Archives: Dispatches From A Football Sofa
A Very Messi Nativity
, December 23, 2012
It’s time to don your Christmas jumpers, sit back on the Val Doonican rocking chair and enjoy the third Christmas Special from the Football Sofa. This year, we’re going to Catalonia.
Many years ago, before time itself, it had been prophesied that a messiah would be born.
Our Lord Diego, sitting upon his throne of majesty with his right hand forever attached to the Holy Football of the Azteca, had witnessed generation after generation of his children wantonly turn their backs on the virtue and goodness he had bestowed upon them. His Great Game had been shunned by unbelievers who sought to grow fat on the profits of Champions League expansion. Those living under their protection had sought to curry favour by committing the heinous sin of the defensive formation.
As a consequence of this, Lord Diego despatched his emissary, the archangel Gabriel Batistuta to the Catalonian capital of Barcelona where he visited the Virgin Guardiola in a vision. She would give birth to the Saviour who would shine a light onto the world and remind Diego’s children that His way was the only way. The archangel whispered into her sleeping ear that her boy would be known forevermore as (...)
Wenger Out: A Spurs Fan’s Perspective
, December 16, 2012
Our little family has a tradition at this time of year of watching the Frank Capra classic It’s A Wonderful Life. For those of you unfamiliar with it (what’s wrong with you?), it follows the story of James Stewart’s inherently good but suicidal George Bailey being shown by his guardian angel how dreadful life would be for those his life has touched if he had never existed. The finale, I am not ashamed to admit, has me churning out the tried and trusted ‘there’s something in my eye’ excuse, year after year.
It’s fitting that during the festive season, awash with metaphors as it usually is, the current predicament that sees the most successful and influential manager in Arsenal’s history can be likened to the situation that Bailey finds himself in. The fact he has to keep at bay the mounting pressure from some quarters within and without the club calling for time on his reign is incredulous, even from a Spurs point of view.
Arsenal without Arsene Wenger would be a very different club then the one that has won two doubles, continually qualified for the Champions League, has moved into a stadium that rivals many of the (...)
Turf Over Television: The Magic Of A Matchday Ticket
, December 9, 2012
You don’t know Albert Cunningham but I bet you know someone like him. I was best man at his son’s wedding and it was during the suit fitting that I first met him. He’s what I can best describe as an ‘old school’ football man. A proud and loyal West Ham fan, I’ve spent many an hour with him since talking about his memories of Bobby Moore, The Academy and standing in The Boleyn Ground’s infamous Chicken Run.
Albert hasn’t been to Upton Park for some years now but he retains an unshakable love for the game despite the fact that he feels utterly disconnected from the matchday experience of the modern football fan. He feels priced out by the game that he has spent much of his life following. He doesn’t understand the unjustifiable wage packets of players significantly less talented than some of the best to have worn the claret and blue in seasons past. Regardless, he is philosophical about how football has evolved and accepts that there is no going back. He’s content to listen to games on 5Live and catch the odd match when it’s on terrestrial television. Progress is progress he reminds me and winces (...)
Redknapp and Benitez: Oh, What A Carry On!
, November 25, 2012
Farce: A light dramatic work in which highly improbable plot situations, exaggerated characters, and often slapstick elements are used for humorous effect.
A staple of bank holiday weekends when I was growing up, being a child that watched far too much television than was perhaps good for him, was the very British institution that were the Carry On films.
It’s probably not the done thing to say in these far more empathetically sophisticated and consequently slightly blander times but I adore these minor gems. They perform the function of celluloid time capsules, reflecting as they do the mores and humour of a time long gone. The film analysis, however, can wait for another time.
No matter what the title and plot of a Carry On were, you could rest assured that at some point in the film’s duration, Kenneth Williams’ nostrils would flare up as he repelled Hattie Jacques’ amorous advances, Barbara Windsor would giggle in that famously impish way of hers and Sid James would, well he’d do the “wa-ha-haaa”. With Carry On films, the audience knew exactly what it was getting. In essence, despite being un-PC before the term even existed, Carry On films were just very, very (...)
Luis Suarez: The Making Of A Very Modern Folk Devil
, November 18, 2012
The irony of seeing Luis Suarez leaving John Terry crumpled on the Stamford Bridge pitch last Sunday would not have been lost on many seasoned football watchers. Here in microcosm was the coming together of the two most, rightly or wrongly, vilified footballers of recent times. Clash of the ‘Racists’, if you will. That Terry came off the worst in this contretemps could be seen as poetic justice to the generally held view that his punishment for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand was not as severe as Suarez’s own ban for a similar incident.
The issue of race has dominated football for over a year now. It seems that not a week goes by in which an allegation is made against an individual or a group that points to a sinister undercurrent in the game. As a consequence of this deluge of cacophonous rancor, it is becoming increasingly difficult to filter the real stories from the fanciful allegations of self-publicists. More about them later.
It was the contemporary theorist and Professor of Sociology, Stanley Cohen who coined the terms ‘folk devil’ and ‘moral panic’ in his 1972 case study of how the media stoked up hysteria and revulsion around the infamous (...)
