You might know Dominic Monaghan as the brave, tobacco-loving hobbit Merry Brandybuck in Lord of the Rings. Or as the brave, Claire-loving rockstar Charlie Pace in Lost. Or, more recently, as the as the crazy-brave, insect-loving host of Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan on BBC America. But we’ve come to know him as one of the most passionate and knowledgeable soccer fans we’ve ever come across and are excited to have him as a regular columnist at Paste Soccer.
Before his first upcoming installment on “Why England Won’t Win the World Cup,” Paste founder and editor-in-chief Josh Jackson talked with Monaghan—who’s currently in Sweden filming the new TV show 100 Code—about all thingsdean football.
Josh Jackson: So Sweden’s not in the World Cup, but they got the best player not in the World Cup this year with Ibrahimovic—maybe one of the best players in the world.
Dominic Monaghan: It came down to like a battle between him and Ronaldo, and I think Ronaldo staked his claim as being a better player than Ibrahimovic at the moment. If you would have said, “Who would you rather see in the World Cup, Ronaldo or Ibrahimovic?” I think most people would probably go Ronaldo, just because his name’s a little bigger. I also think that Ronaldo is a slightly better player. You know, Zlatan kind of turns it on when he wants to. He can win a game whenever he feels like it. But Ronaldo seems to do it all the time. You know, Ronaldo feels like he wants to win and he does. Whereas Zlatan every so often feels like he wants to turn into a great player and show people, but then other games he’s like, “I don’t really care about this game; I’ll just relax.” Ronaldo scored 200 goals in the last four seasons; he’s averaged over 50 goals in a season. Which is fucking insane.
Jackson: That’s crazy.
Monaghan: When you think of professional football player today, the standard they are playing at is ridiculous. It’s hard to score 30 goals in an amateur league, let alone 50 goals in a professional league.
Jackson: So I know your dad’s a Manchester City fan like me. How did you come to love United?
Monaghan: Yeah, what’s the deal with you being a Manchester City fan? How did that happen?
Jackson: Well, I went over to Manchester for the Manchester International Festival, which is such a great, cool arts festival. Rufus Wainwright was debuting his opera there. Tons of great music. So I went over assuming that everybody I met would be a United fan. Pretty much without fail, everybody I was hanging out with was a City fan. They all lived there in Manchester and were big City fans. I loved watching soccer during the World Cup. But you know I’m in Atlanta, and we don’t have a MLS team. I didn’t have any sort of particular fondness for any of the EPL teams. So I just, on a whim, said, “I’ll be a city fan, I’ll start following City.” And they had just finished 12th, so I thought I was picking a middle-of-the-table team. But they had signed some good players. So when I came back, I realized how easy it was to watch these games. I had no idea you could watch pretty much EPL game in the States. So I just started watching religiously and became a bigger and bigger fan every season. Yeah, it’s kind of random, but that my story.
Monaghan: So you guys are in one of your renaissances now, I mean it’s interesting to see that turn around. You guys are certainly experiencing a growth period.
Jackson: Absolutely, it was a good time to jump on the bandwagon. I didn’t really know that was what I was doing.
Monaghan: Yeah, well that’s cool. The reason why I am a Manchester United fan is, obviously both of my parents are from Manchester. So there wasn’t really any debate about supporting Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal. Chelsea, just because one of the major things that happens in England—I would say that probably 90 to 95 percent of the time you support where you come from. It just happens like that. With success it brings in fans from different parts of the world. Which I think is why Manchester City fans throw the comment towards Manchester United that no one in Manchester supports Manchester United. But the way I would throw that comment back is, with them being probably the most well-known club in the world, you’re just going to bring in tons of international fans—that’s just how it works. There is certainly a huge contingent of Manchester United fans in Manchester, which is obviously proven by the almost 79,000 people that go to the game every week. As opposed to Manchester City who fill 50,000 people into the stadium. So, I would just try to put that comment to bed, just because I think it is worthwhile. Trying to nail that to the wall a little bit, because the next thing you’ll get from people is: “So you’re one of the people that supports the biggest team in the world because it’s easy.” But I think obviously in Manchester, there’s a lot of fans.
