England v USA: Uncle Sam questions an “English gentleman”


Salut! Sunderland readers rightly praised Mark Spacone’s view of England v USA from an American perspective. Mark turned the tables and, for his site Sam’s Army, lobbed some questions our way. He also became the first person in some years to call me a gentleman …

This, then, is the Sam’s Army piece:

An English Gentleman’s View of American Soccer

This past week, an e-mail from Colin Randall came through requesting responses to a Q and A for a website he runs named Salut! Sunderland. The feature is called “Who Are you?” so named after the chant British Supporters will often say, in unison, to opposing players of the team they are facing. We took up the opportunity to hopefully shed some light on the state of the game here for our fellow footy supporters across the pond. The piece can be found here, and we extended the same courtesy to Mr. Randall to do a Q and A for our readers on this, probably the biggest day for US Soccer in more than half a century, as we prepare to face England in the World Cup. Enjoy the read!

What is the view of American soccer and the US team on your side of the pond?

The very mention of either – the game and the national side – used to arouse feelings of snooty disdain and even amusement, not anti-Americanism at all (you saw Pete Sixmith’s very affectionate portrait of his associations with the USA in his Salut! Sunderland piece, yet no one could have been more disdainful about your country as a venue for the 1994 World Cup). But that was a time when it was hard to find anyone other than Kasey Keller flying your flag in the English upper leagues. Now, that has changed and there are a number of very useful American players in the Premier. But there is still a lot of work to do in presenting the game as played by adult males in the USA itself as a serious league comparable to those of Europe and S America.

Having traveled in the U.S. how close is this perception what you experienced? When was the lat time you traveled here?

I have not been in the USA, beyond a weekend in New York, for 12 years. I was there, for journalistic reasons, very briefly during France 98 and found very little interest in the media or among the public – albeit on two short stays in Miami – and am glad to hear from you that this has changed enormously. The feeling then was that Americans couldn’t raise much interest in a sport at which they couldn’t hope to win.

Your club team is Sunderland and one of our former Na’ts, Claudio Reyna, played for the club you support. How was he received and viewed by the supporters?

I was a great admirer of Claudio Reyna, who did simple things with quality and vision. He scored only three times, I think, but two of those goals were in the same match and brought us the points that kept us from relegation that season. I wish injury hadn’t curtailed his appearances for us.

With the US v England game less than 24 hours away, what is the buzz regarding the match and is the U.S. being viewed as a formidable opponent or just a door mat on the way to the second round?

England expect to beat the USA and would regard it as something of a national disgrace not to do so. That is more a reflection of our inflated self-esteem (and elevated levels of expectation) than anything else, and is also influenced by the shrill tones of our unforgiving media. I do not expect it to be as easy as the pundits claim it ought to be, since cup competition retains a capacity to be a great leveller and also because of the strides the USA has made towards reaching a higher standard of international play. And I loved Jonathan Spector’s comment that it would be your easiest game (even if that was only because with everyone predicting an England cruise, you’d be under less pressure).

Has it been accepted by the English an Italian is coaching the Nat’s or is the view that an English Coach should be head of the English team?

I think the parochial view has all but gone. Yes, it would be uplifting to have a great English manager coaching a great England squad, but there is a shortage of men of the right calibre. Look at the Premier: out of the top seven clubs, only one English manager (Redknapp at Spurs), two other “home” , ie UK, managers (Ferguson and O’Neill). Steve Bruce is English and has done a moderately good job for Sunderland so far, and shows promise of greater things, but a lot of us were disappointed when he was appointed instead of a more exciting choice from overseas.

) Has Fabio changed the style of how the English play and is that a change for the good or bad? Also, now that he signed an extension until 2012, do you think he will be kept on if the English do not have a good showing at the cup?

Well, you are asking the wrong person about Fabio’s choices (in the broadest sense) since his decision to leave our star striker, Darren Bent, behind has caused a lot of dismay among Sunderland supporters who suspect in-built prejudice against players from the supposedly unfashionable clubs, even when they show themselves to be among the best (Bent, in an often poor team, scored 24 EPL goals last season). There is also suspicion that Fabio, the same as predecessors, is unduly influenced by Londoncentric media. Most of that is nonsense, of course. I feel he is probably very much his own man, realises that our hopes rest on the performances of a handful of key players – Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard in particular – and arranges all else to ensure they have the best chance of producing the matchwinning touches.

What would be considered an unacceptable result for the English at the World Cup?

Obviously going out in the group stage would be a catastrophe, a humiliation on the scale of the Boston Tea Party if not quite Suez. No better than a quarter-final place would be deeply disappointing, a semi-final appearance acceptable but still tinged witth regret (and attracting some highly negative comment if we then went out with a whimper).

Outside of the big names, who should we watch for on the English team during the cup?
Not Darren Bent. for sure. The injury to Rio Ferdinand puts pressure on other, lesser-known figures including his squad replacement, Michael Dawson, to show what they can do. A lot could rest on how well our full backs, Aaron Lennon and especially Glen Johnson balance their attacking and defensive roles.

Are there any special songs the English Supporters have in store for the US game or the cup in general?

I like it when England fans do the Dambusters theme but there’d be little point against the USA since we were on the same side! I hate it when our fans descend to moronic, xenophobic abuse – but living in France, I feel detached from whatever they may be cooking up for tonight. I suppose I just hope they are exuberant but behave themselves, not something they’ve always been too good at.

me at sol Tell us about who you are.

Colin Randall, a journalist, these days freelance, based in London and the south of France. Worked for The Daily Telegraph for 30 years in a variety of roles, ending as Paris bureau chief. Then a stint in the UAE helping to launch an English-language newspaper in Abu Dhabi. Now I write from quite near St Tropez (when not in London) on French affairs, politics, sport and virtually everything else, for the UAE paper (The National) and for others who commission me. I run Salut! Sunderland – https://safc.blog – among a number of little websites and Sunderland are my passion, much more so than England if truth be told. Grew up in County Durham, attended games every other Saturday at our old stadium , Roker Park, and have continued to support the team since moving away from the region more years ago than I care to remember. Even when in the Middle East, I kept my season ticket (it is almost always used when I’m not there). Despite my advancing years, I play decent club-standard badminton. My younger daughter, Nathalie, is the footballing star of the family. A little while ago now, in Bend It Like Beckham fashion, she scored a wonder goal to clinch victory for her then team, QPR, against a visiting side from the USA (Vermont), and there was even talk that she’d be offered the chance to go out there and play. It came to nothing but she’s still a terrific little player.

Colin Randall

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