"In professional wrestling, a heel (also known as a rudo in lucha libre) is a wrestler who is villainous or a "bad guy", who is booked (scripted) by the promotion to be in the position of being an antagonist."
Soccer is weird. At least, it's weird according to The Soccer Heel. How so, you ask? Well, you'll have to read what the Heel has to say to find out. He's holding nothing back. The game, it's fans and even players are in his cross-hairs today. Check it out!
Let me start off by saying that by the end of this article you may figure out who I am or you may not, but know this, these words are the truth. These words are my own. These words need to be shared to make the game better.
So why is soccer weird? Well the simple answer is because we let it be weird. By the time I end this rant of sorts we will understand three things, 1) Players are weird, 2) Fans are weird, 3) Teams are weird. The game itself on the field you cannot argue gets weird sometimes. The wind blows the wrong direction and changes the direction of a shot, a keeper changes his mind mid distribution and throws the ball in his own goal , a fan runs on the field to take a selfie with a player which is a thing now I guess. All of these things are odd, and some may argue what makes the game great, but it is the makeup of the game now-a-days that I truly want to explore.
OK, let’s dive in!
Players are weird
I was once asked by a player who was 24 or 25 years old playing non-league ball, “What do you think I can do to get better and make it to the next level?” My first reaction was to tell him to meet a crazy scientist in a parking lot late at night who built a time machine, hop in that time machine when the Libyans come to get there plutonium back, go back to 1985 and pay attention to the passing, trapping, dribbling and really just any soccer drill he was doing then…Because bro, I got news for you, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL. That a player at 25 thinks there is something that he or she can change to all-of-a-sudden become a pro soccer player is weird. Sure, players develop late, recover from an injury and are a new man/woman on the pitch, but those are like the .00005%. For the rest of us, if we have not made it by that age, we have to understand it is never going to be a thing.
But here is the kicker.
This player exists EVERYWHERE!. That to me is so weird. Why is this? Who gave these people this sense of hope? Was it that asshole who said you can be an expert after 1,000 hours of doing something? Because I got news for that guy, he is full of shit. Maybe add another two zeros and then we are getting a bit closer to reality. I know what you are probably thinking, who does this guy think he is and what are his qualifications? I have been around the block. I have played at and coached at a high level for over 25 years and I am a realist when it comes to the game.
If we want to get at the to the bottom of why these players have a false sense of hope we have to look at the roots of the game in our country. You have two pathways as a youth player:
Track 1) Be so good or have a parent that was so good that you’re put in a track of quality training at an early age.
Track 2) Have parents that don’t get it or you play just for fun and usually with that comes a volunteer coach that is equally as clueless as you are at that age.
With Track 1 you get the player that will likely either bottom out with talent at some level or another or become a pro… But regardless, they will be quality of some sort. With Track 2 you have a hell of a climb to make it in soccer, but you have a ton of fun running and kicking a ball around. So the true problem is the second track and most popular track for youth players. One where the emphasis is on equal playing time, they don’t keep score, they have funny names like the Cougars or Bears and everyone gets a trophy. The closest these players will come to a professional field is youth night when they walk out with a pro player onto the pitch. Look, there is nothing wrong with this track for youth players. In fact, the more people playing the game the better. It is when Track 2 players are told they are good, they get the false sense of the game when they dominate players that are not great or they watch soccer on TV and think they can do what those guys/gals do.
It is vital there are options for players to play the game because having one track is not fair. But we must be honest to youth players. We need to fully support the players who are destined for greatness, late bloomers and the casual players. However, the reality is we need to stop with the awarding of participant trophies. We need to build core skills and elevate those that achieve mastery at every level. We need to encourage improvisation and self-growth, get kids to just go out in their yard and try shit.
So to any of you out there currently in either track or a product of either track, the sooner you realize where you currently stand in the game the better.
Fans Are Weird
When it comes to fans of soccer, when you boil them down to the core, the word tribal comes to mind. Back in the day, and still somewhat true today, fandom went as such:
This fandom was simple to the bone and like I said still has legs today. You, as a fan, go all in on YOUR team. You by the gear, you buy season tickets, you watch the matches on TV, you have their back and you protect them against your rival fans when pitted head-to-head. In the 80’s there was a physical element that was layered on top of the fandom making it truly tribal and that was the hooligan culture. Literally, you beat the shit out of another tribe member that challenged you, and in some cases you got the shit beat out of for sticking up for your tribe. But at the end of the day you felt part of something and you stuck up for it.
So why are fans nowadays any weirder? Well, like most things in life, technology has entered the fray. Although I am glad that I can go to support my tribe and no longer fear that I will have to raise my hands and physically fight for them, there is a new fight to be had—one from behind a keyboard. This is the age of who I like to call the “Keyboard Hooligan (KH)”. This fan has endless outlets online to attack rival tribes with the perceived safety of doing so behind the guise of semi-anonymity. In this, the KH can now more than ever be as ruthless and as pointed as the hooligan of the 80’s were without the black eye or split lip. This hooligan may have never played the game, but they sure as hell talk like they have. They read everything they can so they feel as if they understand the game just as much as those who have played it their entire lives and I find that weird. I joke with my friends when I say something about soccer and I am then lambasted online by some boner who falls into the KH category. I say that I want to meet this person, give them a ball and ask them to knock a pass with both feet. IF they can do that with success, I will accept their take on my comments as warranted and they have instant credibility. But I have yet to have anyone take me up on that offer.
