07 April 2016
31 January 2016
In 1953, genial gentleman amateur football side England sportingly allowed genial Communist amateur football side the Magical Magyars to beat them in a game at Wembley. This would have been no big deal, you would have thought, especially since crack waterpoloists the Wolverhampton Wolves sportingly assaulted the nonsense out of the Magicals in Melbourne later that day, this being the times when men were men. But no! Radical young progressive journalists such as Geoff "Love Machine" Green and Brian Granville (whose father may have been Hungarian, so he was probably biased) argued that it was all very well exchanging the limp handshake of Corinthianism when out foreign, but that when in the home of football (the one that isn't Scotland or Chirk), visitors should be thrashed for their arrogance in challenging one of the finest elevens in all the Home International Championship. England, said foreign gurus like author of Soccer Revolution in the Head Jimmy Hogan, must beat everyone all the time and do fancy flicks and shit. The very next day, a cadre of revolutionaries interrupted the coronation of Queen Of England of England and demanded change very politely. They were swiftly arrested and hanged, but many common Englanders watching the proceedings on their brand new flatscreen wirelesses started to wonder whether those plucky young dead people might not have had a jolly good point. Meanwhile, Africa took advantage of the confusion to declare independence. England went totally rent-a-sunder! If it had had had a constitution, it would have been in crisis!
Then nothing much happened for a few years. Then Winston Churchill said to Watney, Earl of Football, chairman of the Football Association, "Good Gertrude, have you noticed that the manager of our great English football side has the word 'bottom' in his name?". Watney had someone check, then slovak. That out of the way, he bought a copy of Rothmans and discovered that it was indeed true. How Nate "Bottoms" Keister-Pratt had been allowed control of the Queen's footballers for so long was a mystery, especially considering the well-known fact that no one with a name hinting at the human fundament could succeed in management (which was proven true three decades later when Monaco sacked Arsene Wenger). The matter was swiftly dealt with, but the matter of how to wipe Bottoms from people's memories was another matter.
To clear his mind, Watney decided to embark on one of his occasional crime sprees in remote parts of the kingdom. This time, he opted to take a hovercoracle to the Isle of Man, where to his dismay he happened upon a game of that horrid business, league football. Watney had inherited his loathing of professional players all the way down the line from his great-great-grampaps, the first Earl, who was in favour of punishing them by forcing them to spend the winter lying on football fields to ward off frost, and he would have had the men and the firepower to get it done too if that lightweight Wellesley hadn't chickened out by dying that time. Still, the second Earl had legalised the ghastly business and more or less signed the game's death warrant, so it was Watney's grim duty to bear witness to its ongoing bemaggoted putrefaction.
This, at least, was one of the better matches of the English BPL (or the Barclaycard Old Old First Division as it was known at the time): a title decider between local Manx heroes Peel Inconsequentials and the mighty Town United from a town somewhere. As it was, it was, it was the Quentials who took first prize after a cat with no tail and three legs ran onto the pitch and licked visiting goalkeeper Chic "Chick" Chikk's knee, tickling him into a distracting cardiac arrest which allowed hot scoring ace Kermit Hogsquhart to tap the historic winner into an empty goal.
