Tag Archives: john cleese

Sports vs Sport – UK & US Athletics

soccer-vs-football

When people think of me, they think of sports, right?  Ok, no, they don’t. I am the least sporty person in the world.  But after seeing the 300th commercial for the beginning of the English Premier League on American TV, I thought I might dip my feet in the water and see what all of this nonsense is about.  I’ve been exposed to American sports for my entire life, and have been thoroughly bored and annoyed by them for that same length of time.  But I don’t actually know much about British sport, so I may as well give it a small chance, in case football (soccer) really is so fabulous.  Maybe British sport is just better?  Anything is possible. So let’s discuss the differences. But please excuse in advance all the mistakes of vocabulary I am going to make during this post.  I can barely remember the proper terms for American sports, so if I say field when I mean pitch, do not murder me via angry comments. This entire post is written with tongue firmly placed in cheek, so don’t take it too seriously. Be gentle.

Sport vs Sports- Linguistic differences are so strange sometimes.  In the UK, you play sport or you watch sport.  In the US, you play sports or watch sports.  Where did the s go/come from?  I suspect it was taken off sports so that it could be added to maths.  

Another linguistic fun fact: As much as Brits decry us for saying ‘soccer’ instead of ‘football’, soccer was the original term and it was British in origin.  Soccer was called ‘association football’, to distinguish it from other types of ‘football’ that were played at the time (including Rugby–then called Rugger).  Association football was shortened to Assoccer, and then just soccer. So, it’s not an American thing.  Legend has it an Oxford student coined the term in 1863. That being said, football makes more sense for a sport where you are only allowed to use your feet than it does for our US football, where you primarily use your hands.

And to confuse everyone even more, the Brits often shorten football to ‘footy’, but the Australians call Rugby footy.  How anyone has any idea what game they’re playing is beyond me.  But this blog is mostly about the UK, so I’m not going to delve into Aussie sports now.

In the UK, there are two sports that are in the upper-echelons of popularity: Rugby Union and Association Football (soccer). Of those two, Football is the clear favorite, but Rugby is quite popular in certain geographical areas.

Rugby is very similar to American football, with one big big difference:

Rugby padsIt’s crazy dangerous. At least 110 players have been paralyzed during a game.  There are arguments to be made that all the padding US Football players wear adds to the amount of force that comes crashing down on opponents, but I’d still rather have a helmet if it was me.

The time of the games is different as well.  American football games last approximately 500 million hoursbut a big chunk of that is resetting and stopped time.  In Rugby, they don’t stop the clock unless someone’s injured and unresponsive. It’s a lot more fast-paced, and there’s a longer playing time.  That means leaner, meaner, faster guys. Much faster than American defensive players, who generally run 5-10 feet and then bash into someone with all of their weight.  It’s a different skill set.  To be honest, I’m not interested in either sport.

Other sports in the top 5 include Cricket, Tennis, and something Wikipedia refers to as Athletics. I believe this is what we would call Track & Field.  But really, if you’re talking UK Sport, you’re talking about football.  Unless you’re me, then you’re talking about Quidditch.

So let’s talk soccer/football. There are some things that make it recognizably awesome and the pinnacle of athleticism.  I can’t believe some of the crazy kicks and headbutts they do to get the ball headed toward the correct goal.  No American sport has that kind of gymnastics (except maybe gymnastics). And the crazy amount of running?  Your average baseball player barely runs during a game, your average American football player might run a little over a mile during a game. Compare that to the 7-8 miles a soccer player runs during a match, and you see why they all look like Adonis.

On the other hand, there’s a large percentage of games that end with a score of 0-0, and that sounds pretty boring to a spectator. No wonder they get so excited when a goal finally happens.

The UK version of the NFL/NBA/etc. is the Premier League. For the first time (ever), anyone in American watch any match in the season.  They will be airing the big matches on NBC sports, and then live streaming the rest on their website.  Apparently we have better access to the entire league’s games than the Brits do.  Perfect time for a novice like me to get started with footy. They even have several resources to pick your club and charming commercials with Jason Sudeikis. The most important thing about picking your team is that you can never change it. This is a cardinal offense and I believe they still punish you with a day in the stocks in any proper English village.

Remember that scene in Harry Potter when Harry is trying to talk to Cho, and Ron interrupts to inquire (very loudly and bluntly) whether Cho has always been a fan of the Tutshill Tornadoes, or if she just started supporting them since they began winning.  Lucky for Cho, she’d been supporting them since she was six, or she would have been in trouble.  Same principle applies to Premier League clubs. Of course, if you live in the UK, geography determines a lot of who you support, but we don’t have that luxury here.  It’s a big decision, and one I’ve taken quite seriously.