The Audacity of Hope: Obama, Celtic and The Romance of Victory
, November 12, 2012
He may not have cured all of America’s economic woes. He may not have made good on his promise to shut down the travesty of human injustice that is Guantanamo Bay. Hell, he may not have even walked on water at any point during his first term in office. Nevertheless, with his ultimately resounding victory in Tuesday’s presidential election and his subsequent victory speech, Barack Obama managed to re-ignite the one thing that so many people in the world heaped upon his heavily burdened shoulders for the last four years: hope.
Hope that he has learned from the mistakes and hesitations he has been criticised for. Hope that the next chapter in American history will be less divisive than it has been for so long now. More importantly though, hope that America has finally understood that it is a changing society and that it can no longer be the political playground for stupid white men with barrel-loads of cash and back-handed influence to mould the world as they see fit.
As an opening gambit, I’m very aware that those first two paragraphs could be read as the naïve ramblings of an idealist. Let me be clear, I am not a (...)
So Long Ceefax, Cheerio Chas ‘n’ Dave
, October 28, 2012
The final part in a loose trilogy of Dispatches on why “modern life is rubbish”.
The demise of Ceefax this week signalled the end of another affectionately recalled aspect of the experiences of football fans of a certain age. With nights drawing in and dinner on the hob, we would come home from school or laborious dayshifts, switch the television on and punch those three famous digits into our remote controls. In the days before instant phone updates, page 302 was our first point of call for breaking news and transfer gossip. Page 324 took us to the league table and 316 for latest scores on matchdays.
We’d stare at the screen for hours on end. Leave it revolving throughout the entirety of football matches despite the occasional glitches that would tell us that Ev r t n were two-nil up against Liv r poo . It all might seem so archaic to young football fans today, but Ceefax in all its pre-digital imperfection really was compulsive viewing. So it’s not surprising that many of us have been prompted to mark its final week with a flurry of nostalgic salutations.
As with all things though, its time had come. It couldn’t (...)
That Was The Football Week That Was: Rain, Racism & Repetition
, October 21, 2012
This is the week when nothing happened in football. Well, nothing new anyway. This week He Who Will Not Be Named finally admitted culpability for his ill-chosen sentence construction and the dark heart of Europe’s simmering xenophobia yet again dispelled the notion that a black footballer can ply his trade without fearing the latent taunting from those he is paid to entertain. Nothing happened. Apart from rain gushing down onto a Warsaw pitch but even the rain shows a remarkable tendency for repeating itself in our shared cultural psyches from Noah all the way through to Gene Kelly.
Once the rain lashed down on Tuesday night, we were presented with the incongruous sight of four men in polyester suits desperately clamouring to fill in the scheduled broadcasting minutes with banal hypothethising. Adrian Chiles settled for his jocular Everyman schtick hoping to avoid the brooding rage that perennially bubbles under the surface of Roy Keane’s knotted brow. Down in the stadium’s underbelly, pitchside reporter Gabriel Clarke looked as if his blood vessels were under severe threat of bursting as he barked at anyone who wanted to hear that the whole episode was “a farce”. As a viewer, I was just (...)
Next Home Match: Tottenham Holsten vs Newcastle Wonga
, October 14, 2012
Imre Varadi. Now there’s a name that doesn’t crop up too often in the every day chatter of even the most obsessive of football obsessives. I only mention him now, not out of any kind of deep yearning for the journeyman forward’s footballing prowess but because of what was plastered on his West Brom shirt when I pulled him out a Panini packet in 1986. It made a long-lasting impression on me. In place of the logo of some fashionable beer or desirable mod con was a non-smoking symbol. I didn’t realise it at the time, but West Brom were pioneers in what has now become known as ‘ethical advertising’.
Flash-forward twenty-six years and Newcastle United have caused controversy by entering a sponsorship partnership with Wonga who have been labelled by the local council leader as “legal loan sharks”. Wonga’s involvement with football is nothing new but it would appear to many (with the greatest respect to Blackpool and Hearts) that the sight of the online lending company’s name on the famous black and white shirts next season is a morally irresponsible decision on the part of the Newcastle board who can take advantage of an enormous fan-base that hungrily (...)
Yet Another John Terry Piece
, September 30, 2012
I feel a little like the despairing Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part III this week. That famous quote has been lodged in my head since the FA decided to hand the incomparable John Terry a four match ban and a week’s wages in fines for racially abusing a fellow professional on Thursday.
I genuinely hadn’t intended to dedicate yet another thousand or so words to Terry this season. Regular readers know by now that ‘JT’ is a long way short of being my favourite individual. In fact, in twenty-seven years of watching football, I have never disliked a player more. Not Dennis Wise, not Vinnie Jones and not even the eminently ‘mockable’ Robbie Savage. So I hope you’ll forgive me this when I say: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
Like a Nick Clegg promise though, I pledge that this will be the last time I write about him. Honest.
Let’s get one thing straight. Whatever your opinion is of Terry, he is very clearly not the poster child for Nick Griffin and his gang of goons at the British National Party. At worst he is a snide, incalcitrant bully who will (...)
Arsene Wenger’s Blue & White Army?
