Perfunctory fanfare, quizzes with Wilson and Barclay
The fan festival invades London, the launch of Jonathan Wilson’s new football magazine, and what we heard on the street.
Yesterday bedraggled fans made their way to a "celebration" of the Champions League final in Hyde Park at Marble Arch, where you can "enjoy UEFA" amidst some makeshift fields, several hundred crowd barriers and a lot of pop-up shops.
The gist this weekend is simple: UEFA would like you to come and give them some cash, preferably at any one of their "megastores" (read: trailers with overpriced, branded gear) conveniently located every 40 feet. Oh, and yes, there’s a TV screen on which you can see the match.
Fan festivals have become a staple of big events ever since the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan. Then, they were glorious, communal frenzies, no better than when the Koreans emptied the streets of Seoul en route to their fourth-place finish. Then came Germany, with all the branding and none of the soul.
Today, the disconnect was even more stark. On a weekend when touts are flogging tickets for the eye-popping price of $25,000 (foot rubs from Michel Platini are sadly not included), this fenced-in superstore is the place the lumpen will have to come to stare at small sets, pay $10 a beer and cheer on their team.
Thursday afternoon, a crew of break-dancers was attempting liven up a fairly sodden day. Their leader threw the host when he said over the PA in Franglish that, “non, je ne suis pas un football fan.” On cue, he and the lads began grimly grinding away on a riser to some very blown-out Fatboy Slim.
On another stage, a clean-cut, fresh looking young man tried to get people interested in an "endless bar." The very concept sounds deadly, perhaps contributing to the strains of desperation I detected. It was fitting he was right across from the famed Speaker's Corner, a legendary place where anyone, at any time, can declaim about whatever they wish. Sadly, UEFA has "sanitized it"” meaning it was deserted save for two recalcitrant drunks. For the first time in my life, I was wistful that I was not being harangued about international Communism.
There were some nets set up. The folks who seemed most keen to have a kick were from an unruly gaggle of the international media, who pretty much boxed out the little kids wearing cleats. I confess I took perverse amusement watching a man laden down with cameras houk his shot off the top of the "megastore" and into the field beyond. He grinned and give everyone a thumbs up.
Then the skies opened up, I raced for the Tube and the lonely bums underneath the tents across the gate huddled together for warmth. The break-dancers kept on poppin’.
Wilson and the Blizzard
Jonathan Wilson, he of the tactical columns and the must-read “Inverting The Pyramid,” has a new venture out. It is quirky, and perhaps quixotic: A soft-cover magazine, book-bound, called The Blizzard. Several dozen of us unwashed football writers crammed into the Princess Victoria in Shepherd’s Bush last night to see Mr. Wilson’s launch.
The Blizzard is intended to be a place for long-form soccer writing about a variety of subjects that range from the obscure (David Ashton on Scottish B-listers Greenock Morton) to the sublime (David Winner’s superb interview with Dennis Bergkamp). It is packed with A-listers, and in a novel twist, you can download the whole thing from his website on a pay as you go basis.
A childhood friend of mine, Paddy Barclay (now of the Times), was paired with me on a quiz team, which was advertised as a way to sop up all the free beer. Wilson, an intensely knowledgeable man, was rather frantic in collecting all our ballots, the winners of which were entitled to a copy of the first issue and maybe a t-shirt if you liked. Fittingly, the quiz was devilishly hard, but the eventual winners got 37 out of 40 correct (our team finished 3rd on 35).
As the night went on, and the taps flowed, the conversation went from the highbrow to, surprisingly, long discussions about Major League Soccer, which is an object of some fascination.
I read the first issue as I took a late bus back to Paddington, the low brick walls and shuttered kebab huts receding behind me. You should too: visit www.theblizzard.co.uk.
A man wearing a pink-striped jersey, on Edgware Road: “Yeah, FC Prawn. We’re the shrimps of the non-league.” His companion: “You look more like a [expletive] langoustine.”
A man and a woman at Hyde Park. Him: “Did you even know there was a Women’s Champions League Final?” Her: “Of course.” Him: [thoughtful pause] “I had no idea.” Her: “You should start reading past Page Three.”
Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.