Archive | January, 2011

Pulped Friction

30 Jan

Note: This Dispatch should be read in an American accent

It wasn’t supposed to end this way was it, Keys? We were comfortable, secure – on a one-way ticket to easy retirement with a view to sipping on pina coladas on the Copacabana in three years time where the girls are brown but golden to the touch. So much for forward planning, huh? They don’t amount to a hill of beans when you don’t reckon for a twist of cruel fate’s gnarled hand and a moment of careless madness. And who’d have thought we’d be here now? Without friends and without hope, drifting towards the boulevard of broken dreams, just a side-street away from Palookaville. We were careless, lazy, some might say we’d played our hand and lost. It’s a tough game we play and there’ll always be losers. We hadn’t reckoned for a dame though and that was the point…

It started out a day, like any other. You and I were doing our regular number, calling the shots on the box for our boss, The Fox who was out of town taking care of business Stateside. Although, we were low down in the chain of command, he could trust us to man his operation from the front. He had bigger fish to fry that week.

The Fox was trying to consolidate his media empire but things had got messy. One of his loyal lieutenants had gone over his head, got mixed up with a gang of politicos hungry for his contact sheet and forgot to tie up loose ends before he bailed. This wiseguy, Coulson they called him, had employed a bunch of private dicks to spy on the wealthy and the glamorous. The Fox was after information he could use in order to titillate the man on the street and keep his mind off the bigger picture. All off-the-record, on the QT and very hush-hush, of course. But Coulson, got sloppy. Left a trail as slippery as a snail on a banana skin. And it came back bad on The Fox. Action had to be taken cos the heat was coming down bad and it didn’t play out too good when our boss was busy trying to muscle into a full-on takeover of a rival organisation.

What had that got to do with us, right? Two stand-up guys, doing our jobs, spreading his message to those who would listen and even those who wouldn’t. And then she came into our lives. Running the line, like she’d been doing it for years. Her hand moving up and down like one of those two-bit golden cats you get down in dives in Chinatown. She was a broad in a man’s world and we didn’t like it; showing us up for our own vices. What could we do Keys but speak our minds in private? You said “the world’s gone mad” and my friend you were right. Cos like a deck of cards, the listening devices so beloved by that worm Coulson and The Fox, finally came back to bite us like a snake with a headache. We were heard, Keys. Caught red-handed, making remarks and The Fox didn’t need the extra heat.

Cos once it was out of the box, that moll Brady weighed in. You told her to “do [us] a favour”, Keys. She just twisted the knife. This toots, this floozy, this doxy in stilettos had the ear of too many players and our time was ticking away like a bomb about to explode in our beds. She’s mouthed off about how bimbos weren’t treated fairly using The Fox’s legitimate business ventures for her soundboard. She’d conveniently forgotten how our boss pedals images of tits and ass on his third page every day. Or that she was on the payroll of a known purveyor of soft porn. Sullivan was his name. And he liked his dames in pencil skirts and fast with the talk. Brady was even known to do a spot of moonlighting with one of the other Bosses; known to all who know her as her Sugar Daddy. This femme fatale had all the bases covered, working them all to her advantage and calling the shots. Keys, we should have just kept our mouths shut.

But we were pawns, see. In the fading light, after they had taken me down in a hail of verbal bulletry, you took one for me too, pal. You told them all, there were “darker forces” at play here. The Fox had neglected his operations here for too long and he’d come back to sweep the decks clean. He had to take care of business for himself and he’d realised that the only way to secure his monopoly once and for all was to cut out the dead wood. He was the Boss after all and he needed to be seen to be making the right moves. Especially after he found out that the rat Coulson had been spying on his own. I should know, I was one of them, Keys. And I was about to pull the trigger when all this blew up in our faces. So The Fox whacked us all last week, in one almighty powerplay – Coulson, you, me. There’s more to come I hear. So while everybody else is getting all wrapped up in the he saids, she saids, The Fox has made sure his organisation will be as strong as ever. Cleaner, friendlier. A legitimate business for legitimate ends. It won’t be too long before we see Brady cosying up to him – if she hasn’t done so already.

