Friday, November 30, 2007

A Note to My Readers (All Seven of You)

If you regularly check this blog, you will have noticed that there hasn’t been much posting going on since November came around. Part of this is due, as I have explained, to the fact that I went to Italy for a good chunk of the month. But since I’ve been back, I’ve hardly blogged, except to detail the Rome riots. That’s because I’ve decided to close down the blog, at least temporarily, and maybe permanently.

I started the footballfan-atic blog on January 1 because I wanted to write about football, and I wanted to write stuff that was published instantly. (I write lots of stuff for magazines that are published four months after I complete them.) On both counts, I had fun writing about the beautiful game.

The point of the blog, or its point of view, perhaps, was that of an American who was a fan of the worldwide game. That was why I tried to talk about the big stories from all over Europe and South America, and also why I published the “games of the weekend” column every Friday: to help an average American like me get more out of the sport and the joy of watching it.

This was fun, but as the summer turned into fall I began to realize more fully the obvious: that the world game was simply too much for one blogger. Hell, some of the great football blogs (like have dozens of staffers doing the same thing. And as a result, they are doing it much, much better.

This has combined with some changes in my personal life (all good ones, thank goodness) which has made it more difficult to blog regularly. When I started footballfan-atic, I vowed that I would only do it if it was fun. I would not maintain a blog simply for the purpose of “trudging on” or seeing how long I could keep the posts up. Well, because I am questioning the purpose of this, and because of time constraints making it less fun, I am going to stop maintaining the site. For now.

I am going to be effectively taking the rest of the year off from football bloging, and reassess where I am in the New Year. I am strongly considering retooling the site and making it much more specialized, such as being centered on a particular team like Fiorentina or my local team, the New England Revolution. I could also focus more tightly on particular players or even competitions. (I admit I am getting more and more into Series A and Italian football in general.) Or, I may just hang it up. We’ll see what happens in the New Year.

I want to thank all of the readers who checked out what I had to say over the last year, and also thank my buddy Matt for his generous posts on the EPL.

Finally, I do want to let everyone know that just because I am giving up this blog (at least temporarily) does NOT mean I am giving up on football. On the contrary, I am actually more into football than ever. I lead a fairly busy life with work, family, friends, and various writing projects on the side. When I have a moment of free time, I am almost always watching or reading about football, and that is one of the main factors that prevents me from writing about it more often. Right now I don’t feel like I will ever be able to let go of this game.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More Italy Thoughts

I had a few other bits and pieces left over from Italy before I turn my attention back to other matters, including the Europe qualifiers, Champions League, and some goings-on in England.

  • Italian skipper Fabio Cannavaro had one of the saddest and most poignant quotes relating to the whole mess in Italy when he said: 'I play at Real Madrid, a club that has a perfect stadium, full of children, without violence. From the outside I realize the awful images Italian football gives itself. We cannot go on like this.' And he’s right: you go to a match in Italy and there are no kids around, because of the potential danger. That is madness. What else do we even have sports for?

Read the full article at

  • Robert Gotta has a great article on the state of Italian football here, from

  • CNNSI’s Jonah Freedman reported that Manchester United (Roma’s next opponent in the Champion’s League; who are visiting Rome) has offered a FULL REFUND to any of their fans who bought tickets to the game but are now too frightened to attend. Think about that: is there a sadder referendum on the state of Italian football? Manchester United fans being AFRAID to attend a football match?

  • Finally, and most furiously, even the exchange rate in Italy is now killing football fans. I always wear football shirts, and look forward to picking up new ones in Italy. I loaded up on a ton of Fiorentina stuff and got a cool SSC Venice shirt, but I paid through the nose. If this keeps up much longer I will have to start wearing MLS stuff – Damn!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Rome Soccer Riots

I want to thank everyone who has stayed with this blog even through my extended absences. I know it can be tough to stick with these things sometimes, and especially when there are not posts on a regular basis. I do appreciate all the people who read this.

As a few of my friends know, I haven’t been posting to this blog for the last week or so because my wife and I took a brief trip to Italy. We vacation there, of course, because we enjoy it; we enjoy the cities and the art and the museums and the people and the food. It should be said, moreover, that we also enjoy the football. I have said on this blog that I believe Italian football is the best in the world, and in spite of all that has happened this last month, I still believe it.

Anyway, I went to Italy. Readers know that I am a fan of Fiorentina, but my travels were taking me to Rome on the weekend, so I purchased two tickets to the Roma-Cagliari game that was scheduled to take place on November 12. The game was originally scheduled for 2:30 in the afternoon, but it was changed to 8:30 at night. This made me a little nervous, as I am aware of the violence that can happen at an Italian football match, but I still wanted to go. Plus, I had been to Fiorentina games at night and everything had been fine.

