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Classic Psrhea: The Worlds Most Civilized Game (Part Two)

A reprint from the groundbreaking Psrhea Magazine literary website.
This article saw first published in April 1996.

The Worlds Most Civilized Game
(Part Two)

The Games People Play
by Abdullah Shabazz

Read Part One

I love how soccer is run as a business. Here in the US we have the franchise system. The leagues themselves are the business, and rich individuals or consortiums buy a franchise in that league. The main benefit of this is that it guarantees a certain degree of business stability; when was the last time a major sports franchise in America went out of business? They don’t. Entire leagues like the USFL, WHA, and WFL may go out of business, but franchises do not, because the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL will keep them in business; they can actually operate at a loss. Conversely, soccer internationally operates on the club system.

In the club system, athletic clubs not unlike the Downtown Athletic Club, Capital Athletic Club, or 24-Hour Nautilus form their own soccer teams – with youth development squads. A bunch of clubs get together and play each other in a league. Unlike the franchise system where the league controls virtually every team’s existence, in the club system the league only makes the rules for competition. Furthermore, there may be so many teams in the league that the league is broken down into several levels of play.

Lets use England as an example. There are 92 teams in their major league, the Football Association, or FA. Because it is impossible for every team to play each other at least once, the FA is broken down into four levels, the top 20 teams being in the top level, the Premier League. Those twenty teams play each other twice, the team with the best record being the league champions. The next level of 23 teams is Division One, and so on down the line for all 92 teams, four divisions in all.

Any team not in the Premier division of the FA can get there by playing into it. Let’s say you have a club in Division Three. If you are one of three teams with the best record at the end of the season, you move up – or get “promoted”– to Division Two. In order to make room for you in the next level, the three teams in Division Two with the worst records at the end of the season are sent down – or get “relegated” – to Division Three. Keep finishing in the top three in each proceeding league and you eventually make it to the Premier division. As a result, the season is everything. That is, there is no playoff to decide a league champion; those 38 league games decide the champion, who gets promoted and who gets relegated. Every game is important. That means that if you lose the championship by one point then that stupid loss against the last-place team at the beginning of the season did as much to contribute to you losing the championship than that tough last-second tie to the third-place team towards the end of the season. There are no early season honeymoons; one misplaced goal allowed could be the difference between promotion to the Premier division and staying in Division One, or one goal scored could mean the difference between staying in Division Three and relegation out of the league. And have no illusions – there are scores of non-league teams waiting to take your place. In England, there are quite a few former league champions who for some reason have played their way out of the league.

While the Premier division winner is the winner of the league (recognized as the best of all 92 teams) there are in-season league-wide tournaments played in which every team at all levels of the FA play each other in an elimination format and win a league wide championship. The two major ones in England are the FA Cup and the League Cup. The early-round games usually pit a Premier division team against a lower division team, and it’s not unusual for the lower division team to not only beat their higher division counterpart, it has happened in the past that the eventual cup winner has come from a lower division.

The reward for all this is international exposure. The Premier division champion is recognized at the English soccer champion, and they advance to a tournament in Europe, consisting of the soccer champions of 15 other countries, called the Champions Cup. The Cup winners are recognized as the English tournament winners, and they advance to a tournament in Europe, consisting of the tournament winners of 31 other countries, called the Cup Winners Cup. The next four finishers in the Premier division even are rewarded for consistently good play by playing in a tournament in Europe, consisting of the top four finishers in 15 other countries, called the UEFA Cup. In essence, throughout the FA there is always something to play for, so there is no “being out of it by mid-season”. The mantra in every European country with pro soccer leagues is “Get To Europe.”

Playing other teams from other countries is the ultimate result and is made possible by the fact that there is an international soccer organization, FIFA, that insures that every soccer league world-wide plays by the same rules. Which means that interchanging players is commonplace – but there are no trades. Players come and go by “transfers”. Unlike the franchise system, under the club system a player’s contract is with his club not the league. If another team wants your player, you set what is called a “transfer fee”, for which the other club must agree to pay it. Once they agree to pay it, you get the transfer fee and the player’s contract is voided. The player then negotiates a new contract with his new club. If you have a player whose contract has expired, and you don’t wish to resign him, then he gets what is called a “free transfer”, and is free to sign with whomever he wishes (remember, these are less teams and more clubs).

