Archive for May 2010
The biggest news in the build-up to the 1990 World Cup was the installation of a second television in my house up in my parent’s bedroom. It was miniscule in comparison to the vast one downstairs, which must have been at least 18 inches in width. We invited the neighbours over to celebrate the switching on of the new set as we perched on the end of the bed to squint at the opening game between the champions Argentina and Cameroon, the most memorable moment of which was a concerted and vicious attack on Claudio Caniggia, the violence of which still contaminates my nightmares:
The Argentinians muscled their way into the knockout stages despite their African tribulations with a victory over the Soviet Union, who were a limp spectre of the side that had helped knock out England of the group stages of last European Championships.
The English and the other two members of that Euro ’88 group, Ireland and the Netherlands, were re-united out in the Mediterranean. England had lost to both in 1988, including defeat to the Irish on the same afternoon as my sister fell out of a tree. That was a bad day.
I remember that the chat was that England and their belligerent fans had been expelled out to Sardinia as if it was footballing penal colony. I was irrationally terrified of hooligans, like monsters in the cupboard. It wasn’t as if they were bashing down the front door to come in and throw the dining room chairs about. In order not to agitate the hooligan faction it seemed that the four teams of the group had agreed to play out insipid stalemates, England progressing as winners by default when they accidently beat Egypt.
Elsewhere Scotland yet again flirted coquettishly with the knockout phase before rejecting the opportunity to advance, performing their regular party piece of slipping on a banana skin, this time Costa Rica. It never fails to entertain, even on a tiny television.
David Platt sent me out of the French windows and skidding onto the lawn when he volleyed England past the Belgians in the second round. I spent a lot of the England games out on that lawn, not having the emotional faculties to cope with the tension, particularly in the quarter-final against Cameroon. In fact I can’t remember any of that game, just the half-time assessment by Jimmy Hill who maniacally repeated ‘shut up shop’ as England were ahead, his grotesque chin oscillating wildly like a terrifying ventriloquist’s dummy. And ventriloquist’s dummies are terrifying at the best of times.
I didn’t see much of the semi-final against the West Germans. I was continuing my vigil on the lawn. I covered every blade of grass that night, collecting myself to watch us blow it in the shoot-out. After which I went back through the French windows this time to sink my knees into the turf and cry.
Most of the more colourful memories of that World Cup are of the squalor: the defensive tactics, Frank Rijkaard’s flob clutching to Rudi Voller’s perm, and the Argentinians skipping and barging bizarrely into the referee during the latter minutes of the final.
There is one aspect of the tournament that will never be bettered in terms of artistic integrity though. The accompanying graphics supplied by the Italians were all cascading full-stops and sliding text. It was beautiful. Home broadcast graphics seem to have been dispensed in favour of more homogenised BBC and ITV versions since. It’s a crying shame.
Sometimes a blog post is handed down to you from God in his heaven. And sometimes it comes from my friend Wutton in Hackney, who sent me this link to a Wikipedia page listing all controversies involving Australian rules football players. It’s quite long.
I try and avoid perpetuating broad national stereotypes but some of this is fair dinkum true blue stuff, tastier than a shrimp on the barbie. Cobber.
Admittedly much of this material isn’t that laughable: it seems being an early AFL player involved being bribed to ‘play dead’ in matches or just being dead. However, it seems that latterly Aussie rules incidents have lurched from the tragic to the tragicomic to the just plain mental. There’s the standard affray, drug-abuse, and drunken high-jinks gone too far. And then there’s the stealing bags of potatoes, defecating on strippers, and wiping your blood on one of the opposition’s guernsey. I had to look guernsey up. Apparently it means shirt.
I’ll leave you to peruse at your leisure but I’ll point you in the direction of Aaron Edwards, Shannon Grant and Hamish McIntosh who have neatly gone one further than ‘starting a fight in an empty house’ by ‘getting thrown out of a Lionel Richie winery gig’.
Surrey won a four-day game at Northampton today. Last season when they visited Wantage Road for a County Championship game they also won. It’s hardly a noteworthy winning streak. Until you paint in the shocking statistical background.
These are the only two victories that Surrey have recorded in Championship cricket in the last three seasons. Which doesn’t say much for Northamptonshire. Perhaps they’ve just taken pity on Surrey. Without the threat of relegation from Division 2 there is a little bit more scope for charitable points donations.
Predictably Mark Ramprakash was leading the charge home to the promised land in this non-relegation thirty-two pointer. He may be as old as my Dad was 20 years ago (that’s really old), but Surrey still rely on him like a geriatric would on an ancient walking cane.
God knows what they’ll do when he retires. It will be like someone has died. They’ll have the flags at half-mast on the roof of the pavilion. I created this Excel-based nugget to illustrate Surrey’s dependence on the great man (it’s just something I whipped up you know):
|Season||Ramps Total||Surrey Total||% of runs|
So since he crossed the river in 2001, Ramps has been responsible for nearly a fifth of all runs that Surrey has scored off the bat. I have no means of comparison (or I haven’t got time) but that seems like a lot.
