Are You Ready For Some Football?

Spurs on their warmup jog. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

On October 31st of this year, the San Francisco 49ers will play the Denver Broncos at Wembley Stadium as part of the NFL’s global outreach football program.

Last Wednesday evening, Tottenham Hotspur landed at San Francisco airport, and Thursday morning had an open practice for fans at the Earthquakes’ training facility.

Tom Huddlestone's hiked up shorts were quite the distraction...and not in a good way. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

People in the two teams’ marketing departments must have realized at some point that they could form a partnership that would be entertaining to fans from both teams. So the 49ers sent quarterback Alex Smith, offensive tackle Joe Staley and kicker Joe Nedney to the Spurs’ practice to meet some of the players, try some kicking and get a view of the “other” football practice.

I have a friend who works for the production company that does 49ers Total Access, a TV show that tends to follow all things Niners. He called me up as they knew nothing about soccer and asked me if I knew anything about “the TottenHAM Hotspur.” I said, “A little, their manager is named Harry –” “You’re hired,” said my friend.

I assumed I would be there as a liaison of sorts – pointing out certain players to the cameramen, giving them a bit of history and facts so that the interviewers would come off as knowledgeable, etc. Turns out it was just me and one cameraman – I was the interviewer AND and I had to come up with my own questions! What follows are my notes about the whole affair which lasted over two practices.

The practice itself

Keanos' still got it.

About half of Spurs’ starting eleven were not there as they were still on post-World Cup holiday. So sadly no Crouch (yes, I would have asked him to do the robot). Defoe, Gomes, King, Lennon, etc. were also absent. Still, Spurs are a talented team and many of their superstars were on show. Some bullet points:
– Luka Modrić is tiny and looks like a 10 year old schoolboy. He was also the best player on the pitch by far and his ball control is spectacular.

– Tom Huddlestone is a big boy. He also likes “hiking” his shorts up to uncomfortable levels.

– Younes Kaboul is bigger still, but he looks in shape.

– Robbie Keane really does bark and yap, and is still a very skillful player.

– Gareth Bale has simian-like features.

– Cudicini ALWAYS has a scowl on his face.

– Roman Pavlyuchenko is known as “Pav.”

– Hutton never shuts up and is really funny (if you can understand him).

– There was a definite distinction in skill between Modrić, Bale, Pav and a few others versus the rest of the squad.

The 49ers arrive

Joe Staley and Alex Smith of the 49ers get their Earthquake jersey's. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

The first day Alex Smith and Joe Staley showed up midway through practice. The obvious thing one notices is how big they are, especially in relation to the Spurs players (yes, even Huddlestone). Even Joe Nedney, the kicker, was bigger than most of the soccer players.

I talked first to Joe Staley, the gregarious tackle. Both he and Alex Smith were surprisingly knowledgeable about soccer. They both not only avidly followed the USMNT, but they watched most of the other World Cup games as well, and both gave perfect descriptions of what offside meant in soccer. Most surprising to me was that they also knew all about the significance of Wembley Stadium and its importance as a national venue, and were incredibly excited to play there.

I asked Staley what he thought of the soccer practice and he mentioned that the biggest difference is that there is a lot more scrimmaging between the entire team. In football, the players tend to work on their positions more and there isn’t nearly as much running.

When posed the question whether “any of these players could make it as a NFL football player,” Joe quickly shook his head and said, “No”…until he saw Huddlestone and said, “Well, he could!”

Clive Allen.

Alex Smith was a little more serious. His views on instant replay in soccer were very well thought out, and, in my opinion, spot-on. He said that it should be in use for goals and major incidents in the penalty area, but for everything else, just let the game flow.

The US athletes were much more comfortable talking to me and the camera than the English ones were. 49er All Access wanted me to interview the English players as opposed to Modrić, Ćorluka, etc. Although polite and obliging, the soccer players answered the questions quickly and without any embellishment. They also knew nothing about American football (though a couple of them do watch it occasionally). The one exception was Clive Allen, one of the Spurs coaches.

Clive Allen is a Spurs and QPR legend who played with many teams throughout his successful career. A gifted striker, he also, as I found out, was the kicker for the London Monarchs in NFL Europe. He was fantastic to interview.

Completely engaging and very knowledgeable about both sports, he too was a big advocate for goal line technology and instant replay. He also still had the ability to kick the hell out of a football (pigskin) when Nedney challenged him to a kicking competition.