The Consequs were a revelation. They exhibited the perfect balance between modernity and tradition required for the new setup of the Three venerable old Lions. On the one hand, they represented the vigour of the go-go-go twentieth century by sometimes apparently playing as many as three backs. On the other hand, they were astonishingly boring. Upon further investigation, Watney discovered that they were bossed by none other than good old Alfbert, Lord Ramsey: crofting magnate, player in that 1953 game everyone overreacted to, and all-round reliable chap. Surely he could take charge of the national side! Watney immediately had a local orphan boy dispatch a handwritten note personally to the Queen Herself in London: I HAVE SEEN FOOTBALL FUTURE AND ITS NAME IS ALFBERT, LORD RAMSEY DO YOU REMEMBER MA'AM HE PLAYED IN THAT 1953 GAME EVERYONE OVERREACTED TO PS I STILL LOVE YOU OH DO PLEASE LEAVE THAT GREEK NIT MEET ME IN THE STABLE AT LANCASTER GATE AT DUSK TOMORROW
As it turned out, the boy couldn't swim, so Watney had to use the telephone, which is so much less personal wouldn't you agree. He then got down to the business of negotiating with Lord Ramsey, which nearly foundered on Ramsey's outrageous demands. First, he insisted he be allowed to pick the team. Such radicalist nonsense was a step too far for Watney, and he pointed out that England's innate superiority had allowed them to win many games without picking any players at all. But Ramsey was firm, and he also demanded that Watney get the FIFA, to who'm the FA had subcontracted the running of the game outside the United Kingdom and her Dominions, to stage their 1966 World Cup competition in England. The World Cup was designed as a sop to underachieving foreign teams, but had for some reason become quite popular amongst the la-dee-da so-called offioncianandos of the hip new swinging football. "If you want to shut them up," Lord Ramsey explained, "bring the World Cup here where we simply cannot be beaten unless we play Hungary (or possibly Eire, although we've kept so quiet about that game that I'm pretty sure everyone has forgotten about it, thank the Lord for sparing us from such embarrassment)." It, said Ramsey, was, as it were, the, so to speak, only, he continued, way, full stop.
Reluctantly — his mind filled with a vision of the enormous portrait in his office of the first Earl becoming animated: the jowls quivering disapprovingly, rage turning the cheeks from a deep shade of purple to a deeper shade of purple, rivulets of pure giant tortoise gravy streaming from his baggy eyes — Watney bowed his head in what seemed to him to be some kind of defeat, and shook Lord Ramsey's hand.
The story of England winning the World Cup continues after this picture. Who will win the World Cup?
So Lord Ramsey got on with the task of assembling a crack squad. That out of the way, he picked his team. And what a team! It was built around the noble Sir Bobert Moore, who could win a tackle using only the power of his mind. Then there was Nobert Wilde-Styles, who could also win a tackle without touching the ball. Ramsey recruited fearsome defender Wor Jackie, as well as his brother, the gentle genius Peace Jackie. Jim Greavsie was the absolutely unquestionably indispensable sharpscoring spearheader. You knew Stanislaus "The Manislaus" Wallace was an amazing player because his quiet, dutiful work went practically unnoticed. The team was given an element of danger by goalkeeper Banksy, a loose cannon whose graffitos had brought down the Macmillan government. There were also other players, plus some full-backs.
Watney having successfully bullied the FIFA into handing over their pitiful World Cup tournament, the stage was set for England to establish itself once more as the undisputed bestmost country out of those who footballed, which was all of them except the usual few who didn't matter. So confident were they of making the World Cup a triumph that they entrusted custody of the trophy to a great British dog called Pickle. The border collie, 4, even recorded a rousing World Cup theme song: "Back home, the World Cup is back home, and I don't mean Scotland or Chirk, thirteen years of hurt, it's L.S.D. for 'longstanding soccer dynasty', ie England..." (In a sad coda, Pickle found himself unable to cope with his new fame and later hanged himself.) The newspapers called for the entire team to be knighted in advance. They knew that England's tactic of kicking the football into the opponents' goal more often than the opponents kick the ball into their goal could surely outfox even the wiliest of contintental foes such as Cyprus or Mexico. Nothing could go wrong. Nothing could go wrong. Nothing could go wrong. By which I mean
All was set for the opening game against some glorified parish that didn't even have a name until they had to think of one for the World Cup — Switzerland or France or one of those. However, tragedy struck as England lost 0-0. The nation was devastated at the apparent death of England's World Cup dream. The London Times of London printed a front page bombshell headline YOU DAFT ROTTERS with a picture of Lord Ramsey's head superimposed on what might have been a rotting apple only it was hard to tell given the quality of image reproduction in newspapers of those days. Nevertheless, the message rang
Something had to be done. Luckily the FIFA were the numero number one at doing scandals. The English head of the FIFA and member of shock rock outfit Cerberus & The Purple-Headed Bishop, Sir Stan Aroused, decreed that England should get two more goes at qualifying for the knockout rounds. Such a move was almost certainly unprecedented. This appalling decision has never been revealed ... until now.
