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The 2010/11 Dispatches

1 Jun

August:

Back To The Future

Chelsea Dagger

League Of Faith

September:

In Memoriam

Reality Cheque

Taking The Mick

Walking Alone

October:

Leading The Pack

Everything Must Go

Schoolboys Own Stuff

All Things Must Pass

Meditations On A Maestro

November:

My Eyes Have Seen The Glory

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Joey?

According To Type

The Blame Game

December:

Homage To Catalonia

Financial Incentives Filthy Ambitions (Part 1)

Financial Incentives Filthy Ambitions (Part 2)

Wont Get Fooled Again?

Sign Of The Times

Subject To Availability

January:

The Certainty Of Chance

A Sunday Sermon

Mind Your Language

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

Pulped Friction

February:

The Ring Of Fire

Home Is Where The Hart Is

My Mate Pete White

The Last Shadow Puppets

March:

Premier League Dream School

Out Of The Shadows: Arsenal and Me

Seeing Is Perceiving

Captain Caveman: The De-evolution Of John Terry

April:

This Land Is My Land

Myths And Legends

Preaching To The Choir

The Delirium Of Professor Wenger

May:

A Conspiracy Of Dunces

For Bonnie

Marriage Of Inconvenience

Unpredictable Predictability – Vol.2

I Heart Manchester United: A Confession

I Heart Manchester United: A Confession

29 May

Picture the scene. The Champions League Final, 1999. Reading University Student Union Bar. My future wife and best friend have just witnessed Teddy Sheringham’s last-gasp equaliser against Bayern Munich and she’s dancing on the sticky, alcohol-sodden floor whilst he’s lying on a pew in disbelief. Cue Solksjaer and we all know what happened next.

Whilst all this is going on, I’m huddled by a fruit machine with my future child’s godfather, both of us skulking and seething with hatred for Ferguson’s team. We miss the celebrations and later that night, I drunkenly (and idiotically) try to pick my first and last ever fight. Needless to say, I would have lost against my friend Steve and it has forever been a point of embarrassment that I was unable to share in some part, the joy these two people who remain dear to me, experienced that night.

I have no real defence for my actions twelve years ago. It was the ‘90s and fashionable to pour scorn on Manchester United’s dominance of the game, just as it was de rigueur to dislike Liverpool in the ‘80s. However, my relationship with United runs much deeper than this and has always been complicated by other factors that have shaped both my life and the way I watch football.

My father had left us only a few years before the famous final. He was a United fan; his support deriving from the club’s international renown in the ‘60s making its way across Europe to a mountain village in Greece. Naturally, he had wanted his one and only son to follow the team he followed. So my first experiences of football were being forced into a United shirt and being ‘told’ this was my team. I didn’t know where Manchester was at the time let alone who the players were. Football matches were rarely on television when I was growing up and I developed an aversion to the game, trying to block the screen because I didn’t want to watch football when the 1982 World Cup was on. I was admonished for that and preferred to go and play with my animal collection or tuck into my mum’s apple pie. I hated Manchester United. I hated football.

As the years passed, my parents’ marriage broke down and I would find respite in the sounds drifting through my bedroom window of the crowds at White Hart Lane cheering as goals were scored. I was intrigued by this. Regular readers of Dispatches will know the rest…

My anger at my estranged father would manifest itself through football though. As a result, my vitriol was reserved for United and United alone. The Arsenal rivalry was something a lot warmer but United had me spitting irrational venom for a few years.

Time has mellowed me of course and I’ve come to realise that Manchester United, whether I like it or not, are inexorably bound to me for the rest of my life. I was born exactly twenty years after the Munich air disaster. On the 6th February every year, I cannot help but spend a few moments quietly contemplating what was lost on that day and I find it difficult not to challenge ‘fans’ of other clubs who derive sick pleasure in singing those heartless, inhumane songs. I also am married to a Manchester United fan. Through her, I’ve worked through a lot of my demons to a point where I recently relented and allowed her to plant official Old Trafford grass seeds on our lawn…(how suburban can one be?). She finds it difficult to support United when they play Spurs. She genuinely likes my team and I feel a little foolish whenever Spurs even have a sniff of a decent result against them and I’m jibing and taunting her to little effect.

