Thursday, July 28, 2005

More Than a Game: Michael Shields is Innocent...

Sprawled across the living room sofa, the Missus asleep upstairs, Pebbles the dog on restless evening patrol, I watched the Chicago Fire give a more than credible performance in the so-called World Series of Football last night. But while there should have been shouts of pride and awe from my lips as the Fire set about their Euro-opponents, I instead watched the match with the taste of ashes in my mouth.

The Fire played Milan last night.

A little more than two months ago, in the Champions League Final, so did Liverpool FC.

An 18 year-old young man from Liverpool, Michael Shields, was at the Ataturk Stadium to watch his club pull of the most remarkable comeback in the history of that competition. On his way back home, Shields and some friends stopped for a few days holiday in the Bulgarian resort of Golden Sands. Early in the morning before his return home, Sands was pulled from his hotel room, placed in a police lineup, then imprisoned, initially without being charged with a crime.

A Bulgarian waiter had been attacked with a paving stone by, according to the Liverpool Echo, “a British person with fair hair and of large stature.”

On the strength of eyewitness testimony from several Bulgarians that he tallied with such a vague, general description, and little else, Shields was charged with attempted murder.

Never mind that the young man had been asleep in his hotel room when the waiter was set upon by a fair-haired British man with a paving stone, forget that his friends could place him at the hotel at the time of that attack, and most crucially, disregard the fact that another man from Liverpool confessed to the attack on the waiter after hearing of young Shields’s plight.

Bulgarian justice had to be served, the confession about the attack by one Graham Sankey was not accepted as evidence, and two days ago, Michael Shields was found guilty of an attack he did not commit and sentenced to fifteen years in a Bulgarian prison, along with a victim’s compensation bill for £71,000.

Pretty steep price to pay for a crime you did not commit...

18 years old, on a trip to watch your team play the biggest match in your lifetime, a thrilling, spell-binding, magical comeback against the side that Phil Schoen referred to as the “Best Team in the World” roughly every five minutes during last night’s broadcast, a short stop for a vacation on the way home...

lose fifteen years of your life because a perverse conception of justice must be served.

You’ll pardon me if I have a relatively low opinion of the course of Bulgarian justice.

Now Mr. Sankey’s lawyer is calling for the release of Shields before any decisions are made about his client, who has stated his refusal to be deported to Bulgaria to face trial, instead preferring to face a British court.

How comforting that must appear for young Shields, imprisoned for a crime he did not commit in a foreign country while the self-confessed attacker negotiates a trial that suits him and his legal representation.

The lawyers in both Bulgaria and Britain are involved, and the politicians have gotten involved as well, guaranteeing that the process will become even slower and more complicated while Shields sits shivering in his cell, an innocent man condemned by the corruption of Bulgarian justice and the cowardice of a British man and his lawyer.
I took a look around the living room last night at 11:00, after watching the Fire play so well, so far above themselves against Milan, against many of the same players that Liverpool had faced that triumphant night in Istanbul.

Pebbles was perched on the back of the green easy chair, on silent sentry duty, waiting for my stepson Dylan to come home.

Dylan is with his father this week. He won’t be coming home until the weekend.

I watched my wife’s dog stare at the front door through which she hoped to see one of owners walk and wondered what it must be like to be seated in a home in Wavertree, waiting for fifteen years for your son to come home.

The unbridled joy and passion from the Section 8 supporters in Soldier Field last night matched the emotions of the Liverpool support as their side won the Champions League title last May. MLS in general and the Fire in particular did themselves proud against Milan, and the hopes must be that the same will happen this evening when DC United play Chelsea.

Spare a thought for young Michael Shields amid the glory of a fine night for American soccer.

What happened to him is not a pathetic plot for a tired, B-movie screenplay.

Michael Shields went to watch his team play.

He ended up in jail.

Michael Shields is innocent...

Although he might find the experience of receiving letters from American soccer supporters to be a strange one, I imagine that any sort of comfort and human contact in Michael’s present condition would be welcomed.

If the spirit moves you, please take a few moments to write him a letter, at his parents address.

Michael Shields Jr
11 Towerlands Street
Liverpool
L7 8TT

An online petition in support of Shields and with links to more information about him and the travesty of justice in Bulgaria can be found at the website Red and White Kop at this link:
Michael Shields Innocent: Jailed for 15 years

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Home Grown Players?

The debate over importing new players from abroad or relying on players developed in lower divisions extends across the pond in the same way it rages among British supporters of Premier League clubs.

Wilson. John Wilson covers the rise of John Wilson, a player who has plied his trade for almost ten years in the USL, the American Championship-equivalent, and seized his chance after being signed to MLS Cup champion DC United. With the same tedious rumours about Beckham Coming To America after leaving Madrid making the rounds yet again, there are those, and I am one of them, beginning to question the league's insistence on the signing of "star players" from abroad as the ways and means to a bright future for the league...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Research Required for Racism Accusations...

With racism a current hot topic, Steven Wells decided, on the back of non-existent research, to cast the racism stone in the direction of US Soccer.

Sadly, the article highlights more Wells banal, forced conclusion that racism inhibits the development of US Soccer than presents evidence of actual racial bias. That the American suburbs and inner cities are divided along racial lines is not under contention. But Wells point that the supposed absence of African-American players from soccer reflects racism on the part of suburban soccer leagues is a ridiculous one, written from the perspective of a British author where football is the top sport.

