Three Lions, Eleven Stamps: Royal Mail to Issue Football Association Anniversary Stamps

Leave it to the Royal Mail to issue another brilliant stamp series, this time in honor of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Football Association and featuring an all-UK top 11:

Football Heroes via the Royal Mail

It’s great to see the lineup depicted at the peak of their individual careers (especially Keegan’s curly locks!) There’s understandably a bias towards the 1966 World Cup-winning team, but it’s hard to much argue about the selection: Gordon Banks, George Best, Bobby Charlton, among other stellar names. I’m sure, though, that there are debates aplenty about who was left out.

Due for release on May 9th of this year, it looks like I’ll be ordering more than just the Doctor Who stamp series from the Royal Mail this year.

(Image via the Royal Mail)

A Surfeit of Soccer

world cup games in dupont circle by cristinabe on via a Creative Commons Attribution LicenceFinally, blissfully, we near the Quarterfinal stage of the 2010 World Cup—not because the quality of play increases (mostly) as the teams are winnowed down, not because the stakes are higher and teams play for wins (usually) instead of group stage points, but because we’ll get a break for a few days.

Whew. It’s been soccer day in and day out for nearly three weeks. We get two days off before Friday’s matches.

I’ve watched a ton of soccer this World Cup, as I’ve tried to with every World Cup since 1986 (anyone remember the bright red Budweiser border around the match action on American TV for the Final that year, to deal with the lack of commercial time-outs?), but with online streaming, I’m watching more than I thought I could. Not just the marquee matches, either, but games like Cameroon/Denmark and Slovakia/New Zealand.

Why? Because I live in fear of missing that transcendent goal, that last-ditch equalizer, that stud-perfect tackle or fingertip, round-the-post save. The outcomes of the games are, largely, irrelevant to me as a neutral in those matches, but watching an after-the-fact replay just doesn’t cut it. There’s something quite unsatisfying in seeing a soccer highlight stripped of its game context.

To watch soccer, to spectate, requires experiencing the whole match. Tension is built into soccer, almost symphonically; a goal against the run of play has a much different flavor when you’ve watched the other side dominate, a quick shriek of woodwinds breaking a long melody by strings (assuming woodwinds can shriek, of course). A replay is soccer shorn of that context, and however much I glory at a far post cross met by a header, if I didn’t see that same towering center back almost give up a goal earlier by getting nutmegged, it lacks the nuance that makes soccer such a wonderful sport. It’s just a goal, and not a moment.

And I need a break. It’s exhausting.

(Image courtesy of Cristina Bejarano via a Creative Commons Attribution License)

Explaining the Beautiful Game

A comment over on Goal, the New York Times‘ fine soccer blog (though I’ve always found it silly that newspapers insist on calling their non-printed commentary “blogs”) got me thinking about the extent to which Americans don’t understand soccer—not from a cultural standpoint, which is a separate topic entirely, but from a technical standpoint.

DSC_9982 by edtrigger on via a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivatives license

Commenter DMacM131 writes, in response to Jeffrey Marcus’ post, “Green Faces the Music; Chaochi Repeats His Mistake”:

As a quadrennial soccer fan, I was in the dark about many actions […] I hope the US team gets a better draw next game… Not the competition, but the commentators. I wouldn’t be offended if a commentator explained some of the baseball rules during the World Series or hockey rules and strategy during the Stanley Cup.

Several other commenters chimed in on this point, arguing back and forth about whether a World Cup broadcast is truly the time and place to explain offsides or the implications of receiving a yellow card. It’s an interesting question, one that gets to the heart of soccer’s struggle to capture America’s interest as a major component of our sporting life (as opposed to being primarily a children’s sport).

Some people are “in the know,” aware of the predominant stylistic differences between the Premier League and Serie A, aware of what a 451 formation looks like and why a team might employ such a structure, and are watching all of the World Cup group games that they can. And some people tune in once every four years to watch the US National Team play on a national free-to-air television network, much as they might have tuned in to “Wide World of Sports” two decades ago to see rugby or motorcycle racing. To whom do you cater? The existing fan, or the potential fan?

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A Fan’s Dilemma: Union or United?

In every major American sport, I root for the team from Philadelphia. Flyers? Orange and Black courses through my veins. Phillies? I wore a Phillies cap to elementary school in the midwest when everyone else was wearing a Royals cap (that should date me somewhat). Sixers and Eagles? Love me some Mo Cheeks and Doc and Jaws.

But soccer? Other than the defunct NASL Atoms and Fury, I had no specific allegiance, because there was no team from Philadelphia.

That changed this year. Philadelphia Union begins play this season as the latest Major League Soccer expansion team, and given Movement Point‘s focus on the Philadelphian, it should be easy for me to root for this team, to be a fan of Union. Not so simple, though.

But they sound so similar. Do I have to choose?

When MLS started up in the 1990s with a franchise in DC, where I’ve lived for some two decades, I followed DC United in the absence of a Philadelphia entrant in the league. I was happy when United won, I kept track of the scores and the players, went to a few games over the years, and even tailgated with the Screaming Eagles and sat in their nest occasionally.

And yet, I’m considering abandoning them.

Am I a faithless fan of DC United, or just a fickle follower? How do I reconcile my support for United over the years with a new, arguably more valid, contender for my cheers in Union?

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The Best Video Game Movie Ever

It’s something of a truism that movies based on video games are, well, terrible. Really, truly, unabashedly terrible. I’m still trying to get my money back for having sat through Wing Commander (USA, 1999), even though it was a matinee. And I went on a free pass.

The attempt to transfer the experience of playing a game, interacting as an active participant, to the decidedly passive experience of watching a film, fails, without fail, time and time again (cf. Uwe Boll). Not to assign value to the various modes of culture consumption—film, at its best, offers a transcendent experience and forces active mental participation, while the mere fact of interactivity in video games does not guarantee a worthwhile, active thinking experience—but the basic expectations one brings to playing games differ from those one brings to watching a film.

Choices, options, paths are, of course, constrained by the game as readily as a director positions actors in a scene, but the illusion of choice, of agency, remains, and this sense of being in control appeals to the gamer—and it’s this sense that doesn’t translate across genres.

Video game films fail most often because they attempt to portray figures from the games that the gamers themselves control. If the long delayed Halo film ever comes to fruition, it will fail, because what the screen Master Chief does is not necessarily what I would have done; his thoughts, given voice on the screen, as he mows through the Covenant forces, were not my thoughts as I did the same in the game.

But they finally did it. I finally saw not just a good video game movie, but the best video game movie ever.

Best Video Game Movie. Ever!

What is it? The Damned United (UK, 2009). But, you protest, that’s not a video game movie! Isn’t, it, though?

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