9
Apr

Trecker’s Travels: Santa Claus hits Bayern Munich’s official store

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MUNICH

Every time I travel, I ask the guys in the office if they’d like me to bring anything back for them. Scarves, jerseys, chocolate, whatever — though I do draw the line at objects bigger than a breadbox — and this is an attempt to camouflage the fact that, well, I’m out of the office in foreign lands that most people would really like to be in.

[This is the point at which I’m supposed to remind you that not one thing at all about 11-hour plane trips and all-day sits at rainy arenas at which you curse the wi-fi and wish dearly you had a fifth of Early Times, is glamorous. But I’ll skip it.]

So, the guy that runs our podcast is a Bayern Munich fan, and of course I’m in Munich. Neither of these things are a secret. Thomas Hautmann, in fact, is so over the top in his Bayern fandom that several weeks back, Warren Barton took the opportunity to poke fun at the poor guy on-air — something about him wearing Bayern underwear. And so, this trip, I was to get him Bayern underwear.

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21
Feb

Trecker’s Travels: 411 on the London Underground

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LONDON

Down the street from where I’m staying sits one of the busiest train stations in London. The Camden Town stop is one of the Underground’s oldest and deepest stations, and handles an enormous amount of traffic. On a sunny weekend day, you can barely cross the High Street for the crowds, and it seems like a wave is coming at you, babbling in multiple languages, all heading for the shops and Camden Locks.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the London Underground lately by dint of spending so much time on it. It is hot, crowded and faintly miserable. It is also utterly indispensable: in my case I’m 15 minutes from Arsenal, about 30 minutes from Shoreditch, and never further than 45 minutes from any stadium in the city limits, save perhaps Dagenham and Redbridge.

Camden Town’s stop — not to be confused with the Camden Road overground stop about five minutes north — is so busy that it closes up shop to departing passengers on weekends. When that happens, you have to clamber down a steep 96-step spiral staircase. If you go down an extra set of steps at the end of Platform 2, you will find yourself in an air-raid shelter that was used during World War II. Doctor Who fans have seen the shelter: Tom Baker prowled about it in the 1977 episode “The Sunmakers,” — I’ll give you an extra mark if you name the other sci-fi series in which it made a cameo.

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12
Feb

Trecker’s Travels: London’s rare moment of brightness

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LONDON

On Tuesday, the sun was out and underneath my flat window, Hollywood had broken out. A camera crew was at one end of Inverness Street, at the other stood a man I recognized from Doctor Who: James Corden.

For a moment, I thought Los Angeles might have followed me over here but then I realized that all the people crowded around him has been rounded up off the streets. Those were not extras playing schoolgirls, cops and street-sweepers — they were schoolgirls, cops and street-sweepers (London’s public worker rules must very liberal indeed). A good hour and a half went by while they rolled off shot after shot as I watched from above. Some of the cast started waving up to me and I waved back. A girl asked for a bottle of water, I chucked one down.

I won’t spoil the plot, but it is apparently part of a campaign for Cadbury over here, and might have a bit to do with the return of the cult-classic comedy “Gavin and Stacey.” I only know this because their social media team tweeted at me about it.

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12
Feb

Trecker’s Travels: East London’s much-needed humor

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LONDON

Green Street, the approach to the Boleyn Ground at Upton Park, has a famous clock outside the Tube station. The message is grim: it reads “DON’T KILL YOUR WIFE/LET US DO IT.” It’s for a launderette, and it’s sold with typical East London humor.

There’s a lot of that around here, and the area needs it: Upton Park is in a ragged part of London, clogged with shops offering mobile phone unlocking, open-air fish markets and halal eateries. And the football here’s not offering much relief.

West Ham is an immensely proud club, fallen on some difficult times. Nearly 120 years old, they have bounced back and forth between the Premier League and the Championship in recent years and are currently locked in a fierce relegation battle. Tuesday night, they were in a classic six-pointer against an equally poor Norwich side, hoping to put a bit more distance between themselves and the drop.

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Off the field, the Hammers have been a bit more successful. Owned by two veterans of London’s now-faded pornography industry, David Gold and David Sullivan, West Ham have inked a sweet deal to move out of their aging ground and take over the Olympic Stadium in nearby Stratford. For a mere $26 million, they will get to take over a stadium that is expected to cost nearly $310 million to retrofit for football. In addition, they announced on Monday that they will sell their old grounds here to a private developer, in a deal that has been reported as worth nearly $120m. Not a bad bit of business.

Not everyone is happy about that, mind you. Tiny Leyton Orient, currently trying to clamber out of the third division, sits in the Olympic Stadium’s shadow. They fear their tiny stadium on Brisbane Road simply won’t be able to compete, and they have a point, but they have lost several legal challenges to West Ham’s tenancy there, and as it stands, the matter is settled.

