U.S. Soccer Shakeup
Sampson Makes The Hard Call
National soccer team coach Steve Sampson speaks fluent Spanish, so he understands just what kind of cojones it took last week to cut John Harkes from the U.S. World Cup team. After all, Harkes, 31, owns America's most distinguished soccer r�sum�, which includes two years as national captain, six years in the English Premier league and key roles on both the 1990 and '94 World Cup squads. A phone message left by an 11-year-old at U.S. Soccer headquarters in Chicago last week expressed his displeasure with the move in song: "Hi, ho, Sampson must go. Hi, ho, the derry-o, Sampson must go."
But though Sampson should give a more complete explanation of what he called the "leadership issues" that led to Harkes's dismissal, his decision was a good one. He said last week that generally, such issues include "making proper decisions at the proper time, maintaining discipline both in yourself and in others and serving as a conduit so that there is a clear understanding between the coaching staff and the players." He appeared to be saying that Harkes was failing in some or all of these areas.
Harkes's play for the national loam had declined dramatically over the last year. More important, his leadership had slipped to the point that one team member said Harkes was a "polarizing influence." Harkes has his supporters among his former teammates, but team sources say the anti-Harkes camp is larger. "If it was just an issue of on-the-field concerns, he would probably still be on the team," Sampson said last week. "But John lost sight of what it meant to be the captain."
Harkes would not comment for fear of jeopardizing the chance that Sampson will change his mind. Don't expect that to happen. Three weeks ago Harkes phoned Sampson and said he was willing to change his attitude. The appeal didn't work, and unless there is a rash of injuries, it's likely that the U.S. national team has seen the last of its onetime leader.
Gritty Lords of The Ring
Shot in five weeks on a shoestring budget, TwentyfourSeven stars Bob Hoskins as Alan Darcy, an enigmatically saint-like tramp who reopens an old boxing club in an unnamed town in England's blighted industrial Midlands. Darcy hopes the club will bring meaning and dignity to the lives of the area's angry, aimless youth. The "lads," as Darcy calls these lost young men, are played mostly by nonactors who are friends of the film's writer-director, Shane Meadows. A self-described former petty thief, Meadows, 25, grew up on the mean streets of Nottingham, where the film was shot. A boxer for a while—until his club was closed—he knows the ropes.
"Pride is a big thing in young men," says Meadows. "And when everything positive is taken away, it becomes pride in destruction. What Darcy offers the lads is a way to control that aggression." The control is tenuous. At one point Darcy's most promising charge, frustrated by his opponent's tactics, abandons the Queensberry rules and delivers a vicious soccer-hooligan-style stomping in the ring. Even Darcy, in the end, must confront the very rage he has sought to tame.
Such moments give the film its drama, but TwentyfourSeven is at its best depicting gritty everyday life in the gym. Meadows shot the film in the Bingham Boxing Club, and his understated black-and-white camera work captures the awkward, often painful attempts of the lads as they learn to handle themselves in the ring. There's no glamour here, no choreographed combinations. Late in the film, before the team's first match against another club (the real Bingham boxers), Meadows pans his camera along the silent, staring faces of his fighters as they wait in the dressing room. The fear—and the hope-is unmistakable.
Bees in Their Bonnets