Archive | November, 2010

The Blame Game

28 Nov

You know the world’s gone slightly awry when you actually find yourself empathising with football referees. Other than traffic wardens, politicians and bankers there probably isn’t a more vilified and criticised profession at present than that of the matchday official. Ten Scottish Football League games were called off this weekend with four more having to be officiated by foreign referees because of a strike by their colleagues. Emanating from increased criticism by managers, players and fans, the men with the whistles felt that they needed to down tools in order to demonstrate their growing discontent with how they are treated.

It can’t be easy being a referee. In many respects it’s a thankless task. Whatever you do, you will inevitably incur the wrath of those who perceive injustices occurring on the football pitch. While there is evidently a massive degree of human error that regularly happens within any game, the referee’s job is made nigh-on impossible when the game’s organising authority, FIFA, continues to refrain from alleviating the pressure by allowing technology to aid decision-making for matters of contention. And as seasons become more financially pressured with players and managers under the proverbial cosh, such mistakes are dissected, scrutinised and a referee’s frailties are being called to account with more and more venom.

A strike was felt necessary because it is the common vestige of the disenfranchised. It allows the aggrieved to articulate their concerns by refusing to comply with the status quo. What the referees were striking against was in essence the culture of blame which has taken hold of our society to such a degree that anything that is perceived as veering away from the norm is dismissed outright. If simple and honest oversights are made, rather than seeking to rectify a situation, we are more than likely to apportion blame.

Consider the teaching profession. My career as a teacher is forever stymied by the fact that I have to meet the targets set by those who do not actually experience what it is like to teach in a classroom. If those targets are not met, I will without question be called to account for my perceived failure. Without taking into account disaffection, innate ability and conventional teenage apathy, I am more than likely to be identified as a ‘poor’ teacher and my performance will be under greater scrutiny adding more pressure for me to perform minor miracles. It’s quite telling that nearly half of all newly qualified teachers leave the profession within five years. This cannot be just down to the fact that a lot of us suddenly wake up one morning and realise we’re just not cut out for the responsibility of moulding the minds of this country’s young.

People don’t begin teaching for the money. There’s something within them that makes them want to do some good in the world; to give back something of the knowledge and experience they have amassed over the years. I’ve always taught under the mantra: if a child leaves my lesson after an hour knowing something they didn’t an hour before, then I consider that a job well done. However, for many this will not suffice. Dot the ‘I’ and cross the ‘T’. In many respects it’s all about one’s worldview.

I am beginning to come to the conclusion that the real reason that many of my colleagues are choosing to leave the profession is because of the inability of many to show appreciation for the efforts we put in on a daily basis. Rather than constantly being held to account for our shortcomings, would it not be of greater benefit for our qualities to be celebrated? If my own experiences are anything to go by, a simple ‘well done’ or ‘you’re doing a great job’ would pay greater dividends than ‘why haven’t you entered this data onto the system yet?’

We’re always told that restorative justice will have far greater effects on our young people; rather than punish, aim to praise. Don’t adults respond in much the same manner? Wouldn’t we all be a lot happier if we went to jobs where we knew our efforts, ideas and input were truly valued and implemented? The Prime Minister’s so-called ‘happiness index’ would have a greater relevance if his taskforce concentrated on removing some of the impractical and sterile measures they are imposing on the population.

In essence, that’s really the reason as to why the Scottish referees went on strike. They feel unappreciated. It must be incredibly disheartening to turn up, week on week to do your job and be told, you’re not good enough, you’re a failure, you’re a wanker. Of course, nobody asks them to take on the responsibility, but if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have a game and the same goes for teachers and schools.

It won’t change anything, of course. People will leave teaching regardless and everybody will continue to hurl invectives at referees. But as a gesture, the strike gives us all a moment to reflect. How do we treat others? Could we do a specialised job better than others who are trained to do so? Is it so hard to pay another human being a compliment? Because in the end, if you’re constantly going to play the blame game, what’s the use in playing?


Further Reading:

World Cup Dispatch: 8th July – Diary Of A Nobody

Why are teachers leaving in droves? – The Guardian

Dispatches on In Bed With Maradona: Citizen Cantona


According To Type

21 Nov

In his machine gun tone of delivery, Chris Rock eloquently captured the distinctions in class within America’s Afro-American population. According to him, there are black people and there are niggaz. Rock has been criticised for his willingness to confront racial tensions in his stand-up shows and although much celebrated, this particular routine could be seen as reinforcing certain cultural stereotypes. However to say that would be to miss the diatribe’s point; that there is a distinct separation in terms of class and attitude amongst America’s black communities. It is more a case of how black people perceive themselves and how there will always be a minority that allows the media to stoke public perception.