Medical science needs to advance for Surrey. And quickly.
My memories of the ’86 tournament are sketchy at best. So this could be brief. I was living on a housing estate in Suffolk at the time, and most of my more vivid recollections are of playing British bulldog with an albino called Graham. As they would be. My retention has also been corroded by the trauma of a prolonged period of bed-wetting which had been precipitated by an unfortunate incident with a plastic tractor and an old woman with a mechanical larynx that made her sound like a Dalek’s aunt.
I found comfort in the pages of my Panini and a preview magazine featuring optimistic articles about English prospects in the competition. Any hope of victory seemed to have been expunged after the first two games against Portugal and Morocco, picking only one point and failing to score in either. Not that I saw any of England’s group matches, the time difference from Mexico meant that I’d long since gone upstairs to urinate on my bed linen.
My only companion on the estate was a Canadian emigre called Tom. Happily, for the sake of playground banter, his national side were even worse than mine, contriving to lose every game they played. Including to France, who I was rapidly developing a minor obsession with and their direct, fluid and above all foreign style of play. And their matches kicked off at a decent hour. I followed them all the way to the semi-final where they disappeared from the tournament and off the face of the footballing earth before sheepishly resurfacing in Euro ’96.
I had little interest in the other home nations. Northern Ireland departed without me even realising they were there in the first place. Scotland’s continued failure to reach the knock-out stages created an amusing subplot. They took the lead against the West Germans. Gordon Strachan’s oddly sensuous attempt to mount the advertising hoarding in celebration will remain with me forever. They then snubbed a lovely opportunity to progress by drawing with an absurdly savage Uruguayan side that were down to ten men inside two minutes. The group was won at pace by Denmark, another team to catch my admiring glance with their weird continental play.
I was certain the Danes were going to win the tournament. And then they got pummeled 5-1 by Spain in the second round. World Cup football is not like normal football.
England were accelerating and in the process creating the blueprint for latter World Cup performances. Founder against the minnows, excel against their betters, before taking their leave in epic style against some dark force of international football, in this case the evil Argies. I still maintain that Maradona’s second goal is actually an own goal by Terry Butcher. And as for his first, I had to ask my Dad after next morning’s headlines whether it had indeed been scored by the ‘Hand of God’. I was much more theologically open-minded in those days.
England’s defeat brought about a degeneration in my bed-wetting. My Mum had to take me to the doctors and they gave me a machine. It was a bit like a smoke alarm but for piss. Unfamiliar with the essence of the NHS, I questioned my Mum who the contraption belonged to. She replied Margaret Thatcher. I felt a bit bad. She probably needed it herself.
Together with an incentive scheme involving Toblerones the machine seemed to do the trick. I’ve been dry for about eight years now.
As for the tournament, the bastard Argentines went on to win. I remember the final, and the utter puzzlement when a player called Brown scored to put Argentina in the lead. World Cup football was confusing. Brilliant, but confusing.
This is Jordan Spieth. He just made the cut of the Byron Nelson Championship on the USPGA tour. He was born in 1994. That makes him 16. He is still at school. Brilliantly he’s actually playing truant to compete in this tournament.
I also played truant at school once. I didn’t go swimming. I went to a pub and sipped a lager shandy instead. Each to their own I say.
The country is showing signs of incipient World Cup fever. It’s spreading like rubella across our roadside advertising hoardings and commercial breaks. It’s haemorrhaging into our newspapers and it’s picked up Terry Venables and put him on top of the Millennium Dome.
World Cups are fun and this is a good thing. Soon it will start infecting the hearts and minds of ordinary non-footballing folk and make them speak in foreign tongues: your managing director’s PA will beetle up to you and ask why Emile Heskey hasn’t scored any points yet, your dentist will hold forth on the mechanics of Gary Barry’s ankle injury and your mum will scream “get into ‘em, fuck ‘em up” at the little television in the kitchen. People who didn’t care before will strap themselves uninvited onto the same rollercoaster as you for the duration.
We can be a little overprotective. When you’ve emptied your emotional bank account over the last four years sitting through dreary friendlies and scribbling and re-scribbling out potential squads, it can stick in the gullet to watch some spry parvenu leaping up in front of the big screen and reaping the same dividends of jubilation or despair as you.
But my hardline stance to these johnny and jenny-come-latelys has softened after last summer’s Ashes, which failed to embed itself in the collective conscience in the same way as the 2005 series, trapped as it was in the widely inaccessible Sky network. So when you’re banging on at your managing director’s PA about England’s crisis at no.3 and she’s telling you to get out from her personal space, you start to regret the lack of the nationwide sporting hype.