, September 23, 2012
I was left in a state of befuddlement during the first few minutes of Tottenham’s away trip to Reading last week. Somehow, my team looked unfamiliar. “Who are these imposters?” I asked myself for nearly ten minutes. This state of momentary discombobulation couldn’t be put down to the parade of new faces representing my team. Nor was it the relative strangeness of a new man in the dugout outlaying a system of play that currently seems mystifyingly alien to those of us who reluctantly enjoyed the cavalier footballing philosophy of the Harry Redknapp era.
In truth though, it was none of the above. The reason for my sense of confusion was the choice of colours that were splurged on their shirts. I, like many others, could have been forgiven for thinking that Spurs had been secretly merged with Newcastle, judging by the designs greenlighted by the club’s new kit manufacturers. Admittedly, once Gareth Bale unleashed his first ‘I Heart’ celebration of the season, I was on more familiar ground but I was unable to really enjoy the win as I should have done. Like that cut you occasionally get at the top of your mouth that your tongue can’t (...)
Hillsborough – The Apology
, September 16, 2012
“On behalf of the government, and indeed of our country, I am profoundly sorry that this double injustice has been left uncorrected for so long.”
What else was a serving Prime Minister of Her Majesty’s government expected to say on the day when the truth that the majority of us knew to be so, was finally and incontrovertibly proven? Liverpool fans were not responsible for the tragedy that took the lives of ninety-six souls and impacted thousands more on that day twenty-three years ago. Those who grossly and malevolently colluded to contrive untruths, were.
Apologies should be humble by their very nature. They show an ability to admit one’s wrongdoing; that one is fallible; that one can reflect upon that fallibility with self-awareness and thus strive to do better next time. This is how apologies work. They are not another opportunity for the egoist in us to bleat on about our own misjudged superiority.
How many of have us have ever justified an apology with the caveat, “I’m sorry but…”? The presence of that seemingly innocuous conjunction ‘but’ to preface any subsequent statement is by far one of the most pernicious and obstructive words in the English (...)
Don’t Panic: Spurs, Liverpool & The Lost Art Of Patience
, September 9, 2012
I suffer from a peculiar, as yet undiagnosed, twenty-first century affliction and I blame Steve Jobs entirely. It is called iPod Twitch. Whenever said iPod is on shuffle, my poised thumb hovers over the skip button ready to move onto the next song within three seconds of hearing what is currently playing if the latter does not match my mood or fancy. I have over six thousand tunes stored in the little plastic and metal tablet and with such a collection temptingly at my disposal, I’m always greedily anticipating what lies ahead rather than what I’m actually listening to. As a consequence of this, I haven’t listened to an album in its entirety since 2007 where once I would allow myself to be consumed with the delights of the highs and lows of a band’s latest release.
This inability to show the requisite amount of time and patience to one’s endeavours has seemingly seeped into all aspects of modern day living. Pop stars are created in an instant, food is cooked in minutes and consumed on-the-go and instant credit pays for your weekend breaks in Venice and Bruges when such things as holidays used to be saved for. As the (...)
My Decadent Afternoon With Jeff Stelling
, September 2, 2012
(or How Football Made Me A Happy Idiot)
So, I’m immersed in the popular philosophical writings of Michael Foley. He’s wittily dissecting the Age of Absurdity and expertly imploring his readers that they should all be Embracing the Ordinary in their lives. He’s doing this by using passages of prose by James Joyce and as I read, I’m getting the revelatory impression that I’m understanding most of what Joyce was going on about.
On Friday, I take down the dust-covered copy of Ulysses, that has sat on the top shelf of my bookcase for nearly three years, unopened and menacing in its heftiness. Lofty by location. Lofty by reputation. I convince myself I’m ready to take on the literary giant. I’ve reached intellectual enlightenment; what Joyce himself labelled an epiphany. I read five pages. Ten. Twenty. The thought gradually drips into my consciousness that I haven’t the faintest idea about what’s going on. Apparently, there’s no plot. It successfully captures life in that way, I’m told by the introduction. I’m bored. I put the novel to one side and pick up this month’s When Saturday Comes and read an article on Laurie Cunningham’s time at Real Madrid. I am (...)
Extinguishing The Olympic Myth
, August 26, 2012
It’s because of football that the country’s economy has crashed. Because of football, the basic manners of this nation’s youth have receded into the whirring newsreels of the 1950s as children run amuck, looting our shops and spitting on our streets. It’s football’s fault that the very fabric of Western culture is collapsing before our very eyes as we all worship at the Church of Cowell and instant celebrity is the thing we all aspire to or at least live our lives through vicariously. If it wasn’t for football, we…
So far, so Daily Mail, right? Throughout the duration of the Olympics and beyond, it would seem that football has been re-cast as the errant relative whose family, after having given him numerous chances to rehabilitate, have finally washed their hands of. All manner of cultural commentators and freshly-minted Olympiholics have been queuing up to take pot-shots at the depravity of a game that has allegedly spun out of control.
Olympians are now being heralded as gleaming beacons of clean living; dedicated, humble and wholesome to a point that makes the Walton family resemble the Manson family. Football, we keep getting told, should learn from the likes of Mo Farah, (...)