Friday, February 23, 2007
Don’t judge the Munster fans too harshly, though. They have different cardiovascular systems and different senses of humour from me; that’s all. For instance, during some gruelling Celtic League fare a couple of years ago, I amused myself by sucking out the cerebral cortex of the gentleman in front of me, and then – whistling innocently all the while – pointed an accusatory tentacle at my neighbour, as if to say ‘Don’t look at me. It was him’. Suffice to say, that did not go down too well with the Best Fans In Europe TM.
They chanted for blood, but tentatively and without unity, as fans subdued by mediocrity are wont to do. (Connacht were, for want of more accurate words, entertaining us, as some might have guessed). In the end, they didn’t even chase me to the gates before they threw up their hands in exasperation. In spite of the mortal danger, I was almost disappointed at their reaction. Maybe it is a symptom of social breakdown or increasing atomisation, but lynch mobs are definitely not what they used to be. Although, I suppose – who’s to say in this crazy, relativistic world whether eating other people’s brains is really wrong, and not just an interesting personal or cultural foible? Nobody.
Since then, my likeness has been circulated at the turnstiles for every Munster game, so I haven’t been able to see the men in red in person for a while now. I did try wearing a fake moustache as a disguise once. Alas, it slipped at the vital second and the ticket agent saw through my cunning subterfuge. So near, and yet so far. Anyway, like many other sports followers, I am now condemned to the mediated experience of television or radio for my entertainment.
This presents some difficulties. Difficulties that have commentators’ voices, and commentators’ cultivated idiosyncrasies. And commentator’s sheepskin coats, occasionally.
Johnson’s dictionary defines a commentator as “a gabber who in England is generally given to hoarseness, but in Scotland succours the people.” (they do need succour these days, the poor Scots). But does this say enough? A commentator is also a perpetually excitable child, a nerd, a buffoon and a trimmer. He has that curious mixture of servility and self-regard that one associates with the renowned celebrity lickspittle. Yes, he seems to say, I am not a part of the game, but the only way to the game is through me. He isn’t entirely unlike the Catholic Church. Or Rupert Murdoch. And yet, this is to exaggerate his grandeur. He aspires to be one of the major players, but is too unfashionable for their parties. One can imagine him in the toilet cubicle of a bingo hall, viciously snorting cocaine.
Not the least of his qualities is his superstitious egocentricity, characteristic of children, Liverpool followers and the terminally insane. He believes that his thoughts can actually change games. However, he is no subscriber to the power of positive thinking, even though it is a measurable phenomenon (estimates put the power of positive thinking at a few hundred milliwatts – a staggering zero percent increase on regular thinking). Like Schopenhauer, his ideas of causality are pessimistic and bitter. None more than the so-called commentator’s curse. This curse (example: commentator says player is brilliant; player promptly kicks himself in the testicles) is nothing but the extension of the childish fantasy that one can collapse stars just by blinking one’s eyes, or the fan’s delusion that shouting at a television screen has any effect on anything. Nevertheless, for all sports watchers, the curse inspires a mixture of dread and television-berating. Why is this?
Simply: because there is such a thing as the commentator’s curse. Don’t be fooled though – it is no magical power. It is actually just the audible end-result of commentators’ tendency to be wrong about practically everything, and confident in that wrongness to boot. The last time a commentator was right about anything, it was a) by accident, b) 1950 and c) not long before he corrected himself. I could bring forth thousands of examples, but instead I’m going to unfairly single out Eddie Butler. As soon as Eddie said that it was “hard to see France coming back from here” against Ireland, I knew without doubt (Oh, his unprophetic soul!) that they would. I just knew it. Even as Beauxis’s restart was ambling down from the sky, I had already sunk my second pint and was just starting on my third chaser. Thankfully, I had passed out by the time the final whistle blew.
Eddie’s doing the England-Ireland game this weekend too. He tipped Ireland to win. Will someone look after my cat when I’m gone?
