying Sherman tanks than jinking past midfielders. But that’s the way they like it there. Rough, tough and focussed on a few big games a season.

Even so, there’s a growing curiosity Stateside about what the educated few insist on calling ‘real football’. That and a bit of jealousy about the fact that, unlike NFL and Major League Baseball, our game truly is a global phenomenon.

One of my nieces is a potential fan, and said she would like to go to ‘a proper game’ at some point. I promised to work on it. I’m sure her imagination was really itching to travel to the Strathclyde Homes Stadium. She just thought she was fantasising about Chelsea or The Champions League.

Naturally, after a bit of a chat, many American people ask (out of politeness as much as anything else) who you support. But the answer doesn’t necessarily mean that much. Celtic or Dumbarton sound equally foreign to the uninformed ear, frankly.

So the next question usually goes, “Is Dumbarton a big club, then?” Bigness being a bit of a virtue in the States, you understand. “Well, they’re big in my heart”, I think, wondering how I should go about explaining just how really, really small (but perfectly formed) the Sons are.

Sometimes it would be rather tempting to spin it out a bit. I’m wicked like that. “Well, only recently we hosted one of the finalists in a big European game at our noted training facilities in the shadow of one of Scotland’s natural beauty spots”, I hear myself opining. In my head, anyway. I’m not that tricky… am I? Hmnnn…

The PR campaign continues. “Plus, of course, we’ve won the Scottish championship a couple of times” (omits the words ‘1890/91’, ‘tie with Rangers’ and ‘1891/92’), “not to mention the Scottish Cup… which is, um, the biggest cup competition in Scotland, not counting golf.”

At that point I might sound like I’m about to flounder. But believe me, I’m quite good at this PR lark. Then again, no. I couldn’t really. It would be cruel. And I’d hate myself in the morning, surely?

Actually, some persuasive footie fans did manage to super-hype the lowly Brentford a few seasons back, inadvertently nourishing a minor US celebrity following for the club that has just descended into English League Two (as they insist on calling the Fourth Division). You had to smile.

Meanwhile, I’m writing that imaginary Press Release for the glorious Sons. “Our bigness is better measured in longevity than mere money or success”, perhaps? No, the Yanks won’t buy that. Though in 1872 their West was still wild, remember.

Ah well, one day my American friends and family will understand the true meaning of football, I’m sure. And then they will realise that teams like Dumbarton are worth a dozen Big Timers. For those with imaginations larger than their wallets, anyway. C’mon, my Sons!

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