Archive for April 2009
One tiny little goal scored in this week’s Champo League semis may seem a paltry morsel compared to the veritable KFC Family Feast of football we’ve been served up in recent weeks, but for me it represents a comforting return to the stolid tactical fare that is normally dished up, particularly on the European stage.
Don’t be mistaken, I like goals as much as the next fan. And I have slurped up the recent action like a greedy toddler with his milkshake. But my entertainment is laced with strange brand of paranoia. That the current pandemic of defensive incompetence is part of a hideous conspiracy to make football a more palatable prospect to a global audience.
The inane defending from normally solid yeoman such as Terry, Vidic and Skrtel suggested that they were now beholden to a restraining order stating that they are not allowed within ten yards of a would-be attacker. And was an electric circuit wired around Petr Cech’s frame which completed when he laid two hands on the ball thus delivering an unpleasant shock?
Similar thoughts resurface every time there is a freakish upsurge in goal-scoring – which happens more regularly than you think. I am never quite sure who is responsible for these sinister edicts but this is paranoia. It’s not supposed to be rational. It wouldn’t be paranoia otherwise. It would just be thinking.
Happily, normal order was resumed this week. The plot has failed, and cagey football has won through again.
Or maybe it was simply a failure with the circuitry on Cech’s electrokit.
Seeing as we are on the subjects of mascots, and to slake my juvenile thirst for all things connected with the 2010 World Cup, I think it is time to acquaint ourselves with the mascot for next year’s festivities in South Africa. So here he is: Zakumi. It seeems that every mascot worth his or her crust these days should be introduced complete with a small biography. Zakumi is a leopard who knows the score: he has his life-story. I am not clear why this is necessary, except possibly to sell small furry versions of Zakumi.
So we learn that that “over the last few years he has travelled the whole of Africa where the leopard habitat is good.” Judging by the recent photo of Zakumi below, it seems that those years have taken their toll. The hairline has receded slightly, the complexion has lost its glow. In fact, he looks more like Keith Richard. Zakumi has obviously spent one night too many on the savannah listening to jungle music. After all, according to his biog, “one thing is for sure, Zakumi will be first on the dancefloor and last off it at the biggest party in the world.”
What is left of the hair was dyed green “as he felt it would be the perfect camouflage against the green of the football pitch.” Presumably to lose his marker at corners or to confuse the offside-trappers. One wonders why no striker has thought of this before. Probably because its a rubbish idea.
We are told that Zakumi loves football. Which is a relief for Zakumi. I’d hate to think of him traipsing around the football grounds of South Africa, listlessly waving at the young fans, waiting for the whole nightmare to be over so he can get back to larging it on the plains of the Serengeti with a raddled old World Cup Willie.
The A12 in Stratford affords an excellent view of the burgeoning Olympic site, and progess appears to be continuing at a merry pace. But as the park takes form, it strikes me that one vital component remains missing: the mascot. Having neatly managed to alienate virtually the entire country with the logo, the committee must view this next event in the marketing decathlon with trepidation.
I boggle at how the organisers will play it, but a radical change in approach from the blessed logo seems likely. Maybe they will create a mascot that is extracted from the very essence of the East End. A kitten dressed as a Pearly King. Ronnie and Reggie the cuddly pair of crayfish. Or a lovable jellied eel sketched by a small child of Cockney persuasion.
My suggestion to the 2012 authorities is that they should schedule a fact-finding mission to the foothills of the Caucasus mountains, or more precisely Sochi. Sochi is the host of the 22nd Winter Olympics, to held eighteen months after the London games.
The tremors of discontent following the unveiling of the 2012 logo were clearly felt in eastern Russia because the organisers there deemed that the mascot should be the result of a civic consensus. To this end a ballot was held last March, the voting slip of which was attached to the form for the Russian presidential election. One of less peculiar aspects of that particular process if Western observers are to be believed.
There were four candidates: a polar bear, a dolphin, a snowflake and a mysterious figure called Ded Moroz who sounds like a Balkan folk nu-metal fusion collective, but in actuality is an elderly sort who carries out the seasonal present-dispensing duties in large parts of Eastern Europe. Probably because Santa can’t be fucked to go there.