I guess it’s the football equivalent of the Lord Alfred Douglas quote about homosexual love – “the love that dare not speak its name”. The relative anonymity of Twitter allows people to confess attitudes and beliefs that they would never reveal to those they physically interact with on a daily basis. I’ve had a West Ham fan admit to me to originally being a United fan and a Celtic fan guiltily revealing that he secretly owns a Tottenham replica shirt. We all have different reasons for supporting the clubs we do. The romantic notion is that we all come to them through some metaphorical handing of a baton from generation to generation but to some extent, geographical shrinking and television have dismantled traditional rites of football-supporting passage.

I’ve probably watched more Manchester United matches than I have Spurs matches on television over the years. Simply because of United’s continued success and enduring appeal to the media. Ferguson’s sides are as familiar to me as any of the teams sent out by the merry-go-round of managers who have lodged at White Hart Lane in that period. More than any other side, I would have gladly seen the cream of these sides playing in a Spurs shirt. Cantona, Keane, Giggs, Bruce, Ronaldo and many more were players I have begrudgingly come to admire as the years have passed. The top table at my wedding was called the Gascoigne/Cantona table while the guests sat on tables named after our favourite United and Spurs players. I could never say the same for Bergkamp, Wright, Henry, et al. While my attitude to United has softened and I have become aware of my own identity, my attitudes to London rivals have rightly hardened.

Fast-forward twelve years. The same four individuals are in my living room watching United lose to Barcelona in this year’s Final. Two of those people are now married with a child. One is engaged. The other happily sits in an armchair getting drunk. The match is on but we share many laughs and reminiscences, contentedly easing in to our maturity. I want United to win but we all acknowledge the greatness of the Catalans. All is well with the world. Some things are more important now.

Today is Sunday. I’m about to go and do what all grown-ups are apparently supposed to do on a Sunday. I’m going to mow the lawn. I’ll just make sure to avoid a certain patch. This is what ‘angry young men’ eventually become.

See you next season.

Further Reading: Out of the Shadows: Arsenal and Me 

Dispatches is taking a well-earned break to enjoy the summer and the first flushes of fatherhood. A massive thank you to everybody who has read & supported this blog. It’s been a pleasure to write it. 

Keep your eye out for some Summer Specials. Dispatches From A Football Sofa will return in August. Until then, keep your sofas warm.

 

 

Unpredictable Predictability – Vol.2

22 May

I wasn’t expecting to be writing a Dispatch this Sunday. If the oddball ravings of Harold Camping were to be believed, you dear reader, at this very moment would be contending with cataclysmic earthquakes and worrying about whether you were one of the lucky few million who had made it up to heaven in God’s rollover jackpot of a Saturday. For those left behind on this damned Gomorrah of a planet there’d be, to quote the irrepressible Dr Pete Venkman from Ghostbusters, “human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together…mass hysteria”.

Predictably, the world’s still intact. It’s a beautiful, sunny day. I’ve had the fabled breakfast of champions (coffee and cigarettes) and am leaving fans of the five teams struggling at the foot of the table to contemplate their on survival on this last day of the domestic season.

It’s human nature to pontificate about fate and outcome though. Only upon reflection and with the benefit of changing circumstance and hindsight can you dwell on your own short-sightedness. I’ve had a look at some of this season’s early Dispatches whilst sitting in the garden and found my proclamations somewhat amusing knowing now what was to transpire.