The somewhat crass observation that the French national football squad is jam-packed with second and third generation immigrants - made initially by Jean Marie Le Pen and pointlessly echoed by rent-a-gob Languedoc Regional President Georges Frêche last November *(1) – was the subject of a recent exchange of views on the G.U.*(2) Sportblog.
Perhaps to dignify the aforementioned racists’ dimwitted musings with any kind of a response is a mistake. The salient point is that there appears to be relatively little discrimination – on a race or a class level - within French sport itself.
Sad to say that, much like our culinary skills, the U.K. doesn’t compare too favorably: anyone for envisaging a 'Hussein Hill' anytime soon? Doubtful. Now juxtapose that unlikely image with Yannick Noah’s Davis Cup winning exploits with France, sixteen years ago.
Down in the rural, rugby-obsessed, south west of France, the common man dreams of one day representing his country; and it might just happen. In the UK, however, up until Rugby Union turned professional in 1995 your average England prop may have looked like a Geordie bouncer, but he spoke like Hugh Grant’s butler. These southern-softy’s day jobs often provided an echo of the sport’s public school heritage; there were no miners to my memory. Perhaps it’s a little misleading to reference the class schism in English Rugby, given that northerners have been able to represent Great Britain via Rugby League, but my League playing grandfather would turn in his grave at the thought of Andy Farrell migrating over to “that other code”: a prejudice I always suspected grew out of bitter envy as much as anything else.
The U.S. doesn’t tend to hold up many obvious class barriers in its sports. But they have had their fair share of racial controversies (Baseball’s history of segregation; the paucity of black quarterbacks in American Football’s hall of fame). In Basketball, blacktop courts require relatively little financial investment, and inner-city kids make good use of these facilities. Michael Jordan wannabees are told that a successful career in sports is but a hoop dream and that a decent education should be their priority, but for a lot of poor Black kids there’s about as much chance of making the NBA as there is getting an MBA. Anyhow, what would rather be when you grow up, point guard or neurosurgeon? All of which provides a convenient segue into boxing; the brain-shakin’ craze that is creeping its way back into some UK inner-city schools *(3).
Boxing generally produces polarized opinions. Detractors say we are arming our kids with potentially lethal weapons, and how about those health risks? The yes camp have countered that we are simply giving our kids the discipline – as the Daily Mail might have it – that is sorely lacking at home and in the classroom.
What I’d like to know is; why has nobody thought to introduce a less stereotypically working-class pastime into the sports curriculum? Croquet, for example, could be a huge hit in our comprehensives: the risk being that it might give rise to a whole new set of hoop dreams, or - worse still - a sudden surge in Mallet attacks. Luckily, in our divided society, we’ll probably never know the true dangers of child croquet.
References if needed:
It was Alan Partridge who suggested that post-match showers were intended to remove “the stench of defeat” from the vanquished. Many readers will have spent last Friday with the carbolic, as their carefully crafted efforts hit the spike with the force of a Johnny Metgod special. But as the noted thinker Dale Winton reminds us, you’ve got to be in it to win it.
Who joins those of us outside charmed circle in the Also Rans’ bar?
Horse Racing’s Also Rans are usually to be found inhabiting the inside of a Kit-e-Kat tin, but not the big, black, beautiful Crisp who defined sporting gallantry as he led for every stride but the last one in the 1973 Grand National. Richard Pitman puts it wonderfully well here http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/other_sports/horse_racing/grand_national_2003/2889541.stm and none who witnessed it will ever forget it.
1996 and Newcastle are looking like they will actually hang on, actually win something, actually do it… then –
“When you do that with footballers like he said about Leeds... I've kept really quiet, but I'll tell you something: he went down in my estimation when he said that - we have not resorted to that. But I'll tell ya - you can tell him now if you're watching it - we're still fighting for this title, and he's got to go to Middlesbrough and get something, and... and I tell you honestly, I will love it if we beat them - love it.!”
