Archive | March, 2011

Captain Caveman: The De-evolution of John Terry

27 Mar

Note: This Dispatch will not use the term ‘JT’ at any point.

So much for Fabio Capello’s thunderously ominous pronouncement that the aggrieved John Terry had made a “big mistake” after the latter had seemingly conspired to promote a mutiny in the ranks during last year’s World Cup. Apparently, some of the squad weren’t happy with the head coach’s disciplinarian methods and Terry used a press conference to publicly challenge the Italian’s authority. At the time, Capello’s swift rebuttal was largely commended and it seemed a fractious power struggle had been avoided. The father had reproached the son and a tentative détente had been achieved.

For many onlookers therefore, the reinstatement of the divisive Chelsea defender to the position of England captain has seemed somewhat disconcerting. In footballing terms it looks as though Capello has all but given up on the job. Having been usurped by the combined elements of an ever-critical media, the reputations and egos of an overly-cosseted playing staff and more tellingly his bafflement and struggle to both understand and tame the English psyche, he now looks like a pensioner sitting on a seaside bench waiting out the inevitability of his demise.

It was clear that in his press conference this week John Terry refused to show any kind of remorse for the actions that led to his demotion to begin with. Of course, he does not have to flog himself publicly like a Catholic drowning in guilt. His private life is his own. But the reason for his losing the armband was down to a matter of maintaining team morale – if we are to believe what we read. What is worrying about his elevation from the ranks however, is the idea that implicit threats and insinuations can intimidate others into silence and in Capello’s case, acquiescence. How else are we to take a thinly-veiled statement of confrontation such as:

“The manager called the group together and spoke, saying I will be permanent captain again, and that I’d done well on and off the field over the last year. He asked if anyone had any questions or anything to say. No one said a word. I’ll respect anyone who comes to me personally and we deal with it one on one rather than me hearing things or listening to people talking in the media, claiming they know all the facts.”

Was John Terry proposing a genteel discussion of grievances over a cup of Earl Grey tea? Or was it in fact a statement that challenged any potential disgruntlement from other contenders for the ‘throne’? A twisted form of omerta, perhaps?

John Terry as a player and as far as one can tell, as a man, clearly fits into the model of mythopoetic masculinity as propagated by the writer Robert Bly. Bly’s theory contends that men have through a variety of socio-economic reasons, had their natural instincts to be masculine suppressed since the dawning of the industrial age. As a result, men are forced to find unconventional ways in which to allow their inclinations to bond, hunt and fight manifest themselves. As a concept, this was taken to its natural end by Chuck Palahniuk in his novel Fight Club whereby men re-connected with themselves by enjoying the visceral thrill of the Neanderthal fist to the cheekbone.

For many a football fan, John Terry harks back to the perception of a man’s man. He is a ‘leader’ on the strength that he shouts a lot on the pitch. He makes the most of a limited talent putting commitment above innate flair. If he got cut, you know the headband would go on and he’d bleed for his country like Terry Butcher did (if he was allowed – damned ‘namby-pamby’ health and safety precautions, eh?).

Bly says, “it takes a long time for men to learn to be able to talk about their shame” and as a result, this can lead to the tendency to violence in the male of the species. It’s there with Terry, although unlike the cartoon thuggery of Vinnie Jones, it never quite manifests itself. Terry has and Jones had the ability, albeit in differing ways, to instill a sense of ‘fear’ in their opponents on the field but in Terry, one senses there is an underlying passive aggression, bubbling beneath the surface that gives off an element of uncertainty. And because of this, those around him, on the pitch and in the media alike, pander to him as a way of preventative action. Hence the over familiarity with the initialised nickname and the vomit-inducing fawning by the likes of Tim Lovejoy and James Corden when they put together sycophancy-fests in their ‘comedy’ vehicles. Everybody always seems to be eager to please John Terry because he might just have a word. The Shakespearean fool was always meant to offer the King the truth through his mirth-making but let’s face it, we’re not dealing with highly-cultured titans here, are we?

