Tag Archives: US soccer

David Beckham – Servant or Master in Downton Abbey?

4 Dec

butlers.1900 Now that David Beckham has played his last act in an American soccer role, what is next for the Englishman abroad? Having spent the last five years in Hollywood making friends (Tom Cruise and Russell Brand are mates), casting agents must be wondering if Mr. Beckham desires the spotlight of the silver screen.

I pondered this as I drove to the Los Angeles Galaxy stadium for the MLS Cup Final last Saturday. The team’s ground is located in the city of Carson. “Carson,” I thought, “Where have I heard that name before?”

Then it struck me. Carson is the butler in Downton Abbey. Yes, that was it! Mr. Beckham could start his acting career in Downton Abbey, Masterpiece Theater’s darling smash hit drama set in the snobbery fields of England, on an aristocratic manor cast between the privileged and their servants. But the big question was this? Would he be cast downstairs as a servant known as Becks or be claimed by the aristocracy upstairs as Sir David Beckham of Essex?

Hollywood aristocracy is not the same thing as English Lords and Lady Dowagers delivering lines of caustic sarcasm. So Mr. Beckham would be at a disadvantage when it came to sneering condescension. He always speaks fondly of his humble roots and I don’t mean his immaculate hair.

Furthermore, Mr. Beckham’s accent is not from the plum tree of linguistic fruits. He does not replace his “r” with an “h” as in, “Dahling, pass the sugar.” His timbre would immediately betray him as lower social class in England’s grand scheme of manners. The only thing going for him upstairs is the fact that he is married to Mrs. Victoria Beckham, also known as Posh in the Spice Girls. Her moniker may not be enough to fool the Lords of the manor, however.

So it seems Mr. Beckham may be destined for a role with the servants under the stairs. No doubt, he has been a loyal servant to soccer both in the States and in his native England. He served his country scores of times on the soccer field and off. He carried the Olympic torch at the recent Olympics, transporting the flame by speedboat up the River Thames in London.

But what role would he have as a servant at Downton Abbey? Surely not just Footman Becks bending his elbow to serve the aristocrats their garden peas at dinner. Becks would have to be higher up the food chain, perhaps as a junior butler, serving under Mr. Carson. Think of it as the same type of relationship Mr. Beckham had with Mr. Alex Ferguson, his “soccer father” and coach while he played at Manchester United. Learn a trade, son.

But the butler remains the butler until his service ends with the grave. Mr. Beckham represents a more mobile type of man, an iconoclast. Perhaps he would be better cast as the chauffer who falls in love with one of the Ladies of the Abbey and marries into the family. No longer called Becks by the masters but accepted as David. Too late – an Irishman already played that part.

That leaves being a valet to one of the Lords of the higher orders, dressing him for breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, and bed. But one can’t see Mr. Beckham dressing others when he is a fashion model himself. Nor can we imagine him putting the toothpaste on the toothbrush for his Lordship. Perhaps Downton Abbey is not the show for Mr. Beckham after all. Maybe the similar Masterpiece drama, Upstairs Downstairs, is a better option? Now let’s see, who could he play in that?

Alan Black writes a weekly soccer column, on Friday, for the San Francisco Chronicle. He is the author of the memoir, Kick the Balls.

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Away Day – On the Road to LA with San Jose Earthquakes, 1906 Ultras

29 May

When San Jose Earthquakes striker, Alan Gordon, scored the winner in the last minute of stoppage time against LA Galaxy in Los Angeles in mid-May, he peeled off his strip in celebration. By then, many of the 1906 Ultras, San Jose’s wild band of traveling supporters, were already stripped to the waist. In the space of seventeen minutes, the Quakes had overcome a two-goal deficit. Gordon’s flash sent the Ultras into overdrive. The final whistle sounded. The Quakes were top of the league. David Beckham and the LA Galaxy were in the black hole at the bottom.

You’re in Last Place, chanted the Ultras at their enemies in the Angel City Brigade, the Los Angeles supporters group, now in a state of collective silent shock behind the goal. The 1906 Ultras had claimed them. They serenaded the Angelinos. You Only Sing When You’re Winning, the taunt to the tune of La Guantanamera.

Traveling to your team’s road games is part of soccer fan culture. Call it the “away day.” The Ultras set out from San Jose at 6.45AM treating themselves to a breakfast of tequila, vodka, whisky and beer. Their leader, Dan, in an email to the group before the departure warned, “Control your drinking! If people are sloppy drunk when we get to LA, they will be left in the bus. I guarantee you that.” When Dan speaks, everyone listens. He is the top boy. Running a successful away day falls on his shoulders – the bus, the accommodation, the supplies and the tickets. “Being an Ultra is a way of life,” he says, “it is 24/7.”

