Category Archives: Sport

The Beautiful Game

I worry about football; more than most, but not in the same way as most. I don’t really care how much Cristiano Ronaldo earns, or how adulterous John Terry is. But when I heard, during the build up to the World Cup, that in Brazil there were concerns that their team would not only not win, but ‘not win in the right way’ I knew exactly how they felt.

Football is referred to as ‘the beautiful game’ ipso facto it must be played beautifully. Which it has been during this year’s finals, but in rare instances that have become rarer as the teams that play with the grace and élan that makes football such a great spectator sport have gradually left the competition, including – arguably the two greatest footballing sides of them all – Brazil and Argentina, who were picked off by the vulcher teams of the Netherlands and Germany; sides that, with the exception of a few individuals, embrace all the opposite traits – organisation, efficiency, work-rate – that, while fundamental to any successful team, tend to strangle the life out of the game.

The quarter finals saw the Netherlands and Germany triumph over Brazil and Argentina through tenacity and tactics, and yesterday evening I had the unpleasant feeling that the same fate awaited Spain, leaving the 2010 World Cup destined to fizzle out in the grid-lock stoicism of Netherlands vs Germany.

It turned out to be an unfounded worry. Last night Spain demonstrated that they can not only play the game with panache, but that they are also wily enough to beat the Germans at their own game.

One nil doesn’t scream enrapturing battle, but it was. In that modest score lies all the nuance and high drama that makes football such a special game. The Spanish build up play—their midfield trying to find a chink in the armour of the German defence; the rapid German counter attacks when the move broke down. It was a thrilling game in which the best team came out on top; and I hope they go on to beat the Netherlands on Sunday, because through last night’s display, Spain have proved that they are not only the best team in the world, but that they also exemplify all the qualities that earned football the moniker ‘the beautiful game’.

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Gentlemen Only Lotharios Forbidden

Monday marked the return of the disgraced Tiger Woods to the game of golf and, as expected, there was much anticipation around the occasion. Well not the occasion of the US Masters—that was just a side issue. No, all anyone wanted to talk about was Tiger Woods the person.

And I can understand why. As a person he is somewhat of an enigma. I have to admit that I only recently found out that he is an actual person. Up until his spectacular fall from grace, I assumed that he was merely a golf playing robot—the creation of some mad golf enthusiast. And in many respects he was. He has certainly never acted very human. He especially didn’t like talking to them. The fans were kept at a distance and, judging by the comments made by some of his fellow professionals, so were they. For instance, I read a paper on Monday that asked many of his peers what they would like to ask him if they had just one question. The answers were peppered with the sort of innuendo you expect to encounter on a phone in to ‘The Wright Stuff’. I know golf is a sport for individuals, but nevertheless, it was a poignant and somewhat sad reminder of just how much distance Tiger Woods kept between himself and everyone else.

Yet despite of his aloof stoicism, sometimes the cracks did show. Now and again a bad shot would cause his rage to poke through the armour of tranquillity and although he was usually able to laugh off these tics in post play press conferences, it should have raised the alarm that beneath the smile all was not well.

I never trust a prodigy as a person. History has taught us that a glut of talent is usually offset by some grievous character flaw, which often manifests itself in some form of addiction. It seems to be God’s way of making amends for the gift. “Sorry underlings, I accidentally gave this one 10 people’s golfing ability, but don’t worry I’ll replace his sense of humour with extra narcissism and self-doubt which he will have to neuter with a horrible, debilitating vice.”

In the case of Tiger Woods, his flaws were probably accentuated or perhaps even cultivated during childhood, or, to be specific, his lack of childhood. I say probably because I can’t find sources to verify the claim, although I don’t consider it a wild assumption that someone who learns to play golf before they are two years old and wins an under 10’s championship at the age of three must have spent a fairly large proportion of that period knocking a ball about with a club and a fairly small proportion of that time learning life lessons from Pinocchio.

Still, Monday marked the golf deity’s triumphant return to the course and equally triumphant return to the press conference, which was hailed by the media as a groundbreaking victory for Woods. According to the abundant reports, his genuine smile, his promise to engage with the fans and his praise of his fellow competitors was all proof that he is human and willing to address his flaws and become a better person. But, honestly, what did they expect him to say? Think of it in PR terms – which is, I would have thought, the only way that Woods can think. What else could he have said? All other moves result in checkmate Tiger. So while the media may laud this as the second coming of golf-Christ, I hesitate to give him so much credit.

