Friday, May 18, 2007

Cycling in Belgium "by" Mouth of the Mersey

Here is some of the work of Stephan Vanfleteren. See more at in the "Hard Men and Heroes" section.

The one and only Eddy looking as hard in middle age as in his prime - there is no such thing as a bad photo of him as this book proves.

Here is some of the terrain over which the Belgian Hard Men make their reputations - in real life, it's still just black and white.

And this is what it does to your legs.

Hey - you out there, lurking behind that tumbleweed… by Zephirine

While the variegated crew of Pseuds' Corner regular contributors have recently been contemplating their own and each other’s navels and discussing how best to capture the essence of the site in t-shirt or book form, some have expressed concern that there are interested - and, probably, interesting - readers of the site who never post a comment. Which is a pity.

To help anyone out there who is hesitant, we have assembled the following possible answers, so all you have to do it post the relevant letter(s) - how hard can that be?

I read Pseuds’ Corner but have not posted comments because:

a. I think you’re all a bunch of smug pretentious wankers and I only read the site so I can mutter abuse at you all.
b. I thought this was a porn site and am extremely disappointed.
c. I support Chelsea/Man U/Liverpool/Arsenal and you never write anything about my team.
d. I loathe all forms of sport and consider it a waste of time which would be better spent playing computer games.
e. I am usually too drunk.
f. I believe the internet to be the work of Satan.
g. I am on a 12-step programme to help me deal with my blogging addiction.
h. I work for Guardian Unlimited and am afraid someone will guess who I am.
i. I have not been able to think up a brilliantly clever pseudonym.
j. My partner has threatened to leave me if I post one more comment on any blog, ever.
k. I can’t work out how to post a comment: what do I click?
l. Frankly, I think most of your stuff isn’t worth commenting on.
m. I am waiting till after my gender reassignment surgery.
n. I am in a close personal relationship with a regular contributor and my comments might lead to distressing scenes.
o. Alien forces are preventing my comments from getting through.
p. I did post once, but nobody took any notice so I thought, well, sod you then.
q. I am in love with Marcela Mora y Araujo and am only hanging round the blog in the hope she posts a new photo of herself.
r. Whenever I try to post something, my boss walks past.
s. I do not speak English, French, Swedish or Spanish, Tahitian or Thai. Or Californian.
t. Every time I think of a good comment, some smartarse bastard gets there first.
u. My favourite sport is crown green bowling, and you never write about it.
v. I am supposed to be doing my homework.
w. I believe that some regular contributors to this site are leading decadent lives and setting a poor example to youth.
x. I am too busy writing poetry.
y. I read the damn thing - what d’you want, blood?
z. I am José Mourinho.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Through the looking glass - Ebren

I've sat and stood, cheered and cried in a hundred stadiums, some of them cathedrals of sport.

No pitch has ever looked greener than a floodlit St James' Park, the aura of the approach to Berlin's Olympiastadion at sunset is unmatched, the intimacy and familiarity of Kingameadow , the homeliness of the Valley, and the passion of a European quarter-final at Stamford Bridge (in the days they were rare).

The friendliness of the Hawthorns, the cheerleaders at Upton Park (and the less said about those at Selhurst Park the better), and the ultra-modern polished concrete of the Emirates - coloured yellow, green, blue and white by 60,000 South Americans.

My first memory is of the old West Stand at Twickenham watching the Varsity match with my classmates at primary school. I've been to Madrid to see Ronaldo's Champions League debut in the Bernabeu and watched Ronaldihno dance past Zaragoza in the Camp Nou.

I've also seen my cousin play in Penlee Park and walked down the road to watch the Pirates face the Osprays at Mennaye Field. I've drunk Pimms on the lawn at Lords and been confused by AFL at the Oval.

I'd say I had a decent education in stadia, but I'd never played in one until this week.

Contacts I have spent years developing finally came good and on Tuesday night I took a train to Leicester and a taxi to the Walkers Stadium. We were playing Alliance and Leicester's team in a modern 32,500-seat ground that has hosted premiership and international games.

The first moment what I was about to do registered was when I walked through a door saying "players and match officials only". Henry walked here, so did Keane, Rooney and Gerrard.

The changing rooms were a revelation, the camera views you sometimes get don't portray these spaces well. You hear rumours about the psychology used in their design, but it doesn't sound real.