So England made the quarter-finals after all, where they would play the fearsome Argentina. Knowing his side had had a lucky escape, Ramsey disappeared for a couple of days to contemplate how to proceed. He returned with two boffo ideas. Firstly, the undroppable striker Jim Greavsie would strike no more, his place to be taken by Paul Warhurst, a defender who had never before strucken. (Greavsie was inconsolable, but found comfort in the arms of Ian St. Greavsie, with whom he would go on to form powerhouse Vegas magic duo Greavsie & St. Greavsie.) Idea number two was to talk up the Argentines' brutality and then knock it down like a piddling skittle. After the anthems, he raced towards the Argentine players screaming "COMEANDGETMEYOUHORRIBLEANIMALSI'LLTAKEYOUALLONIDON'TCRRRNNGNGAANGRNG", and as he slid into incoherence, he attempted to rip the striped jerseys from the player's' backs until restrained by the tournament mascot, a lion-shaped genital called the World Cup Willy. Thus inventing mind games, Lord Ramsey inspired his team to a magical 1-0 win during which no England player committed any fouls whatsoever.
Inevitably, England lost the semi-final on penalties to the Germans. Yet when the draw was made for the the final, England were yet again paired with the Germans. No one quite knows what went on closed doors to bring this about, although the FIFA are naturally suspected. This is thought to have been one of the causes of the Falklands War.
Little is known about what happened in that final. Only two pieces of footage survive. One shows a failed attempt on goal by Warhurst; the other has Warhurst striking the ball into the goal, although it was presumably disallowed owing to the pack of rioters by then streaming from the stands onto the field. What is known, however, is that Stanislaus Carter's winner gave England the World Cup Winner's Trophy as World Cup Winner's Trophy winners, their status never to be challenged again.
And there Lord Ramsey should have left it. However, driven by a lust for glory, he had his eye on the ultimate prize: the 1967 Home Internationals. But on the eve of the Scotland game, Scottish paper the Daily Wrecker published a revelating devastation. Under the headline WINGLES WONDERS, they claimed that Ramsey had gotten most of his ideas about managing from one Spencival Wingles, a self-styled spiritual guru who lived as a tax exile in the sky above Rowton, Shropshire. Mr. Wingles claimed to commune with the ancients through a gnome called Eric who was visible only to him. He also believed that anyone who was unkind to him would be reincarnated as a big baldy twazzock. The Wrecker alleged that far from being the management genius of newly-minted legend, Lord Ramsey had actually received his tactical ideas for the Argentina game from 6th-century theologian Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, as relayed to Wingles via a gnome Ramsey couldn't see who seemed to say things like "gottle a geer" and "grok at gas'ard Greezy" a lot.
Ridiculed and demoralised, England succumbed meekly to the Scots. The Tartan Army occupied Wembley and refused to leave until the Queen brought them some scones, although when they got home they discovered them to be made of stone. Lord Ramsey was immediately hounded out of office seven years later.
In 1977, The Clash released a song, "1977", about 1977, the year of the song's release, 1977, in which they sang of how everything in 1977, the then-current year, was rubbish. In it, they counted backwards from the eponymous year, 1977, until they got to 1966, at which point the song came to a dead halt. Critics agreed that it was probably highly symbolic of something.
13 October 2015
Sinking through the archives for the forthcoming opening of the Fredorrarcian Library, I noticed some orphaned jottings that have never found a home in any of the nonsense blebbed out here- or otherabouts. To save them going horribly to waste, I present them here in the form of what might incorrectly be called a poem. It's an impressionistic impression of how a lot of the American sports media appears filtered through thousands of miles. Or it's an example of staring too long at something and seeing patterns that don't exist. Only God can judge me. By the way, the title nods Manicward. (Funnily enough, the US mix of that song is the better one...)