Now this is a system that I think would work well in the states. Let’s use the just completed football season as an example, using the NFL and NCAA’s Div I-A, Div I-AA, Div II, and Div-III as an illustration. Since the season is everything, that means that the Kansas City Chiefs, as the team with the best record, would be the league champions. If there was an international tournament of football league champions, the Chiefs would go. For lack of any other tournaments, the Dallas Cowboys, as winners of the post-season tournament culminating in the Super Bowl, would be the cup winners (in this case, the Lombardi Trophy; we’ll call it the Lombardi Cup). If there was an international tournament of football cup winners, the Cowboys would go. The four teams with the next best records to the Chiefs and Cowboys, the San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, and Buffalo Bills, would go to an international tournament with 15 other country’s four best teams (if it existed). The New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Arizona Cardinals, by virtue of having the worst records in the NFL, would get relegated to NCAA Div I-A. The Nebraska Cornhuskers, Florida Gators, and Tennessee Volunteers, by virtue of having the best records in NCAA Div I-A, would get promoted to the NFL. It would work the same way for Div I-AA, Div II, and Div III, with teams being promoted and relegated depending on how good or bad they were.

Now who could not get behind this? Who wouldn’t want to see the Cornhuskers (a pro team anyway) play the Cowboys in a game that mattered?. Who gets tired of seeing the Cardinals play like shit year-in and year-out? The promotion/relegation system would force the Cardinals to do the best they can to put the best team on the field at all times without any thought to cutting costs or making a profit. Winning games would be objective one. If Bill Bidwell can’t do that, then Arizona gets sent down until they prove that they can by winning their way back up here. If Bidwell doesn’t have the money to sign quality players in order to maintain or improve his competitive standing in the league, tough shit! Either he figures out a way to compete, or the Cardinals keep getting relegated until they are at the bottom of the food chain.

You can be the richest person in the world and have the wherewithal to sign the best players in the world; in the club system, if you introduce a new franchise, you have to start at the bottom division and spend years working your way up. You don’t get to just come in at the top level or anywhere you please. It’s survival of the fittest – social Darwinism at its civilized best. That’s Life!

Which is exactly my point. Sorry, Mr. Boswell, but life imitates soccer more than it does baseball.

© 1996 Accurate Letters Enterprises/Psrhea Magazine

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Classic Psrhea: The Worlds Most Civilized Game (Part One)

A reprint from the groundbreaking Psrhea Magazine literary website.
This article saw first published in March 1996.

The Worlds Most Civilized Game
(Part One)

The Games People Play
by Abdullah Shabazz

As a disciple of Allah and the true faith of man, Islam, I have come to realize that fun and games in ones free time should reflect ones beliefs to a certain extent. I wouldn’t be able to write this column if I didn’t follow most sports to some degree and living here in the western world the athletic undertakings tend to go towards the primal. That having been said, I am a recent convert to the Muslim faith, so shedding both my attraction to football, baseball, basketball, bowling and boxing, and my attention to hockey, tennis, golf, and auto racing is very difficult.

Besides, I really don’t want to give up interest in any of the aforementioned sports; as much as I tell myself that I shouldn’t watch, I find myself symbiotically attracted, which would explain why it is I’m usually left with lots of free time on Sundays to watch football, or open Monday nights to go bowling. I mean, how can one not appreciate how Michael Jordan glides through the lane, or how Emmitt Smith finds the seam for daylight, or how Tony Gwynn makes putting wood on a baseball look oh-so-easy?

Recently, though, I’ve been attracted to soccer, or futbol as it is known to the world outside of North America. There seems to be a natural beauty to the game that I just can’t explain; the editor of this cyberzine once wrote about soccer: “If you don’t get it, you’ll never get it.” Thomas Boswell once prophesied how life begins on Opening Day [baseball]. While I don’t mean to excuse Mr. Boswell’s harmonic – I believe he’s referring to the sense of renewal he and other fans feel as a result of both the start of spring and the opening of the baseball season – I find more parallels to life in soccer than any other sport. And despite the fact that western “civilization” invented the game, I think it truly is a civilized sport.

