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Bloody Confused!: A Clueless American Sportswriter Seeks Solace in English Soccer Paperback – August 5, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
In the throes of becoming jaded and cynical about the American sportswriting scene, Culpepper, a London-based Los Angeles Times journalist covering European sporting events, writes about the internationally known Premiership soccer league and its overzealous fans. The rough-and tumble British soccer sport quickly captivates Culpepper, who wrote on American sports for 15 years, as he learns the rivalries between the fans and teams such as Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Portsmouth. A humorist of sorts, he can't help making snide comparisons between the rowdy, cheering British fans and their more somber American brethren, while touting the emotional high of regional pride over big team profits. He falls under the spell of the struggling Portsmouth squad, realizing that the die-hard fans live and die with the fortunes of their players and teams, describing vivid action scenes as thrilling as any in American hockey or football. (Aug.)
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*Starred Review* Veteran sportswriter Culpepper was sick and tired of his job. The world of sports was corrupt. Athletes had nothing to say. Sportswriters weren’t allowed to cheer—but who wanted to? He moved to London, the center of what is arguably the planet’s most popular pastime, Premier League soccer, where he bought tickets, sat with the fans, and learned to cheer again. “It was like childhood,” he writes, “with beer.” Pulling for scrappy Portsmouth, he found himself sharing long-suffering fans’ ecstasy at the team’s best season ever. There’s a long tradition of Americans trying to understand soccer, and Culpepper’s effort ranks among the best. Rather than explaining the rules, he discusses what makes the sport exciting, offering the relegation system (the worst teams are demoted while the best are promoted) as evidence of a more enlightened society. Even better are his explorations of fan psychology—Why do we attach our self-worth to the efforts of highly paid mercenaries?—and his own search for a new community raises another pertinent question: Can you really choose your team? Culpepper occasionally overdoes the clueless-American act, and the deletion of expletives is unduly prim, but this lighthearted look at English soccer in the post-hooligan era is a necessary update to Bill Buford’s landmark Among the Thugs (1992). --Keir Graff
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On the other hand, I must agree with the other reviewers who found the negative comparisons with the US tiresome. A few of these were cute. After a while, it became an annoyance.
All in all, I enjoyed being a guest on Culpepper's journey.
Yes, Culpepper does lean a bit on the base of his burnout from much of the American sports scene, and the appeal to him of the English soccer scene as a contrast with and refuge from all that. But this merely serves as a context for his larger presentation; as garnishment. It is just part of his schtick here. It is amusing, and it does not really rise to the level to get in the way (even if it might seem headed toward that point at times). Culpepper is hardly mounting anything like a serious indictment of modern American athletics here. (Not to say that no indictment is imaginable on that score; and with his credentials covering American sports, Culpepper probably would not be the worst positioned to present it.) But instead this is just his light-hearted and effective rendering of his impressions of the English soccer culture (which, as he convincingly suggests, is a not inconsiderable part of English culture as a whole). Those who are overly bothered by all the other are mis-comprehending what Culpepper is about here, and perhaps taking too seriously a book about, after all, sport. Philosophy and grand literature this is not. Enjoy it for what it is.
The book is a useful companion to Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch. Those who are new to English soccer and who are caught by Culpepper's book certainly should enjoy Hornby as a next stop, or as a simultaneous read. Hornby is more nuance and gravity (but also very funny). Dostoevsky to Culpepper's Dickens, if the characterization can be forgiven. But while I like Karamazov as much as the next guy, it never got in the way of David Copperfield for me. And neither should either of them, nor any of the other concerns, get in the way of Culpepper's very enjoyable book for any of us.
Wonderful anecdotes about real people enjoying the national passtime. Really took me back home.
Seeing something you love discovered by someone who hasn't the first clue about it is also something of a pleasure - just listening to his awe at the structure of the league and cup competitions is in itself entertaining. The funnier parts of the book detail his growing understanding of terrace culture and juxtaposition of UK and US sporting tradition and custom. It really is a funny book.
His cycnicism after years of US pro-sports journalism also shines through and, as other commentators have pointed out, the Premier League wouldn't necessarily be the place for someone trying to avoid hubris and discover humanity. But I think it was enough removed for Culpepper.
You have to like football to even pick this one up, but it does what it says on the tin and for that I give it 4/5.
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