even if you make it through
the selection committee speculation
a broad side of broadsides
impossible feats of athletic prowess
a pundit looking right down the camera
"Coach" for life
BRING BACK FRESHMAN INELIGIBILITY SAY BIG BAD MOTHERFUCKERS
quickness if not speed
"I'll tell you the unwritten law, you dumb son of a bitch"
that video of the guy trying to finish an alleyoop
and getting his head wedged in between the rim and the backboard
the timeout in the age of anxiety
shaking off that brain damage
rivers of numerals
a bat flip
a bat-flip tut
a power rankings
you can't escape the grave:
what does that seventh overthrow mean for Peyton Manning's
does this suspension destroy the nineteen-year-old sophomore's
how does my scorching take on something LeBron said affect his
I seem to have landed awkwardly and broken my
acy Read more...
11 June 2015
In which Ireland playing a crucial qualifier so close to Bloomsday does odd things to the head
No because I never did a thing like that before as head down the pub to watch the game since the Germany one a few years ago the six one I mean no the one one wouldve been grand pleasant probably couldnt complain much no the stench of whingeing during the six one was noxious gets up a momentum a mind of its own one fella starts then another and another and didnt I join in at first but two hours or more of that Jesus wept bealin it had me head in the end Im not superstitious no theres enough misery out in this country as it is best keep it confined have a routine I watched the Cameroon game with three others the Germany game with two and better it got you see the Saudi game with one and the Spain game on me own and I couldnt even watch the pennos you have to be committed I dont know though how much does it matter anymore do you feel anything off this team anymore really sure lets go I suppose the tellyll be turned down that should put a bit of distance plausible deniability of the heart as yer one sang look at them there at the bar all shiting away about nothing its into their pints they may as well be talking into their scoops through their hoops isnt it well for them they have something to pass the hours all the same the boys on the panel Lord help us cant hear them thank God no do you need the gloom the drooooooooooooooone of the national treasures going honesty of effort this and Aidan O'Brien that and Chippy being chippy might be a fight between him and Sadlier though thatd be worth watching even with the sound turned low youd get the gist crap the teams I havent seen the teams theres the Scotland one there to be honest I cant tell the Scots apart these days theyre no better than us no jinkin Jimmy thats for sure though we got their amblin Aiden in fairness our amblin Aiden I should say theyre showing clips from the last game at Celtic Park would you look at them all them and us running around like thick dogs over a manky oul bone itll be the same today unless they spent big in the transfer market this morning or something last game of the season by rights every player should drop half dead on the final whistle all the slagging we used to take about the granny rule and what part of Ireland do the O'Cascareens come from he said I declare to God weve been exporting our best the whole time theres your man Maloney there and theres Rooney and Cahill and that American lad with the steel face and ah heres our lineup wait for it wait for it wait for it no no Wes no Wes would you be surprised but its disappointing at the same time wait till you see hell come on and save us and the interviewer will be saying oh what an inspired substitution Martin give me strength sounds gone up now on the telly no control over the remote thats another disadvantage havent we a grand anthem mightnt persuade you to kill anyone necessarily but youd at least give an arms smuggler some supper and a bed to hide under for the night the craic we had the day we died for Iiiirrrreland I hate this feeling when theyre all in position ready to get going like staring into the void and yet if you could bottle it Id spray some around the place once a day here we go here goes nothing literally probably if this becomes an embarrassment I wonder can O'Brien take out an injunction to stop anyone talking about it go on Shaney chase it no hard luck Jaysus head down already Shane cop on now it wasnt a foul youll be a grand player when youre old enough to vote Strachan reminds me of that oul one who used to sit on the steps outside the flat beside Boylesports and challenge everyone coming out to a fight its dragging already this oof thats a hefty one book the fucker ref ref come on och he thinks hes in the Premier League no yellow cards in the first twenty minutes without a broken leg as proof great ref great now youve turned on the tap now itll be bumper cars from now on you know what this game needs Wes I hear a voice on the breeze of a Guinness burp saying yer man only said to him I hope your bollocks get clamped yeh rotten fuck yeh and