In the States, football is still a relatively small sport, and not unpopular among inner-city youths because of racism but rather because of culture. And the sport is growing in popularity among African-Americans, a point neatly glossed-over by Wells in his attempt to cry "racism!"

He cites as two primary examples of racism in American soccer the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, two American cities with a history of racial divide and difficulties, sort of like using the 2003 race riots in Oldham as an example representing all of Britain.

And Eddie Johnson, a young African-American player from a tough social background in Florida, is not mentioned at all, nor is the fact that six players on the World Cup 2002 roster were African-American. This team, which made the quarterfinals, with all six African-American players seeing significant playing time, surely shows that the sport is becoming more popular among African-Americans, not less. There is still a long way to go, and the sport itself is organized very much along suburban, white middle-class lines, but Wells conclusion that:

"In the 19th century America's white suburban cricketers strove mightily to avoid any contact with Negroes, Germans and (shudder) the Irish. As a result the sport all but died and baseball inherited the earth.

Amazingly, in the first decade of the 21st century, US soccer might be making the exact same mistake." is a stupendously inaccurate reflection of the reality in American soccer; if anything, the sport is among the most integrated of athletic competitions on the American landscape, with significant participation from the burgeoning Latino population, never mentioned by Wells because it apparently did not suit his conclusion.

There is much work to be done in furthering the integration of American soccer, for African-Americans, Latinos, and other immigrant populations on the American soccer landscape. But concluding that the sport is doomed because the youth soccer community actively works against the participation of African-Americans is shameful, controversy-mongering pap better left for tabloid newspapers rather than ostensible quality papers...

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Too Late to Fear Ownership Conflicts...

Perhaps as a method for covering Lennart Johansson's attempt to seize the Sexist Bigot Throne from Sepp Blatter, UEFA have come out with a series of statements of concern over owners of clubs having stakes in clubs in different countries.

Do you think?

Why should UEFA be concerned that Roman Abramovich has a stake in CSKA Moscow as well as Chelsea? Other than the purchase of Jiri Jarosik? And the funneling of players to CSKA as a sort of stop-over on their way to Stamford Bridge?

No idea at all...

The behavioural naughty-naughty laws are hilarious also.

Players and club officials have such a huge exposure. We will ask the coaches to to help us make their colleagues and players behave better.

Never mind the head honcho going international and making comments like: Companies could make use of a sweaty, lovely-looking girl playing on the ground. It would sell.

That's all right, then.

A Good Book...

Golden Past Red Future, written by Paul Tomkins and Jon Swain, chronicles the past season for Liverpool culminating in the surreal Champions League Final win in Istanbul. The book is a mixture of examination of the immediate past under Gerard Houllier and how the new manager Rafael Benitez faces challenges determined in part by the club's glorious history under past managerial giants. Lively writing, a perspective based on reason and analysis rather than blind faith and passion, Tomkins and Swain use sharp writing and a willingness to question as the basis for penning an entertaining and interesting read.

Wrote a review for Squarefootball, I recommend it both for Liverpool supporters and for those who like to read good writing about good football. The book is available online from Amazon.co.uk, sales have been halted from the author's personal website for a brief period because Paul and Jon are unable to keep up with the demand. Consider that another recommendation...

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Criticism of Mourinho's Tactics, please...

In the aftermath of Liverpool's defeat of Chelsea in the Champion's League, post-match reporting has focused on the usual suspects: incompetent officiating vis-a-vis Garcia's goal crossing the line or not, Liverpool's negative tactics, the "best team" doesn't always win, etc.

Wrote an article for Squarefootball dealing with some of these topics, but am still waiting, not in any anticipation of actually seeing much, for some of the broadsheet or tabloid papers to actually criticise Mourinho for his tactics and man-management, rather than his petuant behaviour after the match, which was entirely and tiresomely predictable.

Quite simply, no goals in 180 minutes of football isn't a ringing endorsement of Mourinho's tactical approach, which consisted mainly of lumping the ball forward for Didier Drogba, or defender Robert Huth.

And John Terry and Frank Lampard were clearly out of gas and ideas in the second half. Both players needed to be on the pitch, but with Chelsea so far in front in the Premier League, could not a bit of rest been found for both players? Surely there were sufficient funds available for transfers?

Mourinho's pompous posturing about not using squad rotation has been exploded, his players did not have their legs under them in what was Chelsea's most important match of the year. Rather than blaming the referee's assistant, perhaps Jose should look in the mirror for answers, and take a razor blade with him while he's at it...

Friday, April 29, 2005

De-Valued UEFA Cup...

Now, this Parma's reserves raise questions about UEFA Cup was an interesting, and for the most part, fair perspective on the decline of a tradition-laden competition.

The only thing Mr. Evans could have done better would have been to underline the primary reason why the UEFA Cup has become "de-valued," and the key is in that particular word itself.

The Champions League represents the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, while the UEFA Cup is the change jar on the kitchen counter...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Peter Wilt Fired by the Fire...

This is what happened

As far as can be determined by wading through the piles of corporate misspeak and spin-doctoring, Peter Wilt, Chicago Fire general manager, was fired to make way for John Guppy, brother of Steve Guppy, to take control of the Fire as it moves into its new stadium.

These are some of the opinions of a very aggrieved set of Chicago Fire supporters

Apparently, a protest with Fire supporters clad in black is planned for this Saturday's game against San Jose...

Yet another example of a sports franchise disregaring the interests of its customers in the quest for mythical piles of corporate money...