Archive for May 2009
It’s coming to that time of year when one of those metaphorical gap-toothed ratty-tached fairground folk cranks up his engine and the transfer merry-go-round whirrs into dizzying life again.
It should gather pace in quick order: there is no international tournament to delay proceedings. Managers like to mooch and browse around the summer finals searching for a bargain like a schoolgirl choosing bangles in Top Shop. They should heed the caveat that a player’s form over handful of games in July for his country is not representative of his actual talents. Particularly if one of those fixtures is against England, who have the unhappy knack of making crap look like Cruyff.
Hence the questionable skills of the likes of Stephane Guivarc’h, Salif Diao and Karel Poborsky were hired to dilute the quality of the Premiership (although in fairness to Poborsky he proved his class in later spells with Benfica and Lazio).
So what can we expect from this summer’s activity? In most years, managers gather around the relegated teams to see what titbits they can scavenge. A bit like when the tramps fall upon the black bags on the pavement outside Pret A Manger to dine on their discarded sandwiches. This season that analogy probably does poor service to Pret’s estimable baguettes: there are slim pickings on offer from Newcastle, Middlesbrough and West Brom. It’s largely Benjis fare. With the odd exception: Stewart Downing probably, Obafemi Martins potentially, and David Wheater certainly. He’s apparently attracting covetous glances from Rafa Benitez.
It would come as no surprise to me to see a yellow Robin Reliant parked down White Hart Lane as football’s very own Derek Trotter, Harry Redknapp peddles his wares and puts his own mark on the Tottenham squad. In fact a lot of chairmen will be reaching their hands down the backs of their sofas to see if they can find some forgotten asset on the substitute bench or the reserve squad that they can cash in on. By selling it to Wolves.
Another modern trend in football is the long-running transfer saga, the developments of which are played out ad nauseam in the papers and websites until the football community unite in their boredom and nod off. So we’ll have to endure the ongoing soap operas surrounding Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Barry and new and exclusive this season, Carlos Tevez. Intriguingly Tevez is another linked with a move to Anfield. The big four in this England tend not to share their prized possessions, jealously guarding them from their rivals (unlike in Italy where the top clubs swap their stars like Panini stickers). This embargo is most strictly imposed between Manchester United and Liverpool. A player has not been directly transferred between the two teams since 1964. It was Phil Chisnall in case you ask.
Of course Tevez doesn’t technically belong to United. He’s the possession of a shady Iranian businessman who is reputed to have links with South American drugs-running and arms-trading. But that’s an entirely different saga. A whole new merry-go-round.
I’m not in the habit of tuning into Radio 5 for 606 with DJ Spoony. You’ll find more informed football chat on Songs of Praise of a Sunday evening. But when a dejected Newcastle fan called in to complain that her team had been relegated ‘without a whimper’, it seemed like the most forthright condemnation of their performance possible: that they couldn’t even summon as much as a tiny sob as they bowed out at Villa Park.
In fact if Alan Shearer had asked for a whimper during his pre-match teamtalk it is entirely possible that that he’d have been greeted with a gallery of unenthusiastic faces. For this Newcastle side, whimpers require just a bit too much gumption and creativity.
And after the final whistle, as the cameras panned across the obilgatory shots of blubbery teary Geordies , the cheers still rung out from the away support. Christ knows what they were cheering at. It can’t have been the team. Or football for that matter. Maybe the weather. Or the pitch. Or the efficient post-match stewardship of the Villa Park staff.
Survival Sunday was a strangely muted affair. Not a whimper was heard as all four teams still fighting for their Premiership existence lost. If ever there was an advert for increasing the teams relegated to the Championship to five then this was it.
If Phil Brown was embarassed that his Hull team had stayed up despite winning one game all year then he didn’t show it: crooning on the pitch like a pissed uncle at a wedding.
Ricky Sbragia took the other approach and promptly resigned as Sunderland manager. But then his side stopped whimpering weeks ago.
Good grief. So poor old Shoaib Akhtar has got genital warts.
I suppose we should be refreshed by the candour of the Pakistan Cricket Board, but I think I speak for the entire cricketing community when I say: too much information. Way too much information. If this is what information is then I never wanted to be informed of anything again.
You could accuse me of being overly squeamish but I still am floundering as to the reason why the PCB saw the necessity in such a revelation. Testicular degradation is the sole business of the owner of said testicles and should be kept firmly within the confines of his jockstrap. A simple groin issue would have sufficed.
My initial thought was that Shoaib Akhtar’s unfortunate affliction had been promoted to a flagship issue in some national campaign to stamp out venereal disease, but somehow it don’t think that it’s particularly high on the agenda for the Pakistani government.
Now I wonder if perhaps he’s the victim of a bizarre practical joke perpetrated by the PCB office. He’s rubbed enough people up the wrong way through his turbulent career.
Now he’s just rubbing his genitals.
Oh and a word to wise. Never type in ‘genital warts’ into Wikipedia. Ever. Particularly just after you’ve eaten your dinner.
