Football

Germany were the team of the tournament

Monday, 14 July, 2014 0 Comments

And it was their passing game that won them the World Cup. Having absorbed the central tenet of FC Bayern Munich coach, Sep Guardiola, — hold the ball and attack — they deservedly beat Argentina in last night’s final. Unlike the Brazil or England game, the German approach was never static. That’s why they were the team of the tournament.


Italy 2 : England 1

Sunday, 15 June, 2014 0 Comments

For commentary on the after-match inquest, let’s turn to Britain’s poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

The Shirt

Afterwards, I found him alone at the bar
and asked him what went wrong. It’s the shirt,
he said. When I pull it on it hangs on my back

like a shroud, or a poisoned jerkin from Grimm
seeping its curse onto my skin, the worst tattoo.

I shower and shave before I shrug on the shirt,
smell like a dream; but the shirt sours my scent

with the sweat and stink of fear. It’s got my number.
I poured him another shot. Speak on, my son. He did.
I’ve wanted to sport the shirt since I was a kid,

but now when I do it makes me sick, weak, paranoid.

All night above the team hotel, the moon is the ball

in a penalty kick. Tens of thousands of fierce stars

are booing me. A screech owl is the referee.

The wind’s a crowd, forty years long, bawling a filthy song

about my Wag. It’s the bloody shirt! He started to blub
like a big girl’s blouse and I felt a fleeting pity.
Don’t cry, I said, at the end of the day you’ll be back

on 100K a week and playing for City.


The unsavoury World Cup runneth over

Monday, 2 June, 2014 0 Comments

The ongoing debate about the holding of the World Cup in Brazil, a country challenged by poverty, inequality and crime, has moved to the back pages following the weekend’s revelations about the costs of staging the event in Qatar in 2022. These costs are not just measured in infrastructural expenditures, but in lives lost and destroyed and rampant sleaze in the run-up to the awarding of the tournament to the emirate. The alleged corruption is breathtaking:

“The Sunday Times said it had obtained a cache of hundreds of millions of documents and emails, which detailed conversations about payments and money transfers from accounts controlled by Bin Hammam, his family and Doha-based businesses. Among many other alleged payments to mid-ranking football officials and figures including the former footballer of the year George Weah, Bin Hammam paid a total of $1.6m to the disgraced former Fifa vice-president, Jack Warner, including $450,000 before the vote. Warner has always denied any wrongdoing.”

For the past four years, the world has been looking forward to a football festival in Brazil. It could still turn out to be a marvellous spectacle but there’s an uneasy feeling abroad that the game has sold its soul.


Dahoam is Dahoam is football

Sunday, 11 May, 2014 0 Comments

“Football’s comin’ Dahoam” chanted a group of Bayern Munich fans yesterday as their team celebrated winning the Bundesliga. The Bavarian saying “Dahoam is dahoam” (Home is home) is also the title of a popular soap opera about the lives of the residents of a fictitious village in Upper Bavaria where the characters speak in the kind of dialect that can be found in Hoamatgsang, a 19th-centry Austrian song by Franz Stelzhamer and Hans Schnopfhagen that became the anthem of Upper Austria.

Dahoam is dahoam,
Wannst net fort muaßt, so bleib;
Denn d’Hoamat is ehnter
Der zweit Muaderleib

FC Bayern


The ugly side of the Atlético Madrid-Chelsea game

Thursday, 1 May, 2014 0 Comments

It was a pleasure to watch Atlético Madrid defeat Chelsea FC 3-1 at Stamford Bridge last night. For those who don’t follow football, Chelsea is owned by Roman Abramovich, the poster child of corrupt Russian oligarchs. Last month, Alexei Navalny, a leading Putin critic, wrote in the New York Times that Europe should target sanctions at the Russian president’s “inner circle”, including Abramovich, who he described as “the Kremlin mafia who pillage the nation’s wealth.”