It was a brutal campaign. Moroz began with a clear advantage – being a human helped him connect with the electorate in ways his rivals clearly could not. He hit the trail. Hard. As you can see by this photo.
The snowflake floundered against its obvious political flaws: being inanimate and everything. Although it never stopped Douglas Hurd to be fair.
And the polar bear drew unenviable parallels between Misha, the beloved mascot of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. The she-bear has entered Olympic history as one of the more popular mascots. I’m not entirely sure what the fuss was about, but at least she was something, unlike some others I could mention. Izzy, who did the honours at the Atlanta games, was little more than an amorphous doodle. Presumably the name was short for ‘what the fuck is it?’.
There was even talk that Misha would be brought out of retirement for an emotional swansong at the Sochi games. Sadly rumours were unfounded.
All of these machinations cleared the way for a landslide victory for the dolphin. Almost everybody likes dolphins. I’m not sure why. I thought Flipper was a bit of a twat.
The design of the Olympic mascot is a serious business, but we might have a little fun along the way. Democracy can be fun you know.
Judging by the BBC coverage of the Masters, the clouds of emnity that gathered over the relationship between Peter Alliss and Gary Lineker may have parted somewhat. But I suspect that their uneasy alliance is merely borne of professionalism as opposed to a newfound chumminess. The vaguely patronising avuncularity of the older man and young Lineker’s (as Alliss calls him) training-ground banter are a combination as well suited as a Woods-Mickelson foursome pairing. When Lineker explained that the over-running of the golf had delayed the episode of Robin Hood due to be shown next, he dared compare Alliss to Friar Tuck. The chunter that emanated from the commentary box was almost visible. It’s the ultimate chunter-banter conflict if you like.
Their battle is part of a bigger war, the skirmishes of which have been waged in the clubhouses of this land for decades now. It’s a class war. A bloody civil war between the middle classes. The two sides fall in regularly at the golf course.
The Alliss tribe cravenly sip their whiskey macs around a small table on the verandah. They talk of many things: the weather, dear old George’s gout, the inevitable decline of this country. But mainly they look over with suspicion in the direction of the Linekers.
The Linekers gather in the spike bar around the fruit machines. They insult each other loudly while necking Heineken. And eating crisps of course.
The Allisses think that the Linekers’ socks are too short. And they don’t like their plans for an extension to the clubhouse for a jacuzzi. And then there was that incident when a Lineker Audi was found parked in the secretary’s spot.
The Linekers pay little heed to the Allisses, but often take delight in firing a three-wood up the backsides of an Alliss fourball if they are playing a little too slow.
All this of course infers that the only root of Peter Alliss’ mistrust of Gary Lineker is inveterate old snobbery. He may just think that Lineker is a rubbish golf anchor. Which he is. His matey charm translates from the Match Of The Day studio to the Butler Cabin as wooden “tryhardism”.
In fairness to Lineker, as successor to Steve Rider he had some big shoes to fill. Nice deck shoes and a well-tailored pair of chinos actually. Now there is a man with class.
Predicting golf can be a dull affair. Tiger Woods is good player, he could win the Masters. Phil Mickelson is also a good player. He could also win the Masters. Padraig Harrington could also win the Masters. So might Vijay Singh. Or Sergio Garcia. Or maybe Jim Furyk. But the fact is my goldfish could make these predictions and I don’t own a goldfish.
So it is often more fun to speculate on players that probably won’t win the tournament. It’s a habit that my bookmaker has encouraged enthusiastically.
In fairness, it’s a strategy that would have paid rich dividends in the last two years: Zach Johnson and Trevor Immelman were, and remain, players from outside the elite who soundly defeated the odds and extend their wardrobes to the tune of one green jacket.
So let’s delve into the perceived second division of international golf and see if we can find ourselves another unheralded Masters champion.
We’ll probably want a good putter – Augusta’s greens are notoriously tricksome. And good Masters memories would be preferential: some experience of the course and the singular challenges it presents. Current form cannot be discounted also.
