Tuesday, 29 June 2010
Sunday, 27 June 2010
I know that, like hundreds of thousands of other blokes, I get accused of taking football too seriously, of obsessing about it, of forgetting its real place in the great scheme of things. The fact is though, that when I feel like I do this evening, it's because it IS important. It pervades our society completely, it's a huge industry, a good run in this competition would have been great for the national mood and could even play a small part in an economic revival, such is the hold which the game has over our psyche. This would not happen if it wasn't genuinely important to us and, frankly, I can't help it. I don't choose to care this much and feel so utterly stricken when this happens. My reaction is unforced, visceral and genuine, and I won't apologise for it. It's a mixture of a dull acceptance that we were well beaten by a much better team, relief that we weren't robbed as we usually are, and utter despair at the thought that I simply can't see us winning a World Cup in my lifetime.
The same old failings were there. An inflated belief in the ability of our players is perhaps the worst of them. Every World Cup we're among the favourites for reasons which escape me. Millions of pounds are gambled by people either so blinded by patriotic fervour (or belief in the Premier League hype) that our odds shorten way beyond where they should realistically be. The media pump further hot air into this by building up our 'world-beaters'. I'd like to know where the evidence is that backs up this idea that we've got good enough players to win. If we did, surely we'd at least come close occasionally? The self delusion was still there, even in the face of a humiliating defeat by a decent but hardly likely World Cup winning team. John Terry standing there talking to an interviewer and saying that Wayne Rooney is one of the best in the world and would come back and score World Cup goals one day.
Well, for me, this is self-evidently not true. Because the world's best players perform on the highest stage, for the highest stakes, under the most pressure. That's what the World Cup is - the ultimate test of the best in the world. If you play four games in a World Cup finals tournament and fail to perform in any of them, injury notwithstanding, you're clearly not among the best players in the world. One poor game can be understood as an aberration. An entire tournament campaign cannot. But Terry, guilty as the rest of us, still believed this to be the case despite what he'd just gone through, what should have been a chastening experience on the field. No doubt Rooney will now go back to Utd and immediately start performing in the self-titled 'Best league in the world' (TM) and leave everybody wondering where the fuck he was in South Africa. I don't mean to pick on Rooney specifically, having had a go at him in an earlier blog, but he provides the best example of the constant over-praise and over-estimation of our players.
So while an outrageous exit to a goal which should have stood (on a stage which should have had the technology and officiating competence to correct such a fuck-up) would have been much more familiar, like putting on a pair of excruciatingly uncomfortable but extremely familiar shoes that you wonder why the fuck you don't throw away, it would also have allowed us to hide from the simple fact of the matter. England are not, and are not going to be in the immediate future without changes similar to those of the Spanish model, good enough.
Thursday, 24 June 2010
Well - we now have the World Cup for our own version of said show. "Think Algeria was horrible? Have some of this then, against Slovenia. Got through Slovenia? Ah, congratulations - you've won the 'beating your own head with a hammer in the deadly scorpion pit' round, then. You've earned the right to swim 1000 lengths in our shark-infested pool. It's just over there, through the room of rabid dogs, down the corridor of upturned scalpel blades..."
I've often pondered on why there's no single word for schadenfreude in English, we've had to pinch the Germans' own term. Well, it occurs to me that, if it's got anything at all to do with football, it's because we're so busy making life as absolutely unbearable for ourselves as possible that it doesn't even occur to us to enjoy the misfortune of others. The Germans, on the other hand, have had ample opportunity to laugh at other teams' pathetic, scrambling efforts to stay in the competition as they've moved effortlessly through to one of their six finals, pausing only to take in the views and wonder what the countries who are rubbish at penalties are up to, and have therefore come up with a term that best describes this feeling of enjoyment at others' discomfort.
I have, during the course of Friday's game and today's, literally bitten my fingers 'til they've bled. The way England are making us suffer, it'll go to extra time and pens again on Sunday, and I'll eventually stop gnawing at a bloodied stump somewhere between elbow and shoulder.
Well played though, lads. The fans got behind you as predicted and, though my poor punished heart may not be too pleased, we can 'look forward' to another doubtless fraught encounter with our old pals, and more torment. I wonder if Clive James is having a quiet chuckle at the whole thing. He's missed a trick, thinking about it. He could be fronting a programme on Japanese TV showing highlights of terrified groups of England fans going through hell watching the games on telly, only to gather for an even worse experience a few days later. They'd probably empathise over there.
So, my very upset girlfriend takes a flight to Spain at about 6 hours' notice, to attend a funeral I was regrettably unable to make because of work. Her gran, a naturally and devoutly religious woman but not a church-goer (this is not something in which I see a contradiction, by the way), had told her what she wanted to happen when she passed. Part of the instruction was that she did not want a service with a priest, least of all one who never met her. However, this being Spain, I suppose it's not that surprising to know that a priest was indeed involved as things turned out. Early in the service, I'm told he crossed himself, an act which was repeated by the entire congregation. Except, that is, my girlfiend, like myself zealously atheist, and her sister, whose views I've never sought on this.
The priest clearly took this quite badly as, following this, he evidently issued a sermon which addressed the fact that non-believers are destined for hell, and looked firmly at my g/f and her sister. This went on so strongly and so pointedly, that barely any reference was made to the woman for whom everybody was gathered there. Now I appreciate that the man may have believed he was making an effort to save two souls, but to use this opportunity, while the bereaved people he was addressing sat there mourning a beloved grandmother, epitomises all that I can't stand about the Church. Where was his common humanity, to think not of their spiritual souls but of their very real and human grief, and to address that? In Spain, old people are treated with a respect, even a veneration, that's often lacking in Britain. He decided to throw that convention out of the window to preach a religious dogma at people who were not there for him, or themselves, but for their gran. How arrogant, how presumptious, and above all how disrespectful to a much loved 97-year-old woman who deserved better. And may indeed, given her instructions on what she did or did not want for her own funeral, have had the prescience to see something like that coming.
Such occasions make me glad of my atheism but despair that people can't mourn or celebrate a loved one out of the pure and simple humanity of their own hearts without having a religious message shoved down their throats. As for gran herself? A tiny little bundle of love and happiness, who had lived through a civil war which forced her husband to flee to France for his own life, and hardship that most uf us could not begin to imagine from the comfort of the 21st century, however hard we may think we have it now. She loved to dress smartly and go into town to exchange gossip, and listen to people tell her how beautiful she still was, even in her nineties. Fastidious, house proud, loyal to her family, she carried the old-fashioned Spanish values of frugality, loyalty and respect for others lightly, and was adored by her daughter and grand-daughters, who cared for her right to the end. The world is worse off to the tune of a 4ft Spanish matriarch. Rest in peace, Maura, reina. You've earned it.
Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Some argue on North Stand Chat that the name 'Falmer', which will no doubt stick for some in the same way George did for my friends, is too redolent of the past. It carries the faint whiff of the NIMBYs we fought for planning permission, of years of homelessness, groping around in the darkness of the bottom of League Two with the worst team we'd ever had, tryers though they all were, bless 'em. They want to look forwards, not backwards, and urge the adoption of the name, pointing out that American Express has a long-standing presence in Brighton, and that we need to cast off our old campaign clothing and put on our finest in our new home.
I'm happy to accept this argument, and am all for looking forward to a better future for the club, but would say that we shouldn't be too quick to forget where we've come from, or how long it's taken to get there, once we move in. ONLY looking forward, forgetting the dark days and how close we came to losing the club, can only lead to inflated expectations, complacency and a blind trust in those in charge. I'm not saying that Tony Bloom is anything other than a genuine fan with the club's best interests at heart and everything he's done so far indicates that's exactly what he is, particularly stumping up the wedge for the ground. I'm just saying that, for example, when it was convenient, the club cheerfully cast aside the Article of Association preventing it being owned entirely by one individual, an Article drawn up and implemented to prevent a repeat of the mendacity of previous owners being possible. I have absolutely no doubt that Tony Bloom is nothing like the men we fought so hard to be rid of, I'm just saying that, with the Goldstone long gone, the recent past and the struggle for the club's survival is part of our heritage, and should not be forgotten quite so readily.
You can, of course, call it what you want - it'll still be miles better than we've put up with since 1997, but I suspect I'll still be calling it Falmer, out of habit as much as for what I've said above.
Monday, 21 June 2010
Between 'Javelin' and some other priapic-titled prophylactic, 'Jaw-breaker' or something, I forget exactly, there was the option of spending three quid on a blue pill called 'Golden Root', the 'authentic herbal alternative' to a brand which was not named but which was quite obvious. Only one thought on this, really. I know three quid's not a lot of money but would you ingest a pill bought from a condom vending machine in a pub toilet, regardless of its purported purpose? If you would, you're either braver or stupider than I am. G'night.
The Federer/Nadal final was possibly the greatest game of tennis I've ever seen, but I remember it more fondly because Nadal won, his first Wimbledon title. Similarly, last year, the look on Roddick's face as he watched Federer lift his sixth trophy will stay with me for a long time. I felt so sorry for the bloke, and he said, "You've already got five of those, mate" to Federer, I just wanted somebody else to win for once. I confess I didn't even watch the women's final because I simply didn't care who won and it gets difficult to involve and immerse yourself in a sporting spectacle you don't care about, regardless of how well its protagonists are playing.
The regrettable fact is that, with rare exceptions like the men's final two years ago, I enjoy the first week of Wimbledon much more than the second week, simply because you can see matches between players you aren't already extremely familiar with and I find myself much more involved in their games' outcomes. That's not how it should be - I know I'm supposed to revel in the great tennis played by the best players in the second week, but ultimately sport is not ballet, though it is occasionally balletic. It's not enough to simply admire the aesthetic beauty and excellence of the best players at the top of their game. It's much more visceral than that. Watching sport is much more worthwhile if you care who wins. Even watching North Korea versus Portugal as I am now, I'm involved immediately because I'd absolutely love to see the North Koreans help that pouting, diving, cheating, winking fucker (you all know who I mean) out of the tournament.
So I'll watch Wimbledon's first week avidly (apart from when the World Cup games are on, obviously) but as for the second week? Well, we'll see how it goes.
Friday, 18 June 2010
Firstly, Wayne 'undroppable' Rooney, having a pop at the support as he leaves the field. WTF? I'd like to know exactly what it is you've got to do as a supporter to earn the right to express your displeasure at the end of a game. Huge numbers of fans spend thousands of pounds, which unlike Rooney represents a significant percentage of their income, travel to another continent, spend what's probably in many cases their only holiday of the year following the team around and then get behind them during the game, without actually getting on their backs until after the final whistle. I think that earns you the right to express your displeasure at hugely, hugely overpaid footballers performing abjectly, lethargically, dispassionately and without any quality whatsoever. So suck it up, Rooney - if the fans can't let you know under tonight's circumstances then when the fuck can they? How much more sacrifice have you got to make before it's OK to dare to even boo at a game? I underperform at work, people write to my employer to complain. (What I do for a living is also subject to public scrutiny, albeit from the comfort of anonimity). This happens sufficiently frequently I get a bollocking, eventually I lose my job, just like everybody else.
Yet our great hope seems absolutely bomb-proof - discussions on Radio 5Live this morning centred around who should play up front with him, with the one dissenting voice suggesting that perhaps Rooney himself should be dropped, roundly dismissed as the ravings of a half-wit. The most irritating thing of all is that if you put the bumptious git in a fucking Utd shirt you can bet he'd perform, the England shirt seems to weigh so heavily on their shoulders that they can barely move.
While on the fans, while I applaud the numbers who turn up, and the patience with the team right up to the point at which the final whistle blew, I'd just like to say: 37th minute. England abject. Goal-less, uninspired, insipid, generally wretched. Cut to shot of fans looking accordingly glum. Until, that is, they realise that they're on the big screen in the stadium. Cue instant delirium, all the woes of the game forgotten, as they leap about like demented 9-year-olds because they're on a telly screen for a few seconds. WHY THE FUCK DO PEOPLE DO THIS? Is this occurrence so utterly blissful that it renders the mere game they've travelled thousands of miles to watch irrelevant? Do they spend the rest of the game with a fixed grin on their faces because they've 'been on telly'? I just don't understand what makes them so happy about it.