I sadly missed the joyous comeback in Saturday’s North London derby. I was on a stag do, doing manly things like shooting strangers with paint, donning medieval attire and doing my best to assert some kind of masculinity in terms of alcohol consumption. I can safely report I failed in that regard. I am neither a born soldier, a natural dashing knight of the realm, nor a very good drinker. I am content in that sense. I know my limitations and I’m past the age of doing things to impress others. In other words, I’m a grown-up.

Whilst drinking in a desolate local pub, a group of Spurs fans turned up, cranking up the decibel level with understandable joy at their side’s victory. But they were physically and verbally intimidating. Crass, boorish and with little sense of personal space and decorum. Being the only Spurs fan in the party, I was nominated to go to the bar that they had commandeered to get the next round in. “Go on, you’re one of them, get the drinks in,” I was summarily despatched.

Now of course, the comment was an aside and wasn’t designed to mean anything other than what it was but I began to contemplate the very nature of belonging to a particular tribe. Football is a broad church and welcomes anybody. More so than sports like cricket and rugby that have in the past been unfairly labelled as elitist. Football has been enjoyed through a multitude of social strata. In it’s formative years the game was a public school pastime. It was the preserve of the factory workers in the early part of the twentieth century. Industrialists spread the game like Christian missionaries as the Industrial Revolution encompassed the globe. In Vienna, the game was mulled over by intellectuals in cafes in the 1930s as it is now, in the coffee houses of Islington where you can see how the game has been gentrified over the generations; The Guardian superseding The Sun as the paper of choice at the Emirates.

The only thing that binds all these disparate souls together is the game itself. However, why we all love and how we perceive the game owes largely to our cultural and social attitudes and upbringing. There are people whose understanding of the game does not stretch beyond the transfer rumour mill of the Murdoch-owned media machine. The game for them is about beating the other lot. Bragging rights. Asserting one’s superiority over the other. It’s tribal and has its roots in those first primitive steps taken by our cave-dwelling ancestors. In other words, football fills the void that has been left once the feudal instinct has been deemed archaic.

Message boards are filled with bile towards opposing sets of fans. The infamous Leeds chant aimed at Manchester United’s darkest hour in Munich fifty years ago being a case in point. Or Spurs fans, abusing Sol Campbell with disgraceful insinuations and racial jibes. There are too many who hate their rivals with such passion that they’d rather see their ‘enemies’ suffer than their team succeed. All this attitude ever seems to achieve is the confirmation of pre-conceived notions about football by those who have no great love for it. Hence, why Margaret Thatcher and her sympathisers withiin the game jumped at the chance to aggressively impose ID cards and caged, electrified terraces in the 1980s. Because there are always those who act without thought. And with that we get lumpen behaviour. Which leads to hooliganism. Which leads to Heysel.

Of course I wanted Spurs to beat Arsenal, but I just don’t have it in me to spit venom at their fans. I’ll have a joke with them and a banter but the very idea of an Arsenal fan being on their own in a pub full of Spurs fans, fearing for their safety is just something that should not happen. Are all Millwall fans racist? Are all Spurs fans Jewish? Do all Newcastle fans have a fetish for going topless? Of course not. And neither are we all tattooed, beer-guzzling, skinheads with a propensity for lewd behaviour.

There are so many articulate and socially astute football blogs out there to read. Go and find them. And there are people who understand that the game resonates far beyond the limited horizons of the Premier League or Sky Sports or getting pissed and doing a wanker sign at the opposing fans. One of my favourite moments in my many years of going to White Hart Lane was having a chat with a West Brom fan after a 1-1 draw. We assessed the game. We shrugged. I wished him luck for his team’s battle against relegation. He wished Spurs luck for the rest of the season. We went our separate ways. The moment’s simplicity and mutual respect has stayed with me ever since.

Chris Rock says there a black people and there are niggaz. The only thing they share is a darker shade of skin. I say there are football fans and there are football fanz. The only thing we share is the love of the game. Other than that and maybe even because of it, we have nothing in common. And if you’re going to the bar, mine’s a skinny latte….



How Do You Solve A Problem Like Joey?

14 Nov

Much of my working week is spent thinking about and working out the narrative for Sunday’s Dispatch. This obviously has a detrimental effect on my career path and bores my closest ones intensely as I probe for and mull over ideas ad nauseum but such is the proverbial albatross for a football obsessive.

