Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Showdown in Chinatown, Pt. 2: The Red/Green Carpet

I'm not cut out for journalism. I'd love to say that I could do it, but after our experiences Wednesday, I'd say that I simply don't have the tenacity for it. Hours of standing around under any kind of weather, fenced in like farmyard animals, clutching the dictaphone for dear life and waiting in agony for your interview subjects to turn up.

I also suspect I'd fail at a newspaper because I'm filing a report from last Wednesday night today, instead of adhering to the regular standards of filing something three hours after it happened, or four hours later, or some other insanely tight schedule.

So when we left off, we'd moved ourselves across from pitchside to standing outside a SoHo storefront, with no dinner and only a couple of beers in our bellies. The press pass got us into their glamorous iron gate enclosure just after 8pm, and then the waiting began. Oh, the wait.

Spectator and I dug in amid the real journalists, waiting for things to happen. Standing in such company wasn't so painful, considering the various ESPN Soccernet writers and fellow soccer bloggers we met with whom to debate transfer rumors and wax lyrical about Euro '08.

That part was fantastic, and it helped the concept of time fade into the background as various PR coordinators kept giving us the equivalent of the Seinfeld episode in the Chinese restaurant: the phrase "5 more minutes" echoed in my ears as dusk turned to night, and as youthful exuberance turned to impatience and irritation.

I digress: the conversations made it worth it. Considering that we were all in the same boat, it was hard to remain bitter as this was just par for the course. For these guys, they were used to it day in and day out, whereas we were merely imitators for the day, starstruck idiots with paper and pen looking to get our first taste of athlete/average joe interaction. Discussing the truth behind a whole raft of transfer rumours definitely kept the fatigue at bay, thanks to some well-connected folks with good information being whispered in their ears.

Were we surprised at the long wait? Of course not. They'd just played 90 minutes of fast-paced soccer in the strong early evening sun. Should they not be allowed an hour or two to sit in an ice-cold shower and relax?

And so the night wore on, and eventually, people did arrive.

We felt bad for Bradley and Sunil Gulati, who turned up promptly at 9.15 or so and walked unhindered down three city blocks to the event before calmly strolling through to minimal flashbulbs or chorus.

However, there are few people who'd pick Brian Barwick out of a lineup, so it's not so terrible. Gulati was polite and cordial, hamming it up with the AP reporter and a couple of other journos before quietly entering the charity event a few minutes later. 90 minutes in, and we've seen exactly one person.

However, much to our relief, it was not long until everyone started filing in. The Liverpool lads weren't much in the mood for questions, soured by a reporter at the front of the line who pulled Fowler aside for a quote and then promptly asked: "Who are you, and what do you do?"

That was enough meet the press for GOD for Macca, who darted inside fairly quickly after that. A shame, as I was finally working up enough gumption to actually ask a question.

(Sidenote: I was told that you can't have any shame when you're a reporter. I've lost most of mine, but I'm still working on shedding the rest.)

Claudio was first to arrive of the night's main stars, and by that point, I'd drank enough complimentary glasses of Vitamin Water to ask a few questions.

The main point on my mind was his thoughts about the state of soccer in the US. Events like his are fantastic, but will they help soccer gain a more solid ground in the American mainstream?

"I don't think there's just one thing that can help boost the status of soccer in the US, it's going to take a big movement. These days, soccer fans get it all over here, they get the EPL, they get Serie A, La Liga on satellite, and it's tough for MLS to compete. We have to keep pushing, and the quality of the league is always improving." I asked him about the impact of having basketball superstars and soccer superstars combining for such an event, and he framed the follow-up simply: "If soccer has a cool image, kids will play."

Spectator and I thought on this for a while, as soccer and basketball aren't that far apart. They're games for the people, played on dirt strips and dusty parking lots around the world. They give people hope and a way out of their struggles, and the best players in each sport often appear from the most unlikely places, fulfilling the grand Disney-esque storyline of diamonds in the rough coming from outside the game to transform it at its very core.

More events like this would definitely help the comparison!

The most telling part of his press line procession were his remarks about the Red Bulls giving him the all-clear to participate in the event despite his recovery from injury, and that they were fully aware of what was going on. He even quipped about having injections in his back recently, and this news didn't go over too well around the blogosphere. The Red Bulls fans are somewhat justified in their anger, but honestly, it's a charity event. Is this really grounds for condemnation and vitriol?

Nash was next in, and he was too coy for soundbites, preferring to keep his investment plans for the MLS and the new Women's Professional Soccer League under wraps. Well, that and my ability to write at the speed of sound was decidedly less than impressive.

After those two, we began the wait for Thierry Henry, the last person of interest for the bulk of those reporters still standing.

By this point, it was close to 11pm, and we'd received word that Titi was not far away from the press line. Baron Davis did roll in shortly before, and I had to ask him about the yellow card he got for handball: "It's how I play, man! Rough and tough!"

