POTM (Oct 2012): Big heads USA

The second installment of pic of the month (POTM) is here! Calm down, calm down, I know it’s exciting.

Contrary to what you may all be thinking (and some even hoping), it’s a PICTURE of the month and not some priceless emerald from deep down in the cavernous netherworld of a nostril!

Now that that’s clear and we can breathe easy(er), we can move on to this months image!

The image is relevant for this month because the USA recently qualified for the final round of World Cup Qualifying off of a two goal performance by the man featured here.

Also, it’s an image that fully exemplifies the “head first” motto that we got going on this blog.

Lastly, it’s fitting because it’s an image of a man considered to be one of the best Americans to ever play the game in England, which is of course the current environment for my football endeavors.

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Dempsey: two goals two heads…makes sense

You have just scored two goals against Guatemala in World Cup Qualifying to ensure that the USA move on to the next stage, one step closer to the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. What do you do?

Well, of course, grab the nearest giant head of yourself making an angry face and parade around the field for all to see! Pretty sweet. Props to the guy who made this sign.

I would say that you have probably made it on the big stage when random people make giant signs of your ugly mug because they love you. Let’s face it, if you’re an American soccer fan, you love Clint Dempsey. I do.

Now, I’m sure some people have plenty of not so nice things to say about him. Yet, when his haters taunt him and tell him he’s too arrogant, too cocky and won’t be able to fit his big-head through the door, he can smile and say: “you’re absolutely right!”.

Go USA – Don’t tread on me.

Till the next pic,

Take care and don’t be afraid to dive-in head first (cause if you mess one up now you’ve got another one).

God Bless,

Seano

PS: If you missed the last Pic of the month (POTM), see it here!

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Book Review: The Damned United

“I’ve got too much time on my hands, It’s hard to believe such a calamity” – The Styx

The fact of the matter is that I have had large amounts of free time since I’ve been over here in England. It’s amazing how much time hits you in the face when you don’t have a social life. If my train of thought paralleled The Styx song above, I would next be thinking…

“Is it any wonder I’m not crazy?
Is it any wonder I’m sane at all?…”

Not that you really need to see this

I won’t elaborate on whether or not that’s the case. I will say, though, that I have been trying to be somewhat productive with my free time. This blog is one of those things that I do to avoid wasting time (Yes, that’s up for debate). I have also been reading quite a bit. To be honest, I have probably read more books in the last 2 months than I did my last 2 years of college…so like 3. Anyway, I was thinking that it would be fun to write a review of a book or two every once in a while.

This first book I am going to review is fitting for a couple of reasons; it’s about footie and it’s based near where I am staying in Yorkshire.

The book is called “The Damned United” and is written by David Peace. It chronicles, day-by-day, Brian Clough’s short and tempestuous stay as manager of the then very successful Leeds United; while, simultaneously, re-tracing the steps of Clough’s climb to success with Derby County. At times, this can make the story somewhat difficult to follow, which makes it read like the story line of a Quentin Tarantino film. It was also graphic, like a Tarantino film, with a liberal use of language and copious amounts of booze.

In essence, it is a dramatized, somewhat poetic, version of a 44 day marriage between Leeds United Football Club and Clough. It was a marriage that was never going to last and it wasn’t going to be pretty, like a regrettable Vegas wedding. Prior to his appointment as Manager of Leeds, Clough despised their previous manager, constantly denounced their style of play and generally hated everything that Leeds stood for. He thought he could change Leeds, but never truly had a chance.

I think this is a good reflection of the importance of unity within a team. Even with a great manager and great players, Leeds struggled to find success because there wasn’t unity and mutual respect within the group. This is true of any team.

The historic Elland Road: Home to Leeds United!

The story is written from inside the mind of the legendary manager which reveals him as a tumultuous, tough, cutthroat, and yet vulnerable man. He is a man obsessed by football and he can hardly escape it in his own mind. He’s always thinking about the next game, who to buy or why things went wrong. He is also a very stubborn man, not one to take no for an answer. Multiple times he would go behind people’s backs to get his way. His charisma and passion, however, united some people as much as it divided others. This meant that he was wildly successful where he was loved, and a failure where he was not fully accepted.

As a man, he appeared to have few friends among his many acquaintances. If there was one thing he didn’t lack it was confidence. Clough’s attitude about himself is summed up when he – talking about Frank Sinatra – says “He met me, you know”.