But stepping into the away dressing room you are oppressed. After the door is a tunnel, dark, close, and like the beginnings of an overcast night. Step into the home dressing room and it is like opening the curtains on a summer morning. There are pictures over each peg, a bath the size of a swimming pool. The sort you remember from Georgie Best footage from the 70s. The sort that I thought no longer existed. And next to the giant communal bath is a row of smaller ones, the sort you might have at home.

"What are they for? Ice baths?"

"No, no," replied the guide. "They're for players with infections."

The away dressing room only has small baths. Communal nakedness is restricted to the showers. There are no shower curtains. Just think: Thierry, Freddy, Gilberto, Toure, Jens in the shower. How on earth did little 16-year-old Cesc get the nerve to go in there? I reckon he just went home smelly.

We got changed and headed to the pitch. It was a shock.

From the camera angles and the seats stadiums can look spread out. From the grass they aren't.

A shallow bank of seats looks like a wall from the pitch. A wall that - thanks to the perspective - is Right On Top of You.

One of my teammates hits a long ball at me from the half way line - I volley it into the empty net off the outside of my left. Take that Van Nis. Take that Rooney, Cole (J), Di Canio, Anelka, Gerrard, and, er, Crouch. Were your goals here that good? Pipe down Nalis.

We play the game, the linesmen calls offsides wrong, the ref disallows a goal. Plenty for the boys in the studio to talk about, for the literally dozen fans to discuss on their way home from the ground.

It doesn't matter whether we won or lost. It doesn't matter that I didn't get home until about one on a school night. I even liked the fact it rained, it felt more real. What matters is that the mud from the stadium is on my boots, the memories fresh.

And what matters more is that Nationwide have a team as well. And they sponsor the England team. And Wembley.

All my time in hell ... Mimitig

These words from the sometime reclusive and oft eclectic Jim and William Reid in their incarnation as The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Sometimes being a sports fan stops being a fun thing to do and plunges you headlong into one of Dante's circles of hell. Mostly, I'm glad to say, this is because your favoured team has endured a pig of a match, lost heavily. You curse and blind, swearing that the referee was an idiot. Sometimes you get a whole weekend where in every single sport you follow, your teams lose the plot.

Sadly, there are occasions when tears of frustration at the loss of a game turn to real tears of grief at the loss of a life.

In the sports I follow, this has happened too many times in my life for it to be fun. I probably have as many dead sporting heroes as living ones, and not all have died in pursuit of their sporting ambition. Some have fallen foul of the grim reaper because their love of the thrill and the chasing of adrenaline, has taken them into non-sporting but still dangerous activities. Some have been the victims of the vagaries of the weather, pure bad luck, or just the hand of fate.

When I was very young I remember the shock felt by the nation at the death of Graham Hill in an aeroplane crash. Others died with him, but Hill is the one always referenced in that accident. Years on and I, through the television coverage witnessed the death of Ayrton Senna: my own Formula One hero. In between these 2 terrible events, countless motor-racing aces had lost their lives. It never stopped me watching and enjoying the sport, and mostly, I didn't consider the risk to life and limb these men took. Then I began following motor-cycle racing in a big way. Here the risks were far higher. Every week, in whatever series you followed, there were horrendous crashes, men carried off on stretchers with broken, twisted limbs. Yet, across all levels, many of these competitors would be back a week later, riding. No matter that they had busted legs, hands, collar-bones. They would still get on their bikes and ride, and ride to win.

One of the great heroes was Steve Hislop. A rider for whom the words man-of-steel could have been coined. I followed his career with awe and fascination. He did what no current track rider can even dream of. He ruled the TT races on the Isle of Man and he ruled the world of British Superbikes. After suffering a poor season start in 2003, defending his '02 title, he was turning it around. We all knew that he had the talent and the hunger to triumph again. But fate had another card to play, and in an accident eerily similar to that which took Graham Hill, in the skies above Hawick, with poor visibility, something happened and his helicopter crashed. Hizzie died and everyone who had ever sat on a bike or watched bike racing mourned.

Cotton and paper, posts about t-shirts and books

Hello all, there is talk of the creation of t-shirts featuring pseuds logos, the publishing of books of our finest tappings, and other malarkey.

Post discussions here.