Athletes are athletes
At the end of the first practice, there was a shooting practice on the Spurs’ keepers. Staley and Alex Smith were encouraged to join in with Keane, Bale, Pav, Kranjčar, Huddlestone and a couple of others.

Joe Staley scoring off a volley. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

Clive Allen would stand at the byline of the penalty box and whip in balls either in the air or on the ground for the players to either trap and shoot or one-time towards the net. Keeping in mind that the Americans hadn’t played organized soccer since they were 5, they acquitted themselves pretty well. They both trapped the ball on the chest as if they had been playing for years. Admittedly Staley’s chest is pretty huge, but their ball control was good.

Staley even scored a goal which was followed by an equally impressive goal celebration (based on the Bafana Bafana World Cup goal celebration dance). Both Bale and Modrić were incredible during this drill and slammed the ball in the back of the net with deadly precision.

After this it was the NFL players’ turns to throw American footballs with the Spurs squad. Surprisingly no one aside from their 49 year old coach (Clive Allen) could run AND catch the football. Some notes:
– Huddlestone has great hands. The boys were challenging Alex Smith to whip it at him, and though he would cower a bit, he caught every single one of them.

– Bale has an arm, a cannon even. He kicks with his left, but throws with his right.

– Jenas should never be a wide receiver.

– Whenever he has a free moment, Redknapp is ALWAYS on the phone.

– Hutton never shuts up and is really funny (I was finally beginning to understand him).

Gareth Bale - Back up QB. Photo Credit - Allison Pasciuto

During the second practice, Nedney challenged Clive Allen and the two young keepers (Cudicini didn’t seem to be in the mood) to a kicking competition with the American football. The keepers, after a couple of miss-hits, really could hammer the ball. They need to work on their aim (their shots would hook to the left), but if it doesn’t work out with Spurs, I’m sure an NFL team could pick them up.

Equally impressive was Nedney’s distance and accuracy on goal kicks, and shots on goal with a soccer ball. On penalty kicks, Nedney buried half of them in the top corner. The rest were well saved by the keepers (who were also adept spot kick takers). However, neither could hold a candle to Allen, who never missed.

At the end, both the players of the two sports left with a mutual admiration for what the other does.

All told it was an entertaining two days. I got to watch a professional Champions League-bound team practice and be put through their paces, as well talk to some NFL players who were funny, intelligent and knowledgeable.

One note to leave you with: in the interchange of trying out the different sports and positions, taking penalty kicks or passing the ball, the one area that the NFL players could not get and failed at – keeper!

42 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/07/23 at 7:03 AM

    I went to last night’s NYRB – Spurs game. I have been to a handful this season and that was far the busiest. I know a lot of it was because of Henry and Spurs fans, but it would be great if NYRB can build from this.


  2. Shaun, really fantastic read, thoroughly entertaining. Great stuff!


  3. This was a really fantastic writeup Shaun, great stuff. As a fan of both sports (though more the college game than the pro game here in the States) I find it fascinating to see how the athletes of different sports can interact and adapt to the others’ game. Really good read, I’ll be sharing this.


  4. Posted by CTMo85 on 2010/07/23 at 7:47 AM



  5. Posted by Chris on 2010/07/23 at 9:58 AM

    Great article, Shaun. What an awesome opportunity that was!


  6. Posted by kaya on 2010/07/23 at 10:41 AM

    Nice gig, Shaun! Your last point is particularly interesting since the predominance here of “hand sports” like american football has often been used to explain the US relative wealth of GK’s.
    Keep up the good quality and diverse coverage.


  7. Posted by s44 on 2010/07/23 at 11:14 AM

    Very cool opportunity and article, combining two of my favorite things. I don’t suppose the segment will show up on NFL Network or some other non-SF outlet?


    • Posted by sfshwebb on 2010/07/23 at 11:18 AM

      It might show up on the 49er site…but i have no real idea. Apparently they will just be showing the answers…i’m completely edited out…sigh


      • Posted by T-Muck on 2010/07/23 at 12:33 PM

        Hopefully they’re not going to do a voice over too. Granted it would be kinda funny in a sad ironic way.


  8. Posted by pckilgore on 2010/07/23 at 12:55 PM

    This is a good article about football.