Keys, old friend, I don’t understand this world either. What happened to our simple life? Where men were men? Women were women? Maybe we are out-of-step with this crazy excuse for a planet. I guess there are bigger things at play here, right? Things that you and I will never understand. But you know, the world will always be run by folk like The Fox. In the end, it’s about who has the most cash in their pocket rather than what you can hold through the lining.

Keys, this might be the end of our beautiful on-screen friendship, but hey, there’s always Rio, right?

Follow Dispatches From A Football Sofa on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

23 Jan

It was billed as an alternative to Newsnight. With much trumpeting on our airwaves, billboards and computer screens, Channel 4’s new satirical television show 10 o’clock Live made its debut last Thursday night promising much. Attempting to harness the creative and celebrated talents of presenters, comedians and cultural commentators such as The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker and Peep Show’s David Mitchell what we were infact  subjected to was a series of hackneyed one-liners, sneering asides and lazy tub-thumping aimed at utilising the partisan audience’s pre-existing disdain for authority. It all came across as an exercise in smugness by all involved. How sad.

Meanwhile, over on the BBC, political heavyweights George Galloway and Alastair Campbell locked horns yet again over the definition of New Labour and the Iraq conflict. Galloway as ever using the full arsenal of his considerable vitriolic rhetoric to liken the former spin doctor to Lord Haw-Haw and Goebbels whilst his adversary retaliated with accusations of sycophancy on Galloway’s part with his dealings with Saddam Hussein. And lo and behold, there was Tony Blair giving another unrepentant and shameful defence of his actions to the Chilcot Inquiry yet again on Friday. Oh dear. It’s like 2003 all over again.

Everywhere you looked this week, it seemed as if you were watching the same old faces doing their same old schtick on a sticky loop. And as a result, all that we were watching were bad photocopies of bad photocopies diminishing with increasing rapidity. How many more times can we see Jimmy Carr deliver one of his stilted and ‘close-to-the bone’ quips? Can you really separate Mitchell from his Peep Show alter-ego anymore? And seriously, who looks at Campbell and doesn’t think Malcolm Tucker these days?

And then a chink of light shone through the fug of hot air in the form of the Burnley central defender and chairman of the Professional Footballer’s Association, Clarke Carlisle. His appearance on Question Time was the first made by a professional footballer and while not setting the world alight, he came across as an articulate and thoughtful man who was not afraid to speak his mind and challenge the stereotypical notions that footballers are only concerned with material pursuits.

Carlisle spoke with eloquence on the subject of the war in Iraq, questioning the transparency of the attorney general’s advice to Blair in the run-up to the conflict. He astutely brought the audience with him as he told the story of his cousin who is currently serving in Afghanistan that garnered a far more considered and humane response from Campbell. He might have been prone to leaning a little too heavily upon footballing analogies and his views were not always going to carry favour with everybody who watched the show, but nevertheless, his quiet, thoughtful and refreshing presence on the panel highlighted the Punch and Judy show that Galloway, Campbell and all their contemporaries have subjected us all to for years.

The same can be said of Match of the Day; a show that is fast-becoming an anachronistic remnant of an era in which football was not as highly saturated as it is now. Everybody on the show looks either bored or tired. There was a time when Gary Lineker’s stewardship of the show was viewed as a breath of fresh air. The bad puns were amusing and his casual charm seemed to break away from the behind-desk stiffness of the Jimmy Hill/Des Lynam era. Alan Hansen, though never one of the world’s great raconteurs, provided intelligent tactical analysis and even Mark Lawrenson had something to say. Last night’s show confirmed that it either needs to be drastically re-vamped or put out of its misery once and for all. The much-maligned Alan Shearer once again spoke in nothing other than clichés and couldn’t even deliver the phrase ‘fought for one another’ with any degree of cogency. Lineker made a cringe-inducing Shakespearean link using Romeo Beckham and the word ‘hitherto’ and despite Dimitar Berbatov’s third hat-trick of the season for Manchester United, the analysis centred and obsessed once again around the apparent return to form of Wayne Rooney. Even a mainstay like Goal of the Month has lost its appeal, with no prize on offer for predicting the right order. Seems as though everybody’s going through the motions.