Also - feel free to send things to my new gmail pseuds' account:

It’s evolution baby! - file

Through the open screens, past our banana tree, on the dusty street in front of me a dark and swarthy songthaew driver is teaching his four year old son how to roundkick. Muay Thai is still passed down from father to son here in Thailand and this is a common scene in the suburbs and back sois as if the Thais are never quite sure when the Burmese might invade again.

It’s definitely sanuk (fun), the boy is giggling and the big man too is smiling, enjoying the challenges of gentleness. The boy, as boys will, sometimes gets carried away and tries to ‘chop down the tree’ in a frenzy of wobbly kicks which bounce off the man's calf like baby moths off a Boeing and inevitably lead to a tumble. It’s another occasion for another defining Thai concept; ‘Jai yen yen’ (keep a cool heart) from Dad.

These are my neighbours to the left, Dad is, confusingly, called Boy and the boy is known as Dam which means black because his skin is dark. Mum is evidently busy somewhere frying up chilies and shrimp paste and my eyes sting and water so I close up the front of the room, anyway it’s nearly mosquito feeding time.

Later, when the air has cleared and Dam has been exhausted, his older brother Boon goes off to the end of our soi to play Takraw with his mates. Takraw is every bit as ubiquitous as Muay Thai here and might loosely be defined as a team game like volleyball without the hands.

There’s a patch of cleared ground there which does for them and an empty plastic Coke bottle which serves as a takraw. Takraw is a game and takraw is a varnished rattan ball about the size of a cantaloupe melon, takraw is also the generic name for any basket; ‘sai takraw’ in Thai means to throw in the bin.

They’ve got a ‘net’ that could be an interpretation of badminton regulations, except that its made from two T-shirts hung over a string tied on one side to a papaya tree. In common with the old ‘sweaters-as-goalposts’ rules football, the boundaries of the ‘court’ are in the mind of the beholder. This is the norm for street-takraw and you can probably predict yourself the fierce disputes over these imaginary lines in the more serious games; motorbike taxi driver gangs vs. the police for instance. Crazy huh? Ask a Parisian longitudinalist where the Greenwich meridian should be.

I digress, you can watch the game everywhere here; among the corrugated aluminium and cardboard shanty towns that line the canals of Raemkaengpaeng and Klong Toey as well as purpose built courts in Chiang Mai University’s woody campus. From under the heaving expressways of Bangkok, in lead blue clouds, to the crew deck and lapis skies of those rusting ferries that cross the gulf of Siam between Surat Thani and Ko Samui. Anywhere there’s a gap of unused clear and flat-ish space a gang of Thai males might well congregate of an evening to play or watch Takraw.

Not just in Thailand either, my only personal experience of playing Takraw was on the banks of the Mekong in Vientiane, Laos. Apparently it’s all over Asia and historically it probably spread out from China around the 11 century, though this is hotly disputed by Malays and Indonesians in these days of the sports growing organization and commercialization.

As you might expect from an ancient Asian folk game played in a land of defiantly laughing scofflaws, a clear definition is a tad tricky to pin down. A website I read for this piece suggests that I ‘Cross soccer with volleyball and mix in a bit of gymnastics and kung fu’, another site emphatically and enigmatically describes Takraw as ‘a startling game in which players must neither touch the ball nor let it hit the ground’. (sic)

The game the lads play round our way is a bit simpler than that though; to them it’s a sort of kick ball keepie-uppie which is more about enjoyment than winning. You don’t have to pass and you don’t have to try and hit the other teams ground, but you may. Athletic displays of juggling are roundly appreciated and ‘score’ just as highly as vicious spikes and smashes. It may be appreciated by some that popular agreement over artistic impression is broadly accepted as the preferred arbiter and critical acclaim is not often easy to win.

Therefore while Boon and his team play hard for points they are at peace with the knowledge that it might not win them the game and regularly sacrifice scoring for skill. This is quite radically different from most western game constructs but just part of the reframing necessary for farang to understand Takraw and Thai (Asian) culture as a whole.

Which is a shame because it’s a great game to watch; you see flips and bobbles and tips and headers, kicks and knees and hips and elbows, toe-pokes, chests and spikes. Jumping, spinning round kicks, flying over-head bicycle and axe kicks that soar above the net. Most westerners reflect, like myself, that; ‘If he could do that in the box at Old Trafford he’d be a millionaire!’