Let me give you one last example why I find these KH’s to be weird. Recently there was an argument connected to lower, non-league soccer in the midwest between rival tribes. Team A is team that is well known, with the backing of a great brand, a vocal supporters tribe and people within the organization that know soccer. They have looked at their league and built a team that is, on paper, the best in the division, and in my eyes causing others to be jealous of what they have. Team B has a slightly smaller fanbase, is trying to build a brand, trying to sign players to compete in the league and trying to create their own identity. All of which I think is awesome.
So what’s the conflict? Team B’s fans have directly attacked Team A for signing a former professional player, a guy who chose to live a life in a city he loves rather than move his family from town to town chasing the continued dream of being a full-time pro. Team A has given this man an outlet to play at a competitive level even if it is on a shadow of the stage he use to compete on, but nonetheless it is a place for him to not only continue to play and have a life but also a place for him to pass along his knowledge and experience to younger players. This is a good thing right? Can’t fault a guy for wanting to keep playing the game he loves. But Team B’s Keyboard Hooligans attacked that player directly (and his new organization). They attacked a man just trying to keep playing the beautiful game as long as his legs would allow for “tainting” lower level development soccer. What?
As a person who has played at a high level and dropped down over the years this angered me. In the true sense of development this player is actually providing younger “developmental” players with something that coaches cannot: experience. These players now get to learn how things are done at a higher level and see what it takes to get there. This is invaluable and I commend the organization for aligning themselves with a guy willing to do so.
At the end of the day the point of competitive soccer is TO WIN SOCCER GAMES! If that means signing a player that is really good regardless of age or the fact he has played over 150 pro games, you build your roster to win games. And here is the kicker, the thing that closes the loop on this topic and hammers home how weird fans of the game are today. The Team B Keyboard Hooligan who spearheaded this attack that snowballed into pages upon pages of Twitter chatter is, in fact, a season ticket holder and member of Team A! Yes, you read that correctly, this person pays to support the team he himself was attacking. THAT IS SO WEIRD!!
Teams/Organizations Are Weird
At the non-league level there are many characters of different ideologies and that is why it is great to follow. In all their unique glory there is a massive level of weirdness, and it’s not that they’re weird people: it is weird how they conduct business. Teams need to create an identity to stand out, especially in a crowded, competitive marketplace. It is hard to gain share. It is hard (but not impossible) to make money. Successful teams like Detroit City FC have broken through by being unique and damned if they haven’t blown many out of the water. Hats off to them. But it is when others look at their success and try to copy the model. That is where I have a issues.
Especially these days, everything is derivative. Businesses have always borrowed from each other, have emulated others’ successes and I get that. But the downside is, without uniqueness or a particular point of view, copying a model can get you into trouble. Now in this game you find that fans want you to win games, yes, but from an organizational standpoint if you do not take ownership of your point of view or put your own spin on one that is already established, your brand starts to fracture. And at that fracture the educated fan will see through the bullshit. A free XXXL t-shirt shot out of a cannon and BOGO ticket offers only goes so far to the educated fan. It may resonate with the uneducated fan for ten lifetimes but in the end who really wants to align themselves from a tribal standpoint with a faker, a copycat, a poser? In breaking the mold and building something that can be called their own by fans, teams like Detroit continue to offer up what this game needs more than ever if we want it to grow. Teams that act like a herd of cattle only hold back this growth and that to me is weird. We should encourage and demand uniqueness if we love this sport, not embrace lameness.
Which brings me to my final point on this topic. Pro sports are lame. They are lame on social media, they are lame live, and in some aspects they are lame in the product they put on the playing surface. Pro teams do not have the luxury that amatuer teams have to do whatever they want because they have less of an organizational or league structure to follow.
Take the MLS for example. How many of us have heard or read stories about MLS teams suffocating the voice of their “official” supporters groups on game day? I am not talking about them publicly speaking out against Punto or YSAH chants at games, but telling them where they have to sit, what banners they can or cannot hang and not allowing them to speak out against the parent club. That is lame! At the end of the day, these leagues and owners need those fans to buy shit, be it tickets or merchandise. I fully understand that this isn’t the wild west where anything goes and nor should it be, but it is weird to me when logic is tossed out the window when it comes to the professional level of sports organizations to allow their fans to support them in whatever way they want under the umbrella of appropriateness. If pro sports continues to suffocate the fans or follows a watered-down how-to-be-successful guide, the fans will no longer attend.
So how can we all be less weird. Or, more accurately, the right kind of weird?
If you are a player, seek out every opportunity you have to be great. Practice, improvise, master your craft, but do so with realism. Listen to instruction, embrace it, want it, expect it, and if you find yourself falling behind those that are better, it is ok to open your eyes and realize it!
If you are a fan, support the game. Grow the game. Do everything you can to make it better. Do not hide behind a keyboard and make outlandish remarks to others, be positive and creative in your support. Do not hate for hate’s sake. Make each other better by educating those that are not fortunate enough to have your passion. Be excellent to each other.
If you are an organization, be real. Have an opinion. Try new shit, don’t be a lemming. And while you are at it, understand the needs of your fans and be willing to work with them to give them what they want (within reason). Just because you built, it does not mean they will come.
Soccer is a gift, people. Treat it like one!