I’d been assembling a piece on the nature of redemption. There seems to be a lot of it in the zeitgeist at present. There’s Anne Widdecombe worming her way into the nation’s affections with her erstwhile attempts to execute a Charleston or a Foxtrot on Strictly. As she gets dragged heftily across the dancefloor and escapes the public elimination on a weekly basis, it would seem that we all have undergone a collective bout of amnesia with regard to her heinous views on issues such as homosexuality and immigration. Then there’s George W Bush’s cringeworthy attempts to redefine the pages of history with the publication of his memoirs in which he somehow claims that the angry taunts of a rapper were by far the lowest points of his presidency whilst standing steadfastly in favour of the US’ torture of terror suspects. Even Take That and Robbie Williams are at it, with a new documentary exposing Robbie’s long-awaited and emotional reunion with his bandmates after years of public feuding and recriminations.

Everybody it would seem is after a second chance.

And then there’s Joey Barton. I was planning to write a positive piece about Newcastle’s volatile midfielder and how he seemed to have gone a long way to rebuilding his tattered reputation this season, playing as he does for a club that in itself has undergone a redemption of sorts under the stewardship of the modestly unassuming Chris Hughton.

But sadly Joey’s dark side went and manifested itself. Again. Barton took it upon himself to dispense justice and administered Blackburn’s Morten Gamst Pederson with a punch to the ribs on Wednesday night, resulting in a three game ban.The media was understandably filled with condemnation for a player who had seemingly put his past behind him and finally managed to concentrate on the positive aspects of his play that have always been evident. At the beginning of the week, he came to his team-mate Andy Carroll’s defence with regard to the troubled striker’s impending and deserved England call-up saying:

“Sometimes you need the players who don’t always toe the line. Hopefully they will stop worrying about [the] Goody Two Shoes image which the sponsors want for England. They need to start picking players to win matches.”

I was inclined to agree and was already working out the Dispatch. But after Wednesday night, you had to wonder if some individuals are beyond redemption. Maybe the weight of history, of personal incidences, of the circus surrounding those in the most glaring of industries, limits the chances for personal well-being. Especially when one lives on the fragile line between emotional stability and thuggery as Barton does.

Barton’s role-call of dishonour makes shameful reading. There have been attacks on fans, Nazi salutes, horror tackles and police arrests. It is a portrait of a man who if he wasn’t coseted by the bubble of Premier League opulence, would more than likely be in out and out of prison with regularity. This is a man who grew up in a broken home on a Liverpool estate and has admitted that if it wasn’t for football, he would have become embroiled in both drugs and crime. His half-brother, Michael was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the racially motivated murder of Anthony Walker in 2005. He has had to deal with his demons and the obvious distresses caused by his personal situation in the public glare. But the Daily Mail’s Patrick Collins dispensed characteristic intolerance for Barton by dismissing his anger issues as “pretentious”. While Barton does not do himself any favours by fuelling the media witch-hunt against him, having compared himself to ‘the anti-Christ, Chairman Mao and Hitler’, in light of his footballing ability, Joey Barton is certainly not the incarnation of Satan on Earth and pretention is no way an adequate description of his negative character traits. Dangerous, misguided or even tragic would be far more appropriate terminology to use.

Which leads me to the crux of the argument. As a culture, as a society, do we choose our heroes and our villains? I have written extensively about Paul Gascoigne’s turmoils on this blog and it would appear to an outsider, that Gazza by virtue of his personality and his prodigious talent is viewed more favourably than Barton is. Joey Barton, is not as beloved a character and consequently his misdemeanours, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly are scrutinised with ever more intensity. Whatever you might think of him, there have been teams that have been clearly out to goad and provoke a reaction from him throughout this season. It’s a wonder that he hasn’t exploded sooner.

Barton has always been a technically gifted footballer. He may not be a particularly likeable person and he clearly carries a lot of baggage with him. I cannot in any way condone his actions on Wednesday night but at the same time, to dismiss him as a thug and a wastrel shows little or no compassion. Yes, there are both players and people out there who have to deal with their own set of problems on a daily basis and don’t resort to violence but does such public vilification really have any kind of positive effect on this man or does it merely entrench his own attitudes and frailties?

Intolerance is the world-view promoted by the likes of Widdecombe and Bush and there are thousands of people willing to overlook what they have done politically because they dance badly and overcame a drink problem respectively. According to our Prime Minister, even the Chinese government’s propensity for human rights abuses can be overlooked. Has Joey Barton run out of chances? Is he is beyond help? Maybe. But if Take That can exercise some of that much-vaunted patience with Robbie, is it possible that we can extend some of that to a ravaged soul like Joey Barton? Or are we a society that turns its back willingly?

Next time Joey, count to ten. You’ll make my Dispatches a lot easier to write.

Further Reading: Schoolboys Own Stuff: Dispatch – 17th October

Dispatches on the Net: Local derbies: pointless, sterile, anachronistic?