And then finally, the news broke today of an off-mic tirade delivered by Sky’s anchorman Richard Keys and chief pundit Andy Gray, disparaging the involvement of a female assistant referee at the televised match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Liverpool yesterday afternoon. Commenting on Sian Massey, Keys remarked: “Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.” Added to this, the pair also went on to belittle West Ham managing director Karren Brady’s observations on sexism that she had made in a newspaper article on the same day. Keys said:

The game’s gone mad. Did you hear charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Do me a favour, love.

It seems as though it’s time that many of these ‘old’ faces were put out to pasture. There appears to be an ever-growing disconnection with the way the world works beyond the safe and innocuous cocoon of back-slapping. As a consumer, I do not have to accept willingly the diet of casual laziness and sloganeering offered up to me on a daily basis. And neither should you. There are other ways to stay informed as The Guardians Top 100 Football Blogs To Follow in 2011 proves. I am discovering more and more astute, original and thoughtful writers as my own blog has developed. It’s not too much to demand something new. After all, if we didn’t, we’d still be swinging in trees. So Ruud Gullit managing in Chechnya is a good thing. Tottenham and West Ham wanting to move to Stratford is a good thing. And who knows? Maybe even staging a World Cup in Qatar might be a good thing. Just don’t get Jimmy Carr to deliver the gag…

Further Reading: The Revolution Must Be Televised by Juliet Jacques

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

Mind Your Language

16 Jan

Despite being seriously overworked this week and in desperate need of an early night, it was nigh-on impossible to allow myself to settle down under the duvet with a good read on Wednesday night until I’d seen the highlights and post-match reaction to Blackpool’s historic win over a shambolic Liverpool side. This enforced apnoea had nothing to do with how Liverpool’s rapid descent into the footballing twilight zone was to be dissected with yet more non-confrontational and placid pronouncements from ‘King’ Kenny. It had everything to do with one man who has single-handedly transformed the post-match interview and has become more essential in viewing terms than any of his opposite numbers in the media-conscious summit of the Premier League. Take a bow, Ian Holloway.

Holloway will rightly receive the acclaim for the refreshing courageousness with which his Blackpool side has taken on all-comers in their first excursion into the top flight since the Premier League era began. But what has truly set Holloway apart from his peers whilst introducing him to a wider global audience, is his apparent refusal to submit himself to the bland realms of cliché and empty pronouncement. Unafraid to speak his mind, he has taken on FIFA’s might by pithily dismissing the thinking behind moving Qatar’s World Cup to the winter months by sarcastically stating in December:

“Happy Christmas. You wait ‘til I get home, I’m going to tell my turkeys, ‘don’t worry, it ain’t Christmas – we’re moving it. It’s alright, you’ve got some respite… I’ve had a word with FIFA and we’re going to move it. Fantastic!’”

However, it’s not only Holloway’s refusal to kowtow to the powers that be that makes him so watchable. It is his turn of phrase which shows a unique application of how the English language can be utilised for effect when diverging away from platitudes and overused statements that demands that he should be held up in as high a regard as that other celebrated purveyor of the tongue, Stephen Fry. Witness how he beautifully mangles a metaphor to his advantage when referring to a particularly hard-fought and ugly victory:

A win’s a win. To put it in gentleman’s terms, if you go out on the night and you’re looking for a young lady, and you pull one – you know, some weeks they’re good-looking, and some weeks they’re not the best. She wasn’t the best-looking lady we’ve ended up taking home, but she was very pleasant, very nice, and thanks very much – let’s have a coffee.”

While his use of emotive language might not fit in too well with Education Secretary Michael Gove’s ideas on the English Baccalaureate that seeks to impose uniformity on young people, Holloway nevertheless shows that when used with originality and flair by a well-considered individual, words really can resonate, entertain and enlighten. But in order to do so, they must be in possession of someone who has a complete mastery and command of what they are saying.

