Leaders in their Field

Inter-Collegiate game
UB Bulls v Canisius Golden Griffins
Sunday, 24th August 2014, 12pm midday
UB Stadium, University at Buffalo
Entrance $free, Programme $none
Distance 3732 miles, Attendance 176
Being of moderate intelligence, there really shouldn’t be such an issue however to this mere mortal, the American education system is a minefield of confusing specifics.
There, I’ve come clean; I’ve said it. *queue supportive Oprah-style applause*
Somewhere in that murky void between stepping into a confessional both (not that I ever have), empathising at a self help group (not done that either), and opening up to Ricki Lake about one’s Trekkie obsession (doubtful but, maybe in a parallel universe, in a galaxy far far away…etc), there is a space for all of us to admit our short-comings. For me it’s the American education system.
It’s not the “lock downs” – a considerable nod towards the tenets of Orwell’s 1984 – created to keep the general public both scared and thus continually backing “the war effort” (whatever that actually means). Rehearsed as most countries would a fire drill, this rigmarole is as disturbing as the need to own guns at all but, lock downs aren’t what is to me bewildering; they’re just unnecessary and very wrong.
Baffling me most… Actually I have a top five so, counting down like Casey Kasem…
Number 5 – Stadia. With an equal mixture of awe and envy… My God they’re big.
140824 UB Bulls v Canisius Golden Griffins (119)bNumber 4 – Relegation and promotion. In American sport, there isn’t any.  Given this side of the pond would have you believe that, in this land of opportunity, anyone can rise to the top, its mystifying that for sports clubs such ideology doesn’t apply. Naturally I’m very impressed that their athletes generally get better standard of education – as universities are in effect feeder clubs for the big boys (and girls) – but the hope and opportunity found in our football pyramid still has much supporter appeal.
Number 3 – Titles. In America schooling there are unique linguistic novelties of more sophos than one can shake a stick, cropping up annually, at both High School and University. There freshmen do likewise though, for some unegalitarian idiosyncrasy freshwomen don’t seem to get a look in. At this juncture, normally I’d be curious as to what Germaine Greer might think however, the prospect of my American wife having any chance of getting me out of Lyle & Scott knitwear and into a letterman sweater, is of far greater amusement (to her at least).
Number 2 – Numbers. Whilst I’m of the opinion that sporting statistics do not improve performances – it’s truly doubtful stats could’ve made the participants in my school PE lessons any more skilful – they do I am told, inform the coaches of things they don’t see during the action. Does this mean Arsene Wenger will now actually “see” the penalty incidents? Of course not but, he will be able to make pretty graphs with the data. Joking aside Americans use stats better in sport than anyone; there’s probably even an argument to suggest such work may have fundamentally shaped some of their national pastimes. Extraordinary squad numbers aside, clearly Americans – my spousely country people (*doffs cap towards both lovely wife and equality*) – have sports that are perfect bedfellows for number-crunchers. At the end of the prom, baseball and graphical analysis would definitely be tucked away in some darkened corner. Football however – and I mean Soccer – just doesn’t carry it off so well. Yes Opta would recount a different tale however, in footy only two numbers really count. At the end of the ninety minutes, it matters not whether Alana Hansoneque has an 83.6% pass rate log-book coefficient (or whatever) if his/her team has conceded more goals than the opposition. Whilst the endeavour of producing stats is praiseworthy, it is largely irrelevant.
140824 UB Bulls v Canisius Golden Griffins (42)Number 1 – The sporting gender gap. Whilst their men folk have for over a century been distracted by “real sports” – baseball, basketball, hockey (ice) and, football (not soccer) – American ladies have sneaked in under the radar, to the very top, of the most beautiful of games. Whilst their men folk yelled hoo-ha into their huddles, the US’ women lifted World Cups to the skies. In an almost parallel direction to that of Britain’s footballing universe, America adopted another’s sport – in a “oh, the girls can play that” kind of way – and became a real force in women’s soccer/football (given that my daughter needs more sorting role-models, I truly envy them in this). The staggering part however is that, in a country with the resources and finances the size of Americas, the men’s team could probably have done the same. Instead they are just clutching to their ladies’ coattails (or whatever they should be wearing).
How the US women have achieved their two World Cups and four Olympic titles – whether through nature or nurture – I truly have no idea but, leaving for a holiday at the in-laws… seeing this phenomenon, live, was at the very top of my to-do list. Whether I would get to witness the deployment of revolutionary coaching and dietary techniques was anyone’s guess, the only guarantee was watching football (soccer).
Whilst I’ve never seen a single academic class in North East Buffalonia – actually I’ve never seen a buffalo in Buffalo either – as the daily home to one of said in-laws, the University at Buffalo seems a very reasonable font of all learning.
Secretly (from my wife at least) going through all the correct channels to attend and document a game at the very impressive UB Stadium, I bided my time; waiting for the right moment to raise my possible absence from the family schedule. You’ve all been there, studying the form, weighing up the pit falls, and then placing everything on black (or as it was, the potential chink in the distant relative visiting/hosting rota).
Though I’d not met him before, on the end of my planning tweets, a very amiable Louie Spina (Assistant Director for Athletic Communications – and though I didn’t know it at the time, bloody efficient match announcer, stat keeper and time keeper – at the University at Buffalo) kindly gave me the required freedoms and even graciously answered my almost endless questions on the day.

