Archive | April, 2011

The Delirium Of Professor Wenger

24 Apr

This lecture was given by Dr Falsch at The Institute of Sykologee in Cape Cod in April 2011.

Meine Damen und Herren, thank you for receiving me at this magnificent centre of progressive learning. I very much hope I can live up to your high estimations of my abilities as I unravel the mystery of a case that has been troubling both myself and fellow physicians over the best part of two decades.

The patient may or may not be known to you but he has enjoyed a prolonged period of public adulation. Professor Wenger came to prominence towards the latter part of the last century, assimilating as he did a cornucopia of highly unconventional techniques into his practice. Through due diligence and an almost obsessive attention to detail, this eminent scholar was able to create several modern incarnations of the myth of Prometheus, that displayed frightening speed, agility and technical superiority and threatened to surpass the work of his rivals in his field of study. His gift to mankind was his belief in the aesthetic; in making mortal men transcend their humanity and wrap themselves in the blanket of the gods.

The culmination of his vision was attained within eight years of his work beginning. Wenger managed to assemble an array of raw materials and alchemise them into a mechanical juggernaut that the layperson christened ‘The Invincibles’. Several well renowned scholars were left aghast at the Professor’s notable achievement and were equally awestruck by his unswerving dedication to his vision.

However, like all things, Wenger’s invention could not outlast the passage of time and the assembled parts went into an inevitable decline. As the years have passed, he has strived to re-create the ingredients of his fabled creation but with considerably diminishing returns. Although outwardly resembling signs of perfection, Wenger’s latter-day models have flattered to deceive; with flaws consistently being exposed by other celebrated technicians of his practice, most prominently in the Catalan capital of Barcelona.

This persistent quest has consequently resulted in a slow but nevertheless dangerous descent into a form of delirium and has therefore caught the attention of others in my field of psychiatry as concerns for his sanity are raised. I have had him under observation for some months now.

There are a variety of external symptoms that clearly indicate an inner-soul of turmoil. This is perhaps more visible in the form of a repertoire of nervous tics that the subject is increasingly suffering from. The head shuffles from side-to-side as he is unable to sit in one location for an acceptable period of time. Fits of rage are apparent also. The patient has been known to throw and kick inanimate objects upon the breakdown of his machine.

Furthermore, the patient also suffers from a case of psychosomatic myopia. Professor Wenger is likely to expunge incidents that have occurred in the field from his memory, feigning ignorance to events that have emphatically been documented and recorded by others in his approximate vicinity. This is a classic sign of an individual who can only see truth and reality from his or her own perspective. If this does not suit the worldview of the subject then he/she is likely to suffer from either selective memory loss or as is the case with Professor Wenger, a nonchalant, throwaway remark of never having seen the actual incident.

As I have delved further into the psyche of the patient, I have also ascertained that he has a burgeoning persecution complex. He routinely rounds upon figures of authority and seeks to apportion blame onto the anonymous face of establishment rather than acknowledge his own frailties. As the realisation within him mounts (having demonstrated as he has before that human endeavour and skill can elevate one to the platform of deity), that he is unable to replicate his crowning achievement and refuses to acknowledge the recession of his powers as a technician, it appears he would rather seek out imaginary foes and devils and project his shortcomings onto them as a masking tactic.

Whilst often happy in his own company and that of his assembled crew of workers, Wenger is becoming increasingly isolated when forced to be in proximity with his fellow scholars. He rejects physical contact with regularity and has been known to simply walk away without forewarning when contemporaries offer him gestures of goodwill.

Of course, Wenger is not alone in showing signs of mental fatigue and disintegration within this field of study. His neighbour, Professor Harold Rotknapp has also been observed suffering irregular muscle spasms but unlike Wenger, his demeanour remains amenable and convivial. Likewise, Wenger’s great rival Ritter Alexander Fergusohn, indicates an external grappling with his own psychological demons via a particularly crimson pallor in the ear, nose and throat area but I am not at liberty, both professionally and ethically, to discuss the cases of patients who have not sought treatment from me.