  9. Posted by Gino on 2010/07/23 at 9:59 PM

    Good stuff. It’s surprising to read that a couple of gridiron blokes know as much as they do about the other game of football. Interesting observations also on the Tottenham players. I’ve been looking for another EPL team to follow since Leeds took a dive. If Dempsey leaves Fulhamerica then I might just fancy the Hotspurs.


    • Posted by Blackrat1299 on 2010/07/26 at 4:39 AM

      If you want to follow us – then it is Spurs, not the Hotspurs.
      Coys (Come on you Spurs)


  10. Posted by dikranovich on 2010/07/24 at 7:42 AM

    i know this is kind of stupid, but i have to ask. if you are american, from usa and you likes world football, does it really help to use english terminology when talking about the game. like maybe refering to someone as a bloke or talking about fancing something? i understand what these terms mean, but im just wondering if americans who use them, maybe it is out of a sense of comraderie or something, but if you use them, it just maybe seems like it is a little phony sometimes and it sets back trying to broaden the culture of soccer in america. americans can create there own soccer culture without having to copy english venacular to sound astute. i dont know, im still venting from the world cup, i guess. but i do wonder if in some way it contributes to a problem soccer faces in america.


    • Posted by patrickhattrick on 2010/07/24 at 7:50 AM

      Cheers mate! I just think they’re funny little phrases.


    • Posted by itally on 2010/07/24 at 10:56 AM

      I’m pretty sure the author of this piece is British, hence the language in the article.


      • Posted by mplsjim on 2010/07/24 at 3:58 PM

        if the author is english, that’s one thing…
        i must admit, i find americans who use british terms in general very annoying. it’s like they feel that they have a superior soccer knowledge because they spent a semester in the uk back in the day, and are trying so hard to sound legit. personally, i think it makes them sound stupid, especially christian miles on fsc.
        @dikranovich, americans have been trying to copy the european culture for years – and not just football. i wish it would stop!


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2010/07/24 at 4:11 PM

          As the creator of this site, I would say–apologetically–this is our style. Shaun, the writer is Swiss and has spent a lot of time in England.

          But I don’t have to apologize for his language, both Shaun and I through work (I’ve done some work stints in South Africa, elsewhere) and friendships interact with expats on a daily basis — you can’t help but pick up on some of the colloquialisms.

          If a phrase comes natural in writing we’ll use it. For example, I used to exclusively say the word “game” instead of “match.” But now I use both interchangeably.

          I have hard time and infrequently use the word “boots” for “cleats”

          That said, it is important on TSG we keep the comment section of this site impersonal and about the subject matter not the style. I hope everyone respects that.


          • Posted by sfshwebb on 2010/07/24 at 4:39 PM

            Actually it’s the opposite. I’m english and grew up in switzerland…have the passport to prove it.


        • Posted by mplsjim on 2010/07/25 at 12:58 PM

          “you can’t help but pick up on some of the colloquialisms” – that’s bs. you pick it up because you want to. you think it sounds cool. no other reason.


    • Posted by Gino on 2010/07/25 at 2:20 AM

      Wow, I guess I really touched a nerve with a few of the words I used above. I don’t say “bloke” or “gridiron” at all when I talk but I’ll use “fancy” sometimes when I talk about a girl or in the context of sexual tension (methinks that chick fancies my jock). I used “gridiron blokes” simply because I was writing from the perspective of the Tottenham players who are visiting here. Plus, like Patrickhattrick mentioned, I also like using funny little phrases and while I wasn’t trying to make fun of our British friends, sometimes they sound kinda funny.

      That said, so that I don’t come off as trying to sound legit or worse yet, sound stupid, let me revise my posting:

      Good stuff man. I was like, WHOAH, when I read about two football dudes that knew so much about soccer. Cool to read about what you thought of the players from that team from London, England. I’ve been looking for another English team to root for ever since Leeds went down the toilet. Dude, if Clint Dempsey leaves that other team from London that used to have lots of Americans on it then I might just have to dig on the first team from London that I was just talkin’ about.

      Hey, I’m just havin’ a little fun here. It’s 2am and I’ve got freakin’ insomnia. Cheers dudes!


    • Posted by Blackrat1299 on 2010/07/26 at 4:43 AM

      Football is a universal game Its been around longer than the USA. The language spoken is understood by everyone.