the ref picks up the ball and walks off going on about his human rights or something called the game off so he did its ridiculous sure you need to be able to talk to the ref I dont know whats going on political correctness probably shit shit Given was nowhere we got away with one there why is he still here can we never escape our past in this country him and Keane and O'Shea God forgive me but theyd all remind you of the glory days of drawing with Switzerland apparently Westwood had a great season with whos this hes with these days in fairness to the ref he hasnt an ounce of fat on him but sure you never see a fat ref these days not even in the League of Ireland maybe we all take this game too seriously thats it Shayser wave them upfield thatll work would you get out of that Scott Brown at one point I think I was the only one in the ground clapping I thought it was a nice bit of skill meself worth encouraging the lad I took it as a mark of sophistication on my part but its a thin line sometimes ah McGeady what are you waiting for are you waiting for them all to get back so you can do a head count or whats the story theres Wes warming up like a tiny fawn bounding merrily across a meadow while the doe looks on and ah here how do people be coming up with images like that theres no fawns around here and whats a meadow only a got up field the best you might get is a calf falling over into a cowpat or something the notions people have sometimes member the time the League prize money went up five million all of a sudden no exactly yer man theres having chips Im hungry now that I think of it but I cant not during the game hsssssssssssssss O the sizzle of vinegar on hot chip it carries the smell of malt and salt salt and malt Gary Mackay was standing outside his hair blowing in the North Channel wind or was he baldy looking it was a few years ago now youd nearly forget fellas like him might have to take the Cairnryan ferry too like normal people like I once saw that fella Chico from was it Popstars or Pop Idol in Golden Discs I think he was about to do an instore but I was heading off anyway there was Mackay I didnt want to go up to him you dont want to disturb people he probably cant walk down the street without some Irish bowsie coming up to him but there he was and there I was and I called out Gaaaarrrryyyy I did it before I thought of it and again Gaaaarrrryyyy but he didnt hear me Gaaaarrrryyyy I was the only one to recognise him I had chips that day too no cant be eating them now and a game on dont know how you could you might miss something and the stomach wouldnt take it anyway suppose when the yanks take over FIFA and send Haliborange in to run it and make it all compulsory hotdogs and all those feckin timeouts how many pitching changes do you really need get rid of the coaches and managers from the game from all the games let the players play itd make sport better at a stroke ah Brady where are you where are you you cant leave O'Shea to deal with ah shite shite no theres the ball in our fucking goal it makes you sick just before half time worst time to concede a goal or is it the best I cant remember theres this oul goat of a fella at the bar and he starts on would you look at them there he says all kissing and cuddling notorious sodomite race the Scotch and the men all in skirts theyve been letting the gays get married this donkeys and look at them now thatll be Ireland soon enough may the Lord have mercy on me and take me to His side ere I see the day and everyones just sort of ignoring him because do you tell him hes lost the war or do you let him figure it out himself like those Japanese soldiers in the Malay jungle no wouldnt it be great to score a goal away from home nothing but the sound of your own supporters at one end or one wee corner of the ground even and the silence all around of everyone hating your guts theres the whistle forty five minutes closer to the grave me bladders full enough but Ill hold off and let the early pissers go ahead of me avoid the rush Delaneys neck is thicker than Barry Bonds they should bring out a book the Wit and Wisdom of Scaldy Delaney Going Forward surprised he hasnt done it himself following on from the words of my esteemed colleagues I would like to propose that the outgoing board be reelected en bloc if we dont get something from this game were focáilte thats all I know still if Gary Mackay taught us anything its that theres always hope okay so off I go for a slash Jesus arse fucking shitehawks the bang off these jacks like being punched to the back of your throat no fucking fuck shit no youd think theyd invent a gents that didnt smell like Satans arsewipers cursèd discharge no compo cultures a myth if these cunts havent been sued no God no it makes the air in the bar seem like pure oxygen such relief no remind me to hold it in if Ive to go again after the match weve the hope of the hopeless anyway a punchers chance if we can figure out how to punch who turned it on to RTE One has