The prognosis for Professor Wenger does not bode well. Like the fabled Monster of Shelley’s imaginings, various parts of Wenger’s machine are demonstrating signs of developing their own thought processes and are openly challenging his authority. Moreover, his laboratory has recently received a significant donation from benefactors from the New World. Although this may seem to validate my patient’s work, there will unquestionably be a heavy burden on him to produce results at a speed that is at odds with his belief in the method of steady evolution.

My contentions of course are subject to criticism and those beyond the world of medicine may seek to use my findings in order to magnify Wenger’s condition to such a grotesque point that all treatment would subsequently be rendered useless. For this reason therefore, I have decided to keep my professional advice between myself and Professor Wenger, in order to afford him some privacy and protection from such outside forces that would seek to negate my work. Whether he chooses to follow my humble medical opinions is for onlookers to determine in the coming weeks and months. I wish him a speedy recovery, but with more haste since a very quick return to form could prove destabilising, and one certainly wouldn’t want that.

Danke schön.

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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.

Preaching To The Choir

17 Apr

Should you ever find yourself in the fabled crescent city of New Orleans, be sure to swing on by to 726 St Peter in the French Quarter. You’ll see a seemingly innocuous structure. It needs a lick of paint and to the outsider, might appear on the point of dereliction. Don’t be fooled though. Appearances are mischievously deceptive. Because once the corrugated gates open on any number of balmy Louisiana evenings and the heat of the crowd sends beads of sweat dripping down your forehead, you’ll find that there’s magic to be found.

Here you’ll find The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. And here you’ll hear music that takes you to places unimaginable. You’ll hear the vocal and clarinet stylings of the dapper Clint Maedgen as he belts out spiritual standard Down By The Riverside and once upon a time the charmingly rotund figure of double bassist Walter Payton wiggled his bum and took the time out to have a chat with round-eyed fans. Walter was a huge anglophile and would tell anyone who cared to hear about the culinary delights of bangers and mash. And they’ll play anything for you, these great men. But if you ask them to play the song that is synonymous with the city, it’ll cost you. The Saints will set you back ten bucks for a rendition. If you’re lucky. After all, these guys can play much more and they will. I do know of a place where you can hear it for free though. It’s done acapella too. By nearly forty thousand souls…

As Cristiano Ronaldo let fly and Heurelho Gomes fumbled on Wednesday night, the final embers of a miraculous recovery were clinically extinguished. As Spurs fans, it would have been easy to hang our heads and ingloriously spew vitriol and recriminations onto the pitch. But within seconds of the goal going in, you could feel something special in the air. Something that happens far too rarely in life. The collective will of a mass of strangers accepting their fate and showing the pride and defiance of the vanquished. It seemed like we all wanted to say thank you to a team that had taken us all on a very glorious adventure this season. Something that had always felt a distant speck on the horizon.

And so the low, almost whispered strains of ‘When The Spurs Go Marching In’ drifted magically around White Hart Lane. Arms aloft and building to the crescendo that allows us all to joyously tell the world we love our team. I unashamedly admit to wiping away a tear or two. Like the club emblem, the chest was puffed out and proud.

I’m not sure when this particular choir-like rendition of The Saints began to be sung by the Tottenham faithful but I can’t get enough of it. Like the club’s assimilation of Glory, Glory Hallelujah, it resonates beyond the confines of football.

Music and chanting is used by many cultures to nourish and soothe the soul. The Ancient Greeks used it to tell stories of gods and battles in the form of a chorus. The African slaves of North America used it to lift themselves above the crack of the whip and from that was born much of the music we hold dear within our psyches today. It defines who we are as individuals but more tellingly, connects us to others whom we might have little in common with.

As a person of atheistic tendencies, I have made the personal choice to reject many aspects of organised religion. That does not however mean I am a person of little faith. It is said that some people who are diagnosed with autism find it difficult to allow themselves physical contact with other human beings. That does not mean that they are bereft of the need to feel security and reassurance and they find other ways to fill the void, chiefly through contact with animals or inanimate objects. Connecting with the spiritual elements of music within the parameters of a football crowd, in my case serves the very same purpose.

