20 Questions Tuesday: 159 - Interview with Duane Rollins

One of the things that I have decided to do since I "re-branded" the blog to be 20 Questions Tuesday is to interview people from these here series of tubes that I find interesting. The first such person of note is Duane Rollins from the award winning Canadian soccer football blog the 24th Minute. He is 1 of the 3.5 people who are on the pod-cast called "It's Called Football," and that is where I first was introduced to his work. He is an avid footie follower and a superfan for both Toronto FC from the MLS and Manchester City from the English Premier League. He is a very pragmatic analyst of Canadian football and a strong supporter of the MLS brand.

All this being said, he has, in some small circles, been branded as a soccer hooligan, and has had a tazer shoved into his back by the Columbus Police at a Columbus Crew game. He is no fan for the Front Office of the Columbus Crew (who is?) and the enemy of many a person on the BigSoccer boards.

A warning though. For those of you readers who are not interested in soccer, let me make it clear, this is soccer heavy... really soccer heavy. In fact I would say that it is almost all about soccer.

...And without further ado... 20 Questions with Duane Rollins:

I had the lovely occasion to see Man U lose to Everton for the 1985 Charity Shield just before going to the Bobby Charlton School of Soccer. That experience put American sports in perspective for me which leads me to question 1...
1. Have you been to a Man City game at Eastlands and, if so, how does that atmosphere differ from a typical North American sporting event?
Sadly, I have not made Eastlands. All of my European trips have been in the summer, during the closed season. In my mind the difference between the atmosphere at a NA sporting event and in Europe isn't as big as you think. Money has forced the average fan out of stadiums at the highest level and changes to the security in and around the games have made things far more subdued than you would have seen back in 1985. I think the true football fan experience can be found in the lower leagues now (just as you find the true soul of hockey in Canada in Major Junior rinks and the true soul of (gridiron) football in the U.S. is on a Texas high school field).

Interesting, I was amazed at how an entire stadium could chant and sing something other than "Bullshit." Chanting Bullshit for a bad call and the "wave" are about the only thing that the entirety of an American stadium can do. So, I know the answer to this one, but my "legion" of readers may not know it
2. Why is your blog titled "The 24th Minute?"
The short answer is that it was the minute that Toronto FC scored it's first ever goal in MLS. The longer answer is that I felt that was the moment that Canadian soccer turned the corner and truly became part of the mainstream. The reaction of the crowd with the seat cushions flying onto the field told me that people actually cared about this team. It's hard to remember now, but in the lead-up to TFC's first season there were a lot of people that suggested that it wouldn't work. After Danny Dichio scored at 23:13, no one made those arguments.

That was a pretty amazing sight seeing all the cushions on the field. I have yet to make the Toronto trip for a TFC v Crew game, but it is on the list of things I would like to do. I grew up playing soccer at a moderately high level in 1980's Alabama, a hotbed for American football, so..
3. What drew you to soccer? I imagine there were other sports with much stronger systems to steal your attention
I grew up just outside of Belleville, Ont., which is a small city in Eastern Ontario right smack in the middle of hockey country (the city's junior hockey team -- the Bulls -- is hugely successful and an obsession there). Hockey was a major part of my life -- playing, refereeing and watching -- in my childhood and teens. However, I was always drawn to all sports and especially sports that involved Canada playing (I'm a big Olympics guy as well). So, I obviously was drawn to watching on TV that faithful day in 1985 when Canada made its first and only World Cup by beating Honduras in St. John's, Newfoundland. Even at a young age, I understood that being one of the 24 teams playing in a World Cup was probably more significant than being the best hockey country on earth. So, I was hooked. In later years I started to learn more about my British heritage (family in Bristol) and it was from there that my interest in English football and Man City came to be.

4. Speaking of the Olympics, what is the most unusual Olympic Event that you find yourself unable to miss?
The most unusual Olympic event is a tough one to define, but rhythmic gymnastics and trampoline are a little outside my understanding of what spot is. In the winter games, I find Nordic combined to be a bit bizarre -- who thinks of combining cross-country skiing and ski jumping? Doesn't make any sense to me. That said, I love Olympic sport and one of the reasons I do is because it exposes me to a lot of sports that I might not normally see (I'm always, for instance, upset that they don't show handball on North American TV). In terms of what I never miss, in the summer games I am a huge track fan, especially the sprints. It's my position that the men's 100m is the greatest single sporting event of any four year period. In the winter games, I grew up as a huge ski racing fan and especially as a fan of the men's downhill. So, that's a can't miss. But, basically there is only one Olympic event that I won't give a chance to -- figure skating. I appreciate that the participants are great athletes, but any sport that requires the participants to get their make-up just right loses me a bit.

