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

The Last Shadow Puppets

27 Feb

The television screens of the world were dominated this week, by an aging man railing at unseen forces hell-bent on dislodging him from his seat of power. Underneath his umbrella, (somewhat reminiscent of that pathetically iconic snapshot of Steve McClaren watching helplessly as his England regime dissolved in the Wembley deluge), Colonel Muamar Gaddafi ranted and foamed at the mouth blaming the twin evils of Al-Qaeda and drugs for the unrest engulfing Libya. Puffy-eyed and increasingly deluded, like any other shameless egoist, he doggedly failed to claim any responsibility for his own failings and threatened repercussions, promising to ‘cleanse’ the country of its enemies.

But what is it about football itself that so magnetises the attentions of despots? Dictators seemed to be forever enthralled with the illusion that football is a perfect tool for the dissemination of propaganda, an opportunity to control and diffuse public dissent whilst simultaneously basking in the idolatry that the game lavishes upon its greatest exponents.

The history of the game is unfortunately littered with a rogue’s gallery of dictators who have taken a more than passive interest in the fortunes of national and club sides. Take Francisco Franco in Spain, for instance. Throughout his draconian tenure, the General was frequently accused of skulduggery when it came to the relative ease with which his beloved Real Madrid overcame opponents. In the 1930s, Benito Mussolini allegedly sent a telegram to the national side’s coach, Vittorio Pozzo, on the eve of the 1938 World Cup Final with the ominous message, “Win or die”. Latterly, Uday Hussein, son of the former Iraqi leader, was named head of the Iraqi Football Federation at the age of 21 and took great pleasure in savagely beating members of the Iraqi squad after defeats.

And of course, there’s Gaddafi whose son found himself on Perugia’s books but with little success despite being hailed as “one of the best players in his homeland”. The self-styled Brotherly Leader and Guide of the First of September Revolution of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (they do love their epithets, these dictators), also purchased a 7.5% stake in Juventus after a long-standing association with the Agnelli family who own both the Italian giants and Fiat.

In footballing terms, and of course such comparisons should be taken with a pinch of salt, is Alex Ferguson’s ruthless banishment of those who do not fall into line with his philosophies at Manchester United any different from the expulsion of dissidents from Nazi Germany in the 1930s? Is Jose Mourinho’s penchant for proclaiming his ‘specialness’ whilst denigrating the qualities of his opponents radically at odds from any manner of South American tinpot Presidente? The famous Brian Clough line goes: “If I had an argument with a player we would sit down for twenty minutes, talk about it and then decide I was right”. Naturally, nobody is suggesting that Messrs Ferguson, Mourinho and Clough were ever responsible for torture, suppression and genocide but to retain and maintain power over a period of time, an individual seems to have to be in possession of a huge degree of megalomania, arrogance and bloody-mindedness and here is where the comparisons do lie.

At the same time, football fans, myself included, tend to lean too heavily on the notion that football is ‘the people’s game’. There is that eternal need to view football as the great leveller. It’s a game that thrives upon the collective spirit in which a team can achieve above and beyond the sum of its very own parts. The advertisers play upon this image as they seek to make their profits by presenting us all with an image of Planet Football where street urchins in Buenos Aires have the same common goal as the Soccer Moms of New Jersey. All very egalitarian, some might say communistic, even. It’s almost like we’re being told that if we all come together as one, we can overcome any hurdle. Much like the way the protests in Egypt and Libya are being portrayed as the will of a people to overthrow their decrepit leaders. Substitute that with the famous Newton Heath green and gold colours that were so prominent at Old Trafford last season. For a moment, it was thought that the fans of Manchester United might just overcome the corporate greed of the Glazer family and a bright, new era was on the horizon. Might being the operative word. Have you seen any For Sale signs outside Old Trafford? Have the Glazers admitted defeat and bought their one-way tickets back to Florida?

What happened to the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine of 2004/5? Newsnight reported this week that the country is as corrupt and poverty-stricken as it ever was. The young protestors have resigned themselves to defeat and now concentrate on ‘just getting on with their lives’. With the army in control of Egypt as I write and David Cameron schmoozing away in Cairo this week as he seeks to secure arms deals, at what price will the man on the street be sold out for, yet again? Will the ‘bigger players’ in the true World Game really allow an Islamic government, freely elected, to potentially seize control of these oil-rich nations and thus hold the ‘developed’ world to ransom? In the same way, do we really believe that our voices as fans can really be the harbinger of change? I may be a romantic at heart, but I’m also a realist.