This phenomenon is not solely exclusive to Spurs fans, of course. Being married to a Manchester United fan, I’m no lover of Liverpool as a matter of matrimonial duty. Nevertheless, when the Kop sings You’ll Never Walk Alone in unison, it’s hard not to allow myself to be swept up in the raw emotion on display. It’s been especially moving this week, which saw the twenty-second anniversary of the tragic events at Hillsborough. For a small moment in time, the local rivalries were put on hold as we all united to share in the grief of those who survived and remember those who were taken. As a signifier, a song from a musical embodies the sentiments and ethos of an entire club, locality, sport. And because of this, we allow ourselves to bond with others like us.

Spurs fans this week have come under mild scrutiny for their chanting of songs that some deem offensive. David Baddiel is claiming the use of the term ‘yid’ by Spurs as a rallying call and a term of identification, is somehow offensive to the Jewish community. Having attended Spurs matches for over twenty years now, I can safely say that the intentions of the chant are not designed to cause offence or hurt. It is the use of other more inflammatory terms such as ‘gas’ and ‘Auschwitz’ by supporters of other clubs when referring to Spurs that is far more vicious and callous to hear in the stands.

The act of singing is there to unite. And up and down the country, you can hear such a variety of songs in stadiums that celebrate all the wonderful humour, sentimentality and joy of following a club and in essence, being alive. The residents of New Orleans, having suffered such tragedy in recent years, seem to intrinsically understand the power of music to heal and bond. Whatever colour, religion or political persuasion we are, in the end, we’re all the same.

Sadly, Walter Payton died at the end of 2010. But through his wonderful bass playing and his love of a good old British dish, his memory will live longer. I’m proud to be in that number. And so should you. Just don’t forget your ten dollars. And tip is not included.

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.

Dispatches on the Net:

Spurs can lose themselves and dare to dream – STV

Tottenham Hotspur: The Day After The Night Before – Just Football

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

Myths and Legends

10 Apr

SPOILER ALERT: If you have not seen The Wire in its entirety do not read this piece.

The story of my great uncle Nikos is a much-told story in my family. Fighting for the British in the Second World War, he was captured by the Germans and taken to a prisoner of war camp. Through sheer bloody-mindedness and ingenuity, he managed to escape his captors and found sanctuary in Greece thinking that being amongst fellow Hellenes would keep him safe. He hadn’t accounted for collaborators and he was soon re-captured and suffered at the hands of the Nazis. His survival instincts however, were unquenchable and he broke out for a second time, spending the rest of the war hiding in Switzerland.

He lived to tell the tale and I’ve always been proud of the fact that we had our very own Steve McQueen in our family regardless of how little he wanted to revisit the experience. Nikos’ story has been told and retold by assorted family members and as is the case with Greeks, the story has gone through a number of revisions and embellishments with the passing of time. When it’s my turn to tell the story to my children, I’m half-tempted to include a period of time in ‘the cooler’ replete with baseball mitt followed by a retreat across the Alps in a souped-up motorbike. However, the art of myth-making is about sticking as close to what actually happened as you can without actually lying.

In that respect, the modern footballer is unable to forge his own myth and those enthralled by him are robbed of the opportunity of yarn spinning. Football being a fully paid-up member of the ‘celebocracy’ is more reliant upon gossip and innuendo than ever before. With every move on the pitch and beyond pored over with increasing voyeurism, the days of the footballer as mythical cult hero have surely passed (in the Premier League at least). Witness the implosion of Wayne Rooney’s ‘myth’ this season.

A lot of media coverage has been given over to Rooney’s expletive-laden address to camera this week and the moral panic has focused on his systematic failure to fulfil his ‘duty’ as a role model. As he fairly pointed out, he certainly isn’t the first or last footballer to be caught swearing on camera but the greater damage is his breaking down of the ‘fourth wall’ that separates players from television viewers. Moreover, the fact that everything he does, both publicly and privately is so scrutinised, his status as a ‘hero’ will forever be denied him. He may be a star of the game but the camera lens robs him and the fan of a certain cultural mystique that allows us all to recall and retell stories of his deeds to ensuing generations. Rooney is documented, labelled, recorded and analysed and as a result, his myth is eroded with every snarl and curse. In many respects, his story has imprisoned him and it’s no surprise that his anger sometimes spills over. The romance of that 16-year old debutant who fearlessly put Arsenal to the sword seems a very long time ago. There’s too much water under the proverbial bridge.

