A Tale of Two Cities

A few days earlier than what continues to be the marquee fixture of the English season, Liverpool’s in-house tv community confirmed a documentary known as “Us and Them.” It is supposed as no criticism of the channel in query — LFCTV — and its equivalents at golf equipment throughout Europe that it felt like one thing of a departure.

Like membership web sites, team-specific channels know their market. They will not be involved with making an attempt to win over informal, channel-surfing viewers (not that anyone channel surfs anymore). They will not be competing with HBO or the BBC or different mainstream networks. They should not have to offer stability, or mass enchantment, or selection. They cater to a selected — some would possibly say captive — viewers: not simply followers, however devoted, hard-core followers of the membership.

That is why some of the output of these channels can really feel, at occasions, if not like propaganda, then a minimum of state-approved programming. When viewers name in to Manchester United’s channel, for instance, and find yourself criticizing the Glazer household, which owns the group, you’ll be able to sense a small thrill of mutiny. Some don’t even acknowledge the existence of defeat: After one heavy loss in opposition to Barcelona a number of years in the past, Real Madrid’s tv station didn’t even air a replay of the sport. It confirmed a movie as an alternative.

In the week earlier than Liverpool’s Sunday go to to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, then, you may need anticipated LFCTV’s schedule to characteristic packages recounting well-known victories, operating by means of cherished objectives, reliving dramatic moments. You wouldn’t, essentially, have anticipated it to point out a documentary that highlighted how related Liverpool and Manchester United are as groups, and the way related Liverpool and Manchester are as cities.

Too usually, I believe, this facet to rivalry is ignored. As somebody from the surface who has labored in each Liverpool and Manchester (and lives within the latter), it has all the time struck me how a lot the 2 locations have in frequent.

Both would possibly lay declare to the standing of England’s cultural second metropolis, for the richness and vibrancy of their musical and inventive heritage. Both have a historical past of social radicalism: Manchester is the suffragette city, home of the Chartists and Peterloo; socialism is woven into Liverpool’s political fabric. Both have led the way in urban regeneration, transforming landscapes of postindustrial decline into something bright and modern and creative.

Then there are the people: both are friendly, welcoming, approachable, in a way that is not often attributed to the English in general or those from the north of the country in particular. And, of course, there is soccer: As the documentary pointed out, Liverpool (and Everton) and Manchester United (and Manchester City), between them, account for about 50 years of almost unbroken dominance since the 1960s. The Mersey — which runs through Manchester, too — carries with it the bulk of English soccer’s history.

That is not to say, of course, that rivalry between the two is misplaced, or that Old Trafford on Sunday should be a stage of mutual appreciation.

Quite the opposite, in fact. This week, The New York Times published the results of a study on the nature of sporting rivalries in the United States. Even for someone not necessarily familiar with all of the teams — who, or what, is “Bowling Green?” — the idea behind it is fascinating.

It found that what constitutes a great rivalry is not necessarily just proximity: If the two teams are horribly mismatched, the ferocity diminishes. (The quotation “a hammer does not see a nail as its rival” has now become my life’s motto.) The mixture is more complex. There has to be some competitive balance, a sense of equals meeting, and there has to be a degree of familiarity, too. What separates a rival from a competitor, according to B. David Tyler, one of the professors who compiled the study, is that “we do not perceive a threat from someone not so similar to us.”

And yet that aspect of rivalry is too often overlooked. Some of soccer’s great derbies are rooted in some difference of identity: Celtic and Rangers in Glasgow, say, or Real Madrid and Barcelona, or even Boca Juniors and River Plate. But many more are based on something that can, in its own way, be just as pernicious, can produce just as much hostility: similarity.

It does not diminish the rivalry to say so; indeed, as Tyler and his colleague found, it may help to explain it. Manchester United and Liverpool have far more in common than either fan base might like to admit. But it is because they see so much of themselves in each other that this — for all United’s current travails, or Liverpool’s troubles in the not-so-distant past — remains English soccer’s biggest game, its red-letter day.

It may come as a bit of a solace to readers in the United States that the men’s national team’s defeat to Canada — Canada! — did not particularly register in Europe. Everyone here was too busy trying to work out how, precisely, anyone can fail to qualify for next summer’s European Championships to pay much attention to goings on elsewhere.

I am not necessarily qualified to hold forth on the problems of the United States national team, but I am an avowed believer in the doctrine put forward by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski in their (now quite old) book “Soccernomics”: in essence, soccer is a network, with its center now placed firmly in western Europe (previously, South America provided balance). The closer you are to that network, the better your connections, the more likely you are to have success.

One of the problems the United States — to my European eyes, at least — has is that it remains liminal to that. Jesse Marsch is the only American coach ever to have taken charge of a Champions League game. There are a handful of top American players in the Bundesliga, and a couple in the Premier League, but few elsewhere. Are ideas percolating through? Is the United States at the cutting edge of the men’s game? (The dynamics of the women’s game are very different, and more favorable.)

Source link Nytimes.com

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