In October, I suggested that Liverpool [will] have…points deducted and [will be] condemned to playing lower league football because of events that have occurred off the field rather than on it.”  I didn’t count upon the Lazarus-like arrival of Kenny Dalglish and his uncanny knack of raising the expectations of a faltering team. I might be even tempted to suggest that Liverpool are a good bet for next year’s title. But I won’t.

In the same month I dismissed Manchester United’s capacity for regeneration and their indomitable spirit:

“All empires have their demise. These falls usually occur after years of complacency and sated appetites that are superceded by powers hungrier and more willing to step up to the challenge of conquest. After twenty years of unprecedented success, Manchester United’s dominance may not have been scuppered by an old general’s desire to succeed but by the greed of a few bankrupt businessmen and the ignorance of a young soldier.”

Oh dear. Who’d have thought a Little Green Pea could shatter all such misgivings? But I did get one thing right at least. Spurs. Forget the year ending in a one. That famous superstition has more or less been consigned to the twentieth century and has made a non-believer of many a Spurs fan. I did say in August though:

I’m able to look upon Spurs’ impending Champions League campaign as the beginning of a glorious adventure. We will play the reigning European Champions twice. But we will definitely not be at Wembley in May’s Final. Because experience tells me it’s appreciating the journey rather than the blind pursuit of some imaginary glory that is the true, most gratifying aspect of being a Spurs fan.”

The nature of predicting events fails to take in changing variables. It’s a running theme in these Dispatches that football personifies the unending struggle to tame the uncontrollable. Managers might go to great lengths to prepare their squads mentally and physically. Books on tactics and manuals suggesting how to coach more successfully fill the bookshelves but football as a game does not allow itself to follow a pre-agreed script. People who don’t ‘get’ football say it’s all the same; just a load of men running up and down a field chasing a ball hand-stitched by an army of under-paid child orphans in a sweaty sub-continental sweatshop. In many respects, that’s true but that fails to take into account the subtleties and idiosyncrasies that keep fans coming back year after year. Who can account for a beach ball contributing to a goal, the myopia of a referee or the unguarded sexism of firmly-ensconced football anchors? I said anchors…

So if rumours are to be believed and a certain footballer is being hung, drawn and quartered for his craven attempts to gag the media for an alleged extra-marital affair, said footballer’s manager must be bordering on a state of apoplexy with a week to go before the biggest match of the football season. Instead of a relaxed week in which this manager would have drilled his players with plans on how to quell and overcome such irresistible and ominous opponents, he now has to contend with the very real prospect of his training ground turning into a media feeding frenzy. Could he have foreseen that several months ago or weeks ago even?

Whatever walk of life you come from, you’re required to plan. People like to throw the Robin Williams-inspired cliché of carpe diem at you, especially in times of reflection but nobody truly adopts this as an ethos to live by. I’m asked to predict the grades of students I teach on a routine basis. I can of course give an educated guess but I cannot guarantee the outcome. I can’t take into account a student’s home life, his attitude towards learning or even the mood he’s in on the day he takes his exam. Nevertheless, my reputation as an educator is by and large dictated by these dressed-up versions of fortune telling.

The season’s coming to a close. Some things have indeed surprised us. Blackpool’s refreshing and cavalier approach to playing football has enlivened the Premier League. As has the on-going comedy soap opera of Mario Balotelli’s sanity. Other things however, never seem to change: Arsenal’s aversion to playing teams of muscular presence, David Moyes’ ability to produce solid, workmanlike Everton sides or the sad, drawn-out demise of Michael Owen’s goal-scoring prowess.

And so as we bid farewell to season 2010/11, we look towards a re-opening of hostilities between Manchester United and Liverpool in 2011/12. But please, don’t quote me on that. Chelsea might have a say in that. Or Arsenal. Or Man City. Maybe even Spurs…

As for the Domesday merchants, they’ve got 23rd December 2012 to look forward to now. As Dr Pete Venkman so succinctly put it: “See you on the other side…”

Further Reading: Unpredictable Predictability 

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

Marriage of Inconvenience

15 May

A year ago, soundtracked by a score of ethereal tranquillity and the desolate scattering of rustling papers in the wind, Nick Clegg went for a walk across this country’s dales and tower blocks. He looked us square in the eye and decried that politics had let us all down. He called it “a trail of broken promises” and he vowed that should we vote for him and his party, fairness would be restored to a society that had been ravaged by the gluttony of the Thatcher years and the self-serving transparency of the Blair era. He believed his words and so did I.