It was much simpler when the cameras weren’t always omnipresent. A case in point comes in the form of Robin Friday, commonly known as ‘the greatest footballer you never saw’. Friday was one of football’s great underachievers, plying his trade for Reading and Cardiff City in the 1970s, an era when cameras weren’t to be found at every ground in the country. Tales of him turning up drunk for games, kissing policemen and grabbing opponents’ crotches have been handed down from those who witnessed the events first-hand but the human memory being a highly subjective piece of machinery, naturally allows for greater magnification of what might have actually transpired. Or perhaps not. But isn’t that the great thing about storytelling?

So when we hear tales of Friday being greater than Cruyff and Pelé, or removing statues from graveyards or turning up for a team meeting with a stolen swan in tow, the myth naturally grows. Friday sadly died in squalor in 1990 at the age of 38 but the interest in him remains, simply because we have not had the advantage of publicly scrutinising him throughout his short career and life, which is very much in contrast to Rooney.

In wider terms, perhaps my favourite mythological hero of modern times comes in the form of The Wire’s Omar Little, the gay stick-up man and modern-day Robin Hood who roams the badlands of Baltimore, robbing from the heinous drug-dealers of the city’s projects whilst showing kindliness to those at society’s sharper end. Throughout the show’s five seasons, Omar’s mystique grows as we see him develop into the stuff of legend, appearing and disappearing into the night, like a vengeful phantom. Children play at being him on the street during impromptu games of cops and robbers whilst the man himself plays out the role of Western outlaw strolling at high noon to encounter adversaries and lives to highly precise and moral codes more in keeping with the samurai of Japan rather than the blood-spattered streets of the Westside. His death towards the end of season five only perpetuates the myth, as his demise (at the hands of a scared child and witnessed by no-one else first-hand) is greatly exaggerated by corner boys who transform it into a pastiche of Butch and Sundance’s fabled last stand.

Omar’s myth was greatly enhanced for me on a personal level during my honeymoon in 2009. Throughout the duration of our American trip, my wife and I jokily came up with hypothetical situations in which we would meet cast members of The Wire on our journey. With three days to go, in a drugstore (we appreciated the irony) in New York, it happened. Out of nowhere and just like his fictional alter ego, Michael K Williams (the actor who plays Omar) appeared before our eyes. The three of us chatted briefly, took photos and then he was gone. Nina and I spent the rest of the day roaming Greenwich Village in a glorious reverie. As you can imagine, we’ve got a lot of mileage out of that encounter, but what’s more notable is that that it’s the re-telling of the story rather than the pictures that generate most interest in our friends.

I like the idea of myths in football and beyond. While I walk a fine line making this statement as some may deem the word myth a close relative of untruth, there is something magical about hearing a tale but not having access to the footage to prove it. That’s not to say I would have ever given up the opportunity to see Gascoigne’s thunderbolt against Arsenal in ’91, but scrutinising the banality of his breakfast regime or his wife’s daily attire negates the myth created of him.

In Rooney’s case, there will never be a myth and in many respects that’s sad. His slow downfall that commenced just prior to last year’s World Cup that has only recently seen a resurgence in better form can never be untold or undocumented. With the anger and aggression he has recently shown both on and off the pitch, I wonder if there is a part of Rooney that wishes he had been born in another time. Where his prodigious talent and footballing myth could be somehow protected from the all-seeing eye of the camera lens and instead animatedly described by those who might have been lucky enough to see him in the flesh. Alas, I will never know unless our paths happen to cross as randomly as mine did with Omar.

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.

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

This Land Is My Land

3 Apr

Welcome to Pennington, Hampshire. Sitting in the idyllic heart of the New Forest, the casual visitor can wile away the hours with scenic walks surrounded by roaming ponies or just relax in the company of friends in local pubs whilst ensuring the ritual humiliation of the ‘stag’ before his Big Day. Having been summarily despatched from the sofa this weekend, this is where I have been. And a good time was had by all involved. Chilli vodka with the capacity to strip the flesh from the back of one’s throat was consumed and the usual japery that occurs when a group of men get together was very much on show. So far, so manly. And why not?