A dictator, like a football manager is essentially a salesman. If the product he is selling falls out of fashion, it is his puppet-masters that will either take the decision to dispense of his services or completely re-brand him in a more media-friendly image. Saddam Hussein served his purpose beautifully for the United States in the wake of Iran’s Islamic Revolution but when his egotism became a little too unmanageable, he was re-branded as a tyrant. Gaddafi for years was perceived as a pariah but library photos that have been in wide circulation this week of Tony Blair and Nicolas Sarkozy glad-handing him prove otherwise, when it best served their interests to keep him onside. Whether they’re loved by their public or not makes no difference. The decisions to retain or relinquish are made behind closed doors. Does anybody really think that Roman Abramovich gave a second thought to the adoration of the Chelsea faithful of Mourinho when he washed his hands of his gifted but troublesome coach in 2007? Upon Martin Jol’s departure from Spurs, were Daniel Levy and the Tottenham board sympathetic to the high regard felt by many fans towards the clearly successful Dutchman? And what really happened in the boardrooms of West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United when quite out of the blue to players and fans alike came the sudden sackings of two managers, Roberto Di Matteo and Chris Hughton, who had committed no obvious sackable offences?

Dictators come and go. The people however, are another story. And how do you keep them in place? Easy. Marketing. From the cradle to the grave. Sell, sell, sell. Behold, Didier Drogba playing keepy-uppy in a township populated by barefooted African children. Marvel at how Wayne Rooney can power his way through a sea of dizzy defenders whilst juggling his marriage and his sponsorship deals. Buy your satellite dishes, your cars, your houses and live the dream. Because if you’re pre-occupied with all those, you’ll forget about why you were angry in the first place.

In the final speech of his masterpiece The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin proclaims:

“I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there’s room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.”

It’s a wonderful sentiment but until the roots of the problem are addressed, the merry go-round of dictators and the oppressed will continue – not dissimilar to the world of club boards, managers and fans in this sport that has for years, been neatly packaged, labelled and sold as “The People’s Game.” No additives, no preservatives and full of all that hearty goodness we know you need.

Further reading:

Wont Get Fooled Again? – 12th December

Individuals United – 24th June

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

My Mate Pete White

20 Feb

The vast majority of this week has seen me putting together a Dispatch in which I dissected the meaning of Gennaro Guttuso’s ‘Waterloo’ moment. The aging pitbull general of the AC Milan midfield, faced with the realisation that his team had been largely outfought and outthought by the relative Champions League novices of Tottenham, decided to take matters into his own hands and attempt to fight the entire Spurs squad with coach Joe Jordan being the particular focus of his red-misted ire.

Then on Friday, during a cigarette break, quite randomly and innocuously, the thought hit me. As football fans, as human beings, why is it that we expend so much energy focusing on life’s negatives and let-downs? Goodness knows there are enough forums and platforms for us all to vent our collective spleen on what we think has gone wrong in the game. From phone-ins to blogs to mass protests, we all labour under the impression that something’s amiss in the world. Footballers are greedy. Agents are gluttonous. The game is run by a closed circle of corrupt businessmen, driven by the financial rewards of sucking the lifeblood out of it. We all know this. It’s a common tale, told many times.

So this week, I want to celebrate the little miracles that the game gives us. Things like a little club from West Sussex taking on and frustrating the most famous club in the world in an FA Cup match. Or the youngsters of Arsenal maturing before our very eyes and besting the greatest practitioners of the game, Barcelona. Or the magical, inexplicable moment in which I saw my club defeat the seven times champions of Europe on their home ground. But most of all I wanted to tell you about my friend Pete White.

Pete and I met in 2002 in Bali. I was on the verge of being ripped off by a savvy local tour-guide who regaled me with silver-tongued charm about the benefits of his expensive dolphin-spotting enterprise. Needless to say, I would have parted with my rupiah and embarked upon said experience if it had not been for Pete who happened to be walking past at the time and had already learned from his own encounter that it wasn’t quite the event it was being portrayed to be. Actually, let me back up a second. If I had not been wearing my Spurs shirt, Pete wouldn’t have stepped in to warn me as to the hazardous decision I was about to make. Because, like me (for his sins) Pete is a Spurs fan. As a result of this chance meeting, Pete, myself and our girlfriends (now wives) travelled around the island for the next three days. And out of this, grew a friendship that has lasted to this very day. We have been to each others’ weddings, shared many laughs and have of course, taken the pilgrimage together to the hallowed terraces of White Hart Lane.

