From the halls of Foxboro Stadium…

Alegria Programada & Other Discontents, With A Nod To Boswell’s Johnson.

Posted by tonybiscaia on July 11, 2011


by Jim Dow

Charlie Whitehurst, the quotable Seattle Seahawks quarterback is only one of myriad sports figures to invoke the time-honored dictum, “You can’t fire the players at this level…” but then he went on to say, “It was amazing how good we were. I had forgotten how good we could be, because it had gotten so bad.”

Could we attribute the latter to Shalrie Joseph or Matt Reis, except I seriously doubt if either of them have forgotten… Should the current coaching staff be let go? If so, who would make the decisions, and control the purse strings to fund good, or even adequate replacements? With the season barely half done, is there any reason to believe that things might get better, either this season, or the next?

When things get really bad, and currently in Revsland things are really, really bad, some people turn to religion, others to drink or other forms of iniquity and while I, too, seek solace in the usurious eleven dollar beers, I also like to look for some kind of intellectual corroboration, specifically for quotations from others that might shed perspective on whatever it is that seems to be oppressive and terminal which, at present, is the dire situation that the New England Revolution find themselves in.

Consider these two observations, made some 250 years apart by a smart businessman and a an intellectual for the ages.

“Measure nine times and cut once.” Robert Kraft – Investor/Operator of the New England Revolution.

“He who waits to do a great deal of good at once will never do anything.” Dr. Samuel Johnson – Eighteenth century English author, poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer.

Interestingly, Johnson also remarked that the way to “Hell is paved with good intentions. ” as well as, “In order that all men may be taught to speak truth, it is necessary that all likewise should learn to hear it.”

Well, the current ownership of the New England Revolution may, indeed, want the team to succeed, even thrive but on the surface of it they have demonstrated that either they don’t understand what they are involved in or, worse, don’t care. Regardless, from the fan’s perspective, truly, “… hope is necessary in every condition (Johnson).” And, right now, there is little or none of it in supply.

Johnson also opined, “I am a great friend to public amusements, for they keep people from vice.” It would be interesting to know if the management and ownership of the New England Revolution see that as an aspect of their role, particularly at the Fort end of the field.

At the present moment many longtime fans of the team are in the deepest of funks, however, in the grand scheme of things, other teams, in other places, have it far, far worse. Consider River Plate, the storied Buenos Aires club just relegated to the Argentine National “B” (second) division for the first time in their history. What awaits Los Millionarios for the foreseeable future makes New England’s currently dismal season seem like child’s play. The only sports comparison in this country would be the appalling destruction of the Dodgers by the infantile, idiotic, squabbling McCourts, although that debacle seems more the result of hubris, not systemic corruption.

While most of the fans of the Fort would happily grill a few TeamOps upper operatives in the pregame BBQ in the parking lot and serve them up with the kind of sauces reserved for the mystery meat that cheap college catering concerns offer, their frustrations are sweetness and light relative to what the fans of Las Gallinas are currently feeling. Plus Foxborough’s finest have yet to use tear gas, truncheons, water cannons and rubber bullets on the customers.

Through a combination of completely cynical, blatantly corrupt maneuvers the team that gave such players as Cannigia, Francescoli, Passarella and Salas to the world will be soon taking busses to ports of call like Corrientes, Parana and Quilmes for at least a season or two. On the other hand, regardless of what happens this year, the management of the Revolution are secure in the knowledge that they will play at MLS level the next season and the next and the next and so on. Perhaps the lack of such pressure constitutes the reverse of another of Dr. Johnson’s dictums, “Depend upon it, Sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” The threat of the drop to playing in the likes of Ludlow might do wonders to concentrate New England’s ownership on what is required to be competitive in MLS these days.

The Krafts themselves are certainly not corrupt, nor cynical or evil and they don’t lack the ability to concentrate on matters but they are seemingly unaware, perhaps to the point of being willfully so, of what a proper football franchise, er, club, is all about, at least in the eyes of the team’s hard core fans who wish, above all, to be part of a broader, more idiosyncratic football culture, as different from Patriot Nation as the lunar landscape.

Jibes aside, in the global world of contemporary communications where one can follow Dimitar Berbabtov’s every pirouette up close and personally, including on Twitter there are many options to live football poorly played in a suburban wasteland and, to a great extent, those have been opted for in increasing numbers since the supposed golden days of great attendance to watch what passed for football in the mid and late 1990’s.

Those empty seats in the Morgue are mirrored by filled recliners in front of Fox Soccer Channel, Gol TV, ESPN and the like and their occupants are not coming back until there is demonstrably better quality on display in the man mall’s biggest shop window.

The question now begging is this: as currently constituted and going forward, do the New England Revolution have a viable place at the competitive table in a league that is evolving and changing at a considerable clip? And, behind such a question lingers another, more important one; does the present ownership have the necessary combination of ambition, wherewithal and nous to contribute to making this possible?

