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Chuck Culpepper’s”Bloody Confused”: A Bad Read for an American Football (Soccer) Supporter


Chuck Culpepper’s “Bloody Confused” has gotten plenty of praise on both sides of the Atlantic. The book released in a slightly modified version as “Up Pompey” in the UK, is about an American sportswriter of some note who discovers English Football and falls in love with Portsmouth Football Club.  Culpepper’s book has been hailed by Anglo pundits who believe Football is a strictly British sport and by American sportswriters who respect Culpepper and don’t cover the game of Football (soccer) in this country.

But for a supporter of the US National Team, MLS and USL like myself the book while amusing is also somewhat insulting. Culpepper consistently makes comparisons between English football and American sports without every acknowledging the existence of the very same game in his home country. The author from Virginia never once mentions DC United, the  now defunct Hampton Roads Mariners or the Richmond Kickers in his work. He never acknowledges any knowledge of the sport short of seeing England play Brazil in the 2002 World Cup. (Which happened to be played right before the US-Germany match) He simply pretends Americans who want to play the game or watch the game live must come to England to do so.

While Culpepper’s self deprecating nature kept me reading this book (I’ve actually read it twice) his continued obsession with comparisons to American sports bother me throughout the book. For example, Culpepper discusses watching an England National Team game by comparing it to the Ryder Cup or Olympic Basketball. I’m sure the author is now an expert on Football he knows that England’s deepest run in the World Cup in the last 18 years matches the deepest run of the United States National Team: World Cup Quarter finalist. Or maybe the author is proving his worth to Anglo Football pundits who scarcely acknowledge indigenous forms of the game which are not British by pretending the US doesn’t play “soccer” at all. He does the same constantly comparing the Premier League or Championship to American sporting leagues and events. But he never mentions MLS or USL.

Football as has been discussed on this site previously is a foreign sport to the typical elite American sportswriter. But it is not a foreign game to Americans, millions of which watch the sport every weekend whether live or on TV. Pat Forde, the college sports writer for ESPN, and previously the Louisville Courier-Journal, says he loves the book on the front cover of the American edition. For me this should have been the first red flag as Forde for years has annoyed me with his coverage of Kentucky and Louisville basketball as well as his outright hatred for Miami Football. Forde is the typical self righteous sports writer who will criticize a program for discipline or law breaking if he dislikes the coach (like Miami Football) but will excuse NCAA rule breaking or discipline issues if he likes the coach or program (like Tennessee Football). But, I digress.

American sportswriters see Football even in America as the province of foreigners. They simply ignore the TV ratings for Mexican League matches because it’s all Latinos watching in prime time and assume only ex-pats watch the Premier League or Serie A. I happen to watch at least one FMF telecast a week, usually more and the same for the Premier League and I was born in the US to Indian parents.

Despite the success of markets like Salt Lake City and Columbus in MLS as well as Rochester and Charleston in USL, the average American sportswriter assumes Latinos and Europeans are the only people attending football matches in the United States. Yet you’d be hard pressed to find lots of foreigners in Salt Lake City or Charleston. Sure their are some but not a stadium full of them.

Perhaps, Culpepper did not hold these biases himself. One will never know, but the book reflects the continued lack of curiosity or interest the average American sportswriter has about the outside world, much of which is football mad. Calling himself a clueless sportswriter may have simply fit the self deprecating model of the book, but from my vantage point it provides a clear indication of how American sportswriters view the game even in this country.

A  feature of the work that we all should appreciate is Culpepper’s consistent mention of Americans who play or previously played in England. He discusses Jay DeMerit at length, as well the Americans on Reading and Tim Howard. He even spends some time on John Kerr Jr. who was a pioneer for the American player looking to play in Europe. This is admirable and tells me that Culpepper perhaps was writing the book for affect with his other comparisons and by calling himself clueless about the sport. After all, you have to follow the sport to know who Jay DeMerit is and his story.

Culpepper’s book is excellent if you simply want a humorous zany read. I’ve read the book twice and probably will read it again. But as an actually book about soccer for someone in the US that already follows the sport in this country, it’s not exactly educational reading.  I’d recommend the book if you enjoy general reading, but if you want a solid read about football, don’t bother.

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  1. jacob

    October 16, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    I’ll just add that if you want a more sensible and intelligent alternative to Culpepper, read George Vescey’s _Eight World Cups_. He’s a veteran reporter on soccer for the New York Times and he takes you through the ups and downs of US soccer even while maintaining focus on the World Cup as an international event. Unlike Culpepper, Vescey is a true cosmopolitan, never a cheerleader for the United States, but never without a sense of proportion and perspective.

  2. jacob

    October 15, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with you, Kartik. I wasted my money on this book. I couldn’t get through the first two chapters. The astonishing naivety — or is it disingenuousness? — of Culpepper’s “epiphany” that American sports is saturated with marketing and superficiality, next to a premier league that rivals American sports leagues in cliche and perhaps surpasses them in money-making (has recently changed its name to Barclays Premier League). That and the generally whining throughout, combined with the un-discliplined and self-indulgent prose, style made it unreadable for me. Thankfully then I didn’t get far enough for my American-soccer-fan sensibilities to be thoroughly offended, but I could see that coming.