I played my first cricket game of the season on Saturday – the season being winter – and was left strangely fazed by my performance. I didn’t bat, achieved nothing of note in the field, and was brought on for three accurate but pointless overs hidden in the wastelands of the mid-innings lull by a beneficent captain happy to donate the opportunity of a meaningful contribution. Which I spurned.
I ruminated all evening and the following morning but it was only when I switched over from Countryfile to watch the Test Match that I realised what was gnawing at me. I’m Tim Bresnan. The guy to make up the numbers: to turn X into XI. That’s why I am called ‘I’.
Which was why I was surprised when captain Strauss plumped for Brez Lad to open up on this morning when England scrambled for wickets as the clouds gathered and Broad and Onions stewed.
One wondered what machinations had occurred in the dressing rooms beforehand, but from my schoolhood experience if you find yourself unexpectedly called upon in the sporting arena it’s because your mum has rung your games teacher to complain that you’ve caught your death of cold standing for hours in the wilder parts of the outfield.
So it would seem to explain a great deal if coach Flower had received an irate call from Ma Bresnan saying that young Timmy had come home in tears because the other boys wouldn’t let him play. Or from Mrs. Collingwood saying that her cherished one had always wanted to have a go with Matthew Prior’s gloves because the ball hurts his hands. And Jimmy’s mum to ask if her son could join the slip cordon because they were always laughing together and he felt left out.
Flower is clearly an amenable chap. He even let Borthwick and Turner, the little ones from the nursery school, out onto the pitch to have a run around where the ball wouldn’t hit them. Hopefully.
But we should take the opportunity to congratulate Bresnan on taking his first three wickets in test cricket – it might be the last chance he gets this summer. And to all those who took catches having found themselves in foreign fields.
And to Strauss and Flower for a pulling off a minor masterstroke in ignoring the claims of more senior bowlers and giving Master Tim his shot. My mum has your number Mr. Flower: expect a call any time soon.
As a postscript to this post, I have just noticed that I have included an inadvertent Onions pun for which I can only apologise.
Having been subjected to attack from what one might suggest was friendly fire, it has been a torrid old week for some of our more venerable sporting institutions. First Chris Gayle smacks test cricket for six over its head by confessing that he wouldn’t be so sad if it died out. And then Rory McIlroy delivered a fearful whack to the Ryder Cup, arguing that it’s just an exhibition and ‘not that important to me’. I shouldn’t be surprised to read in my paper tomorrow that Sir Steve Redgrave has claimed that Olympic gold medals are ‘not all that’ or Sir Alex has revealed his true feelings by taking a crap in the European Cup.
McIlroy’s outburst can probably be attributed to adolescent recalcitrance. He is only twelve after all. His captain and playing partner today Colin Montgomerie probably took this into consideration when he politely asked the press not to make a war between him and the younger man (although in truth it’s something we’d probably all like to see: the young scrapper against the sheer bulk of the Scot).
Gayle claims he was misrepresented. You can judge for yourself by listening to the audioclip here. The strange thing about this interview is that it sounds as if Gayle and the female journalist are on a date. Gayle comes across slightly coy and flirty and definitely a bit pissed. It would certainly explain why his defensive technique deserted him on this occasion.
Test cricket had an immediate opportunity to stand up for itself and say ‘now listen here my good man’ at Chester-le-Street today on the first day of the Second Test. Unfortunately, on a play-doh pitch in front of a soupcon of spectators, it was more: ‘actually Chris maybe you’ve got a point.’
In fact, perversely, the most interesting section of play was when Gayle brought himself onto bowl early against Andrew Strauss, the self-appointed champion of the test game. It was like he was countering his own argument.
The debate continues tomorrow.
Sirian Botham must be in a permanent state of wonderment at the state of modern cricket. Every commentary stint features at least one ‘I find it a bit strange’ or ‘I’m sorry but’ or some other utterance of bewilderment at proceedings. So when Andrew Strauss opted to fling the new ball to Graeme Swann during the First Test against the West Indians at Lords, the ‘what the fuck’ scratching of the Beefy head was virtually audible from the back of the box. And sure enough, ten minutes later he’d flounced down to microphone to vent his feelings.
Strauss is beginning to endear himself to me with his frequent onfield displays of human frailty: in the Caribbean we had confusion, caution, childish amusement. And back in England, we now have pride. I don’t blame him. He has wintered wafting away the criticism of conservative captaincy following defensive declarations, particularly in Antigua.
The decision to open up with the spinner is the cricketing equivalent of an accountant rocking up at a party wearing pink PVC trousers. Misguided. It probably served only to blow more air into Swann’s ever-inflating ego. In fairness, Swann can, well, swan about as much as he pleases giving it the big ‘I am’: we will need all the self-belief we can lay our hands on to beat the Australians.
And it’s mean of me to criticise Strauss for a two-over experimental section of what was otherwise a well-conceived victory. An honourable mention should go to Tim Bresnan, who contributed virtually nothing to the win but seems like a jolly chap: good in the clubhouse probably. One wouldn’t blame him for feeling a tiny bit crestfallen – he must look at Graham Onions like a boy on his first day at school views a fellow new starter who has gained instant playground kudos for being very good at skateboarding. Or whatever the kids are doing these days.