I’ve decided to support West Ham.  It’s the only football club mentioned in Harry Potter, so that was …pretty much my whole decision-making process.  Other things I know about West Ham: Smithy from Gavin and Stacey supports West Ham.  That’s good(ish).  Green Street Hooligans, a terrible Elijah Wood movie, was based on West Ham fans.  That’s really bad!  Their nickname is the Hammers.  I’m Switzerland on that one. West Ham’s celebrity fans include John Cleese and Barack Obama.  Good.  They also include Rod Stewart and Katy Perry.  Not as good.  Yep, that’s all I know about my chosen team.  I am such a sports fan.  Wait, I also know that they’re not that good.  I’m fine with that, since I prefer to support underdogs.  I could never support Man U.  It’s clearly the Yankees of the Premier League. Also, while I’m comparing football to baseball, Arsenal is clearly the Red Sox. Remember that Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore movie, Fever Pitch?

fever_pitch_01About the guy who was obsessed with the Red Sox?  Well, it was originally a British movie (with Colin Firth) about a guy obsessed with Arsenal.  So, if you’re a Red Sox fan, Arsenal is your team.

If you’re more inclined to back a winner than I am, here’s an article about the top 5 most-likely winners (Arsenal included). Pick one of these and you will have a good chance.

If you’re not quite as informed about football as I clearly am, the IT Crowd has taught me how to fake it.  Just visit bluffball.co.uk for your best tips on how to sound like you know something about football.

The most important lessons include: If Arsenal is playing, you can always say ‘the problem with Arsenal is they think they can just walk it in’.  And, start every football conversation with ‘did you see that ludicrous display last night?’  That lets people know that you are an expert.

So, I have a team and some basic vocab for those inevitable water cooler conversations.  What else do I need? Some basic knowledge of the sport?  Well, I’ve seen Bend it Like Beckham.  Done. I know all about the offside rule: The French Mustard has to be between the teriyaki sauce and the sea salt.

If you haven’t seen BiLB, and you need the most basic primer about soccer in the history of the world, here’s a website designed to help grandparents understand this newfangled sport all the suburban kids are playing.

Also, it’s important to know how the league works. The top 20 teams are in the Premier League, but the bottom 3 of that 20 are ‘relegated down’.  Below the premier league are other leagues of middling and lower-level.  We don’t really have anything like that in the US. It would be like if the White Sox did so badly that they were no longer Major League and were ‘relegated down’ to AAA baseball. The good part about this is if your team is not so great, they still have some nail biter matches later in the season, as they might be fighting to keep their place in a specific part of the hierarchy.

The top 4 spots in the Premier League qualify for the European Champions league, so you get a lot of international competition that we also don’t have here.  And then every four years, you have the  World Cup.  I watched the last World Cup, and my only memories of it are drowned out by the sound of vuvuzelas.  God those were awful. Anyway, the next World Cup is next year.  To turn to yet another Harry Potter reference, it’s very similar to the Quidditch World Cup.  Countries compete, so England tends to bring together its best players from professional teams, as does Italy, Spain, etc.

The amazing thing about soccer is that everyone plays it. it’s the main sport in almost every country except America.  So you can have these massive Olympic-like events where the best players in different countries are competing against one another.  I think that’s awesome. Far better than the Super Bowl, for my money.

The Premier League has a really long season.  I mean, I feel like all sports seasons in the US are too long.  NFL Football is starting again soon. Already?  But the Premier League goes from August to May.  That’s crazy long.  No wonder they’re all in such good shape. Anyway, I can’t guarantee I will be a major soccer fan by the end of the season, or that I will still be watching by then.  I’m not a sports person, by nature.  But, I’m giving it a try, and that’s…more than I would normally do. You should too.

If you think this was a terrible post about sports, from a typical ignorant American, then…you’ve got a point. But! I’m not representative of American soccer fans, and it’s not just Americans who don’t know about international sports.  Take, for example, this video of a (brilliant) Irishman commentating Olympic sailing, and then call me uninformed.

Or take heart that I’m just as ignorant about American sports as all other kinds.

Top 5 British Everything! part 2

Ok, time for yet another installment in my ever-growing number of pointless lists! First off, my picks for top 5 British TV shows.  You’ve no idea how difficult this was!  I can’t imagine how much harder it would be if I’d actually seen large amounts of British TV, not just the stuff that trickles across the pond.

1. The Office/Extras

I’m cheating a little bit by putting these together.  They are both written and starring Ricky Gervais, so it is justified, but I love them enough that they might deserve individual spots on the list.  Too bad, though, because I don’t have enough room for that!  I think the Office was my first introduction to British TV, and I have to admit it took me at least two watch-throughs to understand what the fuck they were saying.  The accents are thick, but the show is also completely full of utterly unintelligible cultural references that I still don’t get.  But the parts I could understand were hilarious.  I can only guess how much funnier it is if you have any idea what they’re talking about.  Luckily, the DVD provides a slang glossary that explains some of it.