In that same month a year ago, Peter Crouch took the chance that came his way and scored the goal that would propel Tottenham Hotspur into the stratosphere and fly in the face of those who believe that money is all one needs to succeed in the world. Manchester City’s avarice had been repelled. Goodness and virtue had been rewarded. Harry Redknapp roundly received praise for his ‘miraculous’ turnaround of a club long in the doldrums. Harry believed his words. So did the press. He even sang a song to hawk The Sun during the World Cup. I wasn’t so sure.

Twelve months later, Clegg’s Liberal Democrats find themselves decimated in the polling booths, ridiculed on a nigh-on daily basis by a right-wing press and the man himself appears drained of all the vim and vigour that made his optimism seem so appealing not so long ago. Having entered into a coalition government in which the Conservatives seem quite happy to bide their time until the uneasy alliance collapses under the weight of ideological incompatibility, Clegg has sat back and watched every significant pledge of his crumble for the sake of unity. In this marriage of convenience, it would seem that David Cameron is the Ibsen-esque patriarch, crushing the hopes and dreams of his wife as he and his cronies rub their hands at the latest Lib Dem gaff.

Twelve months later, having seen the European dream crumble to dust with an act of recklessness and a goal-keeping calamity, Spurs see their magnificent season receding into the distance. Needing a victory to maintain any kind of Champions League challenge at Eastlands on Tuesday, Crouch scored once more. Tellingly, it was at the wrong end. That one moment encapsulated Spurs’ run-in. One win in thirteen games, a goalkeeper shot of confidence, a serious injury sustained by the Player of the Season and the vultures circling around the club’s prized assets do not indicate a summer of quiet, happy satisfaction for Spurs fans.

Redknapp meanwhile does not see any huge cause for concern. On Match of the Day 2 last week he all but wrote off Spurs’ chances of finishing in the top four next season. Tottenham supporters are beginning to re-assess their own marriage of convenience with a manager who has never made any apology for the fact that he would be willing to move to greener pastures should the opportunity prove attractive. Unlike Nick Clegg however, Redknapp never makes any promises. By doing so, he needn’t ever be held to account. In fact, his default riposte to any kind of criticism from fans is to point to the fact that Spurs were rock bottom of the Premier League when he took over and we should more or less bow in gratitude for everything he has done for the club.

The Champions League was indeed a wonderful experience. To suggest that Spurs were incapable of reaching such a summit without Harry is folly. Martin Jol was close and had he not suffered at the hands of boardroom politics, he would have undoubtedly succeeded. Many who know me will attest to the fact that I have never let the sacking of Jol go. It rankles me. Because in Jol, I saw a manager whom I genuinely believe had the best interests of the club at heart. Redknapp however, for all the good he has indeed done, is always quick to mock Spurs supporters with pithy asides. Can anyone genuinely, hand-on-heart believe that he would see the job through if a better offer came along?

In that respect, Redknapp epitomises everything that was wrong with the governments of the last thirty years. He embodies the philosophy of the self-made working-class Tory who is quick to proclaim his roots whilst also looking out to advance himself at all costs. Spending lavishly on players that a club like Portsmouth simply could not afford, he and his acolytes vanished into the night as the south coast club fell apart at the seams. His response to the justified anger of the Pompey faithful was to shrug and suggest that they should feel lucky that he had brought them the greatest period of success in recent memory.  Tell that to the administrative staff that were made redundant or the four hundred local businesses that remained unpaid for undertaking work for Portsmouth whilst the club spiralled out of control with debts totalling £120 million. Boom and bust, played out on the football field. Blair and Brown’s proverbial chickens come home to roost. Redknapp may not have been totally responsible but he was certainly complicit.