Everyone has seen it a million times on youtube, so you can run the visuals in mind’s media player along with the pauses, the catch in the voice and the raucous laughter wafting over the Pennines. A rare example of a live performance every bit as funny when reduced to the written word – even Bill Hicks couldn’t pull that off.
Although one should never consider the Premiership as a competition separate to its previous life as the Football League Division One (a set of four words perhaps lost forever – the shame), Liverpool’s Also Ranness must be a concern for their new American owners, who possibly believed that a Champions League Winner might actually have won a Championship to qualify. They’ll soon find out that Also Ran status is no bar to entry to the most lucrative competition in Europe.
To the majority of Brits, Pou-Pou is a cheap laugh in Eurotrash (yeah, like there’s any other kind), but to the cycling cognoscenti, Pou-Pou means Raymond Poulidor, a man who finished on the Tour de France podium eight times, without ever hauling his saddle-sored, leathery bottom on to the highest step. He did console himself with the love of all France, which was rather more love than arch-rival (and five times Tour winner) Jacques Anquetil received. He had to make do with the love of his daughter-in-law and step-daughter, with both of whom he fathered children.
So, all things considered, us Also Rans of the Big Blogger competition may consider ourselves more Jade Goody than Shilpa Shetty, but sport has a happy way of compensating its less than leading lights with a different kind of fame – and, let’s face it, wouldn’t you rather stiffen your back and proudly proclaim yourself a follower of Espanol than a follower of Barcelona?
My Hero – Kevin Sheedy
Kevin Sheedy was an Everton Great, even sweeter to write as he could, and should, have been a Liverpool Great, since they had him as a youngster, but let him go (preferring Ronnie Whelan, with whom he shared many traits). He won everything short of the European Cup in club football (he wasn't allowed to compete post-Heysel) and was a key member of Jack Charlton's Ireland teams.
He had some of the skills and limitations of David Beckham, except he was even more one-sided (left), never headed a football (except once vs Man Utd), never tackled and never beat a man for pace or with a trick. He never warmed up, and if taking up position at the opposite side of the pitch from the tunnel, barely made it to his place, so slowly did his bandy-legged walk carry him over the ground. He was average in height, could be riled, but was generally placid in temperament and shunned the Press. He celebrated boisterously, but almost immediately slumped the shoulders and, on those bandy legs, trudged back to the half way line. You could have stood next to him on the bus on the way to the ground and never have noticed the hero next to you.
But he averaged 10 goals per league season over seven years as a wide midfielder (not a wide forward / midfielder like Giggs or Pires) without taking penalties at a time when the rules made it much harder to score and 1-0 was a very common scoreline. If they kept stats on it, he would have had the highest number of assists in the League for certain. He took free kicks all right, and to my continuing astonishment, deposited one Goodison effort round the wall into the top left corner, only for the referee to demand a re-take: whereupon he planted the ball in the top right corner – I expected him to retire there and then, a life’s work accomplished.
Sheedy is probably best remembered for this little vignette at Anfield: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcGOOhe5xZ8&mode=related&search.
In an age where footballers are said to be mercenaries with agents touting them around the world like pig belly futures, it’s great to see a player doing exactly what every single Evertonian dreams of doing and following it up with exactly what every single Evertonian would do given the chance. The fingers salute’s noble origins on the battlefield with English archers taunting the French foe who would cut those vital bow tensioning digits off if captured, is a nice allusion for the conflict between neighbours a derby represents. It’s a long way from Agincourt to Anfield, unless you’re Kevin Sheedy.
Never, and this includes Paul Scholes, has so much football come from so unprepossessing an individual. The Royal Blue 11 shirt will always be Kevin Sheedy's and no Bluenose of a certain vintage will ever see a wall line up without hearing “Sheedy… Sheedy… Sheedy” on the soundtrack of memories involuntarily playing in their brain.
Dateline 21 July 2018
2018 World Cup Final – Britain Expects
As FIFA’s 80, 000 guests prepare for the trip to the MacDonald’s Wembley MegaDome for the most anticipated match in British football since 1966, it pays to look back 12 years or so to see how Team Britain have progressed to this World Cup Final showdown against hot favourites China.