Tiger Woods has lived the majority of his life as a lucrative piece of marketing material that has been, until recently, denied the chance to learn any of life’s lessons so that he can act in manor befitting the brands he promotes. The news of his multiple misdemeanours not only dealt him a tough hand in life experience, it also outlined how naïve he is. In light of this, I very much doubt that those sponsors that remain affiliated with Woods are willing to place absolute trust in him to do and say the right things, knowing that from now on his every movement will be scrutinised by the press. His speeches, eye movement, smile, laugh, wave, walk—the media will pounce on any sign that his rehabilitation is faltering and, as such, his PR team will ensure that he is better prepped, rehearsed and regulated than ever before.

In the past we at least had his occasional on-course-explosion to reassure us that he was human, but from now on we can never be truly confident that what he says or does is the genuine Tiger Woods. He is probably spending a lot of time trying to find that guy at the moment, although sadly when he does track him down he will never have the opportunity to show us that man—the person Tiger Woods.

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ANGER!

“Where is the cool bag full of meat?!” I yelled across the Ruda Holiday Park in Croyde. “Where did you last see it?!—Come on, think, THINK!”

I prowled around kicking plastic bags, randomly opening car boots, frightening Northern children, shaking my fist at the heavens and yelling at the malevolent Gods that conspired to destroy my weekend. All but one of my fellow bank holiday weekend friends scurried to the safety of their tents to avoid my storm of indignation. The one who did stay out knew me the least and, what’s more, was of a happy-go-lucky disposition, completely at ease with the loss of our meat and seemed to positively enjoy my monstrously disproportionate level of rage.

After unfairly directing my anger towards his unfazed smile for a while, I began to calm down and eventually recognised how preposterous it is to be so angry over the loss of £20 worth of sausages and burgers, and within an hour or two we were laughing at the likelihood of having left it on a hedge in the Tesco carpark.

I never learn though, I get angry over just about everything. It’s fleeting, but I’m often in an agitated state. I just banged my shin on the corner of the bed – I do it about twice a week – and it hurts, so I’m annoyed about that. I’m annoyed that a massive dark cloud has just loomed over, threatening to drench my nearly dry washing. I tolerate the anger because I think it flavours my work and makes for more interesting writing, but still, I often consider what it is that makes me get so irritated by the little things.

I deem the things that cost me money, time, or cause me physical pain to be fair reasons for anger and, therefore, I have no control over them. However, I also get angry over small things that don’t actually hinder me that greatly, like when you drop a toilet roll and it begins to unravel, or when you leave a cup of tea to go cold. It’s ridiculous to get annoyed by these things, but I do. I have to blame someone or – because I usually act alone in my incompetence – something. That something is an omnipresent evil force that watches over me and strikes me with problems when I am weak.

The evil force works like this: in a moment it will rain on my washing and not only that, the force will make sure the washing is completely dry before wetting it again and, if it’s feeling especially cruel, it will perhaps start the rain when I’m in the shower, or half way up a step ladder with a piping hot bowl of soup.

Unlike God, who seems to spend his time doing precisely nothing to prove his existence, the evil force is constantly showing off; some people call it fate, destiny, or bad luck and lament ‘what wasn’t meant to be’. I’m sure some of the Manchester United fans and indeed players will look back on last night’s result and identify specific instances in which the evil force intervened to scupper their chances. Really though, there can be no doubt that Manchester United were forced to play badly by Barcelona, who looked superior throughout. There is no specific player who made a mistake, no official to blame, no challenging pitch conditions. In fact, it is one of the first football matches of grand magnitude that I have seen in a long time where you have to be resigned to the fact that a team lost completely fairly. Manchester United were the only force responsible for their destiny last night. According to Teddy Sheringham, when United trailed to a seemingly infallible Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final, Alex Ferguson went into the changing room at half time and simply said, “Just make sure you give everything, because if you come off that pitch and you haven’t given everything and you can’t touch that trophy, you’ll be so disappointed. Don’t leave anything out there.” I just hope they all did, because with no evil force to blame you have only yourself to look at for the reasons why, and if you feel that something in you could have changed the course of events, then you will have an anger that resides for a long time.

So, following this dramatic realisation that my sagacious diligence can prevent a lot of my anger, I will turn over a new leaf. I will go out now and take the washing in before it rains, I will come back upstairs and take care not to bang my shin on the bed and I will write the most boring blog known to man.

Has anyone seen a cool bag full of meat by the way?

