I wasn't up to much in the summer of 2006. My wife was working on a couple of grad classes while I was plugging away at some writing. Despite my dedication to the craft, I still had plenty of time to kill. Thank God for the World Cup. Over those days and weeks, I rediscovered a passion which had been snuffed out since the moment I was cut from my high school soccer team.
For the last two and a half years, I have been relentlessly hooked on the game, especially the English game. I found a team, found a cable channel, and schedule many a weekend around watching games. While tracking scores and understanding tactics was easy enough, what I longed for was a better grasp of the culture. Following a team is a way of life in England, one which I've yet to experience. Enter Chuck Culpepper and Bloody Confused. Originally published as Up Pompey in Britain in 2007, the book records Culpepper's move to England and his first year supporting Portsmouth Football Club.
A sportswriter for, among others, Newsday, the author spent much of his career crisscrossing our country following any number of sports. The more he worked, the more burnt out he became. He was sick of the media fiesta, sick of the commercialism, sick of hearing the same lines from the same sorts of players and coaches. It made him bitter, a feeling which is excessively communicated in the book.
While it wasn't his angst that sent Culpepper to England, it is a central theme in his narrative, and one which I found exhaustive. He often spends more words bemoaning the problems of American sports than he does praising his new found love. It became downright irritating at times, especially for a reader who loves both English soccer and a whole slew of Stateside teams. His snarky repetition wasn't limited to sports either. Over and over, he reminds the reader that England is a much older country (and thus more mature, apparently), and also takes several digs at the Bush administration which seemed totally out of place.
All of this left me wondering exactly which audience Culpepper was writing for. It is certainly an ego boost for England and its national game, especially if the reader has an anti-American bent. But surely they don't need to be told that soccer is great; they've been playing it for over 100 years. Likewise, I don't think it serves as a encouraging introduction to the game for an American audience. While there is certainly a contingent of people who have sworn off baseball, basketball, and American football in favor of the beautiful game, there are just as many (if not more) who love their domestic and imported sports equally. I'm one of those people. No sport is perfect, no athlete pure, and to pretend otherwise is foolishness.
Even with these short-comings, Bloody Confused was a quick and fairly enjoyable read. There is something crazy and wonderful about European soccer, and in England it's played at the highest level. In his descriptions of the games and fans he spends time with, Culpepper exposes himself as fine sportswriter, and it was heartening to see him being a fan rather than simply an observer. I just wish more of the book read that way.