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Starting with a walk to the top of the southernmost stand – just imagine the moment before the big drop on the highest rollercoaster you’ve ever riddn– my camera and I strolled round the stadium, whilst the teams warmed up on the 3G pitch. Adding to what I saw as the confusion, the soccer pitch was painted with black lines on a green surface, atop and outside extensive gridiron markings. Thankfully the players had no such sight problems.

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Though the game was a little slower than the DC United match I’d witnessed a few days earlier, as the countdown clock ticked away, it was certainly no less entertaining. Before a relatively small crowd, both sides passed the ball almost effortlessly around the artificial surface and, tackled hard when necessary. Yes grass would’ve been far nicer but, when one’s location is prone to snow drifts higher than the average teenager, allowances must be made.
The earliest scoring  chance fell to the home side, as Katie Roberts headed wide, before her keeper Laura Dougall comfortably dealt with a tame Canisius cross. Moments later, Celina Carrero’s strong run and pass down the right found Roberts, and teed up Megan Giesen who rifled her effort just over the bar. It was looking promising…
Fifteen minutes in, Dougall brilliantly tipped over an even stronger Canisius run and dangerous cross. I should that the crosser of both their chances wore number 87, a number I still cannot find not listed on either team sheet. Still with rolling substitutions, keeping track of the eleven on the pitch wasn’t always straightforward. Back to the action; whilst the ever improving Carrero was getting more time on the ball – yet not always finding the right pass – you always had the feeling that eventually UB’s endeavours would prosper.
140824 UB Bulls v Canisius Golden Griffins (124)bTwenty five minutes in, Kassidy Kidd threw a superb dummy to set up Carrero who shot just wide of the post. Moments later, Roberts had a shot saved and Carrero put in the rebound. The goal brought a flurry of substitutions which levelled out the dominance again, without any major chances springing to light, and then suddenly Louie was enthusiastically back on the mic, “One minute remaining in the half.” Evidently startling some visiting defenders as much as it had me, Ashley Evans immediately found some space and cut the ball back for Rachel Cook whose effort was saved over the stanchion. With seconds before the final countdown – from ten to hooter – the resulting corner was headed against the bar, leaving perfectly placed Megan Abman to smash home the rebound and, we all dashed off for our half time oranges.
Interval over, as the main stand began to fill with the multitude of protégés of UB’s new athletics dept year, I wandered back from the food bar – that was serving far better refreshments than most English Championship clubs – and out on to the running track again. The officials emerged (offering me rubbish quips about their poses whilst photos were taken), the home team arrived next and from the stand opposite, the Green Griffins came down the steps (a training technique garnered from The Dammed United, I’ll wager).
Clearly reinvigorated by the rest, Canisius immediately forced Dougall to tip a free kick over, and followed that effort  up with a string of corners. Minutes later Dougall was again forced into a double save before Carrero broke at speed. The ensuing cross and shot drew a stunning block from visiting Callie Good.
140824 UB Bulls v Canisius Golden Griffins (116)bWith the end-to-end action about to fill the final half an hour – drawing a huge smirk from me at least – UB’s Angel Hart’s thumped clearance cannoned off an opponent and hit the linesman. Roberts’ shot was also deflected wide for a corner, which the petite and very underrated Julia Benati  quickly took short for Sophie Therien to fire wide. Still not beaten Canisius hit the crossbar as coach UB Shawn Burke yelled from the sidelines “KEEP YOUR SHAPE… YOU’RE JUST RUNNING”. Benati missed an opening, rock-like centre back Jackie Hall missed the ball and collected a very tame booking, Dougall punched away Alexis Kroese free kick, two footed Roberts had shots saved from both feet in quick succession, and Kroese cleared off her line twice, the latter as Courtney Mann lobbed the visiting keeper – bizarrely donning number “00” – Brigid St Leger. “Don’t worry! Next play!” yelled one of the coaches.
Scratching my head again at gulf in language despite its similarity – whilst baseball/basketball/gridiron may have  “plays”, does soccer… really? – Carrero and Benati were again on the attack, and Megan Abman was proving that the longer she was on the pitch, the harder she became to defend against.
Far too easy just to mention forwards, in any victory, the real stars of this game were not always the front runners. Yes Carrero took some of the plaudits but, both keepers – despite the final score – showed enough to suggest they could progress further in the game. The opposing centre backs, Hall and Brittany Bowen, were also in very impressive form throughout the game. One step ahead of them all however – like Erhun Oztumer at Dulwich Hamlet last season – Benati creatively held the UB team together.

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Of course two hours after arriving at UB – whether it be coaching or dietary techniques – I still had no idea what the Americans are doing that’s so right in women’s football, nor did I understand all the statistics generated but… I had escaped the (actually quite pleasant) extended famiglia and seen a truly entertaining game, in an impressive stadium, where the language from the benches was less industrial than back home, and where some of the game stars really could go on, to graduate, to play at a higher level.
Final score: UB Bulls 2-0 Canisius Golden Griffins

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Six Reasons I heart Non League Football

Isthmian League, Division 1 South
Corinthian Casuals FC v Guernsey FC
Tuesday, 2nd September 2014, 7.45pm
King George’s Arena
Entrance £8, Programme £2
Distance 4 miles, Attendance 150ish
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Mushrooms in the car park, unobstructed views of the action, proud club crests on smart jackets in the hoi polloi stands, no queues for cheap tickets, far far far more leg room than Loftus Road and, lovely beer within plain view of a great game. Yes. six more reasons I heart Non League Football.
Final score: Corinthian Casuals FC 3-1 Guernsey FC
 
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