The Bald Truth
It’s been a strange beginning to the Jaap Stam era at FC Cincinnati. In the rush to produce a welcome image for the newly hired coach, a Dutch doppelganger’s photo was mistakenly used. And while FCC isn’t totally blameless, more fault lies at the feet of Getty Images, an antiquated dispensary of copyrighted images [Editor's Note: Getty has since pulled the image from their site, but leaving the link as "proof"] and banal stock photos. Getty mistakenly tagged a different bald Dutchman, later identified as Ajax youth coach Tinus van Teunenbroek, as Jaap Stam in a series of pictures from a 2013 Ajax game. One of the photos was even used by the popular British publication ‘Metro’ in 2014 for an article on Sir Alex Ferguson’s former players, proof that Getty’s carelessness had already made fools of many across the globe.
With the welcome Tweet posted, replies flooded in, mostly from Euro’s who immediately noted the mistake. This may have been correct, but how many of them knew it was Tinus van Teunenbroek? Very few, if any. Beyond the obvious ‘dunking on’ from every corner of the bored MLS websphere, the more sinister Euro-snobbery reared its ugly head. The same people who, months prior, declared racial insensitivity a myth in the Netherlands were now sending mocking insults for confusing (this must be admitted) two very similar looking men in Stam and Teunenbroek who both worked for Ajax at the same time. The unspoken victims in all of this had to be the Ajax youth teams of the time, where mistaking their coaches must have been an everyday occurrence. As a young boy, I once laid my hand on the back of a kneeling man at a car dealership, believing he was my father. When a random salesman turned around after I said “dad,” a part of me died.
In 2015, Aston Villa, a club 140 years old at the time, welcomed their new manager Remi Garde by misspelling his name in their welcome hashtag. Based on reactions to FCC’s error, PhD soccer writers of America would have you believe that historic Aston Villa just doesn’t “get” the game and extrapolate a rather benign mistake into a total indictment of the club’s soccer knowledge. But if we judged those same writers in a similar manner, most of us would be reading blank pages for the rest of our lives. Anecdotally, many of my most trusted soccer allies had to be convinced with extreme evidence (a close inspection of the two men’s ears) that it was in fact not Stam in the original tweet. Several are lifelong Manchester United fans who have attended multiple matches at Old Trafford. If these people (not young, mind you, but falling helplessly towards middle age) assumed it was him, what chance did the young, likely non-euro-obsessed FCC staffers stand?
We are currently living through a sports drought the likes the world has never seen. In a vacuum of content we all relished the absurdity of the moment, “another FCC blunder” echoing across the internet. National soccer scribes with the comedic timing of Borat, posting pictures of Bruce Willis and other random balds hours after the initial wave of tweets made me too embarrassed to add my own superior work to the madness. Many of the most humorless internet personas were desperately shooting their shot for anyone to see, riding the wave of the image mixup. The Stam picture began to say more about our insatiable desire for anything to happen than it did about dysfunction within FC Cincinnati. Unfortunately, a connection between what led to the firing of previous coaches to this low level screw up was impossible for many observers to resist.
If there is a silver lining in all of this, Jaap Stam's managed to get up to 13th on Twitter's US trending topics. And on its own, there are very few manager who could have garnered as much attention from the world. Publications all over the world picked up the mistake, which was harmless and hilarious, spreading FCC's name and new high profile manager farther than the team could have hoped. This has prompted some people around MLS to even wonder if it was on purpose. It was not, but for better or for worse, FC Cincinnati was the center of the soccer world for a day.
Seven years ago a Getty Images staffer set in motion a series of events that led us to where we are today. That it happened to FC Cincinnati of all teams is hilarious in all the ways following soccer can be, and FCC fans can only hope that one day the righteous hammer of karma will fall on someone else. I hope they can at least rest easy knowing today’s mocker is almost certainly tomorrow’s mocked. Until then, FC Cincinnati will reluctantly continue entertaining the rest of the country, and l will continue to be haunted by the car salesman who looked vaguely like my father.