Soccer has the same number of players per side as football, eleven, and there is tackling, but not in the American sense. You can’t use your hands or arms and physical contact is limited to non-combative impact. Contact is tolerated as long as the ball is the objective, So decidedly American idiosyncrasies such as body checking, blocking, grabbing, hitting, and football tackling are strictly forbidden. Otherwise it is a foul. Furthermore, you won’t find other American practices such as trash-talking and taunting. And arguing with the referee is verboten. You can say one or two things to him with no raised voices, insults, profanity or vulgarity – and then you get out of his face.

I even like how justice is meted out in soccer. Fouls are not tallied – there isn’t a limit as to how many you can have – but don’t think that, like in basketball, fouls can be used as a strategy. Committing fouls for the sake of committing them, or especially aggressive physical play, or an extremely violent tackle where the ball is not the objective will result in getting “booked”. The soccer equivalent of a basketball technical, a booking is a formal penalty where the referee stops play, calls the offending player to him, gets the player’s name and number, and writes it in a little black book he keeps in his breast pocket. The referee then flashes a little yellow card letting everybody know you’ve been booked. It’s like getting arrested, which makes it more like real life.

Now here’s the kicker: Get two yellow cards in one game and you get “sent off” – the soccer equivalent of an ejection – and your team cannot replace you with another player. In essence, your team has to play with one less player than the number allowed. And because you received two yellow cards in one game, you cannot play in your team’s next scheduled game. There are even some of the more important international competitions where if you get a yellow card in one game and one yellow card in another game, you have to sit out your team’s next scheduled game. Seems kinda brutal, huh?

…But that’s not all: If you do something baldly wrong, such as exhibiting excessively violent play or hitting somebody altogether, the referee won’t even waste his time with a yellow card; he’ll pull out a red card. An even more severe booking, a red card is the equivalent of two yellow cards; you’ll get sent off, your team plays a man down, and you get to sit out a minimum of three games. Believe me, this does a better job of maintaining order than football, baseball, or basketball, where the system of fines and suspensions deters nothing.

That’s not the only thing I like about soccer. I like that there are no time-outs – the game clock is always running – and that the referee not only keeps the official game time but is the only person who knows exactly how much time there is in the game. I used to think that this was uncivilized and barbaric, but I now understand what soccer is trying to accomplish with this. There are no time-outs in life; why should there be in sports? It’s 12:00 pm and you have to get the phone bill paid by 3:00 pm or they turn off your phone. If you stop off at a restaurant on the way for fifteen minutes, that phone bill is still due by 3:00 pm; the phone company is not going to allot you another fifteen minutes to your deadline. Furthermore, you don’t know exactly (and I mean to the second) how long a lot of things will take. You don’t know how long you’ll be stuck in traffic. You don’t how long you’ll be asleep. You don’t know how long it takes to comb your hair, or take a shower, or eat a meal. And you have no idea how long you’ll live. By taking away the time-outs and not knowing exactly when then game will end the inventors of the game of soccer have minimized the time element.

Which is part and parcel with limited substitutions; only three are allowed per team per game. Ergo, with eleven players per side, that means at a minimum eight are playing the entire game with no letup. And once you come out, you are not going back in. In an specialized era where we Westerners are paying $5 million dollars to a relief pitcher to throw six to ten pitches every third game, or $3 million dollars to a placekicker, or $4 million to a third down slot-back or pass rusher in passing situations, the limited substitutions forces soccer to have to find the best possible all-around players and live with the results. No going in for one play or a third of an inning; once you’re in, you stay in and deal with everything that goes on; once you’re out, you are done for the day. If a player gets injured, then his team plays a man short until he can return; otherwise you’ll have to waste one of your three substitutions.

This minimizes the extent of which coaches can have an active participation with what’s going on on the field. The logic is simple: You’ve spend years practicing and preparing to play, and I’m paying you all this money to know what to or improvise throughout an entire game, and I’ve done the best I can preparing you; when it comes time for you to perform, you should know what to do with little or no prodding from me. Look, if there are three clerks assigned to work the front desk at a hotel during a given shift, and one calls in sick, the hotel is not closing down because they don’t have enough clerks that shift; they’ll have to make do with two desk clerks. If the grass needs cutting and dad and son usually do it, but son gets sick, dad still has to cut the grass by himself. Are you now beginning to see how soccer imitates life?