As the summer approaches, Nick Clegg is in danger of losing all the credibility that he so successfully garnered for himself last May. He has probably lost that already. Nevertheless, in his face, you can detect a man who was truly caught between a rock and a hard place. I don’t think he has stopped believing in his core values. He is just trapped in a coalition government in which he is forced to compromise to the will of far shrewder and power-hungry partners. Much like Spurs fans are.

Don’t be surprised if over the summer you wake up to find Luka Modric modelling the latest brand design of Manchester United or Gareth Bale being unveiled as the latest addition to the galaxy of Galacticos. As for Harry, like David Cameron, he’s biding his time. His jingoistic friends in the press are clamouring for him to succeed Fabio Capello and it won’t be too long before England press conferences are reduced to sycophantic laugh-ins.

Spurs fans will stay put though. What choice do we have? The campaign to ‘Bring Back Jol’ starts here…

Dispatches From A Football Sofa has been nominated for the EPL Talk Football Blog of the Season award. If you would like to vote for it, just click on the link below. Thanks. Voting closes Sunday 22nd May.

http://www.epltalk.com/2011-best-epl-blog/

For Bonnie

8 May

You came to us on a Tuesday.

As the world turned its head towards a bad man’s comeuppance and the clashing of Iberian footballing titans,

We watched you take your first breaths

In splendid isolation.

You played hard, you did.

Like a Greek defence, locked and stubborn,

You made your mother work

But the reward was more magical than the miracle of Lisbon itself.

After thirty-eight exhausting hours we held you in our arms and cried

The most joyous of cries.

I’m sitting here watching you sleep.

Content in your own innocence.

You occasionally scratch your nose, heave a sigh.

You gurgle and crave your mother’s milk.

Unaware of your daddy’s other great love,

You have no concept of the eternal magic

Of twenty-two men hustling and bustling

Up and down a carpet of green.

Of the multitude of faces that cheer them on.

The grizzled, the youthful, the spiteful, the fresh.

Of the enduring fascination of Saturdays spent in front of a television watching other men

Watching a television.

Of the kits and the friendships

And the chips and the laughs.

As you embark upon your journey

(Should you make the choice to immerse yourself in this world that so occupies your father’s heart and mind),

I want to offer you an apology.

Whatever team you decide to hold dear will

Inevitably,

Incorrigibly

Provide you with heartache.

You’ll go to bed in tears from time to time,

Dreading the jeers and taunts from others

Belonging to other tribes.

They’ll let you down, your team.

Players that you idolise will drift away to other clubs

Lured by the promise of success and financial reward.

You’ll curse them and swear your love is dead.

And you’ll hate me for selfishly initiating you into this most self-punishing

Of pursuits.

But before you do that,

Wait.

Should you emulate your old man in an abiding love for this game

And more specifically for a club in North London, N17,

You’ll feel that you belong somewhere.

I’ll show you where you came from as I hold your little hand

And you pore over the matchday programme,

Your fingers greasy and smudging the paper.

As we pass your grandmother’s house,

(The place where your dad grew up,

streets away from where your great-grandparents made their home),

You’ll breathe in the same air that the generations that came before you did.

Wrapped up in a scarf of blue and white,

Your nose red and peering through the warmth

Of a bobble hat,

You’ll tread the same path that I did.

And through this you’ll travel back to the immigrant’s toil.

His loss of his roots and his hope for his children.

He finally succeeded.

“Wrong team,” he’d say of course.

But “these things even themselves out”,

The cliché goes

(Prepare yourself for loads of those).

Maybe it’s destiny that we’ll re-live the fabulous rivalry of N5 versus N17?

You’ll choose that lot instead of mine.