As a manager, he had many admirers.  His management philosophies were summed up in the following excerpt:

“This is good bloody management. This is you and Pete at your best –
spotting the talent, buying the talent and then handling that ****** talent –
Insulting that talent. Humiliating that talent. Threatening that talent –
Hurting that talent and then kissing it ****** better again –
Again and again, bringing out the bloody best in folk –
In that ****** talent, that’s you and that’s Pete”
 

Pete was Clough’s right-hand man at Derby, and did most of his scouting and coaching for him. The book portrays Peter Taylor as one of Clough’s few friends, although Clough was not always the kindest of friends. Pete did not follow Clough to Leeds, which may have been just another reason why it didn’t work out.

Clough’s passion, drive, intensity, and success in his managerial career, before and after Leeds, were undeniable. From my experience, he was the quintessential British manager. He demanded the respect of his players and when he had it, he knew when to give them a good rollicking, but he also knew when it was time to build them up. If he got on with a player, he would treat them like a son, but when he did not, he had no need for them and dispatched of them as soon as possible.

I found myself attracted to Clough like girls can sometimes be attracted to the “bad boys” at school. If I step back and ask what is there to like about him? The answer is: “not much”. Yet, despite all of his obvious flaws there is something somewhat attractive about his personality.

I would rate the book a 3.5 out of 5. It really gave the reader a good glimpse of Clough’s raw character, while revealing the nuances of the strange and short-lived relationship between Leeds and Clough. However, it is not a book that would appeal to a large audience. It captures a good image of English football at the time and so I would recommend it to anyone who is passionate about soccer and has a general knowledge of the history of the game in England (ie: most people I’ve played with in the past). For most others, however, it may seem vaguely repulsive and remind them why they don’t pay attention to the sport in the first place.

You can buy it here if interested The Damned United
There was also a movie made based on the book. I haven’t seen it, but you can buy it here too: The Damned United on Blue-Ray

Ground and Grounds

Ground – the word of the week

According to Webster dictionary.com these are some of the definitions for the word “Ground”.

“a : the surface of the earth
b : an area used for a particular purpose <the parade ground> <fishing grounds><football ground>
c plural : the area around and belonging to a house or other building
d : an area to be won or defended in or as if in battle”

Each one is fitting for today’s post (Essentially a review of the week).

Definition A: the surface of the earth

I usually have some interaction with the surface of the earth everyday and to be honest, I rarely think about it – unless it’s face first or something. The ground seems to become more and more significant the further I get from it. If I’m in a plane, I think about getting safely to ground. The further I go out into the ocean, the more I feel called back to land (I’m clearly a land-lubber). However, I would be willing to bet that I could name the person who thought about the “surface of the earth” most of all yesterday.

It was his worst enemy and his best friend, it could have ended him, but he couldn’t wait for it. I’d imagine that there would be a few mixed feelings speeding toward the earth at nearly 730 miles per hour. Yes, he must have been thinking all about the ground yesterday. Yes, it must have been the sweetest thing to set foot on it again, safe and sound. I wonder who felt better about having the ground under their feet again, Columbus and his men hundreds of years ago, or Felix Baumgartner yesterday? Either way, it must have felt great! Both inspiring stories of human determination and courage in the face of the unknown.

Definition C (pl): the area around and belonging to a house

I was resisting all urges to do anything at all on Sunday. However, I forced myself to go out and do something active on what was actually quite a nice day. So, I ended up taking a bike ride to the nearby Bolton Abbey and its surrounding “Grounds”. It turned out to be an excellent decision. It was about a 18 mile ride round trip along the Wharfe river, which runs through Wharfedale in Yorkshire. Not only was it a beautiful ride in and a beautiful location, I also got my lazy bum out and got some good exercise! It was also great to get out of the neighborhoods and into some good old fashioned Yorkshire countryside.

Bolton Abbey sits on a massive estate (30,000 acres) that was owned by the Duke of Devonshire. The land is now part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The Priory, which was founded by the Augustinians, is mostly ruined. However, the front (nave) of the church was preserved and is still used today by the Church of England. (I love writing a blog because I can use Wikipedia and not get in trouble with my teacher…but don’t blame me if I’m wrong!)

Here are some pictures of the lovely grounds and the surrounding area:

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By the way, bike rides are a great way to get exercise in when your body and mind are making it difficult. It’s a less harsh workout on your body than running and you feel great doing it because you make so much progress! Thanks to my cousin (1st cousin once removed if we’re going to get picky) Chris for lending me the bike.

Definition B: an area used for a particular purpose <parade ground> <fishing grounds><football ground>

I admit I added <football ground> myself, it wasn’t in the definition, but it works all the same! This is a suitable definition for me because I’ve been going to so many football grounds. This week, I attended two more games.