My Eyes Have Seen The Glory

7 Nov

Sometimes there a moments in life that burn themselves into one’s psyche. They promise numerous re-tellings with the passing of years and serve to capture a small essence of just how glorious human endeavour and capability can be. The night of Tuesday 2nd November 2010 was, without falling into the trap of over-exaggerated hyperbole and believe me that is a distinct possibility, one of those splendidly rare occurrences. It was a night which demonstrated just how a collective will, working in tandem with the singular flair of an individual can triumph so comprehensively over the gargantuan obstacles of history, received wisdom and seemingly superior resources.

Tottenham’s triumph over Inter Milan, the Champions of Europe was a display borne out of fearlessness. In the numerous duals that were fought out all over the hallowed pitch of White Hart Lane, the players deployed by Harry Redknapp all emerged victorious but it was in the shape of a 21 year-old Welshman, that the night found its true apotheosis. As he did in the San Siro two weeks before, Gareth Bale attacked Inter’s right flank with a breathtaking show of power, speed and guile which had no reverence for illustrious reputations of his adversaries. So much so that he reduced arguably the best right-back on the planet, Maicon, to be being hailed a cab by the home support and eliciting petulant acts of foot-stamping from Brazil’s behemoth of a captain, Lucio. Bale’s heroics will have already entered White Hart Lane’s pantheon of greatness but it was the reaction of the world’s assembled media in the aftermath that has precipitated some concern.

The speculation regarding Bale’s future has already begun in earnest and it would seem that the predatory instincts of the game’s mega-clubs have already honed in on N17 in the hope of prizing away ‘the next big thing’. Bale was refreshingly modest about his performance and has pledged to see out his contract at Spurs. By all intents and purposes he is a young man with his feet firmly rooted in reality, so much so that he remarked that his Man of the Match bottle of champagne would be stored away as a souvenir as he is resoundingly tee-total. But the fear remains that the temptation will be too overwhelming to keep him at a club that is progressing rather than firmly established. In a world where the quick-fix is so venerated in the form of instant credit and instant celebrity, will Bale and Spurs merely cash in now rather than holding firm for a future that could potentially be magical? Or in his modesty, are we seeing the emergence of a less vainglorious footballer?

Witness the bile and frustration thrown towards Barack Obama in the United States on the day of the Inter match. It was only two years ago, on November 4th, that his victory in the Presidential election provided all of humanity with another one of those rare moments of hope that I have already alluded to. Obama campaigned on a platform of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ and in his quietly assuming and erudite fashion, he has attempted to make America a far more socially conscious society. His plans for healthcare reform were an indication that there was a realisation that the poorest in society cannot and should not be left to fend for themselves. He has made the US a far less aggressive global policeman with his timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. After years in which the cult of the individual was allowed to dismantle both the financial and industrial institutions under the watch of Ronald Reagan, the Bushes and sadly even Bill Clinton, Obama maintained that if the country was willing to sacrifice its propensity for the ‘I’m alright, Jack’ mentality then change was surely a possibility. Not immediately, granted. But the promise was there.

And what has he got in return for this? The mid-term elections went a long way to showing that the American people were unsatisfied with the progress he has made in two years. Apparently, his presidency was a shame. If you take the time to surf the news channels, you’ll find America’s cultural barometers, the news networks, regularly undermine and ridicule a man they hailed not so long ago. The powerful and controversial Fox News host, Glenn Beck, has openly called Obama a ‘racist’ and seeks to promote him as a godless advocate of post-colonial communism. Key players in Beck’s anti-Washington TEA Party movement such as Sharron Angle have spread nothing but innuendo and vicious gossip with the intention of demonising a President who inherited an economic crisis rather than creating it. Ms Angle suggested that since Obama’s gaining of office, parts of Texas are now operating under Sharia law. And then there’s the erstwhile Sarah Palin, who is being regarded as credible prospect for running against Obama in 2012 because she represents ‘simple folk’.

In his final speech before his assassination in 1968, Dr Martin Luther King Jr proclaimed: “I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

Having reached the promised land in 2008, Obama is rightly or wrongly, discovering that once you reach the zenith, the descent is usually far more stinging and that surrounding you are others who either want to ground you or obstruct you. Just as Spurs are finding that their promised land of the Champions League is potentially double-edged. Having taken on Europe’s elite with such fearlessness, Redknapp has a team and a player in Bale that is now open for attack by lesser teams and increasingly covetous glances from those with more financial clout than Spurs.

What the future holds for both Obama and Bale, of course nobody can tell. However, what we witnessed on both those November nights were magical vignettes of what can be achieved and dreamed of when the promised land is merely a dot on the horizon. It is these moments that get written into history. Not Glenn Beck. Not Sarah Palin. Not Bolton’s defeat of Spurs four days later.  Meanwhile, that taxi’s still waiting for you Mr Maicon…


Further reading: League Of Faith: Dispatch – 29th August

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