The term Ultras says it all: hardcore supporters at the edge, well above the norm of regular fan. San Jose’s Ultras are a band of brothers and sisters. Their roll call includes lawyers, software engineers, union organizers, retail workers – folks from all walks of life. Mexicans, Salvadorans, Romanians mix with suburban American kids. Some help design the banners seen at the Quakes games. Others carry the flags. Lyricists compose their songs and chants. Their drummer pounds the beat in the bleachers. All together now, everyone singing, We are the crazy Ultras from the Bay, fighting in Seattle and LA.

The bus finally arrived in Los Angeles. The Galaxy’s stadium security was waiting.  Keep the “hate LA” chants down to a minimum was the request. But it was never going to happen. This was NorCal v SoCal. San Jose was here to rub them the wrong way for the full ninety-minutes. They never stopped singing. The drum pounded, Beat LA. It was too much for some in the Angel City Brigade. Security and cops did a good job keeping out the occasional mad Angelino throwing himself at the cordon. The odd gang fingers flashed and rolled. The middle finger was everywhere. Some of the language would have curled grandma’s toes.

Post-game, the police helicopter swooped overhead, the light beam spotting the 1906 Ultras below, now in full war whoop dancing on the conquered turf. Their ring was jubilant. They locked shoulders in a bouncing circle having claimed their scalp. It was a Hollywood moment, a fantastic ending. The spotlight followed the bouncing bus out of the stadium. Someone had a phone raised in his hands – Chris Wondolowski, the Quakes star striker who had missed the game after being called up to play for the US Men’s National Team, was on the line. The Ultras broke into song You are my Wondo, my Wondolowski. You make me happy, when skies are grey.

The influence of supporter groups is growing throughout American soccer. Seattle’s Emerald City Supporters and Portland’s Timber Army pull huge numbers. The New York Red Bulls boasts three such groups. Visit an MLS stadium and you see how pivotal the phenomenon is to bringing energy to the event. This transfers to the players on the field. It is a marked contrast to other US sports where spectators can be sedentary and have to be fed prompts – don’t forget to cheer. At soccer, you go along to participate. You go along to jump and sing. You don’t need anyone to remind you as to why you are there.

Major League Soccer is now embracing supporters groups as a vehicle for expanding its brand. “At first MLS rejected the idea of hardcore supporters groups, “ says Dan of the 1906 Ultras, “they catered to soccer moms and kids. Lately they are trying to appeal to fan groups. However they are trying to keep 100% control. I am working with Ultras to keep the groups independent from the front offices and the league.”

The day after the night before and the long trek back to NorCal. A deep sense of satisfaction kept the hangover storms beneath the blue horizon. And Ultras talk was already springing forward to the next Quakes home game on June 30. The visitors – LA Galaxy and the Angel City Brigade.

Alan Black is the soccer columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Read his memoir, Kick the Balls, the tale of the worst kids team in global soccer history.

No French Court for The Beckhams

4 Jan

The Beckhams will not be setting up their French court much to the chagrin of Paris society.

The French elites had been predicting which side of the Seine the Court of Beckham would be established. Existentialists in cafes debated whether this important choice would determine whether he played in left or right midfield for Paris St.Germain, the club he was destined for. Couture houses were giddy with the prospect of a new saturnine era of shadow with the popular designer, Mrs. Beckham, set to ring the runways with her moody cuts. Would the Beckhams be at the opening night of the Opera? Would Becks become the latest motif for post-modernist lectures at La Sorbonne? French comedians were polishing off jokes about l’escargot and Beckham’s pace. Mais, non!

The ticker reports that Beckham has decided to go into the sunset boulevard of his playing career in Los Angeles. The immigration lawyers at the LA Galaxy may now be filing for the work visa extension, perhaps even green cards will be in the post for the Beckhams. Citizenship could come later, then a run for governor, or perhaps a reality show – Down With The Becks- or the lure of the silver screen. A small role in the next Sherlock Holmes could surely be arranged. And with Los Angeles just so bright, Mrs. Beckham may finally break out a smile for the cameras, adding more sparkles to the white heat of Los Angeles. It’s a diamond possibility.

The good news for US soccer fans is that Beckham has more to offer as a player. Last season, he played some of his best soccer in his long career. He will wish to exit on a high. And hanging up his boots playing in America is an endorsement for Major League Soccer. More brand players will follow his legacy. Aspiring American kids will see him as a great example of what it means to be a dedicated professional in a major league, par excellence. Should it all be true, it is a good day for American soccer. Surf and sun has won. The French court has lost.