© 1996 Accurate Letters Enterprises/Psrhea Magazine

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Classic Psrhea: Not Ready For Prime Time

A reprint from the groundbreaking Psrhea Magazine literary website.
This article saw first published in April 1997.

Not Ready For
Prime Time

Makes Me Wanna Hollar
by Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

Have you ever watched premium cable television in the wee hours of the morning – that time of the day when most sane people are either asleep or burning the candle on both ends while still out partying? The 1:00 AM – 6:00 AM range on cable is usually reserved for those B-movie straight-to-video schlock flicks with loads of blood flying, body bags and skin slapping featuring second- and third-rate “stars” such as Shannon Tweed, Andrew Stevens, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Corey Haim, and Shannon Whirry. Every now and then, however, the premium cable channels will broadcast a rare underground movie or cult independent film that has received a modicum of critical acclaim but is deemed to not have the drawing power to sustain an audience through a prime viewing spot.

Early one weekday morning recently I was channel-surfing through the four main premium channels (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax and The Movie Channel). On three of them was the aforementioned “schlock flicks” with no limits on the blood flying, bodies slapping and sweat slinging. On one of them, though, was a three-year-old independent film called “Bar Girls.” The film was an offbeat drama with a virtually all-women cast that examined the topsy-turvy romances that befell gay female denizens of a local lesbian tavern. While the movie was not as raunchy and in-your-face as would be expected at that time of day, it did take a moderately no-holds-barred look at emotional, mental, spiritual, and – dare I say it – physical concerns and anxieties of its gay female subjects. The characters held nothing back in their dialogue and there quite a few intimate scenes between women.
Lesbian angst.

I had heard about “Bar Girls” when it was first released in 1994. Needless to say, because it was a small independent film with no major distributor, the film was distributed in limited release to small art-house theaters. But it opened to generally good reviews; I had not recalled any film critic disliking the film. So having a familiarity with the film, I decided to delay going to work and watch.

It was while watching one of “Bar Girls” all-female love scenes that I realized why this film had been relegated to the early-morning hours. Despite how well this movie was made, the perceived “delicate nature” of the subject matter made it “unsuitable” for mass consumption during a time when a majority of the populace may have had access to it. This puritan society is simply not ready to deal with the affairs, interests, and concerns of a subsection of the population which the mainstream, while outwardly giving lip service to their own open-mindedness, considers morally corrupt. Ellen DeGeneres notwithstanding, as long as this traditional society and its institutions don’t have to acknowledge that homosexuals have values, customs, beliefs and rights that are just as worthy of exercising as anybody else’s, then keeping homosexuality “out of sight and out of mind” becomes instinctive to the greater society.

In essence, what I’m saying is that broadcasting “Bar Girls” at a time when it is virtually guaranteed to draw the fewest viewers is a form of keeping it “in the closet…”


The city of Huntington Beach, California, is proud of its record as a place that is free of the problem of homelessness. The city government never ceases to make the claim that there are no homeless “people” aimlessly wandering the streets and that the city, ever so clean and spotless, has not needed to address a problem that in this community does not exist. A town like Huntington Beach, in the middle of the urban problems that plague surrounding southern California, is nothing short of miraculous.

Or surreal, when you consider what’s going on there. What is left unsaid here is an implied yet very well hidden policy which is practiced by the Huntington Beach Police. It seems that when a police officer happens upon a homeless person within the city limits, said person is picked up and transported to the city of Costa Mesa on the southeast border of Huntington Beach and dropped off.

Costa Mesa is known around southern California as having a somewhat more serious homeless problem than its neighbors. Now we know why.

This program of denial allows Huntington Beach to make the unsubstantiated claim that it does. You see, they’ve found a simple way of pushing the problem out of people’s consciousness – get rid of it and make it somebody else’s problem. Somehow I have to believe that the city government knows – and probably quietly signed off on it. The police couldn’t have come up with this idea on their own – as we’ve seen, southern California cops just aren’t that clever.

So no, I guess there is no homeless “problem” in Huntington Beach, but there sure as hell is a problem with the “solution”…


The Invisible Man is neither a movie creation nor Claude Rains. He was first publicly revealed through Ralph Ellison’s now-famous novel. He most recently was among the 600,000+ other obviously-invisible men that the Washington, DC Park Services failed to count during the Million-Man March.

Copyright 1996 Accurate Letters Enterprises/Psrhea Magazine

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