Monday, September 13, 2010

Are You Ready For Some Football?

For some of you football season began Thursday night or perhaps it started last week when the boys in red and blue kicked off their seasons. Some of my neighbors might disagree and say that football season has been here for a few months ever since summer practice began at the high school and little league levels. Well I’m here to tell you that football season has indeed already started and the official kick off date was August 15th. “August 15th?” you ask yourself, “that seems arbitrary… was that the first high school game?” Nope. “Fantasy football draft?” Guess again. “I don’t want to guess anymore.” Fine, I’ll tell you – August 15th – 1600 British Summer Time at Anfield Stadium in Liverpool England. “Beg your pardon?” many of you just muttered under your breath, well allow me to explain.

I've been a fan of soccer ever since my youth - played it for 7+ years, served a mission for the LDS Church in a soccer loving country but really the only soccer I ever watched was during the World Cup every four years.    Before you call me a bandwagon jumper, I'll have you know that it wasn't just this past World Cup that I enjoyed, I've been watching them religiously since 1990.  When Wheels and I were unemployed newlyweds  (a combo I highly recommend) in 2002, we would stay up all night watching the live feeds of World Cup games from Japan and South Korea with Flanksteak and his friend Jonny Boy.  In those days you felt as if  you were a member of some secret club and you felt pity for your friends who were missing out.  Soccer was a small, obscure indie band you loved to see in a dive bar on the verge of blowing up and playing at large arenas around the United States.  Actually a nice comparison would have been the Kings of Leon circa 2002.  In Utah, you could see them play at a small club with 200 people and over in England they'd sell out 40,000 seat soccer stadiums.  In fact, their second album was released in the UK six months before it was released on the band's home soil.  However, the past twelve months have been good for the Followill brothers as well as soccer in the USofA.  Neither have reached the status of U2 or Coldplay but each has received some mainstream recognition complete with radio hits and performances in larger arenas.

I enjoyed the crap out of the 2010 World Cup.  I would rank Landon Donovan's last minute goal against the mighty Algerian team that advanced the US into the knockout round of the cup as a Top 10 sport highlight of my lifetime.  Even better than the goal scored by Pele to help defeat the Nazis in Victory.  Had I been watching it at home and not in my company's cafeteria I would have possibly shed some tears.  I nearly did anyway.  It was that exciting and emotional.  Sure the US should have easily defeated the 'powerhouse' Algerian team but after some terrible officiating and near misses most of the fans had written off the game and the Cup for another four years.  If you haven't seen the youtube clip that was emailed around with the reactions from different crowds in the USA yet then I demand you watch it now.  Goosebump city.  Plenty of other story lines were enjoyable as well - the upstart Chilean team, the big bullies like France and Italy getting knocked out early and of course Uruguay's run to the semifinals.  By the end of tournament, the level of man crush that Flanksteak and I had for Uruguayan Striker Diego Forlan was off the charts.

Once the Cup ended and the last vuvuzela had been blown Flanksteak and I were at a loss.  Now what?  We didn't want to wait another four years to enjoy soccer.  We put our heads together and came up with the following two step plan:

1 - Stop taking Real Salt Lake for granted and support them with more sincerity.

We are lucky to have the MLS Cup Champions playing right in our hometown.  As much as I enjoy watching their games, I can't help but feel like I'm seeing a lesser brand of soccer.  It's like watching the SL Bees instead of the SF Giants.  Same game, still enjoyable, just not quite as good.  Part of the joy of the World Cup was seeing a sport played at the highest level.  We needed more.  This led us to step two.

2 - Find a premiere international team to follow

Although it hopefully will be someday, it's not a stretch to admit that the best soccer is not currently being played on US soil.  Just like foreigners who watch the NBA or the NFL we set out to find a team and/or league that would allow us to see the best soccer possible.  Which league should we choose?  The consensus top three most respected soccer leagues in the world are La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy) and The English Premier League (shockingly based in England).  We quickly settled on the EPL because we knew that it had recently partnered with ESPN and we figured the games would be more readily available on TV.  Our first thought was, "For which team does Diego Forlan play?"  Unfortunately he is no longer playing in the EPL so we dug deeper.  We read wikipedia histories, an article by ESPN's Bill Simmons discussing his quest to find an EPL team after the 2006 World Cup, and dissected each team's roster.  We must have spent two whole hours figuring this out.