As a boy, players of the calibre of Steve Bruce and Gary Mabbutt seemed like giants to me. Real men and proper leaders, often called ‘model professionals’ and ‘gentlemen of the game’. The teams they lead were populated with men too, before the arrogance and temptations of material gain sullied the minds of youngsters coming through the ranks. Roy Keane’s very-own brand of masculinity and propensity for violence as a captain might have been a response to the preening prima donnas in the ascendancy as his playing days dwindled. But then there was David Beckham. For all his faults, he brought both femininity and glamour to the role of England captain. He was a perfect ambassador for football, making it acceptable for all to have an interest in the game, rather than the ‘boy’s club’ many still want it to be, as we have already discovered this season. Take a bow, Messrs Keys and Gray.

John Terry has married all these forms of captaincy together. He looks as though he’s a leader but he’s not. He doesn’t throw a fist at his opponents but he looks as though he might do. He’s adept at using the media for his own self-promotion but lacks both the looks and the savvy to make it truly work for him. In other words, everything about John Terry is a pale imitation of captains past. What does that tell us about the state of masculinity in 2011, then?

As cancer eats away at a true ‘man’s man’ and captain in Bryan Robson, England fans are left with a divisive player leading his country who can bellow ‘God Save The Queen’ until he is blue in the face. Have a word to say about him though and he’ll get the ‘boys’ to have a word with you. Don’t support your country’s captain and Corden will mock you into silence. Over a cuppa. Builder’s, of course. Like the man himself said, he may not be ‘everyone’s cup of tea’.

Fabio, I think you’ve made a ‘big mistake’.

Dispatches has had the honour of being nominated for the EPL Talk Blog of the Season. If you would like to vote for it, click here thanks.

Further Reading: Pulped Friction – The Keys/Gray Scandal

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis


Seeing Is Perceiving

20 Mar

The Rose Bowl, California. July 17th 1994. As the sun beats down onto the field of play after over two hours of tussling deadlock, the talismanic, pony-tailed figure of Roberto Baggio steps up to take the penalty which seconds later will become the defining memory of the USA’s World Cup. We all know what follows. Baggio, hands on hips. Looking down at the ground. Serene and tranquil in the acceptance of the painful fate that has been dealt him. I was sixteen years old at the time and the side-on image has lived with me ever since, resonating beyond the emotion and celebration experienced by Brazil’s triumphant squad.

My perception of Baggio’s loneliness was challenged this week by the first post in a series entitled ‘Postcards From A Beautiful Game’ on the excellent Five In Midfield. Somehow the picture of Brazilians punching the air and jumping for joy in jubilation had eluded me for the seventeen years since that match. It may be stating the obvious, but it widened the perspective of an image beyond the definitive limitations of iconography and selective memory. Almost immediately, I was forced to re-assess that specific moment in time from a different perspective and as a result my perception of that event is now forever altered.

Why is it that we can bear witness to the same incident but take from it contradictory outcomes? I was at White Hart Lane yesterday for the local derby with West Ham. Sat in the second row, at pitchside level and virtually adjacent to the corner flag that meets the south and east stands, I witnessed a match in which for all the pretty passing movements from Spurs, was defined by a chronic reluctance by the home team to take a shot at goal with any kind of spontaneity. There were t-shirts outside the ground proclaiming Spurs to be ‘London’s Barcelona Branch’ but this slavish commitment to the Spanish ‘death by passing’ of tika taka had others around me groaning in frustration as West Ham waited and broke up passages of play with great discipline and a clear objective to park the proverbial bus. Inevitably, a goalless draw was the outcome of this and there was a sense of anticlimax with the whole affair amongst the Spurs faithful while the East Londoners celebrated the draw with the enthusiasm that befits a team struggling for every point it can get.

Fast-forward a few hours to Match Of The Day and there’s Gary Lineker proclaiming, “one of the great 0-0 draws of our time” and Harry Redknapp crowing. “I like the way we played, I love the way we moved the ball”. And then there were the cold, hard statistics: thirty-three shots, suggesting that the game was a veritable entertainment-fest and the editing process certainly made that out to be the case. Suddenly, I started to question what I saw. Perhaps the bombardment of ‘superior’ knowledge and expertise from professionals, married with the inalienable facts of the statistician created a sense of doubt in my befuddled mind. Soon enough, I was tempted to believe that I had witnessed perhaps not the tense and hesitant display from my team that I thought I had but a game of thrust and imagination. I know what I saw though. And so do the others around me judging from the expletives and howls of frustration with every breaking down of play by The Hammers.