Scarily prescient, the great essayist also advised, “whatever you have, spend less.” Might he be consulting at Foxborough from beyond the grave?

If the 20th slot in MLS is, potentially, worth up to $100 million, does it make sense at this point for the Kraft family to sell off an already existing team pads, balls, players, coaches and all to the highest bidder? Could the New England Revolution become the Minneapolis Thumpers, the San Antonio Strikers or, perish the thought, the New York Cosmos next season? If I was tending Poppa K’s books, despite an infusion of ready cash from spurious friendlies against laudable champions, I’d be inclined to advise calling it a wash, park the moving vans where the Spain and ManU busses pulled up and start scheduling truck pulls, Tom Tom & Giselle fashion shows and blue hair and tweener concerts for summer 2012.

This, of course, doesn’t bear thinking about but such apocalyptical musings were in mind when I met a die-hard River Plate fan named Alvaro at a Cinco de Mayo party few weeks ago. While his team hadn’t officially gone down at the time he was full of foreboding about the prospect and my own sense of dread about the way things were moving forward for the Revos bonded us and led to a long conversation.

As football fans do when they first encounter each other we exchanged information and recollections to test our mutual soccer cred. After satisfying my new friend that I was sufficiently knowledgeable about futbol, I asked him if he ever went to Revolution games. In retrospect his answer might offer a useful perspective on the controversy regarding what constitutes appropriate conduct within the confines of Gillette Stadium.

He said that he won’t go to a game in the States, not because of the quality of the football itself, which he feels is unquestionably on the rise but because of a broader cultural issue, a condition he referred to as “alegria programada,” which translates to “programmed happiness.”

In a later e-mail he described an experience that he had when attending Harvard Business School where, on a group junket to Philadelphia, he and his classmates were sent detailed e-mail instructions before coming together in the evening to undergo a planned bonding ritual.

“At 9.30 pm we (were instructed to) gather in a bar and drink beers. At 10.00 pm we would then move to another bar, 2 blocks from the first one, and have more beers. At 10.25 pm we would then move to a third bar, right besides the first one, and drink more beers. The list went to 8 bars or so. Then, at 1 am, we would all take our pants off and, in underwear, walk down Walnut Street in Philadelphia, laughing and shouting (in what was known as) THE WALNUT WALK .

I was shocked by the level of detail; I had arrived in the US less than 6 months before getting that email, and could not believe such organization for a night of beers with friends.

Lots of what if… a. What if the bar you are in is pretty good and you do not need to go to the next one? b. What if instead of a night of fun and alcohol, you end up being depressed and needing friends around you? (“pinto bajon” as we say in Buenos Aires) Would you know that in advance, isn’t it the first beer the one that decides your fate that night?

Is it possible to plan a night with friends? Do you really need to have a program for having fun at age 28? Granted, I had the option of not attending the event, but it was a shock that ended up being a tangible and real example of one of the elements that, in my humble opinion, may define (the) American way of living (I have lived in Argentina, Paraguay, Spain, Switzerland and the US)…”

Re-reading this e-mail from Alvaro in light of the current culture clash at the stadium, I began to wonder if the idea of “programmed happiness” somehow doesn’t define the difference between the folks who complain and want to regulate the chaotic, unpredictable behavior in the Fort and those who choose to sing, shout, curse, jump up and down, wave flags, hold scarves over their heads and generally act out and up. There is no clear script as to what might happen behind the North goal on a given night, events are generally dictated by the course of the game, the consumption of beers (again, Alvaro, “isn’t it the first beer the one that decides your fate that night?) plus the particular cast of characters that happen to show up. Going into the stadium nobody knows what might happen and certainly nobody wants to respond to flashing instructions to “make noise,” or choose to behave in any sort of organized, predictable way, It doesn’t matter how many moms or kids are in close proximity, or if David Beckham is playing, for the crowd in the Fort, to quote Alvaro one last time, “at the end of the day, happiness is a subjective thing, and can be achieved via multiple routes.”

Can a stadium as large as Gillette allow for the possibilities such diversity implies? Is it possible for the unpredictability and unfairness of football to be reflected in the stands? Does the purchase of a ticket to a New England Revolution match have to have a guarantee of alegria programada for all concerned printed on the back?

Or, to end with the wisdom of Dr. Johnson… “Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.” And, to put a fine point on it…”The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”

More soon, after and related to ManU.


4 Responses to “Alegria Programada & Other Discontents, With A Nod To Boswell’s Johnson.”

  1. Brilliant article Jim. Absolutely great work, as always. Love the concept of ‘alegria programata’ – so appropriate for the Revs’ game day experience. In addition to the great quotes in this piece, in terms of the Revs’ FO I would add, “fail to plan, plan to fail.”

  2. Daniel Bonaire said

    Excellent as always Jim.

  3. Tom Hill said

    Great stuff, Jim. Always an enjoyable read.

  4. Monty said

    Jim … you constantly amaze me. Absolutely fantastic.

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