Atlético Madrid Does that mean, then, that Rainy Day is adding its considerable weight to the Atlético Champions League campaign? Not so fast. It happens that the coming Saturday is World Press Freedom Day and that’s why the slogan emblazoned across the Atlético shirts, “Azerbaijan Land of Fire”, is so disturbing. Here’s the background: “On the eve of World Press Freedom Day 2014, the press freedom situation in Azerbaijan is worse than perhaps ever before. Journalists and bloggers who dare to criticize the authorities or cover risky topics such as human rights abuses and corruption face a range of pressures, including harassment, intimidation, threats, blackmail, violent attack, and imprisonment.” That’s Rebecca Vincent writing for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

Football can be a beautiful game, but it’s often an ugly business.


David Moyes and the brutal game

Tuesday, 22 April, 2014 0 Comments

When football analysts reach for the cliché, which is frequently, “the beautiful game” is the one that’s especially prone to being abused. In the hands and mouths of the scribes and commentators, the grime of the modern entertainment is washed away by the application of the magical term. Watching the slow motion, public demotion of David Moyes, the Manchester United manager, however, it’s obvious that new clichés are needed.


World Cup ad does not mention World Cup

Friday, 4 April, 2014 0 Comments

Starring Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, England’s Wayne Rooney and Brazil’s Neymar, this video ad from Nike shows each of its sponsorees getting into the flow for the main event, which starts 69 days from today. But why is there no mention of the World Cup itself? Because up there with Coca Cola, Visa, Sony and Emirates is the name of Adidas, one of the top-line sponsors of Brasilia 2014 and one of Nike’s main rivals. Great clip, though.


Chelsea, before it became part of Londongrad

Friday, 14 March, 2014 0 Comments

In light of Sunday’s illegal referendum in Crimea, what now for the West? That is the question. Writing in the Financial Times, John Gapper makes a suggestion: “It could impose asset freezes and visa bans on a few selected oligarchs (perhaps seizing Chelsea Football Club from Roman Abramovich, the minerals magnate).”

Long before Chelsea became the home of resource thieves and their fawning retinues, Sir John Betjeman, the British Poet Laureate, was casting a wary eye on the borough. The transformation of spelling through texting was still a way off in 1977, but punk was in the air and Betjeman was convinced that “the kiddiz know the sound”. And for all those Stamford Bridge fans who think that there is no tomorrow, he reminds them, in gleeful anticipation of the inferno of the oligarchs, that “Satan stokes his furnace underground”. Here’s Chelsea 1977 from from The Best of Betjeman.

Chelsea 1977

The street was bathed in winter sunset pink
The air was redolent of kitchen sink
Between the dog-mess heaps I picked my way
To watch the dying embers of the day
Glow over Chelsea, crimson load on load
All Brangwynesque across the long King’s Road.
Deep in myself I felt a sense of doom
Fearful of death I trudge towards the tomb.
The earth beneath my feet is hardly soil
But outstretched chicken-netting coil on coil
Covering cables, sewage-pipes and wires
While underneath burn hell’s eternal fires.
Snap, crackle! pop! the kiddiz know the sound
And Satan stokes his furnace underground.

Sir John Betjeman (1906 — 1984)


Brazil is over

Tuesday, 7 January, 2014 0 Comments

For the Arsenal and England forward Theo Walcott, Brazil is very over. He’ll miss the rest of the season and the World Cup with a ruptured knee ligament. And it’s not looking so sunny, either, for the host country. “More than six years later, the outlook for Brazil’s oil industry, much like the Brazilian economy itself, is more sobering. Oil production is stagnant, the state-controlled oil company, Petrobras, is hobbled by debt, and foreign oil companies are wary of investing here.” So reports the Washington Post today in a piece titled “Brazil’s oil euphoria hits reality hard.”

And the Wall Street Journal piles it on: “Even Brazil, which has had far more responsible economic management than Venezuela or Argentina, is starting to struggle with rising prices and a boom in credit that is starting to turn. Last year, one Brazilian summed up the Atlantic bloc harshly: ‘Brazil is becoming Argentina, Argentina is becoming Venezuela, and Venezuela is becoming Zimbabwe.'”