Well said about the figure-skating. Costume should not matter.
5. Other than watching footie and your Olympic watching, what hobbies do you claim?
I also do a little music writing and have always been very interested in rock, especially what some would call alternative rick, music. Although I don't get out to see shows as much as I would like I feel privileged to have seen a lot of great acts through the years (Rage Against the Machine on the same day as Tool and Alice in Chains back in '93 was a particular highlight, as was almost getting kicked out of a Ramones show in '94 for getting on the stage (I was 2-inches from Joey, God rest his soul. And in my defence I was pushed up -- and I might have been a little drunk...)). But, beyond the big names (massive Oasis and U2 fan as well) I love to see Canadian indie music (a shout out to Celtic-punk legends The Mahones here, along with my favourite band of all time The Lowest of the Low). I also play a lot of the sim video game Football Manager, but I'm not proud of that...(even the game that won the UEFA Cup with Lombard-Papa TFC of Hungary -- Ok, I'm a little proud of that...).

Interesting... You should write the intro and outro to "It's Called Football" before you get into copyright trouble with U2, BTW.
6. What instruments do you play? and what is your favorite.
I only play the "ears." No talent, just appreciation. In terms of a favourite sound...wow, that's a tough one. I suppose that if I could be a rock star I'd want to be on vocals -- my need for attention would be appeased.

7. So if there were a movie of your life, what would you want the title to be?
Since I value originality and independence I'd want something that reflects that. How about Not Typical: The Duane Rollins Story. However, if it were to actually happen it will likely be called The Duane Rollins Story: A Case Study in Procrastination or "No really, honey, I'm on the Internet doing research, I swear to God".

I really like "The Duane Rollins Story: A Case Study in Procrastination." That has a nice ring to it.
8. Place the regulars (including yourself) from "It's Called Football" in the roles from Gilligan's Island... and go:
Rycroft is the professor, Knight the Skipper, Squizz is Gilligan and I'm...Ginger. I did wear a dress on air remember.

I saw the dress episode and the other images, and you, sir, are no Ginger. Mrs Howell maybe, but Ginger? Crazy talk there, just plain crazy talk. The rest is acceptable, but I would have also accepted Knight as Mr Howell and you as Skipper.
9. Most podcasts inevitably digress into talking about food. So far I have not seen "It's Called Football" do that. I am impressed that you and your cohorts tend to stay dogmatically on topic. That being said, I KNOW that there is a large amount of pent up food talk within you. So... What is your favorite restaurant in the greater Toronto area?
There are too many great restaurants in Toronto to pinpoint just one, so I'm going to go outside the GTA. Canada's best restaurant and the best Mexican north of, well, Mexico is in Fredericton, New Brunswick. El Burrito Loco. Ammmmazing.

I'll take it! Ask for "in the metro area" and get "in the Country?" That is a win in my book.
10. What are your weekly/daily/hourly Internet reads?
I live on the soccer boards -- BigSoccer, the TFC U-Sector and Red Patch and the Canadian Voyageur's. That's where I get a lot of my leads (no, I don't take what's written there as gospel, but rather use them to see what people are talking about). So those are hourly reads. I read a lot of City blogs -- The Lonesome Death of Roy Carroll is my favourite -- as well, although not as much as the TFC, MLS and Canadian boards. And, I try to read American blogs like Match Fit USA at least once a day. I also keep an eye out to see if Archer, or his his mini-me equivalent Fake Sigi, has defamed me that day.

11. How much crap do you have to sift through to get ANYTHING worth while from BigSoccer?
A lot and very little. If you were to go in blind you would be overwhelmed by the site, but once you've been on for a while (I've been a poster since Jan. 2003 and I read for about a year before that) you start to know what posters are worth reading and which ones aren't. I mostly read MLS News and Analysis, which tends to be a little more highbrow than, say, MLS: General. The Rivals forum makes my head hurt, although I have friends that swear it's the most cathartic thing ever.

I imagine it is much like any other reference institution. Without a librarian worth their salt, a Library is only a place with lots of books in it.
12. So, after the nasty over-response to the minor dust up at Crew Stadium (god they need a stadium naming sponsor or at least name it Lamar Field or something like that) you have stated that you will not travel to a Crew game due to the threat of tazing. Any chance that you would head to a Crew game in Columbus?
There is a better than average change that I will be at Crew Stadium. There is no chance that the TFC supporter's groups will organize a trip down this year (unless it's in the playoffs). It's also inaccurate to suggest that it's a boycott, although there was some talk of that in the early days after the March trip last year. The issue that the groups have is that they feel that the Crew front office failed to take any security measures whatsoever, despite efforts from the leaders of the Toronto trip to work with them to ensure a safe trip for all. No one is justifying the actions of a few Toronto supporters that crossed the line last year, but it is worth pointing out that there were only three arrests made that day at Crew Stadium and only one was a TFC supporter. The other two arrests were people that lived in Columbus, according to public police reports.

