Friday, June 15, 2007

The Branston Rabids Files x3 - file

Little Shoppe of Bolocks – Part 1

It’s the morning of the big game with Melchester Roofers and the bulk of the Branston Rabids first team squad are ‘stable’ in their own ward at Branston General Hospital.

Hercules “Eckle” Profiterole, the Belgian centre-half and private eye, has had his nose bitten off by a savage Portugazi and the club chairman looks strangely smug.

The local A&E staff had worked their fingers to the bone in a pandemonium of players, their agents and family, press, police and fans the previous night. Fending off reporters and supporters and jabbing everyone with rabies shots, seaming endless stitches, reattachments and wrapping of miles of bandages.

A surprising amount of pain killers were being consumed too, thought the ward sister, who was a rugby fan.

Those conscious and not hallucinating saw Jorges Mourir once more, live on TV news, getting shot with a tranquilizer dart by the RSPCA. It, they agreed, was a shame; he’d been the best manager they’d had in ages.

He was already being linked with the vacant Gorky Blu Meanies job.

Eckle had tried half-heartedly to marshal the troops but eventually given up until the morning.

[The etymology of the Rabids name surprisingly predates this incident, though it is thought by some to be prescient. The club's founder, and great grandfather of the present owner, Sir Fagan Tannic, came from a long line of wealthy industrialists.

Their family business was one of many mysterious things to have come out of the shadowy corners of the dark ages; the recycling of rabbit condoms that underpinned the giant multinational that is today’s Rabbit Brand Corp.

Unfortunately in 1869 when the club sent its erstwhile tea lady to register with the newly formed Football Union, she had had a horrid head add dose cold. No amount of screaming ‘Rabids I tell you, Rabids!’ could convince the clerk and even her frantic bunny impressions were misconstrued. A succession of spiteful FU officials had refused to change it ever since, hence Branston Rabids it is.

Incidentally, the multinational arms were given to Sir Derek Tannic-Stanza’s four elder sisters while he was left only with a knighthood and a football club with rising damp.]

The next morning Sir Derek was in early, checking under the players’ bandages, sneezing, loosening the odd stitch here and there.

"Morning all," he said breezily "how are my honed Adoni today then?" The slight Scottish winger winced and let a tear hit his cheek as the chairman ripped off his ear bandage again, ear and all.

"Nurse!" Yelled Rocket.

The morning morphine was kicking in and Hercules Profiterole decided to go out in to town to see about finding a nose guard.

In a side street off a back road, near the canal, Eckle noticed a dirty little old shop he had never seen before. He saw the sign under the grime "A Little Shoppe of Bolocks" it said, Eckle read it twice. Through the thickly crusted windows he could only make out that it was some kind of antique shop but just as he was about to walk away he saw a shining silver nose plate.

He pushed the creaking door open with the "Tink" of a broken bell and immediately found himself in the middle of all manner of dusty sporting memorabilia and bulging paraphernalia.

Old trophies and medals in boxes, caps, armbands, signed photos and Figurine Panini albums, a complete set of West Indies touring athletic supports (unwashed) were draped over gloves and shin guards, shirts, boots and a mounted display of Accrington Stanley lucky heather.

As if by magic the shopkeeper appeared, he was a short and balding man in a striped pinafore.

"Good morning sir," said the man.

"Good morning to you," Eckles replied.

"If I’m not mistaken you are a Rabid man are you not sir?"

"I am and," Eckle and paused for effect "...he he! Are you Mr. Bollocks then?"

The round faced man stiffened slightly. "It’s pronounced Bo – lock if you don’t mind. Are you looking for anything in particular or just perusing the annals of history?"

"Not really into annals as it happens, or history, I can’t even remember where I left me fags. I just came in to look at that old nose protector in the window."

"Oh yes, a lovely piece that, rumoured to have belonged to a descendant of Ethelred the Unready. We have many titbits that might awaken your historical curiosity, what about this, it’s an original print of the first FU Cup final at Wembley."

"Oh, I saw that. The Gorky Blu Meanies won didn’t they?"