How we perceive an event is of course influenced by disparate and diverse reasons. Cultural and social class creates in us a certain worldview. Furthermore, our senses choose to transmit to the brain information that we form into ideas and thoughts. But when we only see an image from one angle, our sense of reality and truth is somewhat fixed and skewed.

Take for instance, the famous Super-8 footage as captured by Abraham Zapruder on 22nd November 1963 in Dallas, Texas. Zapruder left his house that morning to witness the motorcade carrying John F. Kennedy and the First Lady driving through his hometown. He was halfway to Dealey Plaza when he realised that he had forgotten his camera. That split second decision to return home to collect it, one could say changed the course of history. Had he not done so, the world would never have borne witness to the true horrors of the wounds and subsequent death of President Kennedy. Those twenty-six seconds of unedited footage were consequently used by many theorists to disclaim the theory that the assassination was carried out by a lone gunman. Whether one chooses to believe this or not is not the issue. It is the idea that if it had not been for Zapruder’s film, the world would have accepted one perception of events unquestioningly. However distressing it may be to watch, Zapruder’s film documented an event that is to this very day open to debate and challenges received wisdom.

Everything is seen from varied angles these days. We don’t just have the side-views of Baggio or the grainy footage of the Super-8 to challenge our perceptions. With that though, comes the danger of overload. If Sky bombard the viewer with the latest technological wizardry in whatever form that may come in (whether that be ‘footcam’ in which we see a game from the perspective of a player’s boot) or if Gary Lineker ‘dazzles’ us with another statistic about the amount of time it’s taken Birmingham City players to leave the tunnel this year, then we run the chance of being saturated with too much information. If you’re bamboozled enough, you might as well accept what’s being sold to you because it’s too much of an effort to think for yourself, right?

I did see an average game of football yesterday. I also saw a sweaty, portly West Ham fan in the distance in a pink polo top ‘having a disco’. And a huge American from Austin, Texas who was sat next to me and had paid £225 for his ticket having flown over the night before for the game. And I saw Benoit Assou-Ekotto swear in French. So, now you know.

As for Baggio, he’s still in my thoughts. Being as he is a Buddhist, the Divine Ponytail himself, would have appreciated the duality of the image I saw this week. It’s taken a while but I’ve finally realised that that scorching day in Pasadena seventeen years ago can be viewed in more ways than that of the heartbroken individual we’ve grown used to seeing. I’m sure the great man would agree.

Dispatches has had the honour of being nominated for the EPL Talk Blog of the Season. If you would like to vote for it, click here thanks.

Further Reading:

Five In Midfield: Postcards From A Beautiful Game – Part 1

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

Out Of The Shadows: Arsenal and Me

13 Mar

I’ve been dreading this Dispatch all season. The Arsenal one. Whatever I write in the succeeding paragraphs will no doubt be dismissed by those from N5 as the conjecturing of a Spurs fan with all the attendant bias that inevitably comes with bitter, local rivalry. That may prove to be true to some extent. Nevertheless, what follows is an attempt to put into words the somewhat conflicting and troubled relationship I’ve always had with this club. In no way is this a platform to bait. It never has been. So if you are an Arsenal fan reading this, you’ve had your disclaimer. Click away or read on. I do not purport to speak for Spurs fans en masse. My opinions are my own and always have been.

As a North Londoner of Greek Cypriot descent, I made a choice at a very young age to support my local team. The team that was literally a short walk away from my house. That team was of course, Tottenham Hotspur. If any of you are familiar with the ethnic make-up of North London, you will be fully aware that a large proportion of the Greek Cypriot community passionately follows Arsenal, as famously lampooned with Harry Enfield’s mildly racist but by and large spot-on character of Stavros, the kebab shop owner.

My granddad supported Arsenal. He always had, having been brought up with the tales of Herbert Chapman’s all-conquering sides of the 1930s. I never asked him if he ever felt disappointed that I had gone against the grain. Did he ever feel a sense of loss at not being able to take me over to Highbury on a match day and stand at the Clock End as he had done when he settled in Islington during the 1950s? However he might have felt about this, he never let on and took great delight in winding up a particularly over-zealous and sensitive eight-year old whenever another North London derby saw Spurs roundly humiliated and disappointed. “If there was a Championship for which team had the best kit,” he would playfully mock, “then Spurs would be 10 points clear every year. But football isn’t a fashion parade”.

