I had a great relationship with my wife's grandfather, Bernie. One of our running jokes was that whenever I would watch a football game with Bernie, he would ask where the ball should be spotted after an instance in which a receiver made a catch and was then pushed back. Bernie died in April 2008 and now, I think of him every time a receiver makes a catch and the ref spots the ball at the point that the catch was made. It's an odd feeling, a combination of humor because of the running joke and sadness that Bernie is no longer with us.
In a weird way, this soccer season is going to provoke the same emotions in me because World Soccer Daily won't be around. For those of you who were not listeners, the show was extremely successful, ranking as one of the top sports podcasts on iTunes for an extended period of time. It got huge numbers because the hosts - Steven Cohen and Kenny Hassan - were reasonably knowledgeable and had a very good rapport with their listeners. Between taking phone calls and reading and discussing e-mails, the show created a feeling of community among its listeners. It had also developed a tremendous roster of regular guests: Tim Vickery on South America, Andy Brassell on Europe, Graham Hunter on Spain, Kris Voakes on Italy, Derek Rae on the Champions League, Robbie Earle on the EPL, Graham Poll on refereeing, and several more whose names are escaping me right now. The podcast was invaluable for people like me to become educated fans on the world's game.
Between commuting, cooking, and working out, I probably listened to World Soccer Daily about five hours per week over a span of more than two years. I became a listener in May 2007 upon the recommendation of frequent commenter Klinsi. Over the course of months and years, I learned that a podcast can become a part of one's life because one can listen to it whenever one is doing something boring, i.e. a lot of the time. I don't mind doing dishes or cleaning the garage because of the podcast.
When I think back on my time listening to WSD, I have vivid memories of places and topics. I remember listening to the discussion about David Beckham's first game for the Galaxy when driving back from the beach. I remember listening to the story of Jose Mourinho falling out with Roman Abramovich as I ran past the Chevron on the corner of Clairmont and North Decatur. I remember hearing the glee expressed by Cohen when Liverpool drew Inter in the 2007-08 Champions League as I walked from my car to the Hartsfield-Jackson terminal. I remember Steven reading out a congratulatory e-mail on the birth of my second son from Klinsi as I worked out at the local Y. I remember Steven reading my Barca all-time XI and commenting that that side would be very hard to beat as I drove back to the office from lunch with a client.
It's very sad when something that has become a part of one's life is no longer there. I don't mean to make this sound like losing a loved one or a job. It's not that important and I don't pretend that it is. Still, I got a great deal of happiness from this daily show. That happiness turns to anger when I think about the show's demise, which was caused by a boycott from Liverpool fans after Cohen made several remarks about the culpability of Liverpool fans in the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium Disaster. For the record, I think that Cohen was mistaken about the role of Liverpool fans in the episode. However, I can only say this because Cohen's comments became controversial and I decided to read up on the episode a little. This should have been the end result of the controversy: Liverpool fans raising their voices and neutrals like me learning more about the disaster as a result.
Instead, Liverpool fans boycotted the show's sponsors and tried to gather in as many other supporter's clubs as possible. Ultimately, the reaction by Liverpool supporters was successful. To me, this is short-sighted. Soccer is growing in this country because of outlets like WSD that allow people like me to go outside the mainstream media to get sports news and opinion. I'm no longer confined to what the AJC and the two local sports talk stations think are relevant topics. I love that freedom. That freedom is growing the game of soccer in this country. The game is poorer without WSD.
What's so irksome about the episode is that a podcast is essentially an extension of the talk radio format and talk radio is replete with instances of hosts saying outrageous, incorrect, oft-defamatory statements. (I'm not saying this to be politically partisan; there is plenty of blame on all sides.) Assuming that Cohen was incorrect in his statements about Hillsborough, he made a historical mistake. That happens on a daily basis. I really have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that this one statement was so thoroughly punished, while the dozens of more erroneous and vile statements that are made on a daily basis about subjects weightier than soccer are permitted to drift into the ether without any repercussions. People whose livelihood depends on providing original and interesting opinions need to have the freedom to make mistakes. In this instance, that did not happen.
In the end, this whole episode does illustrate one of the dark sides of soccer. I often say that one of the reasons why I like the sport is the passion that comes across when I watch a game. European soccer is the closest relative to the SEC football on which I grew up and which I still love. However, the flip side of intense passion can be an excessive reaction to opinions that groups find disagreeable. In fact, I can't think of a college football parallel to the ultimately successful boycott of WSD. (The reaction in Alabama to the Saturday Evening Post story alleging that Bear Bryant and Wally Butts conspired to fix a game comes to mind, but the Post's demise was caused more by the libel verdict that Butts obtained as opposed to a boycott. It's not as if Tennessee fans dented ESPN and ABC after those networks so obviously conspired [along with the Florida defense, I guess] to deny Peyton Manning his Heisman.) In the end, my world is a little darker without WSD and I should accept that this episode is sadly a reflection of a game that I choose to love.