"Noo, not the new Wembley the original Wembley, don’t they have Wembley where you come from?"

"No we don’t, who’s that then?"

"Ah, that’s PC George Scorey."

"That’s a fancy name for a horse," said Eckle.

"No the copper, the horse was called Billie, its called The White Horse Final now you know."

"Did he win then did he? Did he? Heh!"

"No, Bolton won, but they single-handedly kept 200,000 fans in order. Djunno he wasn’t even on duty that day?"

"Who the horse?"

"No the copper."

"So why did he have his horse with him then?"

"I don’t know."

They chatted gaily away like this for a while and then the conversation turned to Mr Bolock’s business partners who could do wonders with in vitro fertilization and the possibilities presented by an unusual light box in the back room.

"Ye what? You’ve got a magic light box that can send me back in time so’s I can collect his sperm for your mate? Yer mad, man! Heh!"

"Well that nose plate is solid silver and it would probably be worth a few thousand to a collector you know, what if we called it payment?" said the wily antiquarian.

"A few thousand you say. Hmm." Eckle rubbed his Belgian chin "And I’d definitely be back in time for this afternoons match?"

"Oh yes, the time you spend in the… er …light box doesn’t count here, you’ll be back as soon as you left."

"Mmm, well alright then, where is it? Back there?"

The little shopkeeper pulled back a heavy green velvet curtain to reveal a shining light box in the centre of a gloomy ante-room.

"That’s right," he said with a little smile "just put the picture on the box. Oh, you might need this," and he handed Eckle a very large test tube.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Year of the Cat?- levremance

It’s been a topsy-turvy AFL season so far and the premiership race is wide open. Eleven rounds remain in the minor round for the wheels to fall off or to get a season back on track. In the race for September here’s how they’re placed at the turn.

Geelong with 8 wins 3 losses and a superior percentage leads the way. The Cats have added a much-improved defensive action to their free-flowing style of football and are a big chance to end a 44-year premiership drought. Jimmy Bartel and Gary Ablett Jr are in single figures with the bookies for the Brownlow medal.

West Coast is second, also with 8 wins. Time out for key on-ballers has hardly affected normal service and captain Chris Judd remains unstoppable. Ben Cousins, who is back from rehab, made a nationally televised ‘mea culpa’, which, to many, was long on the mea but a little short on the culpa. He must agree to a raft of conditions, including regular drug testing, before returning to the fold.

Hawthorn’s buddy system seems to be working. It goes like this. When in doubt kick it to Buddy. Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin that is. The emerging centre-half forward kicked a bag of 9 against Essendon and 6 last round against Sydney in a losing side.

Essendon, second last in 2006, are fourth behind the Hawks. Recruits Alwyn Davey and Mal Michael have added pace and strength respectively to allow old hands Lucas, Lloyd, Hird and Fletcher to show their class. Consecutive 1-point wins over the Swans and West Coast has confounded the tipsters.

Collingwood’s army is on the march and the Magpies sit in fifth place at the mid-season break. Despite injuries to key players, the Woods have maintained their good form and the mix of youth and experience has brought results. At their best they can give the flag a shake come September.

The Kangaroos, who started favourites for the wooden spoon, round out the four teams on 7 wins and 4 losses. Despite suffering three straight losses at the start of the year they recovered with 5 wins on the trot and on current form will make the eight.

Sydney, while similarly placed to their 2005 premiership year, have their problems. The new ‘hands in the back’ rule has rendered bustling forward Barry Hall anachronistic, dual Brownlow medalist Adam Goodes’ form is enigmatic and running halfback Tadgh Kennelly popped his kneecap again in Saturday’s win over Hawthorn. The Swans head a group of four on 6 wins and 5 losses

Adelaide’s tortuous training regime, devised by former Australian cycling coach Charlie Walsh has, theoretically at least, made the Crows the fittest team in the AFL. If they can ever get their best 18 out of rehab, that is. Two preliminary final defeats in a row and an aging list mean that 2007 may be their last shot at glory for a while. My guess is that it’s going to be a while.

The Western Bulldogs lie just outside the eight on percentage. While the Scraggers boast perhaps the second best midfield in the competition they lack marking power and rely too heavily on Brad Johnson in attack. When the run-and-carry game is denied them they know no other way home.

Port Adelaide was on top after 6 rounds but has stumbled since. Old time wharfies would be horrified that the Power has been labeled ‘soft’ and the switch to indirect ‘tempo’ footy has been a waste of time in more ways than one.

Fremantle’s ill-disciplined acts have seen them lead the league in players fronting the AFL tribunal. Mercurial forward Jeff “The Wizard” Farmer stands out with a 6-match ban for eye gouging followed by a 7-week club imposed ban for assaulting a Mt Lawley nightclub bouncer. Still the Dockers came home with a wet sail last year and they’re only a game outside the eight.

Brisbane has seen retirements and salary cap pressures reduce the ‘Kings of the Jungle’ to prey. The ‘Gabbatoir’ is feared no more. Early wins made some believe that the heydays were back but a draw against lowly Richmond is all that followed giving them 4 and a half wins.

Carlton’s played in 5 of the 6 highest scoring games this season. Problem is they’ve lost 3 of them. The Blues can entertain all right but they just can’t defend. If they can plug a leaky defence they could storm home.

St Kilda is down and out on Fitzroy Street and looking for an angry fix, metaphorically speaking of course. Off the field, the president is suing the ex-coach over an unpaid loan and the one-time best mates can’t stand each other. On the field, a plethora of soft tissue injuries means the highly rated playing list never gets on the park.

Melbourne supporters were throwing the chains in the back of the Range Rover for a winter in the chalet at Crackenback before the Demons snapped a 9 game losing streak with 2 straight wins. One more loss however, and its back to the glu-vine and the snow bunnies.

Richmond have 10 losses and a draw and that means they have plenty of time to decide who they take with the number one draft pick. Coach Terry Wallace mused before the season that the Tigers wouldn’t see success until well into next decade. Others are less hopeful.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Football disunited - Margin

This week I conducted an accidental social experiment. I got some school friends, university friends, and some colleagues together for a birthday meal and a night out.

With latecomers we numbered 19, and it turns out my friends are a diverse bunch. Around half had post or under graduate degrees in subjects like textile design, archaeology, history*, economics and fashion.

We were publishers, nurses, council staff, writers*, unemployed, and (whisper it) a lawyer.

We numbered Atheists*, Christians, Agnostics and Hindus, homosexuals, heterosexuals*, baritone choir singers, rockers* and house clubbers.

One went to public school, three private, two religious school, and the rest went to bog standard comprehensives*.

Most were from my native South East of England, but some hailed from New Zealand, Mauritius and Rochdale.

We may not quite have been the cosmopolitan height of modern Britain, but we were not far off. So we let our divisions unite us with talk of non league football.

There was some mention of Pilates and Yoga. There was more talk of house buying, relationship and job talk. We reminisced and bitched about old times and old friends, and speculated about when dessert would arrive.

But it was football that really divided us.

We largely split between West Ham, Spurs* and Arsenal, along with a lone Kingstonian voice in the otherwise Premiership crowd. The one Liverpool fan spent his time embarrassing a hen party at another table, and the sole Man City follower sobbed into her soup that Big Sam should have chosen them.

And so the conversation flowed.

We discussed the detail of Luton Town’s governance. They were owned by a bastard who stole their money until fans bought the club’s creditors. They then called in the debt while organising a boycott so as to take control of the club on the cheap. A new ground is finally being built and the new ‘owners’ have a contract that gives control back to the fans if attendances fall (under another boycott).

We discussed Chelmsford City’s large crowds since moving to the Melbourne Athletics Stadium. Last season they drew an average attendance of 1001 in the Ryman Isthmian Premier Division. That is the seventh tier of English football, putting Chelmsford as far behind Rochdale as Rochdale are behind Manchester United. Their travelling support even outnumbers the home crowd at some away games.