The familial rivalry probably reached its zenith on the 25th May 1989, when Michael Thomas split through the Liverpool defence at Anfield in the final minute of stoppage time, to win Arsenal the title. That goal, soundtracked by the late Brian Moore’s commentary (“It’s up for grabs…nowwwwwww!”) provoked the image of a bald, bespectacled, mild-mannered man in slippers, running out onto the street and dancing. I went to my bedroom and sulked.

My granddad died in 1993. I used to love listening to him breaking down games and telling me about the great players he had seen. But somehow, it felt that the choice of Spurs had forever placed me at a distance from him. Our joys and heartbreaks, in footballing terms, would never be shared. I don’t feel quite the same rush of adrenalin on derby day since he left us. And because of him, I can’t hate them like I’m meant to.

My footballing life has been dominated by the Arsenal sides of George Graham and Arsene Wenger; two distinctly unique and differing managers, with diverse philosophies but outrageously successful nonetheless. I’ve watched on as Ian Wright and Thierry Henry tormented Spurs in derby after derby over the years. I’ve squirmed at seeing Arsenal win the championship at White Hart Lane and become ‘invincible’. They’ve won two doubles in my lifetime, surpassing the one Spurs achieved before I was born. I have suffered the indignity of a Tottenham player, the captain no less, choosing to play for Arsenal because he felt he stood a greater chance of success. And more painfully, I’ve had to concede that Arsenal took the mantle of playing the kind of cavalier football that Spurs had once been famed for as my club lurched from one ‘transition period’ to another. And then there was trophy, after trophy, after trophy…

Of course it’s not always been doom and gloom for Spurs fans. We’ve had some truly remarkable and memorable wins against Arsenal over the years. We’ve been blessed with seeing some magnificent players pulling on the white shirt and we’ve always come back for more because that’s what you do. Not blessed with a particularly ribald or quick-wit however, I have had to take the ‘banter’ on the chin over the years. I still shudder at Paul Merson’s mocking of Paul Gascoigne’s celebration after the FA semi-final in 1993.

So maybe I had been envious over the years. Maybe I had got a little jaded at living in Arsenal’s shadow for so long, despite my heartiest protestations to the contrary. And then this week happened. As the Barcelona’s pass count mounted in the Camp Nou and Arsenal’s so-called artisans were humiliated by true masters, the thin veneer that masks this club’s frailties was emphatically made clear to me. It felt like the unmasking of a fiendish baddie in a Scooby Doo episode. Despite being outplayed, despite having a golden opportunity to eliminate their opponents in the final minute of the match and despite holding firm for three quarters of the tie, Arsene Wenger’s persecution complex kicked in as he suggested that Robin Van Persie’s ludicrous sending off, had an outcome on the game. As their season crumbles around them, Arsenal seem brittle, devoid of heart and in many respects paranoid.

Compare that to Spurs. A side that simply cannot defend provided a defensive masterclass in knocking out the giants of AC Milan. It was tense and gritty but by god, it had heart. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t envy Arsenal and their manager. They didn’t even enter my sphere of thinking. “Are you watching Arsenal?” came the chants from White Hart Lane, perhaps an outlet for all that pent up frustration stored over the years. But really, we’re beyond Arsenal now. Not in terms of sustained winning maybe but the fact that we now cut our own path.

Tuesday allowed me to see through the emperor’s new clothes. Wednesday night set me free of the shackles of the past. The motto ‘to dare is to do’ has never felt more relevant. And neither is the sheer inevitability that having said all this, Arsenal will go on to win the championship. Spurs fans. Such optimists, we are. But we do have an exceedingly good kit.

Dispatches has had the honour of being nominated for the EPL Talk Blog of the Season. If you would like to vote for it, click here thanks.

Further Reading: According To Type – 21st November Dispatch

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

Premier League Dream School

6 Mar

Dearest Mother,

It’s been a spiffing start to the term and I thought I’d take a moment to write to you and Papa to let you in on some of the fun things all the prep boys have been up to over the past week. I’m so glad you chose to send me here instead of that awful school down the round that has just opened its doors to the smelly oiks who can’t even manage to get a C-grade in woodwork. Apparently it’s run by a chef! Goodness me! After all, what an earth could he know about teaching a gang of hooligans about the benefits of simulation and backchat! You’re so lucky, that I’m going to turn out just like the splendid examples of humanity we have here!

After you dropped me off in the Rolls here on Saturday, it was wizard to see all my old chums. ‘Wazza’ Rooney was there too. We’re allowed to call him ‘Wazza’ because we’ve known him for quite some time but the scroats have to call him ‘Basher’ on pain of death. He’s so much fun and a top pal to have around when things are getting tough although he does seem to have a problem with sleeping in the dorms with the lights out. Some of the other boys call him a ‘pansy’ behind his back and he does speak in rather a funny accent but I think he’s ace. When nobody was looking on Saturday afternoon, he rammed his elbow into a younger boy’s face. That was such a wheeze because even though our schoolmaster ‘Clatters’ Clatternburg saw it, all ‘Wazza’ had to do was look at him in the eye, call him a ‘wonker’ and remind him just how much he was paying to be here and it was all forgotten. The softie who got smashed cried like a woolly woofter. Hilarious!

Then on Sunday, that boy from Chelsea who used to spend time behind the bike-sheds with that pretty little girl from the provinces, took an air rifle into prep and fired it up the bottom of one of the fags who was here on a trial week. The headmistress called Cole in to explain his actions and although he said he was sorry, everybody knew that he wasn’t. After all, why should we even bother about all these dreadful people who don’t even pay to come to this school? Everybody in the dorm thought Cole a top marksman and looked forward to his next jolly jape. He’s thinking about using one of the littluns as a horse for the next gymkhana. He’s so inventive and I do so love watching and learning from him!

Old Blotchy, our deputy headmaster, wasn’t in the best of moods on Tuesday. Apparently, he felt that everybody who doesn’t understand how our school works is determined to bring us down and ruin our good name. He spent half an hour in assembly boring us all about the importance of ‘fairness’ and we all found it difficult to stifle our yawns. I spied JT and Stevie G texting their girlfriends. Or was it their agents? I can never tell with those two rascals.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle on Wednesday night. Two of the students from the Highlands found it difficult to control themselves during chapel time. Heavens above, mother! One would think that they were worshipping different gods like those awful Muslims who have moved down the road from us in recent years (yes, I know they’re rich but they do also wear dresses) or even those godless polytechnic types who go on marches and destroy poor old Winnie’s memorial. Anyway, Ginger and Tubby had to be separated, although none of us could understand what either of them was saying and they’ve promised to not spit at each other or slap each others’ cheeks for at least another two weeks.

There was also a small incident concerning banned substances with that boy from the colonies towards the end of the week, mother. ‘Rolo’ Kolo was caught taking something that the school rules wholeheartedly frown upon although he was adamant that he didn’t know that he had taken it. His housemasters have suspended him for the time being but we’re not sure whether or not he’ll be called in to see our sweet headmistress, Fanny Adams. We’re hoping he is, because she is prone to leniency and it’s not as if ‘Rolo’ Kolo was trying to gain any kind of advantage from it. He’s on the tubby side anyway and could do with shedding a few pounds. We thought it was hilarious that Old Wenger, the bursar, blamed the drug-taking on a woman. He’s right. You can’t trust any of those! They smell and eat worms and can’t even hold a flag up properly.

But the best thing to happen all week was when we had an old alumnus from France come to visit. Although he sometimes spoke in riddles (something about ‘sardines’ and ‘seagulls’), it was quite clear that he was a bonza chap. He told us all that the best thing he ever did in his time at our school was when he booted one of the riff-raff plebeians in the face during a league encounter. He said it was like a dream come true and we’ve all been practising kung-fu kicks since he spoke to us. He really is a fine example to us all.

So, that was my week, mother. I do so love being here. The people are fabulous and we really don’t have to converse very much with the commoners who congregate on the outside to watch us. It truly is one of the finest educational establishments in the land. Who knows what fun and japes next week will bring, eh? I must dash though. Rio Ferdy and Lamps are preparing a Sunday roast and none of us like to miss those. I’ll film it for you, so you can see what all the fuss is about.

Love to Papa and Nanny.

Your loving and dutiful son,

David (although my pals now call me Dave)

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

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