With England’s shock elimination from the 2008 Greater EU Championships after the 0-4 home defeat by Estonia, current Hartlepools manager Steve McClaren resigned his post and David Dein (yes, that same David Dein who’s been in the papers so much recently) re-structured the British game in anticipation of the 2012 Olympics (subsequently cancelled due to its carbon emissions impact).
Out went England, Scotland and Wales and in came Team Britain under Director of Football Arsene Wenger and Coach Sir Alex Ferguson. Domestic football is still feeling the ramifications of that development, as Martin O’Neill’s Celtic continue their dominance of the Sky Sports British Premiership with the Liverpool Lions their only real challengers under the leadership of player-manager Wayne Rooney.
Team Britain qualified so smoothly for the 2010 World Cup under the Wenger – Ferguson dream team, but, as everyone knows, it was all to go horribly wrong in the semi-final, with penalties once more the Achilles heel. How ironic it was to see David Beckham convert the winning score in the shoot-out for Team USA – some still claim that moment to be the launch pad of his successful run for President Schwarzenegger’s old job as Governor of California.
After the touchline fisticuffs between Wenger and Ferguson that horrible night in Mandelaville, it was clear that a new start was needed. Just when it seemed the British FA had lured Phil Scolari at last, the deal was called off over image rights, and England appointed Manchester United manager Sam Allardyce to the post. Failing to gain British citizenship for Ivan Campo from Prime Minister David Cameron, he resigned leaving the BFA in turmoil.
But it was then that the saviours of British football rode into town. Dave “Harry” Bassett wasn’t a popular choice as Director of Football, nor did his Coach, Vinnie Jones, inspire much confidence, but their up-and-at them style, with technical area shouter Phil Thompson employed solely to bellow “Get stuck in to these bast****” every 30 seconds, has carried all before it and shown just what can be achieved with patriotism, old-fashioned common sense and a liberal interpretation of the new drug laws. Purists still quibble over their insistence on playing 5-5-0 and waiting for a set play to commit anyone forward; others dislike their requirement to be over 6ft 3in to be considered for the team, but few argue with their results.
Tomorrow destiny awaits – will skipper, veteran centre-half Peter Crouch, winning his 250th cap, lift the Roman Abramovich Trophy following in the footsteps of Bobby Moore and the 2014 winning skipper, Emmanuel Eboue? If you can’t afford the £100 fee for Sky’s exclusive World Cup Final package, log on to guardianunlimited.co.uk/sport for Rob Smyth’s Minute-by-Minute report.
In a sensational move, the IOC has sanctioned blogging as an Olympic sport for 2008, replacing athletics.
“We have introduced blogging to reflect the technological world in which we all live,” said an unknown man wearing a blazer with very shiny buttons and pockets bulging with brown envelopes.
It wasn’t long before Paula Radcliffe led the protests from Britain. “I’ve spent all my adult life running 100 miles a week for the chance of winning Olympic Gold, and that chance has been taken away from me and offered to a bunch of fat blokes who spend all their time writing about Liverpool’s 70’s and 80’s squads. I just don’t think a pithy point about Ian Rush’s goals per game ratio summed over both his Liverpool spells, as compared to Thierry Henry’s last two seasons at Arsenal, is the sort of thing the Olympic ideal should reward.”
Lord Coe soon weighed into the row. “Whilst we obviously welcome the opportunity to save money on the 2012 infrastructure construction, a world class sports stadium represents a better legacy for London than a few shrill put downs from Barry Glendenning that don’t even come up on the Guardian’s own search facility.”
Criticism for the surprise decision was not universal however. HB, a man with a broadband connection and an insatiable desire to respond to any criticism of Liverpool Football Club, welcomed the move. “This is Britain’s best chance of gold. We lead the world in both the “angry and abusive” and the all-important “best use of arbitrary statistics to make an argument” disciplines”.