On Tuesday, I went to see local 6th tier team Guiseley AFC take on a Welsh side, Colwyn Bay FC (same division), in an FA Cup qualifying round replay game (The FA CUP is played by all English teams, so it’s a big chance for small teams to gain notoriety and play some bigger clubs if they do well). It was a replay because the teams tied in the first leg of the round. However, if this game ended in a tie there would be overtime and then penalties if needed. It was a good game overall and a decent level of play. Guiseley is sitting 3rd in the division and has just missed promotion the last few seasons (I’ve been trying to get into training with them). Colwyn Bay is in the lower half of the table.

Nethermoor Park – Home (Ground) of Guiseley AFC

The first half was a well fought contest and while Guiseley probably saw more of the ball, Colwyn Bay had the better opportunities and went into the half leading 1-0. The 2nd half, however, was dominated by the home side and when they eventually scored the final outcome was inevitable. Guiseley scored a 2nd soon after and added a 3rd after a Colwyn Bay player was red-carded in a tussle off the ball. The level of play is similar to the PDL in the states, although most of the players in the Conference North would probably have more overall experience, which might give them an edge.

There was a good crowd (probably around 500+) and it was a good atmosphere for a chilly Tuesday night. This is something that we are lacking considerably in US sports. Lower level teams with a decent local following. There are a few teams in the PDL who provide this kind of environment, but its few and far between. There are surely many factors that play into this, but that’s a chat for another day.

On Saturday, I went to another Bradford City game at Valley Parade (Ground). The Bradford City ground is large by league 2 standards, holding just over 25,000. This is because they were in the top tier of English Football not too long ago, before mismanagement and poor form led to a decline.  Though it is rarely filled (nearly 12,000 for this game) they still draw more fans than most other teams in this league.

Valley Parade (I think it’s officially called Coral Windows stadium) from the opposite side of the City.

It was their first Yorkshire Derby in over a decade. York City was just promoted to League 2, for the first time in years, from the Blue Square Conference Premier League and have been doing relatively well. Bradford City, sitting higher than York in the standings, is having a steady season and is surely hoping to get into playoff contention.

Yorkshire Derby kickoff: Bradford City vs. York City

It was a high-tempo game that both teams wanted to win. Both teams worked hard and played similar, straightforward football. In the end, they were both rewarded for their effort and the game ended in a 1-1 tie. It wasn’t the prettiest game to watch (aside from both the goals, which were both very good), both teams played very direct and neither team had long periods of possession; although I would say Bradford City had more of the ball overall. In this way, it was a very stereotypical “English” styled game. The ref didn’t help at all, stopping the game often and not allowing the teams to restart quickly from stoppages. I would go as far as to say the Guiseley v Colwyn Bay game was more pleasing to watch.

Definition D: an area to be won or defended in or as if in battle

If you have read this far I’m impressed, I’m sure it has been a battle! This definition is relevant for me because in my battle to find a team and play soccer, I need to make sure I am not losing any ground! On top of that, I have to continue fighting to gain more and more ground.

In anything you do, if you keep gaining ground, you will eventually win the battle and so the war.

In summary, I’ve been to nice grounds, old grounds, historical grounds, big grounds, little grounds, natural grounds and man made grounds; I’ve been fighting to gain ground and finally, no matter how high you fly, its always best to have two feet firmly on the ground.

Don’t be afraid to dive head first – even if its 730 mph like Felix!

Peace,

Seano

PS: I would also like to give an honorable mention to another type of ground: coffee grounds – always a top lad!

The drawing board

I know I’ve slowed down a bit in terms of updates and information and the truth is that this reflects the activity which has been going on. Plus, I only promised about 1 article a week and it’s only been a week yesterday…so stop whining!!!

The purpose of this post is to reassure you that I am still alive and well, while giving you an idea of what in the world (more like what in the England) I am doing.  The past week or so has seen me go back to the drawing board.

The games I was playing with Albion have dried up a bit. Albion had some players return who had been out in the recent weeks for various reasons. I spoke with the manager and he said that, for loyalties sake, he would be playing them over me and so, unless there was a significant chance that I was going to be getting serious game-time, he would not bother bringing me to games. Usually they would only bring 3 subs for away games in an effort to minimize travel costs and wages (Yes, we would get payed a little per game). So, despite the various reasons for not playing, I appreciated that the manager was straightforward with me and if the proper opportunity presents itself I could play scattered games with them again.