Anyone who was on the ground that day will tell you that the reaction of police was way over the top. In my case, I had the tazer shoved in my ribs because I was attempting to videotape police interaction with other Toronto fans. There were police cars screaming through the parking lot at high speeds to deal with an altercation that could have easily been avoided if Crew Stadium security had just held back the Toronto fans for about 15 minutes and stopped fans that were clearly wearing Hudson Street Hooligans t-shirts from gathering at the bottom of the stairs that the TFC supporters had to use to leave. All issues the TFC supporters groups attempted to alert the Crew front office to.

Yeah the Crew front office really botched that one, big time. That and the reaction of the police was comically over zealous. There are more violence/crime/arrests due to OSU away game outcomes. Next time you make it to C-bus, flash me and email and I will raise a pint with you somewhere friendly... Hell, I'll even buy.
13. Do you play soccer, and if so, what position do you play. I was a kickass fullback and stopper/sweeper back in the day.
Yep. I was a full-back for quite a few years as a kid before being switched up to a winger position (I used to run track as a kid and had some speed). Outdoors I usually play up front now, but I've actually been playing a bit of goal indoors lately as a way to prolong how long I can play competitively (as competitively as a beer league provides, anyway). My biggest regret is that I never received any proper coaching as a kid. I learned the game by watching it.

I am of the opinion that the stronger MLS sides would be able to survive in the Football League Championship of England if they were able to stay healthy. That is a big "if" because MLS sides have no depth to speak of. As a caveat, I feel like I need to spell this out more specifically. They would not be pushing themselves into the Prem, but surviving in the mid-low areas of the table.
14. What is your opinion on my opinion?
In a perfect, video game world, the top MLS teams would, in my opinion, finish near midtable in the CCC. I base that on looking at the type of players that come from England to MLS and how they do while here. To use Toronto examples, you see a player like Carl Robinson come over and fit right in. Robinson was a mid-table CCC player. Jim Brennan and Danny Dichio are two other examples. A League One player, Ali Gerba, didn't do so well last year...

My thoughts exactly. It is like we were separated at birth... at least MLS opinion-wise.
15. Provided that the Collective Bargaining Agreement is finalized and the MLS owners and MLS players are all happy-go-lucky with each other, which team do you see being the surprise team of the year?
That depends on what you mean by surprise. If it's a positive surprise I have a hunch about Colorado finally getting it right. They've been close to the playoffs for a few years and with the fire power they have up front, I could see them breaking through. In terms of a negative surprise, I can't get past the idea that this will be a slip back season for Houston. They were able to move DeRo last year because they had Holden waiting. Now...

Personally I think RBNY is going to be the "surprise" this season but only because anything they do will be better than last season.
16. Worse name Real Salt Lake or Red Bull New York?
It's not close. Salt Lake is the worst name in the history of sport because it makes the league look amateur and ignorant of the sport's history. Red Bulls is just corporate pandering. Whatever. It's 2010, that's just the way the world works. But, SLC named its team the same way that you would name a house league team -- after a famous team that you have no history with. The only difference is that instead of 4-year-olds chasing butterflies playing under the name, you have Kyle Beckerman's hair. SLC's name actually makes me angry it's so bad. And, you'll note I never used it. I refuse to.

I never understood why they didn't just go alphabet soup on Salt Lake City. They should have been FCSLC or SLCFC. It is like our soccer football minds were separated at birth.
17. Who is your dream interview for The 24th Minute? For It's Called Football?
Wow, that's a tough one. Actually, we've been really fortunate in getting many of the top names in the sport here in Canada -- interviewing Craig Forrest and Jason deVos were real highlights for me as those were players I really enjoyed watching. If TFC signs Paul Dickov (he's been on trial), I would absolutely be thrilled to have a chat with him about the late 90s at City and that famous game at Wembley where he scored in the 94th minute to erase a 2-0 deficit in the League One playoff (if City had lost that game, God knows what would have happened...). But, that's the blue in me.

But, if I had to make a list of three dream interviews for ICF for this season (balancing both the excitement of the interview and the exposure it would provide the show) they would be 1) - Don Garber, 2) - Bob Foose and 3) - Mo Johnston

The caveat of that list is that I would want to do the interview after each had consumed at least 5 glasses of wine.

I don't see those happening if they have been imbibing, but I would love to hear Foose and Garber off the record. Mo is a much more Toronto centric interview, and one day he might give you some sound bites, but I doubt much more than sound bites. All three of those potential interviewees are very politic in their delivery. I am not sure that the IFC crew would be able to put them off their game enough to get non talking point answers.
18. Who has been the most fun to interview so far. And let me be clear, by interview I mean someone who is really an "interview" and not a frequent guest.
Another tough one to answer because there have been so many good ones and because what's good for a TFC audience might not be as good for a non-Toronto audience.