Ricky Gervais’ David Brent is hilarious in the show, but of course my heart belongs to Martin Freeman (who is becoming a common fixture on this blog), as Tim.

Extras is a bit more easy to digest for an American audience (though I hear they actually changed some of the scenes for the American audience), and has a mind-boggling amount of guest stars.  Just to name a few: Ben Stiller, Vinnie Jones, Kate Winslet, Patrick Stewart, Samuel L Jackson, David Bowie, and, most importantly, Daniel Radcliffe in possibly the most hilarious scene ever on tv.

As with the Office, my favorite character on this show is not Ricky Gervais. Stephen Merchant is a very odd looking fellow, especially with the ludicrous glasses and hair he has in this show.  He looks a bit like a stick insect with a turtleneck and thick spectacles.

It doesn’t help that the guy is something like 12 feet tall.  But anyone who has seen Extras, or played Portal 2 knows how awesome he is.  Plus, he co-created the Office and Extras with Ricky, so I like that he gets to be on camera in this show.

It’s interesting to think about Ricky Gervais’ shows.  He always has himself as the central character, and he always plays a semi-terrible person, surrounded by much nicer characters.  This simultaneously makes me think he is an incredibly egotistical, but also very self-deprecating person.  Whatever his motives, his shows are hilarious.

2.Doctor Who

A couple of disclaimers before I explain my love for Doctor Who: 1-I have only seen the newest incarnations of the show, and don’t really have much desire to go back and watch the episodes from the ’70s, 2-David Tennant is the only Doctor for me, 3-The production values on the show are terrible, the effects are terrible, occasionally the music is terrible–I acknowledge all of this, and love the show anyway.

Here’s a show that makes almost no sense, on the face of it.  The concept is ridiculous: time traveling alien with two hearts and one sonic screwdriver travels through time/space (usually ending up in England, for some reason) with human companions finding and solving catastrophes that usually have something to do with aliens.  Many of these aliens look like ‘pepper pots‘ or cheesy 50s robots.

Add to that some truly low-budget effects and Billie Piper’s annoyingly overdone mascara, and it should be a terrible show.  But it’s not.  It’s witty, funny, adventurous, light-hearted, occasionally moving, and always worth watching.  Also, it’s a bit uncanny that the show can have had 11 different actors portray the eponymous Doctor and still have you believe that he is the same person.  Rather ingenious, the way the writers worked that into the character’s back story.  I’ve watched through three doctors now, and while Tennant will always be my favorite, I liked seeing how each one brought a new idea to the same frantic and infectious energy at the core of the show.

3. Fawlty Towers

A classic British show from the ’70s starring John Cleese and his actual (then) wife as Mr. and Mrs. Fawlty, who run a small hotel on the English seaside. Basil Fawlty (Cleese) is a cowardly misanthrope who is constantly yelled at by his controlling wife, and he, in turn, takes out his anger on Manuel, the Spanish waiter with limited English skills.  It was voted one of the best British tv shows of all time, and is actually more popular now than I think it was when it originally aired.  It’s a slapstick, over-the-top sort of show, which took me a while to get into, I confess.  It’s certainly not the sardonic, mockumentary style of humor you’d find in the Office.  It’s totally different, and more in line with the traditional British sitcom.  There are only twelve episodes of the show (2 six-episode seasons), so you can polish off the whole series in a few days’ time.  The show gets better with each episode, and by the end of the first season, I was hooked.  If you’re in the mood for something silly, Fawlty Towers is perfection.

4. Sherlock

What’s this? Martin Freeman again?  I’m sensing a theme.  If you recall, I’ve already done a few posts about this show and my love for it. As such, I won’t repeat myself.  I will say, however, that this show is about to overtake Fawlty Towers, and maybe Doctor Who, in my long-term estimation and adoration.  It is a paragon of everything you can do with TV drama.

5. The Inbetweeners

This show is, without a doubt, the sickest thing I’ve seen on TV in a long time.  But, as it’s about 16-18 year old boys, that makes sense.  It is painfully embarrassing to watch, shockingly foul-mouthed, and absolutely hilarious.  It taught me at least 5 new, incredibly awful words for female genitalia, unfortunately. That’s the sort of show it is.  I didn’t want to like it, what with absolutely every other line being horrifying, but it is too damn funny to ignore. Plus, the knowledge that absolutely all of these boys are completely clueless makes their slightly misogynistic tendencies more bearable.  There was also a movie, which I saw thanks to a multi-region dvd player–I don’t think it was ever released in US theaters or on format 1 dvd.  If you doubt how funny this is, a scene from the movie should clear it up:

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Honorable Mention: Top Gear, Downton Abbey–It was very, very difficult for me to pick just 5 shows, and as I have already talked about these two on this blog, I’ve left them as honorable mentions rather than putting them in the top 5.  Nonetheless, they are awesome.