The funny thing is that West Ham might not be far apart from Leyton in the tables next season. Their fabled “Academy of Football” is referenced with heavy irony these days and with just seven points separating the eleven teams trying to stay in the top-flight, they have a brutal run-in ahead of them. In the final weeks, the Hammers will play both Manchester sides, Liverpool and three London derbies (against Palace, Arsenal and Spurs). They are currently 4-1 to go down the chute.

Leyton, on the other hand, sit in third in League One and have a realistic chance of going into the Championship. They are hardly world-beaters and rely too much on a single player — defender Romain Vincelot, a steely defender who begins most of their play out of the back — but they aren’t half bad, either.

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The fact that these two clubs on opposite trajectories — one wealthy but always soggy; another plucky but well-scrubbed — might meet next year is a bit of an irony. What would be even better is if the two were in the same division come 2016. One will be playing in a taught ground that barely seats 10,000. The other might be rattling in around a 54,000 seat stadium. And both are likely to be far away from the top-flight.

7
Feb

Trecker’s Travels: Weather, transit strikes paralyze London

LONDON

Welcome to England. Half the country is underwater, and the other half is stuck indoors. Deluged by gale force winds and soaking rains, and besieged in the capital by a series of transit strikes, London had the feeling  of a ghost town. It’s Ballard’s Drowned World.

The rain has been falling since last July and show no sights of letting up. It is no joke, even though the satirical magazine Private Eye went to street this week with a picture of a scuba diver on its cover and the tagline: “Environmental Minister Visits Somerset.” Brighton’s old west pier has collapsed under the waters and the south-west coast has suffered enormous damage. The rain tracks between London and Corwall at Dawlish, repeatedly referred to in that deliciously English manner as “one of the world’s great railway wonders,” is now kindling. The waves over Penzance dwarf those at Malibu.

Such things normally wouldn’t bother the City very much — but wait! A series of Tube strikes, have paralyzed much of the London’s subway system and forced everyone out of the stuffed hellholes of the Underground into the teeming mire. The strikes are over a so-called “modernization” plan, which in fact would close all the ticket offices and put a number of folks out of work. The administration’s rationale is indeed questionable, but the union’s cause was not helped when pictures of workers taking naps behind the glass at the ticket windows made the rounds on social media. That, and the fact that the roads around London were utterly impassible.

Now, the English do love a good complaint. There’s even ritual whingeing here: one of their cherished traditions is the so-called “question time” in Parliament whereupon men in rep ties bray at one another while their parties trade crude insults. This week, while the South drowned, the moaning was about the number of women on display in the Tory Party. This seems like a perfect one-two: miserable weather, miserable governance.

Yet the prevailing attitude here seems not one of complaint but of exhaustion. There’s not even much energy for the Olympics — a hot topic of conversation in the States, but merely something in the ether here. People seem to just want to get home and put the fire on, and who can blame them?

This has affected the football matches as well, with the lower league in particular feeling the pinch. The pitches are terrible — which isn’t unusual for this time of year — and that many of the games have been flooded out, which is. Reserve matches around the city were postponed, and the conference game up north at Kidderminster was called off. Teams have also been unable to travel to the games, while some places are quite literally underwater; others have been hit by buckled tracks and washed away roadbeds.

On my way out to Liverpool this morning, with 80 mph winds expected to sweep the capital, I passed a lonely greengrocer setting up his stall. His newspapers remained bound in plastic, and a bunnet of soaked local strawberries fetched a pound. The good news, according to him anyway, is that all this rain means better berries. That might be wishful thinking, but I got some. They weren’t half bad.

4
Nov

Trecker’s Travels: London’s “Four Four Jew” exhibit

imageImage: Jamie Trecker

Around the corner from one of London’s flashiest shopping districts, full of green-haired punk kids and French tourists, is a small townhouse with a brushed aluminum door, kitty-corner to a notorious pub called the “Spread Eagle.” You have to buzz to be let in, but once you get past the foyer, a kindly old woman at the cloakroom, you’ll be in the guts of an old piano factory.

“They haven’t made pianos in London for years,” says the guard. “So, we got a nice place to put this mikveh.”

This is the Jewish Museum of London, currently hosting the cheekily-titled exhibit “Four Four Jew,” that celebrates the achievements of English Jews in football. I’d heard about it from my colleague Jonathan Wilson (his book is prominently displayed) and while it immediately made me think of that old Mel Brooks joke about a pamphlet being able to encompass the entirety of Jewish sporting prowess, we went and had a look.