Many teams were ruled out quickly - Manchester United - would be like deciding to just start watching baseball and picking the Yankees.  Chelsea - last year's champs, didn't want to hop on the bandwagon, plus we have multiple friends and family members who like Chelsea and we wanted to have some rivalries.  Even though we didn't want to pick the current champions, we did want to pick a team that would have a legitimate chance at winning a title over the next few years, which eliminated many of the other hopefuls.  We were left with a final three of Manchester City, Tottenham, and Liverpool.  My quick and Encyclopedia Brown-esque readers will be able to deduce the team we selected.  It wasn't Manchester City and we were glad to not have picked them because they have been buying up all of the world talent over the past few years and the games of theirs that we have watched so far have not shown them as a fun team for which to cheer.  Think Miami Heat come this NBA season.  Much more fun to root against.

So what made Liverpool so special?  Pleasant roster - check.  Cool jerseys - check.  Liverpool is also the most decorated team in English soccer history but they've been down for the past several years therefore a championship isn't out of the question but it isn't a given either.  We wanted to suffer a little before we were just handed a trophy.  All important and valid reasons but it was this final tidbit that really sealed the deal - "You'll Never Walk Alone."

Why am I quoting a song from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel and why would that sway my opinion?  For those of you who don't know, my Grandpa Strat was a renowned music teacher and because him our family has a deep love of all music and musicals.  I'm certain you could pick any member of my mother's family out of hat, pick a song from a musical out of a different hat and that person could name the musical from whence it came and sing it for you.  That person would then select three other members of the family and they'd bust it out for you in 4-part acapella no less.  Most soccer teams in Europe have a team song and that of Liverpool just so happens to be the above mentioned song.  Once Flanksteak and I saw that the decision was made - we were taking our talents to Merseyside.  Fans sing You'll Never Walk Alone at each match and it is so ingrained in the Liverpool culture that is included in the team's crest and above the stadium gates.

This announcement might come as a shock to some of you and most of you probably stopped reading this post many paragraphs ago.  Fear not, I haven't given up my love of Football and since I'm not British I promise to continue to refer to Soccer as Soccer and Football as Football, not American Football.  However, as my neighbor Coach T can verify, I will not be ashamed to sit in my kitchen on Sunday mornings in my underwear watching soccer on a shoddy internet stream and drinking yerbamate.  In fact, I have to - I made a pledge and if that interests you then join Flanksteak and I and we vow that you too, will never walk alone.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Skog Family Week in Review


Once upon a time I vomited while on a ride at Lagoon.  Some of the details are now hazy but I know I was between the ages of 14-17, it was Stake Lagoon Day, the poor sap with whom I was riding was my pal, Colin, and the stomach twisting - chuck inducing culprit was The Rock-O-Plane.  Not to be confused with The Roll-O-Plane, which is no longer in existence at Lagoon.  Rumor has it (I'm sure the Internet never lies) that sometime in 2002 the Roll-O-Plane had a large passenger enter one side and as it lifted into the air it came together like a circus strongman bending a steel bar.  Click here and scroll down to see a pic.  Luckily nobody was hurt.  However, somebody did get hurt in that Rock-O-Plane on that fateful day.  As Colin and I made our final loop and unloading descent, I laid over the bar with my light breakfast inching ever closer to the top of my throat and finally "unleashed the kraken" all over the bottom of the cage.  We locked the bar in place and were able to finish the road unscathed, minus a few splatters.  The decent thing to do would have been to get out and tell the Lagoon employee what had transpired in the plane.  The line was long, however, and who was I to make all of those nice paying customers wait several minutes while the cage was cleaned and sanitized?  So I did what any normal 14-17 male who just blew chunks in public would do - I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me.  To this day it haunts me.  To the lottery winner who got the pleasure of riding in that cage post-kg explosion - I offer a sincere apology.

I took Superstar to Lagoon for Frightmares when she was three years old.  Because of the Halloween theme Superstar had thought until this trip that the name of the park was - Howlagoon.  I was excited to show her the park during non-nightmare inducing days.  Wheels, on the other hand, was not as excited to return to the park for her first visit in over a decade.  Wheels is something of a, how would you say?  ah yes - An Amusement Park Snob.  I'm sure it has something to do with growing up in proximity to Cedar Point, arguably the best park in the United States.  Cedar Point has had the World's Tallest, Fastest, etc Roller Coaster at different points of the park's history.  She might have a point - go ahead and checkout some of the coasters on their website.  We'll be back here waiting with Wheels laughing at our lousy Colossus.  Throw in the fact that Toots' tummy has provided many tales like the one described in the first paragraph and you could understand our trepidation as we headed for our first family day at Lagoon.