In May 2012, Pete will be undertaking a very different and more exhaustive pilgrimage. Having found out that the Rwandan Olympic team will be basing itself in his hometown of Bury, St Edmunds, he and two friends plan to cycle from Suffolk to Rwanda covering six thousand miles in seventy days. He’s doing this to raise money to allow the Rwandans to fund their Olympic journey, experience and preparations which hinge on them having £25,000 at their disposal before they can think about getting a reimbursement from the International Olympic Committee.

The thought of Rwanda conjures up so many negative connotations for many of us who watched in horror and helplessness at the genocide that occurred there in the mid-nineties. However, what awaits Pete I’m sure, is an experience that will be as life-affirming and hopeful as having one’s first child. And underpinning all this, is the notion that sport, can and does unite us all.

Dispatches began on the eve of the South African World Cup. I began writing it because I wanted to articulate just why football is so important to me. As the blog has developed and gained more readers, I have come into contact with (via Twitter and other social networking media) many others out there who want to do the same as me. I have received responses and am now in contact with people in the US, Ghana, New Zealand and Holland and fans of Blackburn and Blackpool, Ajax and Arsenal to name just a few – people who I know I will never meet but share my abiding love and hate of the game.

Unfortunately, I don’t frequent White Hart Lane as much as I used to due to financial constraints and responsibilities but also because for years, I have felt distant from the game I’ve obsessed over for the best part of 25 years. I’ve felt patronised, ignored, shouted down by the marauding bullishness of Sky Sports for longer than I can remember but via this platform, I am now reading about football and communicating with other fans in a way I didn’t think possible just under a year ago. During matches now, I find it more incisive and humourous to have my ‘twitterfeed’ on, rather than listen to more bland punditry emanating from the television screen. It’s almost like being in the pub but from the comfort of your own sofa. Because, what all these people have in common, is a deep-seated passion for the game. Beyond advertising hoardings, beyond the Nike tick and beyond another Beckham barnet.

On the island Kho Pha Ngan, off the Thai coast, at Ban Chaloklum Beach you’ll find a rotund fisherman who answers to the name of Joe. He cannot speak English very well – at least he couldn’t speak it with any degree of fluency back in 2002. But as we got off the longboat, I was astounded at his attire. In this remote place, the fattest Thai person you could ever hope to see had put his large frame into a rather tight Spurs shirt. As he approached us he let out the bellowing cry with arms aloft: “TOTT-NAM HOTSPUUUUR”. Over the next few days he dismissed Glenn Hoddle’s passing philosophy as “too slow, too slow” and religiously and painstakingly filled in his giant World Cup wall chart as the tournament progressed. I have it on good authority that he’s still there and in possession of the ‘dressing room’ Spurs keyring I gave him upon leaving.

The thing is, however disillusioned we are, there are always people who feel the same way as we do. The great thing about our twenty-first century world is that we now have the means to articulate this and our passions with greater immediacy and as the more serious business of social change in the Middle East sweeps before our eyes, we can now see and take heart from the power and the need for all of us to know that we are not alone.

Football brought me into contact with a person who has become a great friend of mine. He is preparing for a journey that while involving cycling every day in aid of the Rwandan Olympic team, I have no doubt that the international language of football that I have experienced in myriad ways in foreign lands and closer to home, will bring him new friendships and ties that bind. Love him as I do though, you’ll never see me on a bicycle. I’ve got my sofa. So, as Pete carries on his diligent training regime this week, I’ll sit here planning another swipe at the forces of evil bankrupting this game of ours. Next week, normal service will be resumed.

Follow Pete’s journey and progress on Twitter: @cycle2rwanda & via the website: Sport For Rwanda

Home Is Where The Hart Is

13 Feb

The most enduring stories are those that centre upon the quest of their protagonists to find their way home. From Homer’s Odyssey to Homer’s precarious drive in the opening credits of The Simpsons, we are continually entranced and beguiled by the adventures of characters who crave nothing other than safe passage and security from the raging winds of the world beyond. Tony Soprano wheels across the surrounding New Jersey environs after another day of murder, betrayal and therapy and wants for nothing other than one of Carmela’s leftover gabagool and a reclining seat in front of the History Channel whilst Dorothy intones repeatedly that “there’s no place like home” when the transparent nature of the realities of Oz become apparent.