But I was born in Berlin in the mid 1970s and at that point, in the trials and tribulations of Manchester City and Manchester United, the only team that really traveled that far early was Manchester United. We were struggling to try and contend with the domination of Liverpool in that period. Liverpool dominated the ’70s and the ’80s. It was only in the late ’80s early ’90s that Manchester United had the opportunity to defy Liverpool. You know there were two teams that made their way over to Germany in the newspaper and on the radio, and that was Liverpool and Manchester United. You know, I was a Manchester United fan. You know, certain members of my family are United fans, my mom is a United fan. Obviously my dad a Sky Blue. But the most important thing for my dad when I was growing up, in terms of football, was that we supported the sport. I think my dad probably realized, if we supported Manchester United or Manchester City we would be able to have a nice conversation topic to bring up with my dad. My dad likes to break down the weekly football. Honestly, I think it’s a real blessing because, if I were to call up my dad and constantly agree with him about things that were going on in Manchester City, I think the conversation would be a little less trying than my dad being able to give me a little bit of hassle, me being able to give him a little bit of hassle. Then leading up to big Manchester Derby, or you know, Manchester City vs. Chelsea or Manchester United vs. Liverpool, and we can wind each other up in a good way.
So I think my dad would say it would be nice to have two sons who were City fans, but I also think he gets a certain amount of enjoyment out of the position he is in now, giving me a little bit of a hassle.
Jackson: Yeah I can relate to that. My dad went to the University of Tennessee, and I went to University of Georgia, and they are big rivals. So, it’s a wonderful…
Monaghan: It’s fun to have that conversation. The other thing I like is there’s a healthy rivalry between Manchester United and Manchester City. There has always been a lot of excitement around the derby games, because even when Manchester City were floundering a bit, the rules don’t apply in the derby games. If Manchester United had been on great form and City is struggling or vice-versa, it doesn’t really matter because it’s such a high-tension game. Really, the first goal tends to win it, and the fans get behind the team. You know, it’s really an exciting game to watch. It’s turned into one of the most important derbies in the footballing world. You could argue that El Classico, in Spain, Madrid vs. Barcelona, has the same amount of worldwide attention on it. But certainly Manchester United vs. Manchester City is a lot of money on the pitch, a lot of flair players on the pitch and usually quite a lot of goals. And the other thing it does for the city is, you know, it explodes with life. I’m a very passionate Mancunian. I’m very passionate about Manchester. It’s a great city. I’m always recommending people to go to Manchester if they visit England not to just visit London. Try and get out of the city and go Manchester and go to Glasgow, go to Newcastle, you know, Leeds, some of these really interesting cities outside of the capital. You know, on big footballing day, Manchester just explodes with life. There’s always these is always deals at restaurants, bars giving out special offers. You can get in free and drinks are cheaper. A lot of money gets put into the city, and that means a great deal. Today there was a Manchester City parade through the city of Manchester up and down Deansgate, hundreds of thousands of people, and that can only be a great thing for Manchester in so many different ways. Obviously it puts us on a little international map. People are not only viewing the city but business and trains and busses, restaurants and bars and all these types of places do really well over that holiday type of celebration, so it’s a good thing.
Jackson: What’s been your favorite moment in the rivalry as a United fan?
Monaghan: The least favorite moment was probably when I was at school, United got beat 5-1 by City. And that was at a time when United was a much more of a dominate force, and it was a real slap in the face to get beaten by a team that wasn’t as good as us. So, you know, that week at school was pretty miserable for the United fans because the City fans were really rubbing it in. But they deserved to; the team played well and we got battered. We got recently beat by City in a similar fashion; that was pretty awful. But to be fair to that result, that was really because Ferguson was really trying to take some risks. We were two-nil down at half time and Ferguson said, “Alright, we’re either going to get beat five-nil, or we’re going to come back beat them four-two, and he took some risks. The best moment in recent memory was the Michael Owen derby where it was just goals galore. I think it was three-three going in the 93rd minute and then Michael Owen scored a goal from Giggs’ pass which was pretty beautiful—and penned him immediately as a person in the history of Manchester United. That was pretty special. Then obviously the Rooney overhead kick that he scored in the Manchester Derby, which Ferguson said was his favorite Rooney goal. I think Rooney liked it too. It’s not my favorite Rooney goal. I liked his early Newcastle goal, where he is 18-years-old and he fucking just batters the ball after asking the ref why that guy wasn’t booked, and the referee told him to play. And I think Rooney was pissed off, had his back up a little bit. And the ball dropped out of the sky, and he almost exploded the ball and put it in the back of the net. One of my favorite Rooney goals.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet the players a few times and you can see how much it means to them. Obviously every game, three points is important. But you can see when the big rivalry comes along what it means to them—in their city, the place where they go out to eat and to the bars, they can hold up their head a little bit. They don’t have to explain themselves. They don’t have to legitimize what went wrong. They can just kind of smile and say thanks. You can see there’s a lot of tension released when you beat your local rivals. I mean it’s much more difficult for us at the moment, you know we’ll get back there. United to me, are too big. United are like Coca-Cola or Levi’s or any of the massive companies like Apple or Starbucks. They aren’t going anywhere. They might have years where they’re a little more fallow. But I think in those years, United builds, you know? They don’t completely dissolve into nothing. They just start building from the ground up again, and they’ve had great success with that—the kids that they’ve brought through with United.