In the feverish hands of Dr Americanstein however this diverse and challenging ancient sport became the cheap and cheerful Hacky Sack in the ‘70s. Not surprisingly it disfigured, in translation, the whole concept of Jago; the archetypal proud cockerel that so fiercely drives the martial artists of Penjak Silat, inspiring mercurial Robin Hoods all over south-east Asia and providing an individualistic point of balance in a prevalent group mind.

There are similarities between Takraw and Muay Thai too. In traditional Muay Thai and Burmese Boxing of the 11th and 12th centuries the hands were originally thought of as ‘weak’ weapons, compared to elbows, knees or shins, unless they were rapped in hemp and broken glass and in Takraw the hands are forgotten completely. High kicks are valued in both disciplines as is the spinning physical dynamic of generating power. The grace and composure too, which characterize much of Thai culture, can be seen in the square rings of the Lumpini stadium as well as on the street corner Takraw courts of Lopburi.

As the light fades the kids return home, stopping to take a few penalties between the gateposts of Boons house. ‘Bekkum’ cries the smallest of them as he charges up for a prodigious strike; it sails over the gate, house and into the field behind in a chilling reenactment of the Euro 2004 quarter-final.

Football came to Thailand in 1897 and the Thai FA was set up in 1916 and nowadays it is by far the most popular spectator sport here even though the local clubs play before nigh-empty stands. Everyone here supports Man U or Liverpool or some such and the persistent visitor will eventually not be surprised by kids who claim their undying, and frankly bizarre, loyalty to Nottingham Forest or Swindon Town. There is fantastically intense criticism and support here that really supersedes even the hyperboly of the European press who often refer to the ‘fantastically intense criticism and support’ in Asia. If you didn’t watch that game (Germany 1 England 5) in a broken karaoke bar in a Bangkok slum you have no idea of what those words mean.

Unless you were in a pub in Toxteth of course…

Thailand have never qualified for a world cup but often do well in the SEA games and Tiger Cup. This year they lost in a bitterly contentious 2 legged final to Singapore but have recently won twice under the guidance of the glazed-eyed scouser; Peter Withe, who was at Nottingham Forest at the same time as the present Singapore manager Raddy Avramovitch was at Notts County. Coincidence? You decide.

In Brazil, the first sports club was set up in Sao Paulo in 1888 and as a direct result of the pioneering work of Charles Miller the Brazilian FA was formed in 1914, two years earlier than the Thai organisation. While Brazilians went on to inspire the world with their ‘beautiful game’ and to dominate world football competitions almost since their inception, the Thais stayed at home. But what made the Brazilians so adept, creative and unstoppable?

Surely natural physical characteristics has had a role to play but perhaps the key contributing factors were from an indigenous culture that cherished rhythm, grace, flexibility and physical artistic expression. Indigenous, not of South America originally but of 16th centuryAfrica, from where the Bantu traditions of Angola evolved to become both Samba and Capoeira and which now define Brazilian style.

What effect did the existing styles of movement have on the development of Brazilian football? It is interesting to note that one ‘plays’ Samba just like one ‘plays’ Capoeira and that Europeans exhibit far less of the characteristics of ‘play’ in their attitude to the game of football than their South American cousins. It is also, perhaps, significant that one of the threads leading to the development of Pele’s beautiful game is the amazingly acrobatic martial art of Capoeira. The spinning, rolling, jumping and range of motions are unlike anything in European physical culture and add a whole different dimension to the potential of a football player.

Another feature of the evolution of football style of play is the economic conditions in which it ferments. In Europe the riches accumulated from the colonies and the Industrial Revolution brought accelerated social prosperity driving football slowly from its working class roots and redefining leisure time. Whereas in Brazil the economic conditions which conspired to produce today’s stars are not so very different from those of Charles Millers protégés.

In short; the incumbent culture on which football came to lay in Brazil can be defined by its playfulness, alternative ranges of motion and social hardship, not so very different from that of Thailand really.

At the moment the Thai’s are still generally quite physically small compared to Europeans or South Americans but that whore of a factile which reveals that the average height of the Japanese has increased by 7 feet since the end of World War II may also be indicative of what could happen here as socio-economic conditions improve. Also the recent history of the Thai FA has been a catalogue of perceived incompetence and corruption and there is still a long, long way to go before Thai domestic football reaches anything like its potential. That said, there is no reason to think that things will not get better.