How must West Ham fans be feeling this week, knowing that the ground that saw the majestic Bobby Moore perfect and perform his cerebral form of defending, will be jettisoned for a stadium that will be as homogenous and soulless as any of the others that have been built in the Premier League era? The onward march of progress cannot be stopped and in many cases, it shouldn’t. If that were the case, Mr Mubarak would still be in power as I write. However, with change there inevitably must be some sacrifice. And West Ham supporters, whether willingly or less so, must begin the process of beginning to relinquish part of themselves and who they perceive themselves to be after Friday’s decision to award the Olympic stadium in Stratford came out in favour of their bid rather than Tottenham Hotspur’s.

I wrote a piece for In Bed With Maradona in October in which I put forward the case for a possible ground share between these two old rivals. Although I stand behind my original proposals, the last couple of months have shown me that any move away from N17 would have been fractious and divisive both for the community and businesses within the White Hart Lane locality but even more tellingly, we would have seen a fan base descend into the bitter civil war as was so heartbreakingly played out when Wimbledon relocated to Milton Keynes and were rebranded as MK Dons whilst the hardcore, local support formed AFC Wimbledon. When the FA cup draw threw up a potential match-up between the two clubs earlier this season, the football media quickly went into a hand-wringing frenzy at the thought of the ensuing hostility that would inevitably have arisen from such a fixture. In the end, replays put paid to that but AFC’s success in the non-leagues will ensure that the throng will get their dose of blood-letting sooner rather than later.

I don’t want Spurs to end up as a media sideshow, with supporters clashing outside the stadium and threatening to create a rival fan-owned club, as happened with Manchester United. Nor do I want threats of boycotts and shirt burning. In many respects, the Olympic decision saved us from all of that. There still remains the issue of how the club can accommodate its fans and expand but that is for the people who receive a far greater salary than me to work out an achievable and sustainable way to keep the club in the location in which it was formed. But that is for another day. For the moment, we keep our home.

And for me it means the following… It means I can take the walk from my mum’s house through Fore Street (always on the right-hand side) on a match day with my unborn but imminent, son or daughter. I can buy an open portion of chips with them (salt first, then vinegar) and then walk around the stadium, within the mass of the crowd, taking in the aroma of grilled onions and horseshit. I can buy him or her a programme whilst I pore over the badly printed but cutting commentary of a fanzine. Or see him or her wrapped up in a Spurs scarf for the first time. And watch his or her heroes play on the same pitch as the one on which I saw Jurgen Klinsmann score a spectacular scissor volley on his home debut and the four goals in four minutes we scored against Southampton in 1993, a few days before my Arsenal-supporting grandfather died. I can show him or her the place where I stood for the first time, with tickets bought off a tout by my dad for eight pounds, behind a fence on a sunny April day in 1989 to watch my beloved Spurs (with Waddle and Gazza) beat West Ham. And because he or she will be there, they’ll understand, with any luck. Because he or she will be connected to the past in a way that no manner of perfect viewing, easy access, corporate sponsor-driven stadiums can ever hope to emulate.

However much he prospered in London, my grandfather always harked and pined for the old country. Despite all that he achieved, he missed Cyprus dearly and romanticised it in a way that only our memories allow us to. In much the same way, football supporters do the same. Manchester City might now bestride the football world like an engorged money colossus but it was telling that in yesterday’s Manchester derby, their fans were still chanting that they were “City from Maine Road.” Eastlands doesn’t eradicate such yearning – it paradoxically enhances it.

West Ham will inherit a wonderful stadium – that cannot be denied. In much the same way that Arsenal and Southampton and a number of other clubs have left beloved home grounds in the last decade or so, to be re-housed in bigger and seemingly better locations. But the art décor of Highbury and the intense closeness of The Dell have been lost forever and for the fans of these clubs, it can only be a further factor in their dislocation from the modern game.

As he looks out upon the cityscape of Baltimore in the last scene in perhaps the greatest story of the modern era, The Wire’s Detective Jimmy McNulty’s final line is tellingly, “let’s go home”. In the end, isn’t that what we all want to do?


Further Reading: Spurs, West Ham; agree to leave stadium plans behind – In Bed With Maradona

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

The Ring Of Fire

6 Feb

“Heat cannot be separated from fire or beauty from the Eternal,” the Italian poet Dante Alighieri told us back in the Middle Ages. His masterwork, The Divine Comedy, inextricably binds him with the image of fire as a means of suffering and purification that so many people of religious persuasion perceive to be the conventional depiction of hell.