Or like your mother, (both Kentish girls),

You’ll tie your colours to the red of Manchester,

Scoffing prawn sandwiches together.

Either way I’d love you just the same.

But I’d rather your beautiful voice sang

The Glory Glory of Tottenham Hotspur than that of Manchester United.

After all, I can’t afford to take you up the M6

Every two weeks

On a humble teacher’s wage.

Teaching.

There’s another thing you’ll come across.

No matter what they tell you at school,

However many isosceles triangles they get you to protract

Or Shakespeare sonnets they get you to recite

There’s nothing they can teach you about life that this beautiful game of ours can’t.

Take my word for it. I know these things.

You’ll come across swindlers and crooks who will test your very faith.

You’ll see acts of camaraderie and selfless humanity

As people you’ve never met before will dance with you in thronging streets

Celebrating those fleeting moments of exquisite celebration.

You’ll be bored mindless;

Unable to keep your eyes open as the tedium of the mid-table clash ticks along monotonously

On your screen.

You’ll laugh at the tantrums and verbal cacophony

Of braggarts and showmen.

You’ll be mesmerised and dazzled by exhibitions

Of outrageous skill that will leave you

Shaking your head in disbelief

Crying with the sheer beauty of it all.

You’ll learn that it’s not always about winning, it’s about belonging and loving.

Unconditionally.

As I do you.

And then there’s the stories. So many stories.

The lifeblood of the game.

Our folk tales.

Of a man blessed with the skill of a god

Who danced and cheated his way to immortality.

Of a balding genius who destroyed everything we loved about him with the butt of his head in his final ever act.

Or there’s the tale of the Turnip Man.

Or the Mad Irishman who took his dog for a walk.

And best of all,

There’ll be tales of a man called Brian

Who told us all he could walk on water and offered to fight heavyweight boxers.

You’ll see your own stories of course.

Store them away. They’ll nourish you as the years go by.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t always make sense.

That it sometimes seems futile.

That it makes you pull out your hair.

Such is the way with this game.

As is life.

Ask anybody who feels the same way.

They’ll tell you a similar story.

You came to us on a Tuesday.

Our beautiful little girl,

More precious than anything the world can offer.

Whatever the years bring to you,

Whatever life throws your way,

Whichever path you choose to walk down,

Be sure of this my darling Bonnie.

Sharing my sofa with you

Will be the greatest honour and pleasure I will ever have.

Dispatches From A Football Sofa has been nominated for the EPL Talk Football Blog of the Season award. If you would like to vote for it, just click on the link below. Thanks.

http://www.epltalk.com/2011-best-epl-blog/


A Conspiracy of Dunces

1 May

“Sometimes to me it is disgusting to live in this world and have this football world for a living.” – Jose Mourinho

As the Happy Couple performed their much-anticipated nuptials and the world looked on with a sense of either wonderment, pride or sneering indifference (delete where applicable), much more sinister forces were at work behind the highly guarded barricades of Buckingham Palace. The royal family, you see, are not all that they might seem. According to sometime goalkeeper and now quasi-messianic oddball David Icke, the Windsors are in fact part of a shape-shifting reptilian race that controls and feeds on humanity. The sacrificial rituals required to carry on their domination led to the ‘murder’ of Princess Diana and there are grave concerns now for the future of the recently wed Duchess of Cambridge after her investiture.

Meanwhile, billionaire property magnate and wig-fancier Donald Trump sought to question the birth credentials of a democratically elected US President. Apparently, that Barack Obama has managed to pull the proverbial wool over   everybody’s awestruck eyes and his tenancy of the White House is nothing short of a land seizure by a foreign invader. As a consequence, Obama was forced to release his birth certificate for verification in a press conference this week in order to temper the insinuations of the Republican Party’s presidential hopeful. Worryingly, citizens of Hicksville are still to be convinced.