If only someone would point this out to our friends across the Atlantic. The tragic events that took place in Tuscon, Arizona this week (that saw 22 year-old gunman, Jared Loughner kill six and injure fourteen outside a supermarket) have sadly once again highlighted the dangers of speaking with impunity and with little regard of the consequences of what comes out of your mouth.

I’m not suggesting Sarah Palin prompted this troubled young man to embark on his killing spree but her use of inflammatory rhetoric before and after the tragedy betrays a person who has little or no regard for sensitivity and furthermore builds a picture of someone who actually has no idea about the words emanating from her heavily glossed lips. America’s right-wing has become more and more vicious in its attacks on the perceived liberal outlook subscribed to by President Obama and his political colleagues.

Switch on Fox News at any time of the day and you will be witness to some truly outrageous worldviews that seek to denigrate and vilify President Obama. Of course, it’s never libelous because the network relies heavily upon innuendo, suggestion and carefully selected adjectives. But if you are promoting an idea that your President is a “racist”, as Glenn Beck has done on more than one occasion, then don’t be surprised if this spills out onto the streets of America and fans the flames of confrontation. Mrs Obama has recently been labelled a ‘fascist’ on right-wing talk radio, for instance. Does anybody in their right mind (no pun intended) seriously entertain such ideas?

What’s worse is when the totems of the Republican Party display a complete ignorance of what they are actually promoting. Responding to building criticism of her divisive language, Ms Palin stated:

“Within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn”

The term ‘blood libel’ refers to an accusation or claim that religious minorities, most notably Jews, were open to ritualized murder, especially that of young children. By attempting to justify her position, Ms Palin only further served to intensify the anger towards her philosophies by comparing her situation to a systematic act of racial hatred, something that appeared in doubly bad taste since Democrat Representative Gabrielle Giffords who was shot at point blank range and remains critically ill in hospital, is herself Jewish. Whether Palin’s use of such a specific term was calculated for effect or as I suggested, highlights her (or more specifically, her speechwriters) linguistic frailties nevertheless forces us to consider the notion of free speech itself.

Whilst we all have a right to an opinion, it does not necessarily give us carte blanche to make that known at every available opportunity. There is such a thing as tact. A little more of that might be what’s needed in the USA right now. And if that’s not possible, then maybe US politicians might look to take a leaf out of Ian Holloway’s book. A little humour, intelligence and originality in what you say will win you many friends. It will even keep people from catching up on much needed sleep.

Further Reading: Taking The Mick – Dispatch 19th September

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

A Sunday Sermon

9 Jan

Today’s sermon will comprise three parables alluding to the events of this most tumultuous of weeks in the Premier League parish.

The Parable of the Southern Man

After enjoying much success and acclaim with his powers of healing the most afflicted of organisms, a southern man was sent for by one of the warring kingdoms of the north-west to restore the health of one of its ailing tribes. Unbeknownst to the southern man, the tribe was in the midst of a bloody civil war that only served to inflict further wounds on a body that was suffering the ravages of the decaying of time.

In time, the rulers were slain and new chieftans bestrode the land. The new rulers were unfamiliar with the powers of the southern man but nevertheless, seeking counsel, resolved to retain his services promising that the southern man’s capacities would remain undiminished.

The southern man, whose peculiarities of speech and dialect greatly differed from those he had come to serve and thus invoked consternation and bewilderment amongst the local tribesmen, pleaded for a greater variety of resources in order to fortify and prepare his soothing ointments. These ingredients would take time to source and would require a thorough exploration of the known world with an unlimited chest of riches at his disposal.

He begged this for nigh-on six shifts of the moon, but while he did so, the chieftans and their people grew impatient as more wounds were inflicted on the already afflicted body. The southern man was denounced as a charlatan. Unable to make himself understood, he was banished from the northern kingdom, his reputation tarnished. The chieftans thus sought to quell the stirrings of the masses by appointing a trusted nobleman as their new shaman whose past deeds in the kingdom would serve to pacify the rumblings of rebellion.

The moral: Don’t ask for time and understanding to rectify the mistakes of those who have gone before you. You won’t get it.

The Parable of the Italian who knew his place

A man from the glittering Italian shores was appointed to oversee the continuing success and wealth of a plutocrat from the Russian landmass. He was so entrusted on the strength that he had already managed to bolster the standing of another wealthy merchant in the land from whence he came.

“Bring me riches and acclaim,” said the Russian, “and I will ensure that you will be revered and saluted by all who cross your path forever more”.

“I will do as you surely ask,” replied the Italian, safe in the knowledge that he had acquired skills and powers and the ability to motivate those he oversaw in his homeland.

And this he promptly did. In under a year he brought double the expectation, by not only using his considerable acumen but also motivating a workforce that was not appointed by him.

However, the workers had grown bloated on success and were beginning to show an appetite for pursuits beyond their vocation. Suddenly, without friends and trusted advisors, the Italian found himself isolated as his brow became increasingly furrowed and his hair showed the signs of premature aging.

For the Russian was a greedy man. He was not content with success in the domestic market. He craved greater glory and was unwilling to apportion blame on his loyal workers from times past, unaware that such rapid growth was a new way of living for such a modest organisation.

As his returns began to diminish, the Italian was resigned to his fate. He merely shrugged and whispered quietly (for he didn’t know who to trust), “there’s no place like home”.

The moral: Just because you did well once, don’t expect to use that as an excuse for failure in the here and now.

The Parable of the non-believer who courted the Messiah

There was a man who took great pride in the things he had achieved. What he had in terms of possessions were acquired by the strength of his own character and his instinct to spot a bargain. He was modest enough not to crow about this quality (although there were times when he did grow weary of having this talent lauded by his peers and admirers).

He wasn’t universally liked but most people who came across him were quick to point out that he was a refreshingly simple soul who spoke without paying much heed to the niceties of diplomacy and masquerading.

As a teacher, he found those under his tutelage thriving under his unconventional methods of arms-around-shoulder and promoting the benefits of enjoyment. Those who before his arrival had shown signs of unrealised talent, now flourished as they used their new-found confidence to best the results of wealthier and more influential establishments.

Nevertheless, the man felt that he was lacking something in his life. He wanted total affirmation from everybody within his sphere and it had been pointed out to him on more than one occasion that an absence of faith in his life was what created such doubts. Too many times he had dallied with other faiths but to little avail.

That was until he laid eyes on a blonde Messiah emanating from another Galaxy. Once he felt his presence close, he knew that he would move heaven and earth to have him by his side, however brief such a visitation might be. The Messiah would lift everybody in the school and was guaranteed to raise attainment, so the man kept telling everybody.

But the man’s new found belief in spirituality did not take into account the Messiah’s followers who would descend upon the school in their legions, flashing lightbulbs and screaming questions at all involved, thus distracting the current cohort from its notable achievements thus far.

The Messiah did arrive and he did leave. The man was left to rue his dalliance with such divinity. For now, his students had been blinded by the light.

The Moral: Don’t believe the hype.

In the name of the Roy, the Carlo and the Holy Harry.


The Certainty Of Chance

2 Jan

For many of us, a new year brings with it the promise of new beginnings. Fresh challenges are there to be overcome. Old habits are consigned to the receding memory of the year that has gone as we try to re-mould and re-shape our personalities and foibles in the hope that the coming year will make us better people in some capacity. It just so happens that this particular year ends in a ‘one’. Fans of Tottenham Hotspur are particularly well-versed in the significance of that number and over the coming months, commentators and pundits will take every available opportunity to remind us all that whenever the year ends in a one, ‘it’s lucky for Spurs’. Watch out everybody, I can already hear the conversation taking place as Chas gives Dave a ring and says “Let’s get the band back together, for old time’s sake”.

Here’s a quick history lesson. Pay attention. By May, you’ll know this off by heart. During the twentieth century, years ending in the number one garnered two League Championships, five FA Cups and one League Cup for the north London club. Not only that but they also produced moments in the club’s folklore which have become mythological in their re-telling over the years: the only non-league side ever to win the FA Cup in 1901, the first club in the twentieth century to achieve the League and Cup Double in 1961, Ricky Villa’s stupendously outrageous dribble in the 1981 Cup Final and in 1991, Gazza, simply Gazza.

With such a roll-call of honours, it’s no surprise that the media will gain a lot of mileage out of the coming year when writing about Spurs, producing puff pieces involving soothsayers and charlatans looking into crystal balls and reading tarot cards as they predict glory and success for Harry Redknapp’s side. There’s phone calls with Russell Grant’s and Mystic Meg’s names on it too… everybody gets paid when the year ends in a one.

While I understand that essentially, it’s all a bit of fun for the media, I find it bemusing that there will be people out there who genuinely will attach meaning and significance to this year for Spurs. Of course, the omens seem good. Spurs are enjoying the best season they have had for nearly a generation and are purveyors of the kind of cavalier football that many regulars at White Hart Lane have been raised to believe is the club’s natural inclination. In Gareth Bale, a true superstar has emerged but throughout the squad from the all-action style of Rafael van der Vaart to the subtlety of Luka Modric or the leadership of Michael Dawson and William Gallas, Spurs fans are witnessing a truly great team being moulded before us. They have already provided us with the stuff of myth as they humiliated Inter Milan and overturned Arsenal at the Emirates with such style. However, I don’t believe this has anything to do with any particular alignment of the stars as some might have you think.

Even the greatest players are pre-disposed to attaching meaning to seemingly insignificant and random gestures. Apparently, Johan Cruyff used to slap his goalkeeper Gert Bals in the stomach and spit chewing gum into the opposition’s half before kick-off while he was at Ajax. When he forgot his gum, Ajax lost the 1969 European Cup final to Milan, 4-1. And Pelé ordered a friend to track down a fan to whom he’d given one of his shirts, believing this had been the reason that he had suffered a dip in form. Having been given it back, Pelé’s potency returned, though unbeknownst to him that his friend had been unable to track the fan down and merely gave him a replica.

As a human race, we tend to use superstitions in order to make sense of the chaos that surrounds us all. Believing that a simple shirt will enhance your performance has about as much relevance as thinking that the clumsiness of breaking a mirror will unleash upon you seven years of trial and tribulation or that happening to see a solitary magpie will be the harbinger of woe in your life.

The same can be said of course, for putting too much stock in statistics. We may all love a bit of trivia from John Motson and his ilk but as the word suggests, it’s just trivia. If we believed in statistics, Wolves may as well not have turned up at Anfield, seeing as they hadn’t beaten Liverpool for twenty-seven years prior to Wednesday’s game. Chelsea fans used to derive much ‘hilarity’ from labelling Spurs’ ground ‘Three Point Lane’ during the period when a win against our West London rivals was a nigh-on impossibility. But as recent results suggest, times change and statistics are there to be overturned.

Life on earth is really just a series of happy accidents amidst a chaotic framework. The same goes for football. A run of bad results has nothing to do with whether or not you play your matches on a Sunday or a Saturday. It is entirely dependent upon the quality of players that a manager has at his disposal, the organisational tactics employed to achieve the result, the luck of having an injury-free treatment room and the personal chemistry that exists among the disparate personalities within a squad. And luck. There can be no allowances for that most unmeasurable and unquantifiable of qualities.

What, if anything, Tottenham achieve by May, will be the culmination of the foundations laid in place by Martin Jol and nurtured under the wily and experienced tenure of Harry Redknapp. Brimming with confidence, it is a team that is growing in stature and beginning to believe in its ability. No statistics or superstitions are required this year. But for the sheer fun of it, I can’t wait to hear the strains of “Spurs are on their way to Wembley”, climbing up the charts with Chas n’ Dave’s impending reunion.

In Bale we trust.


This post was originally published as Its Lucky For Spurs on the excellent Upper90 Magazine website.

Dispatches From A Football Sofa was included in The Guardian’s 100 Football Blogs To Follow In 2011 – take  a peek at some of the excellent football writing on offer elsewhere.

Follow Dispatches on Twitter @gregtheoharis

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