“It was like childhood, but with beer.”
For many Americans, soccer’s appeal comes from being something new. It’s a change of pace to explore something new again after learning all there is to know about baseball, basketball, and football. I imagine there are British fans of the NFL who feel the same way.
That sense of newness is the driving force behind Bloody Confused, by Chuck Culpepper. Where Michael Agovino latched onto soccer in a fit of adolescent curiosity, Culpepper was a veteran of American sports reporting before soccer and England caught his eye. As a reporter, he had grown tired with American sports, filled as they are with flaws and cliches. It’s a problem he describes as “common sportswriter malaise.” While he came to find that English soccer has plenty of flaws and cliches, he found the learning process refreshing.
This is a book about soccer by and for Americans. Culpepper learns about the Premier League over the course of a season (2006-07) following Portsmouth, which at the time still had money and Harry Redknapp. No short amount of time is spent explaining the differences between European soccer and American sports, once he learns them first. Culpepper has a particular fondness, which he describes as “a balm for tedium…whoever invented relegation deserves to rank a smidgen of the way to Dr. Jonas Salk in the pantheon of humanity.”
Soccer’s newness and Culpepper’s newfound freedom from impartiality allow him to re-explore the nature of fandom. After years “immersed in a vat of drivel, banality, and corruption,” and interviewing “athletes and managers more than is generally recommended by health professionals,” he adopts Portsmouth as his club, and in learning the Premier League, remembers what it’s like to view a game from outside a press box. He remembers why sports are fun.
“Sport ranks among the few things in life that can give you the exhilaration I felt on the walk to the train and on the train ride home.”
Most of the book isn’t so high-minded. Culpepper never goes very long without making a joke about his or his country’s ignorance, and to his credit, most of these are funny. He finds the process of buying away tickets as “hard to learn,” requiring “intricate research, such as reading the club website.” It helps that he befriends a Portsmouth fan who wears a blue bear costume to games. “It’s possible to forge something approaching a good cry because most people go through their entire lives without walking around with a blue bear.”
The Premier League is no longer as foreign to America as it was even in 2007. But Bloody Confused remains a hilarious introduction to the league.