Everything that seemed to be going so brilliantly for Brazil has started to go sour of late. The preparations for the World Cup have been marred by delays, deaths, and demonstrations against the diversion of resources from social spending to football stadiums and, in the bigger arena, Mexico’s economic revival has checked Brazil’s hopes of leading a renascent Latin America in the global power game. Last year was horrible for all the BRICs but the home of Pele was especially hard-hit. This year, US Fed tightening could spark a run on Brazilian assets. With the hosting of the World Cup and the Olympics, Brasilia dreamed of taking a leading place on the world stage. Now, the swagger is less assured and the talk is filled with the familiar complaints about a big country that never quite lives up to its promise and remains uncertain about its role.

Indicative of the doubt, is Brazil’s attitude to the American data thief, Edward Snowden. He wrote an open letter last month saying that he would assist the Brazilian government in its investigations into NSA spying in exchange for asylum. Publicly, the foreign ministry has hedged, saying it has not received a formal asylum request and therefore isn’t considering it, but it was the risk involved in angering Washington that prevented President Dilma Rousseff’s leftist government from easing Snowden’s passage from the grimness of Putin’s icy realm to the warmth of the Copacabana.

When it came to making the challenge, Brazil blinked. Not a good omen for the Seleção, that, this year.


The disgusting quenelle of the repulsive Nicolas Anelka

Monday, 30 December, 2013 0 Comments

Anti-Semitism is a hallmark of savagery, and one cannot expect anything from savages except further savagery. That’s the context in which the quenelle gesture used by West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka during Saturday’s Premiership match with West Ham United has to be viewed. Anelka is a friend of the racist comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala whose provocative downward version of the Nazi salute has won him a huge following in France.

“Anti-Semitism is the sign of profound mental and social failure — and a harbinger of more failures and errors to come,” notes Walter Russell Mead in The American Interest. The essay is titled “Jon Stewart, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and the Zionist Takeover of Egypt.” Snippet:

“Rabid anti-Semitism coupled with an addiction to implausible conspiracy theories is a very strong predictor of national doom; Nazi Germany isn’t the only country to have followed these dark stars to the graveyard of history. Many liberal minded Americans (though loathing both anti-Semitism and chowderheaded conspiracy thinking themselves) don’t like to look this truth in the eye. It leads to some very uncomfortable reflections about the potential for democracy in many countries beyond Egypt, and casts a dark shadow over the prospects for the development of a stable and prosperous Palestinian state. It suggests that there are narrow limits on what we can expect from diplomacy with Iran.”

There is no place in football for the poison that Anelka is spreading. Boot him out!


The Anglosphere faces a futebol challenge in Brazil

Monday, 9 December, 2013 0 Comments

Most reasonable people would agree that our world would be a far more barbaric place without the game that Ebenezer Morley helped codify 150 years ago and the lingua franca that enables people from Ghana to Ireland to share their enjoyment of it. When it comes to sport and communication, the Anglosphere is the gift that keeps on giving, but past and present generosity won’t count for much on 12 June next year when the World Cup kicks off in Sao Paulo. From then on, it’s nation against nation and the devil take the hindmost.

In the case of the Anglosphere, its representatives — Australia, England and the United States — were dealt a particularly cruel hand by the FIFA draw last Friday. The Socceroos of Australia have to face Spain, the Netherlands and Chile, while the Three Lions of England are pitted against Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica, and the United States must play Germany, Portugal and Ghana.

Superstar statistician Nate Silver, recently of the New York Times and now employed at ESPN, is already on the job and he’s come up with a matrix that plots each team’s probability of advancing beyond the group stage. It doesn’t look good for Australia, but Nate gives England and the USA a fighting chance, which is a jolly decent thing to do.

Brazil

Note: When Britain’s rule in Aden ended on 30 November 1967, the Secretary of State for Defence, Denis Healey, shared a nostalgic drink with Sir Charles Hepburn Johnston, the last Governor of the colony. As the two looked out across the Arabian Sea, with the sun setting for the final time on the British Empire east of Suez, Healey asked Johnston how he thought the British Empire would be remembered. Johnston replied that it would be remembered for only two things: “the game of soccer and the expression ‘fuck off'”.