 

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‘Tyson’ film not so new

I, like many others, have to do a lot of things that I don’t necessarily want to do. Sometimes I have days in which the balance between the things I want to do vs. things I don’t want to do tips heavily in favour of the latter. A day where I have to carry out a lot of chores and end it by going to work all night would be a fine example. Occasionally these days agitate me a great deal, but I know that the things I hate doing are things that must be done to maintain some semblance of a normal life. Yesterday afternoon, however, I decided that I would do some things that I did want to do, namely, watch the new Tyson filmand then possibly write a blog about it. I like these two activities.

So, I settled to watch the Tyson film and I remember thinking early on, “I’m sure this was meant to be a documentary”, and then as it progressed, “I thought this was meant to be good”, (Don King was scripted to be so evil, they may as well have stuck a forked tail up his arse and little horns in his preposterous bouffant, whilst making him parade around stabbing a pitchfork into wads of Mike Tyson’s money). It was only when the film ended abruptly with Tyson being sentenced for rape that I thought, “Hold on, he’s fucked up loads more since that happened”. My lengthy perturbation was finally leant credence by a string of atavistic statements that appeared prior to the credits, one of which proclaimed that, ‘Mike Tyson would be due for release from prison in 1995’. The confusion occurred because I didn’t bother to research anything about the new film and relied only on my hazy recollection of a recent glowing review I’d read. It seems the pirate DVD vendor was also as ill informed as me, so for 1 hour and 40 mins, what I actually watched was a 1995 film adaptation of Mike Tyson’s life, by the same name.

I was pissed off that I’d wasted my time watching an old and average film, when I could have been gaining real insight into Tyson’s rollercoaster life from the man himself. I felt cheated, as if I’d gone to watch a concert and instead of the band appearing on stage there was just a group of life sized mannequins that jigged up and down in time to the tunes emanating from a JVC RC-M90 ghetto blaster, played through a string of megaphones to the disenchanted crowd.

In my mounting fury though, I smashed nothing, swore very little and involved no other party in my disappointment. I shudder to think what may have happened had the actual Mike Tyson befallen such a scenario. I did learn from the film that Mike Tyson was probably not endowed with a great deal of patience and was also a profoundly angry man. These two traits, coupled with rigorous training and natural strength and power made him the incredible boxer he was and, as such, those around him would happily put up with anything he did, so as to reap the rewards of his talent. It’s the same with all those elite in their field, be it boxing or poetry. If you are enough in demand you can basically do as you please. Cristiano Ronaldo is recent proof of that following his display of petulance after being substituted against Manchester City. The public are angered by such outbursts – no one likes Naomi Campbell anymore do they? – and they always want justice and harsh punishments, like a night in the stocks or a session on the rack, to make these people know they have misbehaved! But these punishments will never materialise and we are all fully aware of that. These superstars have abilities – be it the ability to turn heads, turn defenders, or turn people’s faces into a bloody pulp – that few will ever possess and in this world of the mass produced average that aims to plane all to a satisfactory level, that makes them special. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the true punishment of the genius is personal immolation. I watch the demise of Mike Tyson on screen and then watch Cristiano Ronaldo without hate for his actions, but concern that this outburst is not the first, not the last and not the worst that is to come.

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Liverpool out. Manchester United to follow?

After a promising start at Stamford Bridge, Liverpool had their dreams of Champions League triumph thrashed out of them by a . . . resuberant rejuvulent reboundant redoubtant rejubulent (what is the word I’m after? Tenacious will have to do), by a tenacious Chelsea side.

 

That opening paragraph, if I could have perhaps remembered the word I was after, had all the hallmarks of poor sports reportage. Perhaps that is my destiny. After all, what is the use in me sitting here bashing out old news? This isn’t even news anymore – it’s almost an entire day after the event took place – it’s simply a historical report on the outcome of the 2nd leg of the 2009 Champions League Quarter Final between Liverpool and Chelsea.

 

The internet and 24 hour news channels have made everything so instantaneous that it’s pointless to even read a paper in the morning. You could be perusing the usual hodgepodge of reality stars dying, the FTSE losing points, Michelle Obama’s strong toned upper arms – is it a flaw, or isn’t it? Perhaps it suits her, but not other women? Well, with her dress sense she can pull it off . . . or can she?! – all the while assuming the world is carrying on as normal, which it almost definitely is, but you just might be wrong – maybe everything isn’t ok. There might be a terrorist in your garden, or a bomb up your bum, or Michelle Obama’s upper arms might really be made of plasticine stuck on with double sided sticky tape. Oh the horror! Curse this out of date rag!