Britain is also ranked second in the “most creative use of embedded youtube links” through midweek maestro Mike Adamson, so must fancy their chances if the coaching team can taper the squad in the run-up to the expected showdown with Tahiti.
England’s blogging supremo Sean Ingle has already called for lottery funding to promote blogging among schoolkids. “If we want success, we have to invest in an Academy system that can deliver a steady stream of young world class performers, able to blog consistently within the talk policy, stay on topic for perhaps hours at a time and not sink to whinging that they could do better than that bloody Russell Brand bloke. This means serious money from the Government is required to furnish our young people with the stamina to blog cricket overnight with the crack Australian outfit, pick an argument over Chelsea and sustain it through the morning into the mid-afternoon, before switching to learned and witty ripostes to James Richardson’s podcast on the upcoming Lazio-Roma derby. Skills like that don’t come cheap,” he said rubbing his hands over a Lottery bid form.
Rumours abound that should the introduction of blogging be successful in Beijing, the IOC are seriously considering replacing the swimming events with OBOing. Britain again are expected to be strong in all OBO disciplines especially “freestyle” where Rob Smyth is world ranked number one and unbeaten for five years in the discipline which requires sustained writing about anything other than the event ostensibly being reported. The “backslap” is another strong event for Britain. “We have a proven squad of OBOers who are seasoned practitioners in the art of congratulating themselves and laughing about their own, so-called, witty interventions” said veteran OBOer Andy Bull.
It seems the only cloud on the horizon for Britain in the Olympic Blogging events are the newly introduced WADA compliant dope testing regime extended to cover alcohol and other recreational drugs. “The squad are made up of real and wannabe journalists – we’re always hungover or drunk – it’s in the job description, “ claimed a tearful man only known as MotM.
Jeffrey Bernard was unavailable for comment.
Hasslebank hits a shot from the edge of the 18-yard box. Throw in.
"My gran could do better than that!"
Could they? I mean it's a reasonable question. Just how much better than us mere mortals are the professionals?
In any Premiership, international, Serie A, or La Liga game I watch I see passes misplaced that I could make. People out of position, taking the wrong option, and conceding possession cheaply. So how did this bunch of losers end up earning millions while I am forced to pay to play football on a Wednesday night.
Well, one day I found out.
They say you should never meet your heroes, as they will just let you down.
They are wrong.
Last season when my team of also-rans turned up for a fixture there were a couple of guys warming up with us on the pitch before the game - I assumed they were part of the opposition and didn't pay much attention to them. More members of the opposition turned up and we had a game.
Fifteen seconds in, they score.
Thirty seconds later they score again.
I realised about then there was something very familiar about one of the members of the opposition. I had stood on a terrace at Kingsmeadow and watched him tear an opposition defence to shreds for 88 minutes with a 7 on his back. That opposition was Fulham in a pre-season friendly, Kingstonian won 1-0 thanks to a Maz goal. (http://www.truropacket.co.uk/display.var.620007.0.0.php )
Here is a quote from the Aldershot manager about him:
"He is slightly zany and a bit unconventional and he has a stack of tricks. He has probably under achieved in his career so far [Kingstonian record - played 70, scored 15, playing from right wing]. I spoke to Ian Mac [Kingstonian manger] and he said to me that Maz could be anything he wanted to be. He has all the talent in the world but it is up to him to make the most of that talent."
He was 22.
He scored 12.
Towards the end of the first half I tracked him across the park, and blocked a shot. It almost tore my leg off.
There was a glimmer of hope after they scored their second, when we made it 2-1, but that was about as close as we got to being in the contest.
They say you should never meet your heroes - they are wrong. You should never play against them.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Right, I shall not be around this Friday to post the submissions that did not make it to Big Blogger, part 2.
But do not despair, gentle reader, as andrewm (and possibly others if they get back to me) has stepped forward to fill the Ebren-shaped hole.
emails/submissions should go to email@example.com to be put up as separate posts.