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Archive for April 2009

Shifting the Goalposts. And Defenders.

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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.

Written by harrisharrison

April 30, 2009 at 8:40 pm

The Lounge Leopard

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Seeing as we are on the subjects of mascots, and to slake my juvenile thirst for all things connected with the 2010 887039_mediumWorld 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.”

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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.

Written by harrisharrison

April 27, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Seconds Out: It’s Ten Rounds With Alliss

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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.

Written by harrisharrison

April 13, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Craig Stadler To Win The Masters

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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.

Oliver Wilson: bidding for the jacket to match his trousers

Oliver Wilson: bidding for the jacket to match his trousers

There’s Cricket Coming Out Of My Nose

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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.

Written by harrisharrison

April 5, 2009 at 8:07 pm

England Might Win The World Cup. Or They Might Not.

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An Artist's Impression of the England World Cup Bandwagon

An Artist's Impression of the England World Cup Bandwagon

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.

Written by harrisharrison

April 2, 2009 at 11:41 am

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