Hilarious guy, although he didn't have an on-the-record comment when I asked if he thought the ref was more biased than some in the NBA. Just a laugh, a smile, a few pictures of his own, and off into the event.

Finally, Titi rolled in. It wasn't as pronounced as the rest; he left his black SUV car service well up the street, and strolled down casually, uninterrupted. He was relaxed and calm and looked happy to be there, with the event as much of a novelty for him as it was for the masses who'd lined the park some hours before to witness the action.

No entourage, no hangers-on, no protectorate guarding his every movement. Just a footballing legend in a Reebok t-shirt and jeans walking down the street.

Just to our right, a guy who looked like a young Steve Nicol (as Ives Galarcep had quipped earlier, much to our amusement) had been waiting just as long for a chance to see Thierry up close, and he got what he came for: a handshake, a greeting, and a chance to hear him speak.

We did too; the NY Times reporter, a big jolly man in a grey suit, hogged the attention, mispronouncing Barca and breaking my heart just a little bit. The MSM did have a presence, albeit not a very inspiring one.

The subject of MLS popped up, and he was reflective, almost coy in his response: "Why not? I love America. I love it here. And whenever I come here, I feel free. Hopefully, one day. You never know what's going to happen. But at the moment, I'm still over there."

While a lot of outlets took that as a sign of his imminent arrival, I read it the other way. He feels free here; why would he destroy that for a few dollars more in his pocket and a PR campaign that would surely see him and Beckham standing side-by-side in their crisp, clean Galaxy shirts, visions of spellbinding brilliance and the brand name partnership that ESPN has been craving for years?

Moving to play here would ruin that completely. He mentioned Los Angeles and Miami as other places he loves to go, but playing MLS would definitely dent into that freedom. In the US, he can walk around anonymous for the most part, except for the odd well-wisher here and there, but with the grinding gears of corporate synergy and promotion just looking for the next Beckham to sink their energy into, America would become just another place around the world where he has to hire bodyguards.

I'm highly skeptical of him coming here, but then again, I've made a blogging career out of being categorically wrong on things in the past.

All in all, we left after 3+ hours in the pen, one of the last to depart. It was a wonderful experience despite the agonizing waits, but then again, we must suffer to get what we want. Oh, and I did get to meet Thierry Henry. As much as I begrudge the bastard for so many wonderful goals against Liverpool and in the EPL at large, it was still a pleasure.

Yeah, and another reason I could never be a journalist: I can't find a neat way to wrap up this already-too-long post, so this will have to do.


The NY Kid said...

Steve Nash needs a sandwich.

And until I meet Titi myself, I will hate you both with the fire of a thousand suns.

King Garry I Of Swandanavia said...

Given the current transfer speculation surrounding everything that is Liverpool at the minute, I thought I'd chuck in my two pence.

Robbie Keane(Tottenham) wants to go to 'Pool, Gareth Barry(Villa) wants to play for Liverpool. Peter Crouch(Liverpool) is wanted at Portsmouth, but Liverpool want to use him as a bargaining chip in an attempt to get Robbie Keane.

Jaunde Ramos(Spurs coach) wont like the fact that Keane has said he wants away, and the Villa fans wont exactly endear themselves to Barry after he has also came out saying he is "desperate" to play in Anfield red.

I dont think all this is fair on Crouch. If Liverpool sell him to Spurs, he'll be 4th in the order of forwards. If he is sold, Liverpool can buy Gareth Barry to partner Stevie Gerrard in midfield, but then what happens to Alonso?

I'll grant you that Portsmouth is easily Crouch's best option for regular first team football, but that would involve probably being knocked out of the UEFA cup early doors because Pompey dont have the depth of squad required to beat of the likes of Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayern Munich and the other former European giants.

If Crouch stays put, and Liverpool get Keane for the cash they've been asked for, he'll be shoved further down and already bursting group of forwards at Liverpool.

Probably the only person to benefit out of this is likely to be Gerrard, because for the first time in 4 years, he hasnt been the subject of a "will he go to Chelsea" article.

Especially now that Big Phil Scolari is in at the Bridge. He tends to buy players of a Latino descent, and has already drafted in Deco from Barcalona.

Only time will tell if Ronaldo does eventually go to Madrid or not.

The British media does this every single year without fail and refuses to let go.

Keith said...

MAN, garry! Keep this in the proper thread!

. . .Actually, Xabi Alonso is off to Juve. Add that to the fact that Rafa is likely to play Barry on the left, with Gerrard and Mascherano partnering in central mid.

And Crouch would likely be first choice at Spurs, with Bent attracting interest from Villa (god help us) and Blackburn, and Berbatov attracting bids from Man U. Plus Keano to Pool in the swap.

Got it?

Spectator said...

Here's the full set of the photos from the day. LB seems to have stretched out the pics a bit, so I assure you that in real life Steve Nash does not really need a sandwich. I will admit, however, that I swooned a bit when I was a few feet away from Titi.