 

This is what news is now – resigned instantly to the past and updated by the next snippet of unimportant information, online news is like an endless conversation with a ‘one-upper’, “Ferdinand doubtful for Porto game” . . . “Ferdinand declared fit for Porto game” . . . “Ferdinand to start Porto game” . . . “Ferdinand said to be ‘excited’ about Porto game” . . . This vast and seemingly endless stream of ‘real time’ reportage is probably partly to blame for people actively shunning current affairs in favour of looking at pictures of famous womens’ underwear or patches of cellulite (cellulite is more permanent than most news – people who read Heat feel safe in the knowledge that it’s there, on that celebrity’s upper thigh, and it’s not going anywhere), plus the fact that looking at a picture means that you needn’t spend hours waiting to be drip fed the next bite sized chunk of a 20,000 word summary of the latest ‘one-upper soap opera’. After all, that is what all the ‘big’ stories are now – very boring real life soap operas. A few of the latest include: ‘Police battering protesters until they die of heart attacks’, ‘Gordon Brown’s advisors slagging David Cameron off via email’ and ‘Somali pirates keep capturing boats’. Each day there are numerous new micro developments to the stories. “Gordon Brown has written a letter of apology to David Cameron”, “The police have ordered a review of public order policing”, “Pirates are still bad”. They are almost always boring and predictable and offer no added interest or flavour to what has already been said, and when the ordeal is finally superseded by a new story, you can’t even remember what the problem was in the first place. It’s like a black hole has been left where there should be new knowledge and information; you realise you’ve been duped and resort to memories of Lindsay Lohan’s pants when she was snapped exiting a taxi by some sleazy degenerate lying in a filthy Soho gutter.

 

Pirates, MPs, Lindsay Lohan, photographers lying in gutters, they are all in the business of transience, distraction and illusion, which is why we need something of substance to fill the voids – something that can be retained. Tonight then, I will once again fully and unabashedly engage in the spectacle of Manchester United vs FC Porto, so as to divert my attention from the ‘news’ and revel in the simplicity of a game, a game that won or lost, will be resolutely implanted in my memory.   

 

Resurgent! That’s the word.

 

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Aedh wishes for the clots to leaven

 

Scolari is sacked after seven months in charge at Stamford Bridge . . . Boo-hoo Big Phil.  

 

During his brief stint at the club, he will have earned around £4 million – if salary speculation is correct – a sum that the majority of people would fail to earn in their entire working life; so forgive me if I’m stoically unperturbed by his departure. In fact, in as non sadistic a way as possible, I’ve always liked the throwaway nature of top flight football managers – the way big clubs drag them in full of anticipation and hope, only to toss them aside like a soiled rag when they no longer live up to expectation.

 

It is somewhat satisfying to see that even some of those at the top of the salary league table, live with the same anxieties – albeit on a far grander scale – as the rest of the population and, as a result, I am a big fan of this bipolar method of rewarding success and punishing failure; I would, however, like to see it used in a far greater range of professions.

 

Spider-Man recognised that being a respected vigilante – stay with me, as this tenuous link will be worth it – wasn’t all glamour. He had a duty to safeguard the public and live up to their standards and if he failed to do so, he would lose their trust and be effectively stripped of his unique status; hence the quote: “with great power comes great responsibility”.

 

Phil Scolari, Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho, or any other person in a position of public trust for that matter, also have a unique status – a responsibility, not only to those above them, but to the many below them as well. A football manager has a duty to the players, the club and all the millions of fans across the world whose dreams and collective billions are cradled in his hands. As such, it is only natural that if you are trusted in such a position, earning your keep must be a risky business and a failure to do so, unacceptable.

 

Football managers are evidently well aware of the burden of trust that they must shoulder and generally quite philosophical about the transient nature of their employment. However, of late, a new group have been thrust unwillingly into this challenging arena and seem both ill-equipped and reluctant to deal with the situation.

 

Just a year or so ago, the world’s bankers did as they pleased – trading in whatever they fancied, running risks and amassing exorbitant fortunes along the way – so it is little wonder that many of them are now struggling to come to terms with an abrupt shift in that dynamic. Whether or not they like the way the economic pendulum has swung is of no importance though, as they have no one to blame but themselves. With RBS almost 70% government owned – bailed out with our collective money – they owe us, the public, a debt of gratitude and must, for the first time, face up to their actions and take responsibility for a recession that they are largely culpable. There will of course be those who don’t want to, preferring instead to bitch and whine about how they deserve their X hundred thousand pound bonuses and that’s fair enough, because they are more than welcome to fuck off to the job centre, where they will soon discover that £95,000 a year is not “a small salary”, as one banker put it.