Watching little Dam from my front room I see the power of play, watching his brother Boon on the makeshift Takraw court I see the perseverance and awesome range of skills. Then watching him and ‘Bekkum’ taking penalties till the sun goes down I think I can see clearly which way they are going ... towards the evolution of a new style of football that you haven’t yet seen, the promise of tomorrow's beautiful game.

It’s not probable but it is possible, you might just want to set your cryogenic alarm clocks so you can surprise the living daylights out of your great-great-great-grandchildren as they are sitting watching Thailand beat England in the 2102 World Cup Final by bursting out of your ice box and shouting ‘Takraw!’

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Will the West Indies fans turn up? - leeroycal

One of the most starkly apparent things about the last time West Indies were on these shores, apart from Robert Key's beergut, was that the crowds were so predominantly white. Even at the Oval, traditionally home to scenes of West Indian fans' bluster and noise had only a mere smattering of old timers, staring blankly into their rum as their beloved team crumpled to a comprehensive 10 wicket defeat and an unthinkable 4-0 series loss.

Why is this the case? Is it simply that the team keeps losing, or is it something deeper? Have the West Indians in the UK fallen out of love with cricket?

The answer lies within the personnel of local and county cricket, and the number and type of ethnic minority players that are coming through the academy system. There are very few Afro-Caribbean players in county and league squads and it does not take a detailed and painstaking analysis to realise that the bright young things in English cricket are either white or Asian. Whilst struggling to remember an Afro-Caribbean prospect of any note since Alex Tudor, a list of young Asians leaps off the tongue far more easily: Solanki, Habib, Rashid, Bopara, Kabir Ali, Panesar, Mahmood; all evidence points to a large swathe of the West Indian population not engaging in the game as they once did.

Juxtapose this against the number of players of West Indian extraction breaking into professional football clubs up and down the country and you begin to see the logic of the argument, hence the crowds are not at test matches; the exception being the older generation, who still see cricket as the rallying point for the great archipelago from which they once came; the youngsters are all watching Arsenal.

The reasons are both cultural and practical. Culturally, the West Indians differ from the Asian population in that they do not originally come from a one-sport monoculture. Unlike the other test playing nations, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka make very little impact on world sport other than in cricket; and so when they came to the UK with their own unshakeable culture, a devotion to cricket remained an equally steadfast part of it. West Indian kids on the other hand have perhaps become more anglicised, and certainly more americanised. Football and basketball slowly became king; notably games that can be played anywhere. The West Indian population in England is generally located in the inner cities, areas that cricket has always struggled to reach with its lack of pitches, lack of coaches and lack of funding. These areas do not, however, suffer from a lack of basketball hoops or five-a-side football courts.

So in answer to the title of this piece, no, I do not expect there to be large West Indian crowds in this test series. But I certainly hope that initiatives such as Chance To Shine can go some way to reverse the sad trend of the last 15 years.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

No time for games - nestaquin

During the cold and wet winter of 1971, Sir Donald Bradman and newly appointed Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell held an extraordinary and historic press conference in Adelaide. The meeting was held to communicate to the world that Australian cricket was withdrawing its invitation to South Africa for the coming summer’s tour.

The reasons given were simple and from the heart. Chappell, Bradman and many of their contemporaries were appalled by apartheid. They were frustrated in particular with the Australian Government’s refusal to impose trade sanctions on the racist regime. The government had been lobbied and pressured by cricketers for near on a decade.

The movement was led coherently by Richie Benaud who returned from his first tour of South Africa in 1958 disturbed by what he had witnessed. Bradman in his prepared speech said “The feeble government reaction to this abhorrent regime is despicable. Cricket is the face of this young nation and not for the first time we will stand as one and try by whatever means possible to make a difference”.

It took a further six years before the rest of the Commonwealth fell into line. At the CHOGM conference at Gleneagles in 1977 it was finally agreed that the nations involved would discourage sporting ties with the apartheid regime as part of a wider campaign against racism. Australia and the Caribbean nations wanted an outright ban but the other Commonwealth countries led by Great Britain and supported curiously by many African members were more comfortable with the weak and malleable verb, discourage.