I know this isn’t a perfect comparison, but I feel like the situation is similar Rio Ferdinand being snubbed by England in recent months. Among other reasons, including the purpose of “looking to the future”, the England manager Roy Hodgson says that he is not choosing Ferdinand because a player of his experience should always be one of the first in the starting 11. Since he could not assure him of that, he had decided not to add him to the squad. You can read a little more about it here.

It’s cause he’s a grumpy old man!

Now of course, there is a more than slight difference between getting called up to a national team and playing in a non-league football team. I am not comparing myself to Rio Ferdinand either…I’m far better looking 😉 . Yet, there also some similarities in the situation. I was assured by the manager that it had nothing to do with my ability as a player and that I was a great guy. I was told that it wouldn’t make sense to bring me along to sit on the bench, just like Ferdinand. It was nice of him to reassure me of these things, even if I was already confident of them. However, just as is the case with Ferdinand and England, you never really know the real issues and reasons behind decisions.

Speculation aside, I think the situation with Albion was a blessing in disguise. It has forced me re-align my goals and refresh my focus. I came over to play professional football, and I need to do much more work to get there. Obviously, the loss of playing games consistently is irreplaceable, but there are positives.

So, as I say, I have gone back to the drawing board. What exactly does that mean?

First of all, I am continuing to train hard on my own. Above all, I make sure that I get touches on the ball. I attempt to spend at least 45-60 minutes a day with the ball at my feet. A normal session will involve quite a bit of juggling, or as they say here “Keepy-uppy”. I don’t just juggle as many times as I can, rather, I make little challenges for myself. For instance, I will do high/low intervals. This means every few juggles (I usually do every 3 or every 5) I hit the ball up in the air (12-15 ft. usually) and then bring it back under control with the designated number of touches before knocking it back up again. So, for a three juggle interval, it would sound something like “tap-tap-kick…tap-tap-kick…and so on”.

I also do some passing exercises against a nearby wall. I try to mix it up with my passing. For instance, I will knock 50 1-touch passes off the wall switching between left and right foot. I also do variations of 2-touch passing off the wall. For one set, I might control and pass with the same foot; while in another set, I might use my control touch to take the ball across my body before passing it back with the opposite foot. To mix it up even more, I might only control or pass with a specified part of the foot (like the outside). I sometimes also back up off the wall a bit (maybe only 15-20 yards) and try to work on striking a ball with more power. But, when I hit one a bit too high and it nicked the top of the wall and  bounced over the trees into the road behind, I decided to refrain from that for the most part – no I never found the ball, had to get a new one. Grrr

I also found a great wall to juggle against in the neighborhood because its made out of big stones and is anything but smooth. So, I’m never quite sure how it will bounce back and so it tests my reactions well. I will usually either do 1-touch or 2-touch off the wall.

The other important thing I try to do is fitness with the ball. This usually just consists of various sprints with the ball. I sometimes pass off the wall, receive the ball and then sprint 10-15 yards with it. This also helps my first touch. You get very creative overall when you spend enough time kicking a ball around by yourself.

I do other fitness on my own as well. I’ll usually run further distances in the morning, usually 3-5 miles. Aside from just simply running at a normal pace, I also like to do intervals; which is basically running hard for a period (about 30-60 seconds), then taking it easy for the next period. Intervals are good because they mimic game fitness more closely. I’m sure some of this might seem obvious to some people and if so, sorry to bore you with the details. The point is, though, that I am putting in hard work and am doing my best to be ready when the opportunity presents itself.

The other side of the story, of course, is trying to get that opportunity to present itself. I’ve been back to the drawing board even more so in this sense. I feel like I am investigating a crime, since I have to follow so many leads.

Person: “This person said that person said that this person was someone who did this with this team, which could help you.”

Me: “Oh, great! So…who is this?”

No idea?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely appreciative of any help anyone can give me and has given me. I can’t say that enough! However, it’s still a tough process. I’m re-sending emails, calling whoever I can and getting advice from whoever will give it. This has led to some possibilities overall. I spoke with a contact, who knows some people in the Newcastle area and might be able to get me a trial with some teams, if they are looking for players. I have also trained a few times with a good team in the 6th division, but they have a full squad already. It’s also frustrating because most teams below the 5th level are only part time, so they don’t train often, especially when they are playing 2 games a week. There are other contacts who I have been trying to connect with who may give me helpful information and/or provide me with some valuable training/playing opportunities. I just keep knocking on doors.

Team training and exposure, are the two biggest things I need right now. I am still motivated, still focused, and still confident, despite any setbacks. This is the hard part, but it is what will make the reward even more satisfying, God willing! As always, I’ll keep you posted on events in the future!