And then there was Jose Mourinho’s petulant and ungracious press conference executed with acidic aplomb in the aftermath of what has swiftly become known as The Battle Of The Bernabeu. A loss of discipline on his side’s part and two moments of artisanry from Lionel Messi had effectively left Real Madrid with an uphill task to overturn in the Camp Nou next Tuesday. Mourinho however, was unwilling to admit any kind of tactical deficiency on his part. He of course laid into the match officials, as is the set default of the aggrieved manager in the modern era. But then came the moment when Mourinho’s conspiracy complex went stratospheric:

“Congratulations to a fantastic football team. But congratulations for all they have as well, it must be difficult to get to get all this power. Where does this power come from? I don’t know if it’s because they give UNICEF publicity (on their shirts)? They have to get to the final, and they’ll get there, full stop.”

In essence, Mourinho has effectively implied that Barcelona, UEFA and a United Nations charity have colluded to fix matches in the Catalans’ favour. Without proof (other than a series of incidents that have given Barcelona advantages in key matches), his calculated inferences could potentially threaten the foundations and integrity of a game that already is riddled with the chicanery of FIFA officials, football agents and self-serving players. However, the danger lies when calling into question the integrity of an institution (UNICEF) whose sole function is the welfare of the disadvantaged young. Say it often enough Jose, and people might actually start taking your comments seriously.

As was the case in 2005 when Mourinho branded referee Anders Frisk an “enemy of football” after he deemed the latter’s performance in a match between the ‘Special One’s’ Chelsea and (surprise surprise) Barcelona inadequate. Death threats ensued and one of the world’s leading referees was hounded into an early retirement.

Or how about the accusation a year later, that the NHS and Reading Football Club did not act with urgency and care after Chelsea’s goalkeeper Petr Cech had received a serious but accidental blow to the skull in a collision with Reading’s Stephen Hunt? Mourinho’s righteous claims that the treatment offered the stricken goalkeeper was “shocking” and “a nightmare” forced both Reading and the ambulance service to release documents recording the fit and proper action they took which grossly contradicted Mourinho’s ministrations.

It seems that the magnetism of Mourinho is dissipating fast. Where once his swarthy charm and scowling arrogance held many in thrall, he is rapidly turning into a figure that looks to clutch at extreme straws rather than admit to his own and his team’s shortcomings. The facts may indeed show that players have been sent off whenever his teams are pitted against Barcelona. But rather than seeking to address the fact that this may be down to the intricate short passing game that the Catalans adhere to being rarely playable against his own philosophy of defensive brinkmanship, he seeks to conjure injustices and conspiracies, imagined or real.

As an unashamed self-publicist, Mourinho therefore shares much with both Trump and Icke. Whether you agree with their theories or not, they are always eminently watchable. Consequently, somewhere in a distant outpost of the world, impressionable souls might just take their crackpot theories as gospel. What happens then? Will they take responsibility when the letter-bomb is posted through the door or the gunman finds aim? That may seem a little far-fetched, but history proves that human beings are indeed very impressionable creatures.

Innuendo and subtext does not further any cause. By starting conspiracies that clearly do not exist and are solely created with personal gain in mind, these three men only serve to negate the valid and diligently researched efforts of those people who work to shed light on cover-ups. Without these people we wouldn’t have the unmasking of the British government’s shameful imprisonment of the Guildford Four or the unravelling of the Nixon administration after the Watergate scandal or the uncovering that Jean Charles de Menezes was not the terrorist we were lead to believe he was in the direct aftermath of the London bombings of 2005.

Somehow against these examples of real hidden agendas that affect real people with very grave and often tragic consequences, a lizard, a birth certificate and a red card pale into insignificance.

Dispatches From A Football Sofa has been nominated for the EPL Talk Blog of the Season award. Thank you to everybody who has read and continues to support this humble little blog. 

To vote, simply click here

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

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.

Follow Dispatches on twitter: @gregtheoharis

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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