Seventeen years passed but eventually the hideous apartheid regime was toppled. It took longer than a quarter century to achieve but eventually the compassionate stone that Benaud through into the geopolitical pond generated a wave that swamped and defeated the inhumanity of European supremacism in South Africa.

You would think that after such a long struggle lessons would have been learned, not only by the citizens of the Southern continent but by members of all nations.

Apparently not.

Just a fortnight ago, at the same time that the victorious Australian cricket team returned with the gleaming golden World Cup trophy, the United Nations allowed Zimbabwe to be elected to head the UN's commission on Sustainable Development.

Two days later Zimbabwean opposition leader Sekai Holland arrived at Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith airport in a wheelchair to be treated for injuries sustained in a brutal police beating.

She was scathing in her attack on the Mugabe regime and lifted her shirt to show the dark purple bruising that several untreated broken ribs had caused. She also was nursing a broken wrist and leg. Fortunately for the 63 year old grandmother, her Australian husband with the help of the Foreign Affairs Department were able to aid her getaway in an air ambulance whilst under house arrest in Harare. It has been reported that Zimbabwean President Mugabe was furious at Sekai’s escape.

With the World Cup back on the dry, red earth of the Australian continent and the players in the news, it was inevitable that the media would again ask questions about Australia’s next Zimbabwean tour. It didn’t take long. In the very first public presentation of the glistening trophy a reporter asked Ricky Ponting if he was comfortable about touring Zimbabwe in September for three one day internationals. Punter in his best diplomatic performance to date emphatically said, “No, I am not comfortable.” and the celebrating green and gold throng fell silent and under a cloudless sky a sombre tone descended. Ricky ever perceptive, noticed this, flashed his mischievous grin and retorted, ‘On second thoughts mate I’d rather play golf’. The crowd began talking and laughing again but the issue of Zimbabwe and Australian collective cricketing morality was not easily dismissed.

The future consequence of Australia’s finest filling Mugabe’s pockets with gold quickly became a major concern. The players were badgered about their views and Matthew Hayden’s thoughts were typical. He said that when Australia last visited Zimbabwe in 2004 he thought about boycotting, like Stuart MacGill. "I was seriously considering my position this time, as to whether I would go if the tour went ahead.”

"I considered not going last time but went in the end. I now regret it. This time I was considering it a lot more heavily. I think this time it could have been a case of once bitten, twice shy. While I felt our safety was compromised a bit, I just felt compromised in general. The whole tour became a farce."

With the players concerns now well known the spotlight turned to Cricket Australia, the governing body of Australian cricket. Under pressure the CEO James Sutherland threw up his arms in despair at being continually questioned about the morality of touring Zimbabwe.

“We are not a political organisation. That doesn't for one moment suggest that we don't operate oblivious to issues that are going on in those parts of the world, but we don't have a mandate to be making decisions on those grounds.’

He then promptly put the problem neatly in the foyer of the ICC’s offices in Dubai.

“If we do not tour, the ICC under current contracts in relation to the Future Tours Programme, have the authority to levy a fine of 2.4 million dollars onto Cricket Australia that would be paid indirectly to the Zimbabwean Cricket Union.”

Whilst Malcolm Speed and his cronies prepared their abysmal response to the moral challenge that confronted them, private talks between Cricket Australia and the Federal government were taking place. Initially the Prime Minister announced that the Treasury would pay the fine but had second thoughts when reminded that the cash would have little chance of filtering through to Zimbabwe cricket and would only enhance the regime’s bank balance.

In an election year with his government hanging on by its fingernails, the Machiavellian mind of the Prime Minister soon turned this moral dilemma to his political advantage.

Government lawyers were dispatched to Dubai to find a loophole. They reported back that indeed there was a loophole in the process that allows an exemption for any team banned from touring by their sovereign government, a clause that was necessitated by India and Pakistan's stand-off during the 1980s and 1990s.

Last weekend the Australian Prime Minister traveled without entourage to seek counsel from Ricky Ponting on this sordid affair. While Ricky’s gorgeous wife Rhianna prepared a sumptuous seafood lunch, the PM and Punter discussed the repercussions of not abiding by the ICC’s amoral agenda. On national television the next morning the Prime Minister announced that with Ricky Ponting’s blessing, during the next parliamentary session, legislation will be introduced prohibiting Australian cricketers from playing against Zimbabwe in September.

This sets what may become a dangerous precedent but in light of the ICC’s refusal to forfeit the fine the Australian people were left with little choice. If the cricketers toured, Mugabe pockets the funds. If they do not tour the ICC would effectively act as Mugabe’s agent and he still gets the cash. In legislating against the tour Mugabe gets nothing except more international condemnation and the besieged Australian government can pretend it has a moral conscience.

The populace now expect the Australian Government to also pass legislation in regards to trade sanctions and humanitarian aid distribution in Zimbabwe. The opposition have already stated that they will enact such legislation if given office later this year.

In an election year the government has little choice but to follow suit.

Of course Australia’s refusal to tour Zimbabwe will make little difference in the short term to the citizens of that country. But once again the Australian cricketing community has had to make a stand because the leaders of more powerful nations will not. History indicates that this small protest is the belated beginning of the end for Mugabe and his sycophantic minions.

Robert Mugabe is a cunning calculated dictator, and is it not time that the international community stopped allowing this thuggish tyrant to play us off, nation against nation, culture against culture, until the core of the issue - Mugabe's loathsome regime - is lost in the bickering?

The oft-misunderstood Ponting at today’s press conference stated, “I understand that no government in the world has a perfect record on human rights but Zimbabwe at the moment is beyond the pale. As far as this situation is concerned, I'm comfortable that the Australian government has taken the responsibility for making international affairs decisions on behalf of the country. As captain of Australia I've never had a problem playing against international cricketers from Zimbabwe. Hopefully the board can arrange for us to play them at a neutral venue.”

It took 40 years for Benaud’s dream of equal rights for all to be enacted in South Africa. I pray as do many of my compatriots, that it takes a lot less time to emancipate the dispossessed people of it’s northern neighbour.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Finest Established Permanent Floating Taproom on the Net - Zephirine

(with apologies to Frank Loesser, the composer of ‘Guys and Dolls’)

Scene: Cyberspace. With four-part harmony and feeling, a motley crew of Pseuds sing the following:

"GU's the best known in the land, but our friends keep on getting banned.
And they’ve now got a Com Mod in town, who’s even got Guitougoal down.
There's a 606 thing at the BBC, but the quality of the company’s in doubt,
And things being how they are, the site from the police station is out.
So the GU sports blog was the one, but even Nesta thinks it’s no longer any fun…

”Why, it's good old reliable Ebren, Ebren, Ebren, Ebren’s our man,
If you're looking for blogging, he'll give you a spot,
Even when the heat is on, it's never too hot.
But for good old reliable Ebren, oh there’s no need for you to fret,
He’s got the finest established permanent floating taproom on the net.
There are sports-mad bloggers everywhere, everywhere,
There are brilliant bloggers everywhere,
And a hit of pakalolo for the fellow who can get us there.
If he only had a GU of his own, he could be a millionaire.

”Oh the good old reliable Ebren, Ebren, Ebren, Ebren’s our man,
If your offtopic postings you want to increase,
He’ll let you just ramble on in quiet and peace,
In a hideout provided by Ebren, for the international set
It's the finest established permanent floating taproom on the net.
Where's the action? Where's the blog?
Gotta have the blog in the name of dog.
It's the finest established permanent floating taproom on the net.”

England's Silver Generation - Ebren

In 1996 a wonderful Czech team came second to Germany in the European Championships. The team of Nedved, Berger, Poborsky and others became known as the "Silver Generation", and went on to thrill us at tournament after tournament.

This summer England's "Golden Generation" took to the fields in Germany and thrilled no one. At all.

Since then a change of coaches has seen a home draw with Macedonia, an away loss to Croatia, a draw with Holland, a loss to Spain, and a scoreless draw with Israel – England's worst run of results ever.

Looking at a team of multi-millionaire superstars struggle against the policemen of Andorra I got to thinking about the men that didn't make it into the England squad. The silvers.

Managed by Sam Allardyce, the coach that brought 4-5-1/4-3-3 to the Premiership (a formation that most of the first team play with their clubs), can we build a team that would qualify for the European Championship?

The first thing we have to do is rule out the first team, which currently reads: Robinson, Foster, Carson; Barry, Ferdinand, Terry, Woodgate, Carragher, Richards, Cole, Neville; Carrick, Lampard, Gerrard, Lennon, Downing, Hargreaves, Dyer, Parker; Defoe, Johnson, Rooney, Nugent.