So I welcome unreservedly the onset of World Cup fever. In fact, bring me a cold towel. I’ve already got it.
I really honestly don’t care about the London Olympic Mascots, but they represent such a rich comedic seam, I’m going to continue to mine it.
The collective outpouring of disgust this morning was predictable. I saw at least a dozen people on the tube reading the back pages with the scrunched-up features of a baby eating a lemon. Rivers of vomit flowed down Oxford Street. Tottenham Court Road was the scene of a thousand minor epileptic attacks.
LOCOG have missed a trick here. The best PR for this kind of thing is no PR at all. They should have removed this project from the clammy hands of that advertising gonk squatting on the table in the middle of his office trying to raise a brainstorm from his colleagues on an “all-nighter”. I can smell the delivery pizza from here.
Commissioning Michael Morpugo to dream up the heartwarming story that Wenlock and Mandeville were created by an old man for his grandsons is one thing, but when it’s later revealed that the mascots contains a casing for covert surveillence then it’s just plain disturbing. Being an instrument of pederasty will win you no fans (I presume).
Lord Coe has been keen to stress the input of child focus groups in the production of the pair, but perhaps he would have been better served by handing to entire process over to the little blighters. Run a contest on Blue Peter or in the Broom Cupboard or wherever it is they hold mascot-drawing competitions these days. You won’t hear anyone moaning at the launch if the mascots are the product of the fevered imagination of a tiny girl with pigtails and polio.
Unless it’s really shit.
Everyone needs a story these days and it’s not just X Factor contestants. It seems that isn’t enough for an Olympic mascot to turn up at the opening ceremony, bumble around a bit and wave to some schoolchildren. The London 2012 mascots were launched today together with the charming tale of their genesis. And it’s not set inside a circle of beanbags and flipcharts in a glass-walled office of some Soho advertising agency.
It seems that they were manufactured from the stolen offcuts of a Bolton steelworks by someone who looks a bit like former Labour minister Charles Clarke. For reasons only known to Charles Clarke, he creates the pair only with one eye each. It’s a fact that takes on sinister possibilities when an eager advertising goon tells Claire Balding on The One Show that the Cyclops feature is designed to house a miniature camera.
The launch is inevitably the cue for widespread wailing that they are not fluffy enough or British enough or anatomically correct enough. And then deluge of unfavourable comparisons: they look like the contents of Robocop’s handkerchief or the stricken victims of an Atlantic oilslick or the iridescent bastard children of a skittle and Gordon Brown.
People shouldn’t get so fed up. It doesn’t really matter what they look like. As Berlino the Bear proved at last summer’s World Athletics Championship, it’s the person inside that counts:
I’ve been looking at this photo a lot and it’s helping me come to terms with the fact that England’s cricketers are the best at something. I’m still finding it difficult to digest the fact that we are the champions of everybody else who plays cricket. I keep belching it up and having to wash it back down with a swig of Pepto-Bismol. But unlike heartburn, I’m going to enjoy this moment.
I’m also going to salute all those brave men whose international careers died on the fields of rubbish limited overs cricket. Your plucky Texaco Trophy triumphs, or creditable third places in overseas triangular tournaments, or inevitable early exits from sub-continental World Cups, they led to this victory.
So here’s to you Vince Wells and Darren Maddy. Ali Brown, Vikram Solanki, Ian Austin, Neil Smith give yourselves a pat on the back.Well done Jim Troughton and Mark Alleyne. Chris Schofield, Peter Martin, Ed Joyce stand up and take a bow. Good show Graham Lloyd and Matthew Maynard.
And special mention to Rob Key and Mark Ramprakash, two behemoths of the age of international underachievement, who have ushered out the old era by twatting first-class double-centuries this week. I love you guys.
In my ill-judged preview to the ICC World Twenty20 tournament I predicted that England would perform well before imploding somehow in the latter stages. I was wrong. The opposite transpired. England nearly bowed out at hands of two mathematicians and a plucky troupe of Irishmen, before forging on and playing well. Really well.
I still can’t properly credit the miraculous sea-change in England’s limited over cricket since the end of last summer. It’s as if they’ve been replaced by eerily efficient versions of themselves, polished Stepford cricketers.
And now I’m lost. I spent long periods of last year laying lustily into England’s one-day side on the pages of this blog. We used to say at school that it was much easier to write a critical book review for your English homework than a good one. That ethos seems to have leaked into my writing. I’ve got nothing. It’s difficult to sneer at excellence.
So I’m left with the scraps of banal observational musings. Like the fact that the Craig Kieswetter sounds like Prince William doing an impression of Gary Player. Or that there is little more entertaining in life than slow-motion footage of a group of very happy adult men jumping up and down.
All I can say is well done England. And I saw Abdul Razzaq outside my office this afternoon. This really is a strange new dawn.