I mentioned this to a mate after the game and he pointed out, quite accurately in my opinion, that if attention is the drug that induces this lunatic behaviour, then they'd be MUCH better off remaining seated, shaking a stern-faced head and mouthing the word 'rubbish'. THAT would be replayed ad infinitum, and they could cavort around in their own living rooms with the sheer joy of it all for days afterwards.
Last thing - for all the commentators banging on about systems, playing Gerrard behind Rooney, blah blah blah, well. Firstly these are supposed to be international players in one of the stronger footballing nations - they should be able to accept the job given to them by the manager and adapt accordingly. However, it doesn't matter what system you play if the players cannot pass the ball to their own teammates - that would render even the tactical plans of Sun Tzu and Jose Mourinho's genius savant love-child completely irrelevant.
For all this, I suppose I should be grateful to the team for looking like they're going to spare us the usual agony of heroic or unjustified defeat, probably on penalties, and instead merely depart meekly and leave us to enjoy the rest of the tournament. Who knows? We may even get to watch some teams employing that revolutionary new tactic of passing the ball to players wearing the same shirt. I hear it's all the rage outside England.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
There was a time, during the back-to-back championships of Leagues Two and One, when Brighton fans almost came to love Withdean. ‘The’ Withdean as it’s mistakenly been called by so many, became a fortress during seasons 2000-2001 and 2001-2002. Just 3 league games were lost in that heady two year period in the Albion’s temporary home, as they charged from the nadir of consecutive near relegations to the Conference, to the nosebleed heights of the Championship.
Conventional wisdom had it that opposing teams did not like the cramped, austere Portakabin changing rooms, the open nature of the ground with no stands behind either goal, and the weird continental style running track around the pitch. Whatever it was, 112 points out of a possible 138 at home over those two seasons meant most fans, at least temporarily, were happy to be there. It wasn’t the Goldstone of course, but it would do, as long as the protracted planning process for the new stadium at Falmer at least crawled forwards.
A different story now though. The progressing construction work on the new stadium is finally a reality, though now the enormous hole in the ground where the stadium will sit seems almost to mock the faithful, the impressive CGIs a tantalising vision of what’s in store in the future, providing of course their faith can survive the stringent test that the team, and Withdean, seem intent on putting them through.
Just four home wins so far this season have seen the team slip seemingly inexorably into the relegation mire, the prospect of League Two football, and its dreaded trapdoor out of the league, a reality again. The team simply can’t win home games, no matter how hard the players try, no matter what combinations of loanees, different formations, new signings, new managers even, have a go at turning a disastrous season round.
And how sick the fans are of the stadium now. This season’s home wins tally is by no means unique. Two seasons ago, the club would have been relegated but for their excellent away record, nine away wins compensating for a paltry five wins at Withdean. Dean Wilkins seemed to have cured the home sickness with an improved return the following season,
12 home wins leaving the team just short of the play-offs. Whatever Wilkins did to improve things at home, his unexpected departure and the Messianic return of Mickey Adams quickly brought a return to form; bad form. Adams departed quickly, and his successor Russell Slade has so far seen his charges win only one of the home games he’s presided over.
Fans’ patience has all but expired with this strange, lopsided, largely uncovered and acoustically poor mish-mash of temporary seating, temporary buildings and temporary ambience. The fans don’t want to be there, the local residents don’t want them there, the members of the sports club which occupied the stadium long before the football club did, don’t want them there.
Albion are due to move into the Community Stadium at Falmer in 2011. Even though many fans will still only believe it when they see the team run out for the curtain-raiser, and the fact that increasingly there’s a chance they may do so as a League Two team, those glorious days of expecting the team to win at Withdean as they stormed to those two titles seems a very, very long way away. Falmer can’t come soon enough.