So let’s tap all that information into the dating computer and see what it spews out. Bernhard Langer? Sorry – forgot to input the age requirements.
Nick Watney? That’s more like it. Currently residing in the upper echelons of the putting stats on the PGA Tour. Finished 11th last year in his first Masters. Winner of the Buick this year and runner-up to Mickelson at the CA-Championship. Worth an each way bet possibly. Maybe. Potentially. I’m beginning to get a reputation for vague punditry on this blog. A reputation with myself anyway.
But let’s go even further into the leftfield and give myself the opportunity for a more patriotic style of pin-sticking. Rose, Westwood, Poulter, Donald and Casey (fresh from victory in Houston) have all performed well at Augusta in recent years. The remainder of the English contingent is made up by a pair of Masters rookies: Ross Fisher and Oliver Wilson, both of whom have stepped up confidently to the big league in the past year.
Particularly Wilson, who impressed with his quiet conviction while playing in Ryder Cup. He would certainly represent a random shout to take the jacket. He’s never actually won a professional tournament. Augusta would be a good place to start. He might have a soupcon of the home support. Augusta was his home for six years and studied at the college there.
So there it is. Oliver Wilson to win the Masters. Definitely.
So a bizarre tour ends in the strangest way possible: England win the one-day series. A long winter of discontent is over and the players can take a rest. I think we all need one. And Kevin Pietersen can let his tether go a little slack for a short while. A very short while.
Because we are only a tiny way through an increasingly acromegalous calendar for KP and his colleagues. It begins in South Africa as the curtain goes up on the IPL extravaganza, followed by a reunion in May with the West Indians, and then the World Twenty20 Championship and then of course the small trifle of an Ashes summer. It’s a sustained period of cricket that is almost as long as that last sentence.
Of course it’s all a tantalising prospect for the hardened cricket fan – with the added bonus that the Setanta subscription will start paying for itself again. I’m a big follower of the Chennai Super Kings (if only because it is the only cricket team I can think of that is named after a cigarette).
I just worry that come the 20th September and the last of seven one-day internationals against the Australians, I will be found rocking in the corner of my sitting room, dribbling and speaking in tongues. You can certainly play too much cricket, but can you watch too much?
My tickets are already bought for the New Year’s Test in Cape Town next winter. We’ll certainly know then if my eyes were too big for an already distended belly. I’m guessing not.
It was a performance that threatened to boil under against Ukraine, but big Johnnie Tezza’s late goal put the keys back in the ignition of the ‘we’re going to win the World Cup’ bandwagon. I can almost hear the sound of the engine revving. The light has turned amber. The foot is on the throttle and we’re ready to accelerate away with the calm efficiency of the latest Brawn.
But next to it at the lights is another bandwagon. The passengers are all sneering naysayers, faces pressed against the window, gesticulating osbcenely at the other vehicle. They wank on ad nauseam about how we’re never going to win the World Cup, there are too many foreigners in the English game, endemic failings at grass roots level, the players are all paid too much to care, etc etc etc.
But the truth is that we could win the World Cup. We almost certainly won’t. But we could.
Now that’s the kind of incisive comment they never taught me at journalism school, but I don’t get paid for writing this shit so I’ll make my fence and sit on it thank you very much.
The point is that once you reach the finals, which England almost inevitably will, it’s only seven games to win. And two or three of those are likely to be against substandard opposition.
Look at the Italian side that triumphed three years ago. It’s not as if they were golden-haired cherubim educated in the beautiful game on the Elysian playing fields. They were a functional team representing a national game riddled with corruption. They scraped past the likes of USA and Australia before edging out a one-man team in France in the final. A one-man team whose one man was contemplating his retirement options in the dressing room as the last acts were being played out.
And I know that Spain are a better team. And Holland and Germany are looking strong. But the hosts will be weak, and then there are large question marks over the South American challenge (although I’ve always rated Bolivia).
So I am going to place myself between the twin freeways of optimism and pessimism. You’ll find me on the central reservation of hope. Probably carefully sticking players into my Panini album. Maybe. Possibly.