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British Music–if the tv shows were hard to choose (and they were), this was like choosing between my children…if I ever had them and was faced with a Sophie’s Choice type situation… The point is, this was really hard. The only easy choice was number one…

1. The Beatles

I’m fairly certain that anyone who has spent more than half an hour with me knows this is my favorite band of all time.  I can’t even begin to discuss the amount of influence the Beatles have had on my life, or on music in general.  There’s nothing I can say about them as musicians that hasn’t already been said.  What I can say about my personal love for them, is that it all has to do with my mom.  She loved the Beatles and played 60s and 70s music almost exclusively when I was growing up.  As a result, I went into middle and high school knowing all the lyrics to I Am the Walrus, while other kids were really into N Sync.  Not to imply that I was some sort of cool music kid, I was not cool in any way, but I do appreciate that I was exposed to this sort of music from an early age.  It is much more in keeping with my views on music and on the world, and every time I hear a Beatles song, even if it’s one I’ve never heard before, it’s the aural equivalent of nostalgia.  It sounds like home to me.

2. David Bowie

I got into Bowie late in life…Or late in life so far. I think I was 24 or 25 before I set out to listen to some of his stuff.  It was never on the radio when I was growing up…Too old to be on the top 40 stations, too new to be on the oldies station.   And, where I grew up, we had those two kinds of stations, plus a lot of country music and some religious crap.  So I wasn’t directly exposed to Bowie until I set out to listen to his stuff.  Wow.  Within about a day, I was in love. I think I had probably heard his stuff in other contexts, in movies and commercials, but never in its original form.  To this day, Suffragette City is one of my favorite songs ever. The best thing about Bowie is that his songs have variety–Suffragette City doesn’t sound anything like Changes or China Girl.  My biggest annoyance with today’s music is that you can put on any song on someone’s album and it will sound identical to every other song.  The only distinctions are slow or fast.  But back in the day, musicians felt like they could experiment with something new if they wanted to.  I think it was even expected.  This means that you can find something to listen to by the same artist, even if you’re in a vastly different mood.  Which means there is a Bowie song for every occasion.  He even wrote a special song for Extras!

3. The Rolling Stones

When I was young and first formulating my opinions on music, as we all do in our early teens, this is what the Stones looked like:

Not something any teenager associates with being cool, or being alive for that matter.  They all look like the Cryptkeeper.  But, take a look at how awesome they were in their heyday.

It’s a bit like looking at pictures of your dad when he was young, and realizing he was not always interested in mortgages or the price of a good recliner.  Anyway, I still dislike most of the Stones later catalog, particularly ‘Love is Strong’.  But their early stuff is just amazing!  Enough to make up for most of the stuff they put out in the ’90s, and almost good enough to overcome Keith Richards’ appearance in that Pirates of the Caribbean movie!  My particular favorites are Paint it Black, Sympathy for the Devil, and Beast of Burden.

4. Queen

Like many of my generation, my first introduction to the music of Queen was during Wayne’s World.  Thank God for Wayne and Garth. Queen was an amazing band, and Freddie Mercury was a seriously stunning frontman. Google frontman, and the first result is a Wiki article on lead singers with a picture of Freddie Mercury. That says it all.

Like David Bowie, Queen have the capacity to sound radically different depending on the song you’re listening to.  Another One Bites the Dust sounds nothing like Crazy Little Thing Called Love, and nothing sounds anything like Bohemian Rhapsody. Seriously, has there ever been a song that is as fun to sing as Bohemian Rhapsody?  If you think you can argue with me, watch this:

5. the Clash

What can you say about such an important band?  They were one of the first punk bands ever? They were one of the best punk bands ever? A lot of people have heard of the Clash but might not be familiar with their songs.  Only, I’m sure you’ve heard them, even if you didn’t know it at the time.  I’m sure everyone has heard Should I Stay Or Should I Go, but it doesn’t sound like a punk song when you hear it, and I don’t think I knew it was the Clash until later in life. The Clash isn’t a mainstream band, by any means, but it is not something so esoteric that you can’t appreciate the songs without a music degree.  And in terms of influence on later musicians and on the direction of music at the time, they were hugely important.

I am aware that this list has been full of men.  I am not someone who thinks women cannot be great musicians, but I am someone who listens to older music, and there were a lot less of them back then.

Honorable Mention–Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Amy Winehouse, the Streets, the Who

What kind of ridiculous list has Led Zeppelin as an honorable mention?!  Good God. I’m too exhausted to continue! I was going to torture you all with my favorite bits of British history, and other factoids of a comparatively useless nature, but I will desist. Maybe next time.