  11. Posted by Nelson on 2010/07/24 at 12:03 PM



  12. Posted by dikranovich on 2010/07/24 at 5:00 PM

    well i was just reading an article from bill simmons from somewhere and it was about the cult of the status quo and how soccer fans maybe felt like they had there own little gig and im just wondering, because for me, if usa is going to win a world cup and im not talking about thirty years from now, then usa will need to expand and gain more support, which is hard sometimes when people talk about soccer, or world football as if they have superior knowledge.


  13. Posted by kaya on 2010/07/26 at 12:54 AM

    English language coverage of soccer is still dominated by UK English for good reason and yes, it’s easy to pick up the lingo and fun. You sound like the neo american soccer party schutzstaffel or something trying to enforce what comprises acceptable vocabulary.
    Please don’t pass off your issues with the author’s style as representative of the rest of the country.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/07/26 at 6:49 AM

      Crikey! We still bleating about this?!
      Some people can create an argument in an empty room. I say best leave them to it!


      • George, I’d like you to justify your use of “crikey” please😉


      • Posted by kaya on 2010/07/26 at 9:32 AM

        I picked up on it late… and while not exactly the same thing, there were whimperings about the terrible scars american children would bear from turning on ESPN world cup coverage and hearing the british accents. I thought it worth pointing out these sorts of opinions sound downright xenophobic.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/07/26 at 2:34 PM

          Agreed. I think it’s the intelligent content or football quotient people should be worrying about rather than the accent. I think I speak for most people that they couldn’t give a flying fcuk whether commentary or punditary was done by an Englishman, American, Dutch, Brazil, German etc. – as long as it was good.


  14. Well done on a very readable and enjoyable article, Shin Guardian.

    There were some fascinating insights there and even a life-long Spurs supporter like me found out something new – the fact that Clive Allen once played American Football.

    Full details of Tottenham Hotspur’s Summer 2010 tour of America available here:


  15. Posted by tehTrunk on 2010/07/26 at 3:59 AM



  16. Posted by garry rogers on 2010/07/26 at 6:00 AM

    First of all, we must all accept that America is the front of all that is good in sport,art and knowledge and accordingly if they want to take ownership of ‘soccer’ and its terms they will do………whether or not anyone likes it. Secondly , there is not a race or country in this world that can teach America about being ‘phoney’……after all they invented the word!


  17. Posted by fafa5271 on 2010/07/26 at 6:03 AM

    dikranovich lighten up mate, you seem to be taking yourself and the issue of speech and sports way too seriously. The fact of the matter is that each of the two types of football are representative of the cultures that spawned them. American football is, surprise surprise, American and the terminology surrounding it is of course dominated by Americanisms. Football is, originally, English and, of course, the terminology (in English), is dominated by British English. Its ok to use British slang and mannerisms when speaking of Football as it is ok to use American slang and mannerisms when speaking of American football!! Parlance has zero effect on the game itself, its appeal or the way it is played.
    The reason that football has been slow to take off in the USA has nothing to do with language its much more about cultures. Americans like instant gratification especially in sports – high scoring games that instantly come to life. Europeans are more patient when it comes to sports and are gratified by the game and not the score (unless you support the losing team!). In Europe a low scoring game or even one without a score (i.e. 0-0) can be as beautiful and enjoyable as one where goals are flying in from everywhere. This is not the case in the USA.
    This, of course, is only my opinion. For the record i’m British but i lived in Washington D.C. for 5 years.


  18. Posted by MikeSpurs on 2010/07/26 at 10:07 AM

    Do you guys in America get games with English commentry on them ? If so, surely this is why some people use the ‘English’ lingo ?


    • Largely, yes. All the Premiership matches on Fox Soccer Channel and ESPN2 have the English commentary. I know that has a lot to do with why certain English phrases pop up when I’m talking about soccer, most of what I listen to about the sport is from that particularl country and by logical result its football subculture.


  19. Posted by southstand1882 on 2010/07/26 at 10:11 AM

    Great read…COME ON YOU SPURS!


  20. Posted by nomorewhlegends on 2010/07/27 at 2:19 AM

    Geez some people get their knickers in a twist over nothing hehe. Great article Shaun, really enjoyed reading it and one of the better articles I have read since the end of the season (english of course):-)


  21. […] Are you ready for some football?!– Last year TSG’s Shaun Webb dropped by a Tottenham Hotspur practice here in SF in conjunction with the NFL’s 49ers. Pretty cool pics and segment. […]


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