I met Johnny at Top of Tacoma for a pre-match drink. He was wearing his red Arsenal track top and me my claret and white, immediately I thought we could get in trouble for this, until I realized that we were probably going to be around 20 other people at most. That is if the event even went forward.
I had played 5 a side earlier in the day and between the Women’s World Cup final and the constant gray drizzle that is the hallmark of this Summer we had to start with three on three. It was one of those Sundays where people are lauded just for showing up to an outdoor event so the odds were good that Port Vale v. Tacoma Tide would just be called off for lack of interest.
Not only that, the game had been moved from Stadium, the Gothic looking High School perched on the cliffs of Puget Sound which was the setting for 10 Things I Hate About You, to the far less famous Curtis High School.
“Curtis High School? Where’s that?”
“Near the Trader Joes in University Place.”
Curtis High School is set on what seems like a huge tract of land. There are full baseball diamonds, there’s a stadium with a covered stand, and there’s even a grass practice field with someone’s name on it that I mistook for the actual match field. As it turns out, the match field was not grass, it was plastic. No surprise there since all variations of football in America is almost exclusively played on turf these days.
“What’s your name?” I asked and stuck my right hand out.
“Brian,” he said reluctantly taking my offer. He’s short, that’s all I can think. I mean, I’m no giant, but this guy is short. He’s describing what it felt like to slide tackle on astroturf and all I can think is how short and Roman he looks despite being English.
It doesn’t help that the guy Brian is standing next to is a giant Scottsman who is a representative from the Victoria Highlanders. The Scottsman’s face is warm and when he smiles you feel like everything’s going to be OK, but when the Roman smiles it’s because he told a joke he thought was clever but it was really just something at your expense. His smile makes you feel dirty.
He claims to be a football agent. I look at his clothes. Maybe. Now he’s talking about astroturf and bringing American turf technology back to England. What the fuck is he talking about? He’s claiming that he set this whole game up between the Tide and the Valiants (Port Vale’s nickname) in order to help sell turf in England as practice pitches for League Two teams.
That makes no sense but then again none of this makes any sense. What other reason could there be for a League Two team from the West Midlands to play a developmental team from Tacoma? They certainly didn’t come here for the weather. And judging by the tens of people in the stands who all paid the princely sum of $10 to see this match, I’m guessing that gate receipts won’t even pay the player’s salaries.
Like Chinatown I expect Brian to lean over to me and say, “It’s all about the water, Tim. No, wait, I mean turf. The turf.”
I excuse myself and tell him I’m going back to my seat and “enjoy” the game.
“Yeah. You go enjoy the game” he says, shaking his head up and down and making a sarcasm face. I look down at the top of his head, whispy little hairs poke out all over, but at least he doesn’t try to cover up his baldness. He’s just bad at shaving.
Gervinho on the other hand, brother, you aren’t fooling anyone. Cut those things off, please. As I walk back to my seat I wonder if Brian is his agent too? He did name drop Kerrea Gilbert.
I’m still fuzzy why Arsenal do these video shoots like the one linked above. Sure if it was someone like Arshavin that makes sense. Andrei was a marquee signing at a time when the club needed a boost. But Gervinho is not going to cure the malaise that has set in with Arsenal supporters since last Spring.
I’m guessing the club just want people to know that they are doing stuff: “look we paid good money for someone in the transfer market!” is the message I’m getting. Unfortunately, Gervinhos’ first full interview is in French and nothing will get the folks who want Gary Cahill excited like two interpreters interviewing each other.
Personally, I don’t care if the player can only communicate through grunts and groans. My only concern is whether he can play. Let’s stop with the manufactured image creation in the studio and create an image of Arsenal playing kick ass football on the pitch.
I’ve said for a while that I think Arsenal communicate too much. I’ve followed professional sports all my life and I’ve never known as much about the inner workings of a sports team as I do about Arsenal. Strangely, people seem to want more: they want to know Arsenal’s strategic plan, the goals and objectives of the board, how much money they made from the Asian tour, which sponsorships they landed, how much we are paying for Denilson, on and on in a veritable horn of plenty of information.
Somewhere along the line we crossed over from fans to corporate shareholders despite the dual facts that none of us are really shareholders in any meaningful way and we’re not shareholders in the right way. Owning one share of the B stock in Berkshire Hathaway gets you exactly that: one vote out of several thousand. But more oddly, these are stocks we are talking about here, not childhood memories. They are pieces of information that say you paid X pounds for that share and can sell it on the open market for Y price. Are you going to sell Arsenal and buy Man City if reason dictates that to be the sound choice? Are you really a corporate shareholder or are you the guy who buys a share in Harley Davidson so that he has something to frame for his office?
You’ll pardon me if I find it a bit odd that the people who most vociferously complain about Arsenal acting like a business are the same folks who own shares… in that business.
The Port Vale keeper’s voice pierces the silence in the stands. He’s screaming at his defense on every set play that the Tide have. I’ve never heard anything like that from Arsenal. I mean, I’ve seen Lehmann yell at people but I never could hear him when I was at the game or even on television. I’ve even seen Szczesny get all growly and slap his hands together but this keeper is all together another animal.
Port Vale’s first keeper got himself sent off for an Almunia moment in the first half. A long ball over the top put the Tide’s forward in a one v. one and the keeper came flying out of the box I guess to head the ball away. When he realized that he’d timed his jump all wrong and that he wasn’t going to reach the ball with a header, he put both hands up to stop the play.
He’d been pretty quiet the whole much up until then, but this other keeper was commanding which is exactly what people want from the Arsenal defense.
“Why do you have to mention him???” Johnny’s waving a cigarette around angrily. He hates when I mention Squillaci.
“It’s just.. well I can kind of see the logic why Wenger signed him.”
“England is weird in terms of the sheer number of headers that players have to deal with. You look at any team in the Premier League and they all have one or two guys who average something like 10 clearances a game. I’ve poked around in the data and that’s not something you see in other leagues. We saw it today. Port Vale kept pumping long balls forward for their striker. He was all alone and did a great job holding up play, bringing his teammates in, and creating chances from nothing.”
It’s true. The Valiants played a lot of long balls, especially as the game wore on, though that could also be because they were down to 10 men. Whatever the reason, that’s not the point. The point is how easy it was for them to slip seamlessly from passing the ball around the Tide to long balls to a center forward.
“That’s the problem. It’s not natural for Squillaci to deal with a ton of headers. Did you see the way that the Port Vale center forward dealt with every aerial ball? I bet he’s been doing that since he was 5.” I pause.
“Squillaci isn’t crap, or at least he wasn’t crap. You can’t tell me that this guy with all these appearances for France and all the games he’s played in Europe is garbage. It’s just… I don’t know. Maybe it’s not natural for him to deal with all those balls bombing in on him? Not in the same way it was for the Valiants today.”
Why would I even ask Brian the question? Why did I need to know why Port Vale was in Tacoma?Why did I know that they were coming? Is this a uniquely Arsenal experience that we need to analyze everything, understand why the club does this or why a player does that? Is Squillaci just naturally poor at headers because he’s French or am I just over analyzing everything?
I don’t know but like Brian, I think the answer is in astroturf.