That said, the last Julian de Guzman interview we did had a lot of really good stuff in it for the hardcore fan. We got him to talk a lot about his time in La Liga and some of the financial issues over there. Plus, he's a DP. Surprisingly, the DeRo interview we did earlier this month was solid too. To be honest we weren't expecting Dwayne to give us much.

But, if I had to pick one it would be the Jimmy Conrad interview from December. Jimmy is a funny guy and his personality really came through. However, he also gave us a lot of info on the CBA that has since become common knowledge but at the time was less talked about.

I have a request into Mr Conrad as well for a 20 Questions Tuesday spot, but I have heard nary a word back. Actually those three interviews you mentioned were also three of my favs of yours as well. Each for different reasons.

I guess it is time to turn the tables a bit.
19. Since we have been email chatting for 3 days now, are there any questions you have for me?
Sure. As a Columbus fan,what does the Crew front office need to do to get more than the 2-3,000 hardcore to care about that team? Winning didn't do it. Is it even possible?

In my honest opinion, there are a few different things that the front office needs to do to get butts in the seats.

Firstly, there is no local marketing to speak of. It has been years since I have heard a Crew radio spot unless it was for the play-offs. When McBride and Martino were on the team they would do some local radio shows... of course the team was abysmal at the time, but more in the local public consciousness. Make themselves heard.

Secondly, the team should not be counting on ticket sales to be their primary profit margin. That is the beauty of owing their own stadium. The revenue from ancillary sales at the stadium should be the driving force of their revenue and not ticket sales. Drop the ticket price for student ID's and get the OSU (within walking distance) crowd in there. They are hungry and thirsty because they are college students and are willing to pay a premium for nachos and beverages. Drop day of game ticket prices as well. Start with the upper deck seats and sell into the lower bowl. You start filling the stadium and more people will want to be there.

Thirdly, clearly they are not enticing people enough with their ticket packages right now. Drop the season ticket prices until they start to get some people in the seats. Get people in the stands and make it seem like a scarce resource. Then people will WANT to be there. I don't think that the front office has done due diligence in determining where the proper price point is for their tickets. If tickets were $5 cheaper and they got 1000 more people a game would that offset? I don't know, but I am afraid that neither do they.

If the average ticket price is 25 but they only get 14k people in the stands it looks empty and they have only gotten $35000 in ticket sales for the game. Figure out what price would get you 20k consistently and increase the price of your drinks by $0.15 or something like that. Your stadium looks full and you make the same amount of money. I feel that the office is too worried about looking like they are not a "premium entertainment" market like the Blue Jackets where a family of 4 can easily spend $300 for an evening, and therefore increase their ticket price to seem more premium. At this point it should be about getting people's butts in the seats at whatever price.

Fourthly, it seems trivial but do something with the parking situation. Currently it is a swamp. Pave it/gravel it/ do something with it. It is a deterrent to people going to the game. I know this anecdotally from multiple people I used to work with. They stated that they did not want to take their sedan into that morass because they wouldn't be able to get out and many a folk who lived in their suburb wouldn't go for the same reason.

Those are my prescriptions for getting more people into the games. I know there are some faults with my line of thinking, but I have not seen a serious effort from the front office to get more butts in the seats and it needs to happen.

So in conclusion...
20. Anything emblazoned on your memory from this interview?
Just, and this is going to come off as a little trite, how unifying this sport can be for fans in the U.S. and Canada. It's like a little secret society, with it's own customs and language. Even though we're, supposedly, from two rival cities, and two different countries, we can instantly start a conversation that is easy and understandable to both of us.

I've experienced that whenever I travel in MLS. In Chicago last October, for instance, I had people approach me to thank me for coming and I even had one guy from the Section 8 tailgate call out my name as I passed by to tell me that he liked the show. I have friends from all over North American because of MLS. I'm not sure it's the same way in other places in the world.

That's one of the main issues I have with Bill Archer and his ilk. He/they are dividers, determined to put a wedge between Canadian and American fans and to paint Toronto fans in the worst possible way. Yes, there is legitimate rivalry and there are those that take things way too seriously, but, at the root, most fans of MLS teams understand that we're all in it together and that we need to stick together to grow the sport.

To recap:
I will probably garner some negative comments from Mr Rollins' detractors
Oh well,
I enjoy these interviews
One problem with interviewing a freelance writer is that they write a bunch and quickly
Long 20 Questions Tuesday today
but worth it if you like North American soccer
Listening to the interns talk about six sigma stuff
Interns... sheesh