Until then, don’t be afraid to dive in head first!

God Bless,

Seano

Cup Game

I’ve just been involved in a Cup game in England last night. Albeit it was only a small cup known as the West Riding County Cup. As is the best part of cups, it was a chance for us, the statistical underdogs, to come out and prove our worth against a team that plays higher up in the Egyptianesque sized pyramid of English non-league football. The game was played away at Farsley AFC’s ground “The Throstle’s Nest”. It really wasn’t much of an away game since it is sandwiched in between Leeds and Bradford and thus was probably just as easy for me, and some of the other players, to get to as our home ground.

The Throstle Nest: Home of Farsley AFC

It was our first game in 9 days. This long of a break from games can be an advantage, but also a setback.

It’s great because it means that you are more rested than usual. If the other team has played over the weekend and midweek, it means this will be their 3rd game in 6 days. Despite games being a footballers primary enjoyment, playing this often can take a significant amount of sharpness and stamina out of you pretty fast, especially if you are not taking care of yourself. Of course, teams like Man United, Man City, Real Madrid, and particularly AC Milan have top notch facilities where there are staff whose primary job is to make sure your body runs in top gear, year after year. Even then, we hear about players who are being rested because of fatigue. The truth is, playing a full 90 minutes takes quite a bit out of you. Doing it every few days can be even rougher. If you don’t have someone to massage you down and make you personally designed smoothies, it can be even more difficult.  So, when you get more than a week-long break in the season this can be quite helpful.

At the same time, having too long of a break can also be damaging because you can lose momentum – which we were beginning to build before this break – and you can lose game sharpness. This can be especially true if you don’t train often, as is the case with Albion. The one training session we did have, as I mentioned, did not have full participation and so it lacked a game-like feel overall. Even when you are training consistently, it can be easy to lose that cutting edge that so often separates teams of similar quality.

Soooo…..was the break a blessing or a curse?

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It was a great game for the team! We won 4-1 against a side that plays two divisions ahead of us and on paper were favorites. However, our confidence from the last few games carried through and we were able to get the big win. The break turned out to be a big benefit for us. At the beginning we absorbed pressure and managed to get the first goal against the run of play. Farsley equalized within minutes and remained the more dominant team. Yet we continued to keep the game in front of us and limited the home teams significant chances. This allowed us to again score on the counter. The 1st half ended 2-1.

In the second half, we didn’t dominate possession, but were more comfortable as Farsley was unable to sustain the high pressure they put on us at the beginning of the game. We continued to be dangerous when we got the chances going forward. We had many close opportunities including one off of the post. We were finally rewarded when the keeper misread a long ball into the box, which floated over his head, caught the post and went in for the 3rd. The last goal came late in the game when our striker pressured a long ball and forced the keeper to make a mistake and essentially walked the ball into the net. At this point, the game was all but over and we just had to stay tight in the back, which we did. Overall it was a gutsy performance from the team and we showed both our solid defensive work and how dangerous we can be in attack.

Farsley suffered from what I like to call “the Barca syndrome”. It’s a problem that many teams have at lower levels of football. I’ve seen it in college, PDL, and even sometimes at the professional level. These teams try to play inverted wingers and high fullbacks, in an effort to play possession based attacking soccer that is modeled after Barcelona  As this happens they get too comfortable going forward and lose focus on their defensive shape and responsibilities. Also, they don’t have the work rate off the ball to win it back quickly; which is an integral part of the Barca system. Therefore, when they lose the ball there is less cover and less pressure, which makes these teams susceptible to counter-attack. Albion did a great job of exposing this tonight against Farsley, as three of the goals came off of counter-attacks. While on the other hand, Farsley did not get behind the Albion defense more than once or twice.

Even the possession kings, Barcelona, are susceptible to the counter attack, especially with a threat like Ronaldo!

Unfortunately, I did not play at all tonight. As disappointed as I was and as ready as I was to play tonight after the cancellation in midweek, I am focusing on the positive result for the team and looking forward to the next game. We do not know who our next opponent will be in the WRCC, but I will be sure to update you when we find out. I believe the next round will take place at the beginning of November.

Our next league game is away to a team named Knaresborough Town on Saturday. There is no reason that we should not continue our winning streak against them! Let’s hope I can play a bigger part in that game. To find out, check back here!

A special shout out and thanks to my Uncle Walter who brought me to the game and sat through the rainy evening…at least he got to see a good game and a number of goals.

God Bless and don’t be afraid to dive in Head First!

Seano