I guess I shouldn’t be too annoyed by the quality of coverage of the MLS in general and of the Timbers in particular on ESPN Soccernet. I will say that it causes one a certain amount of pique to log on to the team page on that site and find headlines in the sidebar like, “Cooper’s Goal Lifts Timbers Past Whitecaps,” and “DC 1 – 1 Portland: Timbers in the Playoff Hunt.” Perhaps it’s better than seeing blurbs about more recent events like, “Timbers Concede Five for the Second Time in Three Matches.” It’s certainly better than seeing something like, “Timbers Shanked Like a Prison Yard Snitch by Lowly Dallas,” so I suppose we should probably count our blessings.
The lads actually made a pretty good showing against Aston Villa and, without making too much of the whole thing, there are some positives worth taking from this. The match in Dallas was a pretty savage beating. It’s the kind of thing that can really knock the stuffing out of a team, especially one that’s a bit wobbly to begin with. The Villa match was a good change of pace. It was challenging but nothing was really on the line. Except pride that is, and there has been precious little of that about in recent days. Coming back twice from a goal down was a good sign. Moreover, playing tough against opposition from a much higher grade league, even in pre-season, will go a long way toward reminding the guys that they can actually play this game. In light of recent events, they might have had some reason to doubt that.
(For those who have ever wondered about the dimensions of football’s global profile, I present the following. Perusing the pages of Newsnow.co.uk, I discovered that the Timbers match with Aston Villa got a write up in the Himalayan Times .
Aside from a bit about the Timbers’ overall level of resiliency, the only thing of substance to be gleaned from that match was that Tom Hanks is (apparently) a diehard Aston Villa fan . I’m trying to think what the basis of this particular connection could be. As many of you are probably aware, Villa is one of three top division teams from Birmingham, the U.K.’s second largest city. The other two, Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion, don’t seem to have the kind of global reach that Villa does. Perhaps I should have put global reach in quotes there, since it’s not like they are one of those world brands like Manchester United or Real Madrid. Really, it’s more of a relative thing. I’ve never actually met a West Brom fan outside of Birmingham, and I’ve met precious few City fans anywhere besides the West Midlands.
The Birmingham teams don’t seem to pull in foreign fans in the way that those from Manchester and London do. In the case of Manchester, I most often find that it’s a matter of supporting a prominent winner, like people supporting the Yankees just on name recognition, or the hoards of fair weather fans that followed the Chicago Bulls when they had Michael Jordan. In the case of London, it’s actually a place where people go, so the teams there tend to get a bit more notice than the Derby Counties and Stoke Cities of this world. Birmingham is just not the sort of place that one is going to go for a vacation. I’ve been there on a few occasions, but only to see shows and only because at the time I lived in Nottingham, which is about an hour’s drive away. With all due respect to the people who live there, it’s not likely to blossom into a tourist destination any time soon.
Having played them down a bit, I will say that I have met a fair number of Villa fans outside the UK. Perhaps it’s the claret and blue color scheme, which is after all rather attractive. A couple of years ago they seemed poised to be real contenders in the Premier League. A series of poor player decisions and the departure of Martin O’Neill led to a decline in their fortunes. At this point, the biggest moments in their season are the derby matches.
Anyway, according to things I’ve read on the web, Hanks has been a fan of Villa since 2001. I saw an interview he did on British TV in 2008 in which he essentially conceded that he had started supporting the team because he thought the name was cool. Actually, that’s a reason that I can sort of get with. Aston Villa is one of those peculiarly English names, like Wormwood Scrubs or Nether Wallop, that are really fascinating to the Anglophile imagination. The pairing of Aston with Villa makes one think of fabulous living and being served cold drinks on a veranda by a butler names Jeeves, rather than of the slightly grubby northern section of Birmingham that the team calls home.
Well, the upshot of all of this was that Tom Hanks was at the match, hobnobbing with Timber Joey and basically having a high old time. More power to him. For us it was merely a diversion. A much needed diversion, no doubt, but a diversion nonetheless. Now it is behind us, and the task at hand is to prepare for our upcoming match with Chivas. There will be no international movie icons there (in all likelihood anyway), just our lads and our lot. This is the time to start putting the poor form behind us. Chivas is a team that we can beat, one that we should have beat when we met them last week. After that we get Dallas again, a team that I think we would all like to get a little vengeance against. Well, one thing at a time.