Tuesday, 29 June 2010

PR the Ronaldo way

What does the boy who cried wolf do when faced with defeat to Spain in the World Cup? Spit at the cameraman who follows him off the pitch at the end of the game. The man we all think so highly of showing his true class once more. The World Cup is, and the game generally would be, better off without him. I suppose he had nothing to lose though, did he? Millions of people already think he's a complete cock.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Mask of Sorrow

If it had finished 2-1, this entry would have practically written itself. It would have been a simple matter of raging at incompetent match officials, the lack of goal-line technology, FIFA intransigence, the agonising and unjustified manner of every England exit from every World Cup, the moon, the fates, whatever it is that we console ourselves with when these things happen every four years. I sincerely hope though, that outrageous as the missed call on Lampard's goal was, it does not blind people to the obvious and fundamental flaws in the England team, and the English game, that resulted in such a lamentable exit this afternoon.

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


I'm sure many people remember the Japanese game show Endurance, introduced to Britain by the estimable Clive James if I'm not mistaken. For those who don't, the premise was that contestants would endure an increasingly testing and unpleasant series of trials of their ability to take pain, discomfort, embarrassment, etc, slowly eliminating the quitters until one ultimate masochist, sorry, winner, remained.

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.

Humanity, humility

My girlfriend's gran, on whom she doted, passed away last week. I'll say a word about the lady herself in a moment, but something I was told about what followed has prompted me to write a bit about the Church. I should warn you, if you're a Christian and you're offended by anti-Church sentiment, not to read this post any further. I am keen to express my strong views on this matter, but I'm not seeking to offend or upset anybody for their beliefs.

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

That'll do nicely?

So it's the American Express Community Stadium, then. That may be what it's going to be named, but debate has already started about what it'll actually be called. Married friends of mine got used to calling the growing bump which advertised the wife's pregnancy 'George', so by the time the little'un turned up, that was his name by default. Fortunately George was a unisex name - they'd have had to think quickly if they'd called the bump 'Derek' and it turned out to be a girl. Anyway, I digress.

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

Deus ex machina

Had a pint with a mate I hadn't seen for a while tonight in a pub not far from Waterloo East, while we watched Spain play what appeared to be the Honduran under-8s, given the one-sided nature of the game. Anyway, after a couple of cold drinks I went downstairs to take my ease and found myself contemplating the machine that they use to sell... well, you know. It was next to the hand dryer, I didn't pause specifically to study the machine, you understand. I'm sure everybody is familiar with what they sell, but this machine was a little different.

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.

Snoreberries and cream

Wimbledon starts today. I'm of the default British mindset when it comes to tennis. I like it and will occasionally watch Grand Slam matches on telly but the only time I watch it for a number of days at a time is Wimbledon - oohh, the North Koreans just almost scored against the Portuguese there, I got quite distracted. Anyway, it's a great tournament and one of the events on the summer calendar I most look forward to, though I don't think I'd ever actually go as I suspect the whole experience would just be a little bit twee. One thing I do find extremely frustrating about it though, and this mirrors how I feel about most sport where the same thing happens, is that the same people win it over and over again. I find absolutely no entertainment in watching yet another Williams/Williams final, even though I know they're going to play some great tennis in the process. Similarly watching that mechanical genius Federer. It's not that I don't like any of these people, or don't admire their abilities, I just can't get excited about them winning over and over again.

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


I'm not going to dwell on the actual match TOO much because, unlike much of the media and particularly people within the game itself, I credit most supporters with knowing and understanding exactly what they're watching on the pitch, so it's not necessary. I'd rather pick out the stuff which stood out during another evening of torment and still sticks in my craw a couple of hours afterwards.

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

We've gotta get outta this place

I wrote the piece below mid 2008/9 season, when we were struggling hugely under Russell Slade and looked doomed to the drop to League Two. Since then, things have improved dramatically and we now know the theoretical final ever opponents at Withdean, play-offs and construction delays notwithstanding. So while the mood of Brighton fans may be considerably more optimistic than it was when I wrote it, the sentiment remains - with Falmer now the most exciting building site I've ever seen, we can't wait to get out of Withdean.


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.

The oscitant and the desperate

My first entry. Given that this is likely to be dominated by my thoughts on football and complaints about the banality of modern culture, I guess I'd better start with one that does both. The World Cup has finally got interesting - all those first games played by teams desperate not to lose are over at last, and Uruguay last night finally showed everybody else that it's actually OK to try to attack and score goals, it won't kill you lads, honest, as they succeeded where FIFA and everybody else had failed, and silenced the vuvuzela.

However dull many of the first round games were, though, I'll say one thing for all of them. Yes, even the Portugal/Ivory Coast 'match'. At least they're not Big Brother. One of the main joys about the start of the tournament is that, even if you're not into football, you can't avoid it, so it completely overwhelmes everything else. I have, wonderfully, not heard anybody utter a word about that wretched exercise in self-preening, self-regarding, self- self- self- bloody self shite on Channel 4, which I believe, mercifully, is coming to an end this year.

I couldn't tell you a single thing about any of the contestants of either this or any of the last 7 or 8 series, and the thing is, unless you're one of those oddballs whose idea of entertainment is watching a collection of solipsists leading even more banal lives than our own, having ever duller conversations about ever thinner subjects than we do, then neither can you.

That's the thing about Big Brother. With a few exceptions, everybody on it has disappeared back into the obscurity they came from. The only difference between them and me (and probably you), is that I don't want to be on telly, delude myself I'm famous or miss the bloody World Cup. How does that make them watchable? What discernible talent or interest do they have that holds people's attention? Apparently, just being on there makes them watchable and, by extension, famous. They, and Big Brother generally, are the absolute standard bearers, the very epitome of the utterly vacuous, utterly banal, entirely self-generating circus of 'celebrity' that so many, bewilderingly, seem to have an interest in.

I did actually think the first one or two series had moments of interest, and some small merit as a social experiment. By about series three though, it was already beginning to fill with the oh-so-knowing desperates who see it as a route to fame, so I gave up on it entirely. I ask this as a genuine question, because I freely admit to not having seen any of it for a number of years, but has anybody heard any of the contestants hold a conversation about anything of substance or moment, indeed, about anything going on outside the house? They're in there and seem to think it's the entire world and, most horrifyingly, when they come out, they're met with a sub-cultural frenzy which encourages the delusion that they were right.

I even think the Celebrity Big Brother (how ironically titled, given the nature of the 'standard' Big Brother and its contestants) has some merit, a couple of days of ennui quickly stripping away the sparkly but gossamer-thin veneer of fame that they all seem to coat themselves with.

So, nowadays, they're on Big Brother, therefore they're in those magazines, the bastard offspring of Hola that feed off it and similar carcasses, so they think they're famous. Well, in the strictly modern interpretation of fame, I suppose they are. For a few weeks, next year's Big Brother intake wannabees know who they are. Then they're gone - as inconsequential and insubstantial as the medium which spawned them.

So, thankfully, this year's is (we're told, I'm not counting my chickens until it's clear nobody else has picked it up) the last BB, and nobody seems to have even noticed. It's been subsumed by the World Cup. I realise that there are plenty of people out there who reserve the same antipathy for football and regard the World Cup entirely as I do BB. I'll come to that later I suspect. But consider this. Can you see an already simmering and bitter relationship descend into outright war over Honduran Federico 'dissing' Salvadorean Juanqui in the El Gran Hermano diary room? No. Neither can I.