someone sat on the remote or have they actually switched it for the Angelus fecks sake they justify keeping it by saying that if youre of the atheist persuasion you can stop for a minute and solemnly contemplate what trawlers or someone drawing a picture on the footpath with chalk or I dont know what but sure howre you meant to solemnly contemplate anything with a bloody great bell ringing in your feckin ear eighteen times in a minute theyve switched it thanks be to God off we go again is that Wes ha ha no of course not I love the sound of bells though when you hear them rung properly melodic like it reminds me of my childhood when youd hear those beautiful bells in Gibraltar because youd be across the street from the old church and twice a day theyd ring them for no reason at all it seemed to me except the beauty of the music as it hung in the still summer air and spread its warmth across the whole town it was enough to make a believer out of many a heathen Im sure of it that was before the Gibraltar was turned from a chipper into a Chinese and the name was changed of course crash bang wallop whoops you had your thumb over the lens ah well this game has all the flair and finesse of an Ulster championship match and all the joy and relevance of a Leinster championship match what times The Sunday Game on oh wait its Saturday bring on Hoolahan someone shouts at the telly cos its not only me you see and that goat pipes up again Hoolahan sure whats he gonna do I said it back when he played for Pats that he was overrated and I say it again now buck useless thats what he is and yer man three fellas down from him says Pats sure Hoolahan never played for Pats and the goat says I mean eh well you see that was the name of the youth team he played for as a youth you know and yer man three fellas down says I thought he was with Belvedere and the goat says I eh yeah he was but the name of the fella who was over the team his name was Pat so everyone used to just call them Pats if you were talking to anyone who was in the schoolboys scene and you said Pats they knew who you were talking about yeah you wouldnt know and you thinking it means that chicken league shite Im telling you Hoolahan was useless from the very start the very start he couldnt pass the salt and he couldnt trap a snail useless altogether and yer man three fellas down says sure my das from round the corner from Belvederes pitch he might know this Pat whats his surname and the goat goes ah he wouldnt know him hes eh dead so he is died young and all terrible so it was and yer man three fellas down goes ah go on just tell us what was his surname and the goat says his name was Pat Pat Mac Mackattack McIntaggart yes Pat McIntaggart that was his name Pat McIntaggart God rest his soul and yer man three fellas down says Pat McIntaggart must ask da in that case and yer man four fellas down goes was the manager of the next age group up called Kevin by any chance and the goat says I cant remember and this other fella giggles and I swear the goats face turns as red as youve ever seen a face turn well in fairness it was red already probably permanently like that with the drink and the choler but now I swear to God its gone totally Johansson I wonder do footballers actually go to the opticians or does a fella come over to their gaff the fuck referee come on youve been letting Brown away with murder literally I dont think Ive seen Long since Brown dealt with him that time come on Walters get in there and tell him whats what or what are you there for you feckin Tory bollix might waken up the crowd all the same it sounds as dead as Mass there I dont know how you can really get into a game if youre at the ground or the stadium I do beg its pardon and you sitting down UEFA fine me hole Ill stand if I want to and Ill tell you something else they can send me a bill for my share and Ill send back a bit of card with 30c in the form of a twenty and a ten taped to it and away and shite written on it in all the living languages of Europe and ancient Sanskrit just to be sure its not sitting down the supporters will be wanting to do its lying down a sleeping bag and a reclining seat its the least they deserve this team seems so distant from you sometimes though theyre all so tentative prepare to stop stop to prepare theyre so nice you wish at least that if they arent going to play football they might have some horrible bastard thuggery in them no here we are with the hoofing again I wish McCarthy would run back there push the oulfla over and take the ball off him and start passing wouldnt it be gas a watershed the dawn of a new era the subject of future song and documentary dont get me started on Keane and Overmars sure didnt Overmars make Kelly cry that day they shouldve had ten good times though good times a million years ago now and you wouldnt go back to the Trap days at least these days we know were crap and theres no codding best to be sure youre going to fail in advance if youve read this far fair