  3. steve

    September 14, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    i have just finished “bloody confused”,and being a transplanted
    englishman who has been in vancouver for 23 years and having
    followed westham to almost every game in the 80’s,i find this book
    one of the most interesting i have ever read.its a great insight
    into the life of an english football fan,and i can certainly relate
    to some of the incidents in the book.well done.

  4. Professional Sports Fan

    November 22, 2010 at 1:44 am

    Camp set the number of players on each team at eleven rather than Rugby’s fifteen.

  5. Soccer Football

    July 30, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    I like the MLSsnob line. Get over yourself. Why even bring up MLS at all in this write up? The point is, from Culpepper’s view from the pressbox, American sports lack everything that he found in the Premiership, not that if you want to be considered an American fan of the sport you HAVE to mindlessly follow whatever we create, i.e. the MLS. And your argument that he compares too many nonsoccer American sports to the EPL convinces me even more you read it with a warped view. He wasn’t a soccer guy here, so why would he compare EPL to MLS. It makes sense for him to compare the EPL to College Football, Olympic Basketball, and the Ryder Cup because that was what was relevant to him in the U.S.

  6. american sports

    January 28, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Cool tool thanks for posting this up

  7. Eric

    March 23, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    The most entertaining games I have ever seen have been MLS games. the 96 final, DC vs NE in 04, and Toronto’s first win with seat cushions raining onto the field. FMF and USL also provide superior entertainment, if not the superior skill of the epl.

    MLS doesn’t have more than 2-3 players of the quality the EPL has, but the game is much more exciting in Concacaf than in England. You’re missing out on a lot but not looking at what’s right around you.

    England does have better referees though.

  8. Jeff

    March 23, 2009 at 5:24 pm

    I read about 10 pages at Barnes and Noble and came to the conclusion you did without wasting the money on the book.

    It may amuse typically American sports fans but for those of us who bleed and die MLS and US Soccer it was bore and yes insulting.

  9. EJ Sux

    March 23, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    So if an American does not watch MLS he cannot be a soccer fan?

    That’s a terrible attitude if you are trying to grow the game.

    But honestly the book was silly and stupid in my opinion. It’s $14 I’ll never get back.

  10. Max J.

    March 23, 2009 at 2:34 am

    Why all the analysis? And why the need to mention MLS? None of that is needed to critique the book. All you need to say is that it’s horribly written, repetitive, and hackneyed (all of which it is, in spades), and we’ll be fine.

  11. Kevin

    March 23, 2009 at 1:03 am

    Perhaps Culpepper never mentions MLS, USL, Nats. is becasue he doesn’t really like the country anymore. Did you catch all the anti-american comments? Ok book but it did get bothersome to me at times.

    • Mikey

      December 4, 2009 at 3:01 am

      I think this is a good point. One tiresome trope of the book is not just that Culpepper keeps referring to US sports, but the simplistic way in which he does so in order to make an invidious distinction between US pro sports and the EPL. US pro sports are hopelessly tainted, EPL is wonderful (and somehow not tainted by money like US sports). (I’m in the middle the book, so perhaps he eases up on his romanticism in the latter half.)

  12. Soccer Guru

    March 22, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    I agree 100%. Culpepper’s book patronizes all of us.

  13. Travis H.

    March 22, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    You keep calling people eurosnobs but in fact I think soccersnob or MLSsnob is also a term that needs to be put in the vocabulary. Seriously, if I had watched MLS before I saw the EPL or the World Cup. I’d STILL hate Soccer.

    This is a terrible write up.

  14. Shell

    March 22, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Look, Culpepper really “discovered” football in England.

    Honestly you have critiqued MLS enough yourself. It’s a third rate product.

    My experience is if you introduce someone who is American to Soccer via MLS, USL or College Soccer you have about a 10% chance of retaining their interest.

    If you introduce them to the Prem or Champions League you have a 50-50 chance of keeping them interested.

    These are facts. Most Soccer fans in America DO NOT follow MLS. Even fewer follow USL. Even fewer follow College Soccer.

    You are one conflicted person. You rightfully critique MLS: I like your writing a lot. But then ever so often in order to prove you’re cred to the MLS lovers you post something so outrageuous like this which bashes any American who likes European soccer better. Get off your high horse and stop preaching to us.

    Get back to writing the stuff like you did on Trecker’s site the other day that made perfect sense and most soccer fans would say AMEN to.

  15. Maxi

    March 22, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    Good write up. I found the book cheeky to steal a British expression but really should have been about comedy instead of soccer.

  16. Brian

    March 22, 2009 at 11:31 am

    You completely and utterly missed his point. He focused on comparisons to other sports because that was his lens, that was his knowledge base. This was an incredible look at how someone can have their eyes opened up to something they never knew about but should have because of their profession.

    The goal was not to make soccer fans feel better about the game in the states. It was to show sports fans that there are interests beyond our shores worth pursuing.

    • Jody

      December 25, 2010 at 10:47 pm

      I agree, you totally missed the point. It is not about American soccer. It is about being burned out on American sports and finding a new love, without the chains of being the neutral reporter.

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