Enter the Locals. Immediately ill at ease with the number of editions of the Daily Mail and The Sun that were bought at the local newsagent, when engaging in the usual inanity of football banter as conversation-killer with a resident Penningtonian, the Stag who is an Arsenal fan was met with the loaded statement that the problem with The Gunners was that they were “spineless”. Seeking clarification, assuming the reasoning behind this was the fact that Arsenal seem to have thrown away all their chances of securing silverware this season in the space of several weeks, the response was, “Cos, there’s not enough English players.”

And here ladies and gents, is where my liberal sensibilities kicked in, sensing that there were implicit connotations to such wildly generalised opinions. Of course, I can be armed with all the extravagant verbosity of the university-educated but when pitted up against the gnarled, paint-stained fists of the casual racist in a village whose geographical exit points are somewhat hazy, I sensibly chose to keep my own counsel. After all, I like to think of myself as a lover, not a fighter. Attach any other such assumptions to my cowardice and I will merely present you with the argument, in the words of Richard E. Grant’s Withnail, “My wife is having a baby. If you hit me, it’s murder.”

My observations and assumptions can, I’m sure, be easily dismissed as the elitist meanderings of a snob. That I’m sneering at the ‘The Man On The Street’ for having the cojones (I’m so middle class, I don’t use the term balls) to speak openly about what’s on his mind. The accusation might be levelled that I am merely grossly exaggerating a stereotype for literary effect. But I’m not. He’s out there, in the heartland of this fair island, disseminating his particularly vicious brand of misinformed hatred on a daily basis. Or thinking it.

Damon Albarn in his heyday with Blur perfectly encapsulated a certain type of Englishman (or woman – political correctness must be maintained). We all know him. Or her. Full of anger and violence and ready to explode at any given moment. Thwarted by a lack of opportunity and education and with a gullet designed primarily for alcohol consumption. The kind of man who says, “They’re alright, you know, some of ‘em” and in his deepest, darkest moments confesses that, “Hitler didn’t have it all wrong ya know”.

This mentality is perpetuated by stories in the press that salaciously draw upon the apparent cultural differences that exist in this country. Take for instance, the off-the-cuff comment made by Fabio Capello this week, in which the England manager noted that he only really needed about a hundred words to effectively communicate with his squad of players. Cue much naysaying amongst those ‘in the know’. Chief among them was Graham Taylor who pontificated by saying:

“It is beholden of you to actually speak it [English] to a level whereby you are understood.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Taylor’s mangled use of syntax equally, if not more destructive to the progress of the national team during his tenure as England manager?

Such comments do not offer constructive and tactically astute observations on Capello’s capabilities as a manager. His record stands for itself and if players are incapable of carrying out his instructions with the help of his assembled coaching staff that is by and large English, that is not his fault. It would be absurd to assume that England’s failings on the international circuit have anything to do with a breakdown in linguistic communication.

What this does do however, is paper over the endemic problems that the national game has (a lack of academies, respect for officials and a slavish adoration of the ‘big’ players), whilst also playing to the gallery of xenophobia that unfortunately exists in this country. If Capello is to be brought down, so be it. But to add his reluctance to say, “Can we not knock it?” is patently absurd.

Refreshingly, the friendly between England and Ghana this week epitomised everything that is good about football. An English team shorn of ‘stars’ played as if it wanted to be there, whilst the Ghanaians (both players and fans) added both vibrancy and passion to a game that was no doubt deemed an irrelevance by many. And you can probably be safe in assuming that a vast percentage of those Ghanaian fans are people who have actually made this country their home and have contributed to the cultural diversity that should be celebrated rather than forever attacked by certain sections of the media.

I’m proud of my immigrant heritage. My grandparents arrived on these shores unable to speak the language and toiled in factories to make a life for themselves and the subsequent generations. It’s because of them that I am able to articulate these thoughts with some degree of fluency.

In much the same manner, foreign players and managers have only ever enhanced the cultural landscape of the game in this country. From Ardiles to Cantona, Zola to Wenger, football would have been a far more desolate place without them. So what’s Arsenal’s problem? Nothing. Other than being Arsenal. I wonder if I could have made all these points to Our Man In The Pub? Probably not. We all at times, need to know to keep our opinions to ourselves, because once in a while an impromptu karaoke session is better for all concerned.

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: A Letter To Fabio

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

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