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One of the universally recognized reasons that soccer is the global game is its simplicity. The modern image of the Soccer Mom is a recognition that suburban mothers like it because their kids can play it, no matter how unathletic. Not only is the game easy--requiring only a willingness to run hard and kick often--the equipment is minimal; and the rules are nearly nonexistent, other than offsides. The prospective player or spectator can be taught all he needs to know in just minutes. The contrast to a sport like baseball could hardly be starker.

Despite all that, one of the central premises of Chuck Culpepper's account of following the English Premier League for a season is supposed to be his enduring and theoretically charming ignorance. When, late in the book, he's still pretending to have no idea what a brace it's not only implausible for a putative soccer fan perspective but for a speaker of the English language. The whole shtick is extremely labored.

Mr. Culpepper's difficulties navigating the British train system and EPL ticket-buying arrangements are more believable. But the latter complication largely stems from the attempts to ban hooligans from games by making attendance difficult, which robs the topic of a considerable portion of its humor.

The author's avoidance of the real reasons behind the gauntlet you have to run for tickets is symptomatic of the problem with the book's other big theme. You see, Mr. Culpepper is a professional sportswriter and the premise is that he's become so fed with the various pathologies that beset American sports--not to mention his disgust at the Bush presidency--that he seeks refuge in the quaint world of European soccer. Huh? These are leagues that are plagued by prima donna athletes in constant trouble with the law making salaries that are absurd while demonstrating no loyalty to their teams. Though the hikes in costs and the security measures introduced in recent years have had a salutary effect, it's a sport with a notorious history of racist, nationalist, and sectarian violence and chants. It's been commercialized to degree that would startle the average American--with uniforms that double as billboards--and has had enough cheating scandals that results are untrustworthy. Check out the very funny British tv-movie, Eleven men Against Eleven, which makes North Dallas Forty look like something from NFL films. Topping it all off, the EPL is competitively unbalanced, with just four teams contending every year. The fans of 16 teams begin every season knowing they have no chance to win. What's the point? It's a sport where there are never Miracle Mets.

For the most part, Mr. Culpepper spent the season following Portsmouth, a reasonable enough mid-tier choice. But that further narrows the view until we're left with a guy feigning devotion to a team playing a game we're asked to believe he can't figure out. There's not much there there. And, of course, the "bloody confused" meme prevents Mr. Culpepper from offering any systematic observations about what he saw during his year with the EPL, which is a noticeable omission. As it happens, I too followed the EPL for a season and while folk will differ with my analysis, it just wasn't very hard to derive one. Indeed, it's hard not to arrive at one after watching for any extended period of time. That Mr. Culpepper didn't is just the final artificiality of the book.


Grade: (C-)


See also:

Sports (General)
Chuck Culpepper Links:

    -AUTHOR PAGE: Chuck Culpepper (Random House)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Bloody Confused by Chuck Culpepper
    -ESSAY: Brandon Jennings hopes his European adventure pays off: Instead of going to college, the 19-year-old guard dealt with the NBA's age limit by playing professionally in Rome. On Thursday, he could be a top-10 pick in the NBA draft. (Chuck Culpepper, June 23, 2009 , LA Times)
    -ARTICLE: Real Madrid's $131-million bid to talk to Cristiano Ronaldo is a hair-raiser: Manchester United gives into star and sells negotiating rights, speaking volumes of runaway stakes in world soccer. The world player of the year has long expressed a desire to play for Spanish club. (Chuck Culpepper, June 12, 2009, LA Times)
    -PODCAST: Chuck Culpepper (World Soccer Daily, 10/28/08)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Chuck Culpepper (Bill Littlefield, October 25, 2008, Only a Game)
    -PROFILE: In England, an Unfamiliar Sporting Life (JACK BELL, 8/12/08, NY Times)
    -PODCAST: Interview with Chuck Culpepper (The Gaffer, September 20, 2007, EPL Talk)
    -ARCHIVES: Latest American soccer articles by Chuck Culpepper (US Soccer Review)
    -ARCHIVES: Articles by Chuck Culpepper (LA TIMES)
-REVIEW: of Up Pompey: Chuck Culpepper (Jon Carter, ESPN SoccerNet)
    -REVIEW: of Up Pompey (Atlanta Pompey, EPL Talk)
    -REVIEW: of Bloody Confused (Kartik Krishnaiyer, MLS Talk)
    -REVIEW: of Bloody Confused (Chris Bancells, BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Bloody Confused (Regular Guy)
    -REVIEW: of Up Pompey (David Wangerin, When Saturday Comes)
    -REVIEW: of Up Pompey (Simon Toft The Portsmouth News)
    -REVIEW: of Bloody Confused (Bobby MacMahon, FoxSports)
    -REVIEW: of Bloody Confused (Bill Littlefield, Only a game
    -REVIEW: of Bloody Confused (Bill Littlefield, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of Bloody Confused (Publishers Weekly)

Book-related and General Links: