The World Cup is here. This is the bit I really like. The Before. The expectation, the TV and radio trails that promise footballing delights like never before. A range of documentaries that look at pivotal figures and events from the past and the inevitable ‘how difficult it is to manage England’. It’s the hope that kills you. Of course within about 18 days, England will be out, there will have been some deathly goalless draws and some of the most expensive players in the world will have been ‘disappointing’. But that’s for later. Right now, Russia is a land of hope and dreams. My favourite thing about the World Cup so far is a podcast called American Fiasco. A podcast about football made in America. Is nothing sacred? But it's made by a Brit, Roger Bennett, although a new US citizen, who fled the UK for Chicago, 28 years ago, in a era where you couldn’t even watch a game of football on television in the US.
American Fiasco, made by WNYC Studios in New York, tells the story of the US team in the 1998 World Cup. Having qualified in 1990 and then hosted the event in 1994, the only thing left for the US to do, was win it. In charge was Steve Sampson, an all American guy who had never managed the national team. Or any professional football team - at all. It’s an extraordinary story, that results in the US not winning the World Cup (that’s not a spoiler), and setting the game back years on the national stage. Bennett describes it as the untold story of one of the most aspirational and delusional teams in sporting history.
He’s a compelling storyteller and crafts a documentary series here that will entertain the most ardent football fan while also being a fascinating portrait of a moment in time in the US that will captivate non football fans. It also sounds terrific with a combination of archive and music that both illustrates and dramatizes the story.
While most football fans will miss Italy at this years tournament, it also won’t be the same without the USA, who bring a sense of scale with them, and the always unfulfilled promise that if they ever really got their act together, they could win it every four years. But American Fiasco captures all the reasons why that hasn't happened with the men living in the shadow of the womens team who have won it three times. Bennett has written a fascinating piece about how big football is in the US right now you can read ithere, and apart from the home nation, Americans have bought more match tickets for games in Russia than any other country – and they are not even in it having been knocked out by Trinidad and Tobago
So warm up for Russia '18, with American Fiasco, video trailer below. While there's still hope