We spent the day as many tourists do in the Eternal City: we went and saw the forum and the Coliseum. At night we went back to our hotel room near the Spanish Steps to relax before the game. We watched some TV, and although we do not speak Italian, it was obvious to my wife and I that things had gone very wrong in the Italian football world that day. There was a protest and violence in Milan, and a game had to be stopped at Atalanta because ultras were destroying the stadium. I suspected the Roma game might be canceled, but we were not sure. The hotel concierge did no know anything, so we decided to take a train ride up to Olympic Stadium to check things out. It was a foolish decision to bring my wife, but she knew I really wanted to go to the game and she didn’t want me to go alone. Plus, we hoped everything would be fine. It was, as I said, a foolish mistake.

Of course, I now know things I did not know at the time. On the morning of the game, the Italian police accidentally killed a young man who was traveling on the way to a different football game. The Italian ultras decided that all football matches should be cancelled that day to mark the young man’s death. When a policeman was killed last January in football riots the games were postponed for weeks; now the Ultras saw it as disrespect that the games were still to be played. So they marched in Milan and tore up the stadium in Atalanta. And the Lazio and Roma Ultras decided to team up to wreck havoc in Rome.

We got on a tram around 6:45 to get to the stadium. We turned a corner when we were about a mile from the stadium and witnessed chaos. We saw about 100 young men, almost all disguised (many wrapped their soccer scarves around their face) fight toe-to-toe with around 50-75 uniformed police officers. And all of them were really going at it: clubs flying, punches and kicks being thrown, flares being thrown, all of that kind of stuff. We saw the police batter the ultras and force them into an alley; we saw fans smashing windows and turning over dumpsters. We saw a bus that later, on TV, we would recognize as it burned to the ground.

Remarkably, the tram we were riding on then dropped us off in the middle of this warzone. We had to get in a train that was in the front of the line to get out of there. I was terrified that my wife would be hurt, so we sprinted across the park and boarded a train that, sadly, contained a number of not-so-scared people. They had simply become used to the ridiculous levels of violence and knew that if they kept their heads down and stayed out of the way of the police and the Ultras, they should be okay. They shared none of our fear and outrage.

Twenty minutes later, we were back at the Spanish steps, sitting among children eating ice cream and wondering if we had just imagined the riot scene we had walked through. In our room we watched hours of television coverage of the riots. Eventually the ultras attacked and attempted to destroy a police station, broke into and damaged the headquarters of Italian football, and generally destroyed a bunch of property of innocent people.

My wife and I were unhurt, and spent the rest of our vacation at museums and restaurants and other places where there was no violence.

After last season’s riots, I wrote an impassion plea to clean up Italian football. (See my column from February 4). Now, I don’t know what to say. The chaos, violence and hate I saw at the riot were a symbol of the very deep-seeded and real problems of Italian society. I may love the country, and its people, and its football, but Italy is also a country full of profoundly angry young people. Many have chosen to use football as a means to express that anger, a shame doubly both because of the violence and also because the great sport of football has nothing to do with it.

Last winter I wrote that if Italian football did not clean up its act, it would become a joke. It is now another step closer to becoming that punchline, and it becomes harder and harder for me to defend the game. As a reasonable man, I most certainly can never take my wife to a Series A game ever again. As I reasonably sane man, I wonder how long it is before I cannot even allow myself to go again.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Weekend Matches: Nov 2-3

Solid weekend of football coming up, with two very obvious highlights. One, of course, is the Manchester United v. Arsenal game being featured bright and early on Saturday morning. Jonah Freedman of SI, in his bi-weekly football power rankings, has them listed as the two best teams in the world. We’ll see. Arsenal is clearly firing on all cylinders.

The other big matchup is Juve v. Inter in Milan on Sunday. I’m rooting for Inter if only because if my Fiorentina wins (who are playing on Saturday night) then they can slide into second place. Regardless, fun stuff coming from England, Spain, and Italy this weekend. Enjoy it.


8:30am Arsenal vs Manchester United Setanta Sports

11:00am Newcastle vs Portsmouth FSC

12:30pm Bayern Munich vs Eintracht Frankfurt GolTv

1:00pm Blackburn vs Liverpool FSC

3:30pm Milan vs Torino FSC

5:00pm Sevilla vs Real Madrid GolTv

7:30pm New England Revolution vs New York Red Bulls FSC

10:00pm Lazio vs Fiorentina FSC


9:00am Empoli vs Roma FSC

1:00pm Barcelona vs Betis GolTv

2:30pm Juventus vs Inter FSC