 

The government, in the tumult of bolstering the economy, failed to staunch the flow of capital to the orchestra of our collective demise; but now they have the opportunity to right that wrong by taking strong and decisive action against the perpetrators, to not only appease the public, but to ensure that this level of profound greed by the few, can never again jeopardise the lives of the many.

 

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet,
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams

W.B. Yeats

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Darts: Look past the preconceptions to the purity

 

Last night the packed Lakeside crowd and the many more people watching from their homes around the country saw Ted ‘The Count’ Hankey narrowly edge out Tony ‘Silverback’ O’Shea 7-6, in what Tony Green described as “The greatest final ever”.

 

Having watched every dart thrown and many more over the week and years preceding it, I can vouch that it was brilliant . . . Not though in the typical imagined ideal of sporting greatness. Last night yielded no potential ‘Sports personalities of the year’ (although by definition both competitors had a lot more personality than any previous winner I can remember), there were no supreme physical specimens in their athletic peak, no years of gruelling training before them, no careful last minute preparations – it was just two regular blokes with beer guts and aspirations and it was this humility that enabled the 2009 BDO World Championship to achieve greatness.

 

As far as the match itself was concerned, both players threw spectacular darts and showed incredible ability under pressure – after all, it is quite a skill to accurately throw a 20 gram arrow into a small rectangle, with nothing more than adrenaline and alcohol coursing through your veins – however, as the evening’s close fought battle came to a end, it was the players’ attitudes that really triumphed.

 

From the off, it was abundantly clear that Ted Hankey and Tony O’Shea are good friends with enormous respect for one another – as is true of virtually all the players on the circuit, who can regularly be seen backstage, drinking pints and chatting to one another – and it is this camaraderie and goodwill that lends an authenticity to the whole proceedings and cannot be faked. Even their interviews exude a candour that I thought had long since been eliminated from professional sport – there are no prepped PR speeches containing stock phrases such as “I fought really hard”, “all credit to my opponent”, “at the end of the day I came through”, etc – in Ted’s final interview with Ray Stubbs, he spoke openly about how his excessive drinking had been damaging his game, until his fellow competitors persuaded him to ‘buck up his ideas’. It was staggering to hear someone honestly recounting their actual feelings live on TV – even Big Brother contestants don’t do that! Not only the players, but the WAGs are loveable as well – far from the super chic footballers’ wives sat stoically at premiership grounds, masked by designer sunglasses, wishing that they were out wasting money – they cheer passionately and when asked, they speak proudly about their fellas. Indeed, the whole spectacle is so heart-warming I felt like I’d been doused in a bath of heroin and connected to an IV drip full of happiness.

 

When Hankey hit the double 10 that sealed his victory it was almost too much to take. A man with the demeanour and stage presence of a belligerent thug, who just seconds before was staring at double 10 like it had murdered his children, was abruptly reduced to a blubbering wreck; all of a sudden he looked small and innocent, lost – he was truly overwhelmed. Amongst the furore, his rival, the ever popular and jocular Tony O’Shea, was clapping, with tears welling up behind his glasses. I then witnessed the most poignant self-effacing response, the crowning moment of the entire event – I saw Ted, through the tears, mouth the words to his vanquished opponent . . . “I’m sorry”.

 

In a time where sports, by and large, have become more than the sum of the players and the game – a media infused shambolic pantomime of prima donnas competing for higher pay cheques – to watch something so unpretentious, where the desire to play a game you love, among opponents you love and with the support of those you love and who love you is all that matters, is enormously refreshing.

 

Still, I can’t help but feel sorry for the players, who receive so little acclaim and remuneration for their talents – I’ve flicked between BBC News and Sky Sports News all morning and neither channel has mentioned last night’s final, choosing instead to endlessly showcase Kate Winslett’s vomit inducing, gushing breakdown over the two Golden Globes she received for doing her job well – however, for somewhat selfish reasons, I feel that this may be for the best. After all, how long could the true ideals of this game and the players survive if it were injected with the kind of cash and glamour of modern day football? Before winning the title for the second time in his career, Ted Hankey said “The money doesn’t matter to me, all I want is to be called champion again.” As such, I am happy that the game remains as it is and the only bling in sight is draped over Bobby George    

 

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