fucks to you oh here we go now here comes Wes go on Robbie off you get why am I nervous all of a sudden maybe it wouldve been better if he hadna come on so I could say afterwards we need to play Wes more I mean it worked for me during the Trap years at least I can say if only wed started him aye that covers all bases will we ever move on at all all this Italia 90 nostalgia just comes back in endless waves and the tide is high again the games about being effective being aggressive winning the ball getting on with the play youd think people wouldve gotten over it with the tenth anniversary or the seventeenth or the big two three and the thing is you groan when you see it because its all been said before weve seen all the footage we can recite Hamilton better than Heaney we know the story of every single bleeder who was over there but still the nation holds its breath it was true so true was there ever a time when the whole lot of us were doing the same thing at the same time and us not killing each other no we were all exhaling together and it was like a giant explosion of just just glee as pure as youll ever get it and it was everyones first time at the same time and no one had a fucking clue what to do so they just turned into three and a half million eegits vinceròòòòòòòòòò and youll never get that again unless we dont qualify for another couple of generations or if we do dont even think it if we do a dont dont if we do a Greece slash Denmark no fat chance but the football the grand slam Sonia Dennis Taylor Katie Taylor McGuigan Carruth Delany no relation different spelling sure Waterford Crystal who was framed Chippy God bless him though Royston too ah go on God love him Thin Lizzy on Top of the Pops Dave Allen just to shine something of ourselves out to the world and to see a glint of a reflection back heaven is Houghtons lob dropping over Pagliuca forever that fella who tried to tell me Dublins some great global hub of this thing or that thing he made me laugh no Ireland is to the world as I dont know Ballina is to Ireland its the young people I feel sorry for listening to the rest of us bang on about the olden days as if they can never feel what we felt of course they can if we can actually get our acts together but sure were still a goal down no wonder theyre all emigrating no Ill say this much were world beaters when were in a panic theres hardly a team that can live with us when were completely fucking desperate how can we get them feeling this way all the time remember that dream where I was doing my Leaving and I realise I havent studied one jot of whatever the subject is and I think well this is a bit of a pickle and then it occurs to me sure I did my Leaving years ago so I just say fuck the Leaving Cert to meself and walk out the room fuck the Leaving Cert why are those lads looking at me shit did I say fuck the Leaving Cert out loud and then Wes makes the most of a bad pass and look at him go past one past another hes beaten fourteen if hes beaten one the Bill McKaig of the greensward Wes how much youd want to be him right now if your nerves could take it and then he plays the most perfect through ball a winger has ever been given Wes and McGeady crosses first time first time I swear and theres Shane rising like a Tipperary salmon do they have salmon in Tipp theyre bound to Wes and its a cracker of a header but the keeper stretches and tips it away probably not even with his fingertip but the the tip of the finger of the glove and the chance is gone its all over but whos that running in its only Wesley Hoolahan of Norwich City and the Republic of Ireland and he strikes it softly enough that keeper thinks he has a chance but he never has and its there in the net in the Scotland net Wes and I thought well as well them as another and the whole place is gone mad Wes everyones leppin around like I dont know what Wes and that oul goat of a fella he put his arms around me Wes and drew me down to him so I could feel his breasts all the whiff of stout Wes and his heart was going like mad and Wes he said Wes I will Wes.
Prediction: Ireland 1-1 Scotland
Image by Viewminder on Flickr (Creative Commons licence) Read more...
21 May 2015
Football has many histories. For the recently deceased Eduardo Galeano, the history of football was "a sad voyage from beauty to duty". His book Football in Sun and Shadow is a lament for a game adrift.
In Sun and Shadow, the physical pleasure in playing the game is its very core. It's where true joy and freedom are to be found — "that crazy feeling that for a moment turns a man into a child playing with a balloon, like a cat with a ball of yarn". (The translation from the original Spanish is by Mark Fried.) And if you're not so good at playing, you can still feel the sympathetic resonance of a fellow unit of your species performing physical feats the urge to perform which lies deep within you yourself, grateful for a surrogate through which it can actually be expressed in flesh, bone and air.