I think to be fair Owen, Joe Cole and Crouch (and others) should be ruled out as well as the only reason they aren't in this squad line up is that they are injured/recovering from injury.

Building from the back who stands between the sticks?

Easy, the man with the most clean sheets in Premiership history. I give you David James. Robert Green and Chris Kirkland as back up.

Back four then. Glenn Johnson, Ledley King, Sol Campbell, Nicky Shorey. On the bench for the defence, Andrew Taylor of Boro, Joleneon Lescott, Laeighton Baines, Luke Young, and Paul Konchesky. Danny Mills didn't look too bad in the 2002 world cup, and Perry and Thatcher both captained the under-21s if we need a bit more experience.

The midfield central three, needing two defensive midfielders and a Gerrard/Lampard type.

Pretty simple really. In Nicky Butt we have one of the players of 2002 (according to Pele). He's in. Let's put a passer next to him in the Alonso role. Step forward Tom Huddlestone. The forward midfielder - Joey Barton is an excellent player, but I'm not picking that sort of a git in my team. Sorry, Sam's team. Assuming we can't coax Scholes out of retirement (and I would be on the phone, sorry, Sam would be), that leaves quite a few options.

Leon Osman is an underrated player, he could do a job. Nicky Barmby is still about, just because he's playing for Hull doesn't mean he's lost any of the ability 23 caps and pay £19.75 million for him across his career.

But with Big Sam in charge, it will have to be Kevin Nolan.

Bench pick between Jagilka, Harper, Sidwell, McCann, Reo-Coker and those mentioned above. Oh, and Beckham might make it. Perhaps ahead of Nolan in the starting 11, only if he can play the system that is, I'm not Sven here.

The two wide midfield/forwards next.

On the left Etherington could do a job, if a little lightweight. Kieran Richardson has pace to spare, and scored two goals on his England debut. Lita and Bent are full of running and would score plenty. But James Milner gets it. With Matty Taylor on if we need a more defensive option.

On the right there are more Options than in the hot-chocolate aisle of Sainsbury's.

Bentley, Pennant, and Smith are all good enough. Bowyer was top goalscorer in the Champions League from midfield. He's there or there abouts. Wenger plays Walcott from the right, and Bent and Lita are there again. But Bentley wins. He's really rather good.

So all we are left with is the line leader. The Drogba figure.

Smith has excellent first touch, and will hold the ball for the on-rushing midfielders well (remember the Roma game?), I've mentioned Lita, and I really rate him. Dean Ashton is not fit yet, but would get a run out in a friendly at least. Robbie Fowler would be on if we needed a goal in the final 30, and Sheringham is still playing and scoring with more cunning, touch and vision than anyone since Bergkamp did one to Holland. I won't mention Emile Heskey and his 43 caps.

But the best English line-leader is Kevin Davies. And he's the closest thing we have to Drogba to make this system work.

So there you have it: James; Johnson, Campbell, King, Shorey; Butt, Huddleston, Nolan; Milner, Bentley, Davies.

Managed by Big Sam.

Fight, flair, pace, technique, solidity at the back.

This silver second-choice team has the ability to comfortably qualify for the European championships, and they would probably have a decent shot at winning it, or at least beating Northern Ireland.

The question is, is silver better than gold?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The start of It - Mimitig

So all does not begin well for Scotsman Chris Hoy as he makes his attempt to break Arnaud Tournant's world record for the kilo. By fractions of a second - something only possible to measure with today's technology - Hoy falls outside the Frenchman's 7 year old time.

Given the travel problems that have beset Hoy on his journey to Bolivia, I am stunned that he was even in fit state to make an attempt on the record on Saturday (Bolivian time). What should have been a straight-forward journey became complicated by delays caused by unfavourable weather conditions - Latin American fog frustrates sporting excellence could easily be another headline coming so soon after the chaos in Argentina for the rally-drivers.

As I write, I understand that Chris will be going for it again tomorrow, and maybe, tomorrow and tomorrow until he breaks through the barrier. How his body will stand up to this is a real journey into the unknown, and whether he will be in a state to attack the 200m and 500m in subsequent days, must now be in doubt.

What is in no doubt is that a time of 59.103 seconds when not fully fit and properly prepared for the kilo is stunning.

More anon.

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