In Europe, the soccer season is coming to a close. I watched a bit of the last day of the English Premier League season this morning, as Manchester City won their clinching game over West Ham with relative ease. It wasn’t as dramatic as two years ago, when Manchester City needed two goals in stoppage time to win the title.
There is still a bit of football left to play in England, though. The FA Cup final is next weekend in Wembley, with Arsenal and Hull City to face each other. And playoffs are underway in the second, third, fourth and fifth divisions to determine the final promotion places. At all four of these levels, the final game will be played at Wembley Stadium. So, if you’re a fan of, say, fifth-division Cambridge United, it’s a really big deal to go to Wembley. Probably 20-30,000 will be in attendance for that one.
It was also the next-to-last weekend of the Spanish La Liga, where there was a three-team race in effect. However, Real Madrid lost today, eliminating them from contention, while both Barcelona and Atlético Madrid drew. As it happens, they are scheduled to play each other next weekend for the final game of the league season. Atlético needs at least a draw, while Barcelona needs to win.
In Germany, Bayern Munich wrapped up the league title weeks ago, and this weekend they concluded the season 19 points ahead of second-place Borussia Dortmund and were awarded the trophy. In discussing fan culture last week, I made passing mention of Dynamo Dresden, a second-division German club with a particularly nasty breed of fan. Thankfully, Dynamo Dresden was relegated to the third division today, losing to a club called Arminia Bielefeld—appropriately enough, because on the occasion of the last game between the two clubs, the visiting Dresden fans pillaged their way through Bielefeld. Anyway, true to form, the Dresden fans unveiled this pleasant message for their players as the time ticked away on their season.
Of course, the soccer season never really ends. Here in the United States, the season is in full swing and, coming up in one month, there’s the World Cup!
We had a great class last week, and still a lot of ground to cover in the remaining two classes. This week, the focus will be on the United States. I’ll discuss the American Soccer League of the 1920s and the North American Soccer League of the 1970-80s, then our guest, Paul Cuadros, will talk about his experience coaching Latino youth soccer in Chatham County.
Here are two short chapters from Paul’s book [link removed after completion of class] Because our time in class is running short, we won’t be able to spend much more time on the middle of the 20th century. So, in partial remediation, I want to leave you with several videos that provide important highlights of this era.
England v. Hungary, 1953 (highlights). This was the game that forced England to accept that the rest of the world had developed a more tactically sophisticated approach to football. England only entered the World Cup for the first time in 1950 (and lost to the United States). But even in 1953, England considered itself the world’s top footballing power, and it featured Stanley Matthews (No. 7), the best player in England in those years. But the visiting Hungarians had Ferenc Puskas (No. 10) and a far more complex system of attack. Here’s a Wiki page devoted to the game, which is also discussed at length in the Jonathan Wilson book.
The 1954 World Cup final (highlights) is remembered as the “Miracle of Bern.” The competition was in Switzerland, and the final was contested between the great Hungarian team that had destroyed England the previous year, and an upstart squad of West Germans, who were officially amateurs, not professionals. It was also less than a decade after the end of World War II, a period of harsh conditions in Germany, not to mention international disgrace. As you might imagine, winning the World Cup in 1954 was an important symbolic boost for the Germans—it’s a sporting memory for them that’s akin to our “Miracle on Ice” Olympic hockey victory over the Soviet Union in 1980. Wikipedia.
Garrincha (highlights). Péle is the most famous, most admired player in Brazil’s history, but his contemporary Garrincha is the most beloved. Born into dire poverty, with one leg shorter than the other, with one knee pointing outward and with a deformed spine, Garrincha (“Wren”) had no business becoming a top athlete. But he did, becoming a great dribbler who delighted in embarrassing opponents with crowd-pleasing moves. Today, there’s little patience for his style of play (and defenders are much better), but Garrincha helped Brazil win the World Cups of 1958 (with an 18-year-old Péle) and 1962 (with Péle out with injury). Garrincha was an alcoholic and died destitute at the age of 49. Toward the end of the video, you can see him being honored near the end of his life with a parade. Wikipedia.
Alfredo Di Stéfano (highlights). Di Stéfano was the first great international star, a precursor of the modern cosmopolitan footballer (Garrincha, in contrast, never played for a club outside Brazil–he played for the Rio club Botafogo. Péle, too, spent most of his career with the Sao Paulo club Santos.) A native of Argentina, Di Stéfano played first for the great Buenos Aires club River Plate before moving on to Colombia’s Millonarios (during an atypical period in which that country offered the best salaries in South America). There he was spotted by scouts for Real Madrid. He signed a contract and moved to Europe, where he had a brilliant career with a team that dominated European competition in the 1950s. Wikipedia.
Finally, an important event in the history of Manchester United occurred in 1958, when a plane carrying most of the team and staff crashed outside of Munich. Coached by Matt Busby, the team was known as “Busby’s Babes,” due to their youth. Eight players died in the accident. Wikipedia’s account is here, and if you have Netflix, you can watch a pretty decent 2011 TV movie about it. It’s called United.