We started off slow - the Baby Boats - which are a rite of passage for any young child.  We'd heard horror stories from people such as The Bells who talked about throwing their kids on a scary ride right out of the shoot and scarring their children for the rest of the day.  Nothing like waiting 45 min for this thrill ride.  Actually, I didn't wait for this ride.  Myself and two of the Bell Boys made a break for Tidal Wave and rode it (twice) while that poor sap Wheels watched toddlers and infants clang bells in a circle on repeat.  I made it back just in time and the kids loved it.

Next up we hit the Red Baron.  One of the girls' favorite books is Snoopy and the Red Baron so we asumed this was a great idea.  It started off fine and both Toots and Superstar seemed to enjoy the up and down but after a few laps around Toots began to cry.  "Great," I thought to myself, "It's gonna be a real fun day here with Toots."  As the ride ended and I went to help the girls disembark their planes I saw that Toots' seatbelt was undone which seemed odd since not once did I see the unfasten your seatbelt light during the flight.  Not sure how that occurred but she seemed fine after returning to the safety of the ground.

After the seatbelt debacle we decided to hit another ride that was beloved by all children, The Bumper Cars.  I feared the ride wouldn't be as fun for the girls since they basically play bumper cars with the neighbor kids and their power wheels in the cul-de-sac everyday but this time it was actually not only allowed but encouraged by their parents.  What kid wouldn't like that?  Toots.  Well at least not when she got stuck against the side while kids continually smashed into the back of her car.  "I've made a huge mistake," I thought once again.

Once Toots had again calmed down we headed back for a few more kiddie rides. Toots began to get her groove back and something clicked. From that point on the only crying was when she was not allowed on rides because of her height. We had planned ahead for this but it really depended on whether the teenage kid running the ride was being vigilant. Toots is 34.5" and Superstar is 44" tall. Both of them were just shy of two Lagoon magic numbers - 36" and 46", respectively. 36" means that you can ride some of the big rides while accompanied by an adult and some of the 'extreme' kiddie rides. 46" is the cutoff for most of the better adult rides, all of which Superstar was willing to ride. We'll see how brave she is next year when the 46" barrier has been crossed but for now Superstar claims she would ride anything and has so far lived up to her braggadocio. We had Toots wear some sandals with a heel to get her closer to 36" and we instructed her on proper tippy toe techniques. She was close enough that most of the ride operators just let her slide but there was one kid who spoke like Borat and operated the green swings that kept shutting her down. We tried at four different times throughout the day to no success, usually being greeted with, "Sheez eee leetle beet a tooo esmall..." She was devastated. Luckily she found many other rides that she enjoyed such as the Musik Express and Rattlesnake Rapids - "Get Kim wet! Get Kim wet" was apparently the war cry there. All in all a terrific day at Lagoon.

We enjoyed ourselves so much that a week later we decided to bounceback. That morning as I left work for home it was raining as hard as it had poured all summer. "I've made a huge mistake," I again thought to myself, nearly turning around to head back into the office. However, I pressed forward with faith. I consulted with The Bells and my old man upon arriving home and The Bells were going to not let a little rain stop them and they journeyed to the park. Big J and I thought we better sit out until the weather cooperated a little better and after a short wait mother nature welcomed us with a delightful day. Here are Toots and Rockstar out for a pleasant drive.

The only negative aspect of the day was the malfunctioning train. We had somehow escaped riding it on our first visit to the park but you don't slip something that awesome passed your kids twice.  Each time we tried to  have a train ride there was a sign informing us it was out of order and would be up shortly.  Finally towards the end of the day the ride was back up and running.  We waited for a few minutes and then loaded up and the kids sat eager to see a few random animals and a really nasty lagoon filled with 20 foot carp.  As the engineer blew the whistle a puff of black smoke shot out and not in a good way.  The ride was down again and we were asked to exit.  Luckily for us we did see some animals during our brief time on the train.  We saw some monkeys, exotic birds, a lion and some bashful bears.

An extremely pleasant day, indeed. By the end of our twice in one week Lagoon experience even Wheels was singing its praises. Also, Because of the rain there were extremely short rides and we were able to ride anything we wanted. Even Toots, who finally got her ride on the Green Swings.