In its parade of vignettes celebrating the enactment of this feeling throughout football's history, Sun and Shadow is shot through with nostalgia. The only stories more vivid than those that date from Galeano's youth (he was born in 1940) are those that date from before his time and passed through the hands of many master embroiderers before reaching his. Or perhaps they were distillers, boiling away the unwanted until a pure essence remained. The stories capture an innocence that diminishes from childhood until in adulthood it only occasionally flickers in the gloaming. It's a loss of innocence mirrored in football itself. The further it's pulled from that pure motive, the worse it gets. "Professional football," writes Galeano, "does everything to castrate that energy of happiness".
My own view on football, bless you for asking, is not so purist. There exists a duality aside from that of sun and shadow. One part of it is that instinct for play and the deeper-than-vicarious connection between the player and the spectator. The other is a collision of impulses and desires that one might call (with apologies to Bertie Wooster) serious purpose: a desire to fight and be fought, to confront failure and try to escape intact, to feel fear and anxiety so that relief may be pursued; individuals trying to find their way in a society; societies trying to find their way within a larger society; violence as the game's tell-tale heart. It stirs and awakens pride and other sinful virtues. Like any human endeavour that holds people's interest for more than a moment, this serious purpose exerts a tenacious pull. More than that: it's something people seek. Some people, anyway. It is as fundamental to the game as the weightless arc of a chip.
JB Priestley put this duality as "Conflict and Art". Arthur Hopcraft saw in football "conflict and beauty", the "art" being a product of the combination of the two. Whatever the terminology, football is such an apt medium for expressing the two sides that any attempt to account for the feeling of football must reckon with both. They may often be in opposition, but they also complement each other. One person's moment of sheer delight leaves another on his arse. Either way, they tumble on together, inseparable. Galeano's vision of a paradise lost renders one an agent of the dilution of the other and sometimes makes Sun and Shadow seem like an engine steaming down the railway of declinism, as quick and banal as Parkinson on Football.
Although it's simplistic to say the football industry kills joy, it is a harbour for those inclined to take serious purpose to a very serious level indeed. Those who operate on that level do a good job arguing that football is about either winning, finding ways to win, or naively wasting your time. It makes those successful at navigating the game's waters look better if they can amp up the choppiness in recounting the tales of their voyage. (The really dedicated invest in a good, realistic wave machine.)
The opposite of this kind of anxiety is probably contentment, but for some reason, contentment doesn't sit well with football. Lacks toughness, no doubt. So in a game on which a worldview of convulsion and flak-dodging settles heavily and isn't easily shifted, the view presented by Galeano is crucial. It's about moments of elation that arrive unexpectedly and can blow away like a feather. It's a view that needs tending and guarding. It needs to be continually proved, lest it be seen as just a lapse from a default sense of solemn gravity. In stacking these moments high — in creating a fiction — Galeano shows that the paramountcy of serious serious purpose is just a consensus. Football is made up of too many strands for one to be pulled out and held up as the golden thread.
Curse, you bastards, my cold concrete heart poured somewhere off the north coast of the north (and bless the Uruguayan Galeano's ability to turn on their sides the histories that proud European fools write for each other) but football has never existed the way Galeano dreamt it, and if it did, it would disintegrate and disappear into the blue sky. But Galeano's dreams are beautiful, and the history of football they tell is as essential to the overall story as South America itself. Whether Football in Sun and Shadow the best football book is an open question. (My vote would go to my forthcoming volume Are You Sure It's No Thicker Than Five Inches?: A Compendium Of Humorous Pitch-Marking Anecdotes.) But it might be the one that most needed to be written.
24 April 2015
A film on George Best from 1970, written and narrated by Hugh McIlvanney. It contains this quote from Best:
I know players that try to hurt me. I've even heard trainers from the bench shouting 'Break the bastard's legs' ... They say afterwards that it's during the game, they didn't really mean it. But when they said it, they meant it. It makes me feel the only way to get back at them is to make them feel so inferior that they'll never want to play another game of football again in their lives.Uploaded to YouTube by Seb Patrick