Judging by the manner in which Fernando Torres’ departure from Anfield to Stamford Bridge was greeted by some Liverpool fans on transfer deadline day, you would think that the Spaniard had already been condemned to an eternity of wailing and gnashing in the pit of Hades. Most Liverpool fans were understandably upset about Torres’ decision to seek new employment but managed to show an admirable sense of perspective when weighing up what their ‘Nando’ had given them during his stay at the club. The beauty of the memories he had given them was, as our friend Dante suggested, indeed eternal.

Torres, like any other employee in any other line of work, had the right to move on if he deemed it in his interest that he had further means of advancement in his career elsewhere. It had been evident for months that he had grown jaded with life in Liverpool. However upsetting it might be to the young fan who had idolised him for several years, his transfer need not have been the platform for some fans to ‘spontaneously’ display their ire by burning the number nine shirt that had borne his name outside Anfield on Monday night.

In the end, their protests descended into a shambolic pantomime that was purely symbolic in meaning. After all, Torres’ presence was immediately consigned to memory as soon as Luis Suarez came off the bench to score on his debut against Stoke on Wednesday night. In the revolving-door culture that football has always been party to, the Kop had found a new hero to adore. As it had when the likes of Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush came and went like so many before them.

Taking an aerosol to a cheaply manufactured piece of polyester leisurewear did not change anything. And why should it? The protests were innocuous by the very nature of the transitory reality that dictates that players will indeed, come and go. There was no ideology behind the gesture. No pent-up outpouring of a justified grievance with the status quo. In many respects, it was merely an act of mindless vandalism.

Contrast that with how the people of Egypt are taking to the streets with the legitimate weight of years of corruption, repression and despotism under the tinpot regime of President Hosni Mubarak, motivating them. Cairo itself currently resembles the apocalyptic visions that Dante imagined with such vividness hundreds of years ago. If we are to ascribe a hierarchy of ‘protest by degree’ here, what is happening in Egypt immediately, decisively and clinically relegates the actions of a few camera-craving individuals in Merseyside to a mere speck of insignificance. What are being torched here are the symbols of repression, enacted by the collective mass of the people finally taking their destinies into their own hands. The Egyptian peoples’ act of aggression is not targeting another human being per se. It is attacking the very apparatus in which a whole society is run. However, like those Liverpool fans, their resistance is being conducted within the parameters of a mass outcry. Safety in numbers, as it were. There are risks involved with such a strategy but it is nothing when you compare that to an individual who is prepared to sacrifice his or her very own existence for the sake of a cause or a belief.

Such was the case in 1963 when the Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc, famously executed an act of self-immolation on a busy street in Saigon. His aim was to highlight and condemn the persecution of his brethren under another regime propped up with Western collusion like Egypt’s; that of Ngo Dinh Diem. The photos of his self-sacrifice have subsequently passed into the iconography of the twentieth century but at the time, they succeeded in making the world aware of the horrors taking place in South Vietnam. If a man is prepared to burn himself alive, then clearly he has great cause to. Now that’s truly having the courage of your own convictions.

The act of burning, of course, can also be seen as a cleansing ritual. Hence Dante’s depictions of purgatory, the ascendancy of cremation as a means of committing ourselves back to whence we came and in its most benign sense, the process of domestic cooking. Perhaps, in their subconscious, those Liverpool fans were merely saying goodbye to the hero they had once so revered? Then again… perhaps not.

What’s all this got to do with football, you might ask? Not very much, is perhaps the honest answer. Today is my birthday. I am thirty-three years old. February 6th though also marks the anniversary of the Munich air disaster that tragically extinguished some of the brightest talents and potential greats the English game had ever produced. Manchester United players like Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor and Roger Byrne. Whilst the same date twenty years later brought so much joy to my small family, elsewhere it will always be remembered by millions for the loss of boys who never lived to celebrate the age that I have reached today.

That other great Anfield demigod, Bill Shankly is attributed with saying that football was more important than life and death. How trivial it sometimes feels when in the week when a player leaves one football club for another, the future of a country is being fought out in front of the world’s watching eyes and we remember those who never had the chance to see it.


Further reading: In Memoriam – Dispatch: 5th September

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

Pulped Friction

30 Jan

Note: This Dispatch should be read in an American accent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Dispatches From A Football Sofa on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

23 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading: The Revolution Must Be Televised by Juliet Jacques

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

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