I’m hoping what we do now is concentrate on the youth system and maybe bringing in a few players to plug the gaps, and hopefully in three or four season’s time you’ll see the rebirth of Manchester United because that’s what we’re all about. We’re all about coming back and maintaining a standard that people are used to with United. I can’t see United ever dropping down into a division that they don’t belong to.
Jackson: What do you think about United hiring Van Gaal?
Monaghan: He has a proven track record with big players, you know. He’s been managing Holland for a while. So he knows about big egos and how to handle those types of players. He’s also very interested in youth, as well. That’s another thing that Van Gaal has in his arsenal. He worked with young players, he’s excited about young players, he’s taken young players to a standard where they can actually play with the professionals. And I’m hoping that’s something that happens with United. I think Ryan Giggs made a very shrewd move this season, at the end of the season, where we obviously knew we weren’t going to make the Champions League, and I think Giggs wanted to make a statement bringing on some of these young kids. Giggs was saying, “When I was 16, 17, 18, a massive manager took a chance on me, and look where I’m at now, and I’ve had the opportunity to work for this massive club.” What’s important is building that confidence in that youth system and showing them if you work hard, you really will have a chance to play—as opposed to some of these other teams where they’re like, “That’s fine, we’ll keep paying you, keep you on the books, but there is no way you’re going to get first team experience.”
So I think that Van Gaal hopefully has the same idea that Giggsy has—which obviously works with the big personalities and make sure that they want to play and that they can play. But bring up some these young kids and give them the chance to say, “You’re playing good, week in and week out, we’re going to give you the opportunity to be a big star.”
Jackson: So will you be watching the World Cup on the set of 100 Code?
Monaghan: It’s my favorite sporting competition of all time. The summer Olympics is probably second. I used to take time off, take that month off when it happened, just to enjoy the football, but I’ll be working in Sweden. We already have the office set up with a TV, so that when we’re doing studio work we can run backward and forward and watch the game.
Jackson: I’m sure that will be a fun atmosphere on set. It seems to change the workplace everywhere—just everybody having that one thing to pay attention to.
Monaghan: It’s a great bonding experience for everyone, you know? If you’re neutral, you can just pick a team and have fun with it. And if you are somebody invested in one team or the other, it can bond you with everyone else because you can look for someone to help you cheer along your team. The interesting thing about football, if you think about what’s been happening with the States and trying to bring it there, is for me at least, at its heart it’s a very simple game. A lot of Americans that I talk to say I don’t understand it or I can’t follow it, and nothing really happens. You know I say, “Well that team is trying to score in that goal, and the other team is trying to score in that goal, and that’s it. That’s all you really need to know.” And I said secondly, “If you think a one-nil result is the only one thing that happened, then maybe you’re watching the wrong sport because you can have a one-nil result, but you can have so many exciting little mini competitions going on—on the pitch and controversial reactions by players or decisions by referees. At its heart it’s real human drama; I mean its real drama going on. The fact Steven Gerrard said, “This doesn’t slip,” and then a week later he slips—and the Premier League title slips through his fingers and heads to the city of Manchester—that’s such an epic tale at its heart. If you wrote that into a script, people would say, “Ah, I don’t believe you. I don’t believe that would ever happen.” But it’s real, it’s happened, we can recount it in the footballing world.
The above photo is of Monaghan playing soccer in Africa. Check back for his regular soccer column at Paste Soccer.