It’s a small but well-curated show, one on the periphery of a number of exhibits around the FA’s 150th anniversary this year. Football was to emigrated Jews in London what basketball and baseball were to the Yiddish-speaking in New York a hundred years ago: a way to assimilate into an alien and, at times, hostile culture that became a passion. For some, football became a path to success. Represented at the exhibition are genuine household names such as David Pleat and Mark Lazarus, alongside barely remembered trailblazers like West Brom’s Louis Bookman, the first Jew to play in Britain’s top-flight.

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24
Jun

Trecker’s Brazil Travels: Games, protests take time off

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Photo: Jamie Trecker/FOX Soccer

By: Jamie Trecker, FOXSoccer.com

 BOA VIAGEM, BRAZIL

It’s the Festa de Sao Joao this weekend here on the Brazilian coast. Up and down the miles of beachfront, people are setting off fireworks, lighting bonfires, roasting various meats and generally being silly.

The Festa de Sao Joao is nominally a religious holiday. In Portugal, the Feast of Saint John is a major occasion on the calendar; apparently the same day stops traffic in Goa, India. Here, it is a mid-winter party also called the “festa junina,” which translates exactly to what you think it does. Up here, it is a two-week carnival – it rivals Carnival in importance in the state of Pernambuco – and it is celebrated with country festivals and large outdoor concerts. People also dress up in a simulacrum of “country” attire, which in the cases I’ve seen, means wearing hats with fake pigtails and penciling on freckles.

While there may be some religion involved here this weekend (and I am perhaps the wrong correspondent to ask about such matters) what I have seen is go-for-it, hoedown partying. Saturday, horse-drawn carts carrying stacks of firewood came into the center of Recife’s beach neighborhoods, and dumped cords right onto the sidewalk. Some of them remained there, to be set alight after sunset. It’s a bit jarring to walk by a blaze on a sidewalk, especially when it’s right outside a welding supply store, but that’s apparently all cool this weekend. They did look festive.

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15
Jun

Trecker’s Brazilian Travels Day 4: Worth the fight

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker

BRASILIA, BRAZIL

Brazilian security forces sent out the alert at 8:14 local time: avoid the TV tower and stay off the roads.

Security forces worked to “sanitize” the area around the Garrincha, closing off roads, trying to divert cars and pedestrians. They separated the people into two streams: the folks in yellow, and everyone else. The ones in yellow were going to see their national team play; everyone else was going to sit in the road and block the way in.

Some 57,000 security forces have been deployed across the country. I know, because I got a press release that was supposed to be reassuring. It sounded desperate instead.

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14
Jun

Trecker’s Brazilian Travels, Day 3: Tire Fires and Protests

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker

BRASILIA, BRAZIL

It’s not every day that you walk over to a stadium to be confronted by plumes of black smoke, shooting hundreds of feet into the air. But that was the scene this morning outside the Garrincha, here in Brazil’s capital.

Protests have been roiling Brazil this week, and there’s a good reason for it: the World Cup has cost the public here an incredible amount of money – and Brazil’s cost of living keeps on rising. A hamburger from a chain restaurant costs double what it does in the United States. You don’t want to know how much a bottle of beer is. Even a small fluctuation in prices has a big ripple effect in a country that has only recently lifted 40 million people out of abject poverty.

There is something in the air here, and it’s not just smoke: people are fed up. When the corruption and waste surrounding the World Cup first came to light, it was greeted with a shrug, a sign of business as usual. But when it became apparent that almost all the money was going into stadiums – and very little was going into building things people could actually use on a daily basis – things changed. Many Brazilians – despite their love for the sport – are finding it hard to get on board with an event they see as solely for the rich.

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13
Jun

Trecker’s Brazilian Travels, Day 2: Architectural colossus

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Photo: Jamie Trecker / FOX Soccer

By Jamie Trecker

BRASILIA, BRAZIL

Raymond Chandler portrayed Los Angeles a sun-blasted city where dreams were scorched away. He could have been writing about Brasilia, a modernist fantasia where the heat and the light are unrelenting.

It’s winter, and the sun sets just after 5:30 here – but this is the hottest time of the year. There isn’t a trace of humidity in the air, and the red clay throws up whorls of dust that cake the streets and the buses. At noon, it is 27ºC and cloudless. Lucia Costa’s grand esplanades sweep five lanes of traffic to the Juscelino Kubitschek Bridge on the Eastern end, past the Cathedral, past the museum, and past the vast plazas of raw concrete.

Brasilia’s architect, Oscar Niemeyer, was many things: a genius, a modernist, and also, it appears, a brutalist. His expanses are meticulous, and his designs are awesome in the truest sense of the word. They are also unrelenting in the afternoon, with the heat reflecting off the white facades and up that perfect Roman surface.

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