We discussed the upturn in fortunes at Exeter City where Spurs legend Steve Perryman is Director of Football. He lost a good manager to his former club’s youth academy recently but has seemingly replaced him an excellent new man in Paul Tisdale.

And we discussed Kingstonian, who sadly were not as lucky Luton Town fans when faced with a bastard in charge. They were subjected to high debts, the sale of their players, and were made homeless when AFC Wimbledon of all teams took their ground. They went on to be relegated three times from their Conference high to the Ryman Isthmian Division one South – one division below Chelmsford City.

And so with religion, race, sex, sexuality, class and hair colour to divide us, an Italian restaurant in Soho offered a glimpse of utopia. Everyone was happy and fed - and for one off-season afternoon there was no Premiership.

* = Margin's place in the crowd.

Look, we get it, you're the new Maradona, now stop already - Ebren

"He's the new Maradona" – how often have we heard that?

Ortega, Riquelme, Saviola, Tevez
– in fact any small, young, Argentine forward gets this label.

And they all fail to live up to it. One after the other these wonderfully gifted young men have been exposed to the media glare and shrunk back, returning to Argentina, or drifting through minor European clubs winning little.

But one player was determined not to live down to this. Not to accept that the spotlight will shift.

So he has taken Maradona's book, his guide, and decided to follow it.

Top player in the youth cup – check.

Barcelona – well, Saviola and Riquelme had done that before – but to miss out on the Euro Cup in such style? Check.

Score a ridiculous goal from the half way line – check.

Team in danger of throwing away the championship, score a handball – check.

But from here young Lionel has a few things left to do.

So far he has yet to win Serie A with an unfashionable club, or to drive his country to success at the World Cup.

Then there is the descent into womanising, alcoholism, the dependence on illegal drugs, and the ballooning weight, and the stolen plastic penis to consider.

So, my advice to Mr Messi - don't stay the new Maradona for long, just because millions consider him the greatest player to have played, does not mean you want to be like him in all things.

The handball in a key game is a good time to stop.

Of course he won - Ebren

In October 2001 I started rowing, I trained hard, worked on my technique, hit the gym and worked with my crew and coach to make us as good as we could be.

In June 2002 we raced competitively, five times in four days, got promoted and won "blades" - something only ten per cent of rowers manage over their careers.

I was asked if I was happy with the achievement, I wasn't. All I had done was avoid disappointment.

We had trained to be better than those around us and the promotion and oar with my name on it on the clubhouse wall were the natural result of this.

Yesterday Lewis Hamilton won his first Formula One race. Grinding every other driver under his heel. First in qualifying, then in the first stint, then every time the safety car came out to remove the lead he had built up.

But the prevailing emotion after the victory sense was not surprise, it felt normal. Normal that this 22-year-old had dominated a field of the best drivers on the planet. A field of Grand Prix winners and former and world champions. Normal that this result pushed him eight points clear in the drivers' championship. Normal that he had done it in his sixth race in his first season in the sport.

In the press conference afterwards he was happy - of course - but calm. Collected. In control. Just like he has been in every race this season.

He has lost it once - a crash in Monaco - but he simply failed to notice this. And watching him four-wheel drift a car around this famous track, inches from the walls, to try and out-qualify his team mate (the double and reigning world champion) in a heavier car a few hours later was the thing that made me really sit up. In fact, it was the first thing in an F1 race that has got me out of my seat in the sport for a very long time.

He races the car, slides it drifts it, out-brakes men racing in their hundredth grand prix, holds his nerves under pressure as people with lighter cars ride his rear wing to try and pass and attack his team-mate's position.

And yet he remains a likeable, intelligent, good-looking, modest person. One who seems to take the sport and winning in his stride - simply because that's the way it's meant to be.

From the first time he stepped behind a wheel he has been the best on the track, and he has worked hard to stay there. This is normal. Why should F1 be any different?

It's just a shame he isn't four years older - to see him take on Schumacher in his pomp would have been a sight to behold.

Tweet it, digg it