Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The not very beautiful game

I fell out of love with football a long time ago.  This was partly due to the fall from grace of my team Ipswich Town, after years of glory.  However it is mostly due to the way the game has changed.  In the seventies when the Town were riding high under Bobby Robson the game was played by men.  Defenders were big, intimidating, hard men like Tommy Smith, Ron “Chopper” Harris and at the Town we had “Big Al” Hunter.  To play against these men, forwards had to be tough too, in those days footballers didn’t like to show pain and we kids having a kickabout in the park wouldn’t show pain either.  Nowadays we see the likes of Ronaldo writhing around in apparent agony if someone so much as steps on his shadow.

Although I always follow the Town’s results through the season I no longer feel the pain of defeat nor does it bother me if their East Anglian rivals do well.  However until fairly recently I have found myself passionately involved when the England team plays.  For my whole life, whenever England played in a major tournament I had an unshakeable belief that they would find a way to win.  This belief would not diminish until they were finally eliminated from whichever tournament they were playing in.  In 1990, 1996 and to some extent 1998 our exits were heroic, we retained a sense of pride in our team.  Since then we’ve gone out with a whimper. The 2010 World cup was the turning point, the standard of play was pathetic and our exit was an embarrassing thrashing by the Germans of all teams.  This was a low point in English football and one from which we’ve never recovered.

Euro 2012 has seen an improvement.  England played reasonably well in the group games and qualified as group winners.  For 45 minutes we held our own against a decent Italian team but then we ran out of gas.  The second half and all of extra time saw a piss poor performance which was excruciating to watch and the Italians deserved their penalty win.  Nowhere near as embarrassing as 2010 but we were out all the same.

What I don’t understand is how we can have such a competitive domestic league yet be so mediocre on the international stage?  Apparently all four teams that have reached the semi finals have a mid winter break in their seasons, does the English team just run out of gas?  Is the FA interested in the performance of the national team or is this of secondary importance behind making millions of pounds with the premier league?  After our atrocious showing in the 2006 Ashes the ECB commissioned an inquiry, now we have the best cricket team in the world.  Will the FA hold a similar inquest?

Finally, although I’m no longer a great football fan these days, I have watched a lot of matches over the last forty years.  Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Kevin Keegan, Trevor Brooking, Kevin Beatie (who remembers him?), Peter Shilton, Gary Lineker, Brian Robson, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer and David Beckham were all great players.  Wayne Rooney is nothing like a great player, not even close.  If that scouse fucktard is the best we’ve got then we’re screwed.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

“Skagboys” by Irvine Welsh

I have to come clean, I am an Irvine Welsh fan.  I have read everything he’s had published and loved almost all of it.  His debut novel “Trainspotting” changed my life and everytime I read his work it makes me want to be a writer.

If you have read Irvine Welsh you might want to skip this paragraph but if you are unfamiliar with his work then here’s a few brief outlines.  Welsh is an ex junkie from Edinburgh and a lot of his work deals with things he himself has lived through.  You sense there are elements of the man himself in certain characters.  IW has created a world and many of his characters cross from one story to another if only in cameo.  The first thing you will notice about his language, dialogue in particular is written in a local dialect.  The first time reader will have to hear the words/ accent in their own mind, to help understand it on the page.  Once you become familiar it becomes second nature.  This style of writing dialogue is brilliant as the regular reader will recognise individual characters, without introduction, from the way they speak.  This adds so much depth to the character and really helps the reader to understand them.

“Skagboys” is a prequel to “Trainspotting” and basically charts the fall from society of the characters we have grown to love/loathe in previous novels.  To quote from the book’s cover;
“Skagboys charts their journey from likely lads to young men addicted to heroin which has flooded their disintegrating community……this is an exhilarating and moving book, full of the scabrous humour, salty vernacular and appalling behaviour that has made Irvine Welsh a household name.”

I was a little sceptical when I began reading, knowing these characters futures means I know there will be grim tales to follow and this is most certainly the case!  In places it is very dark with vile characters behaving in despicable ways and loveable characters coming apart at the seams.  It’s sad but lightened at all times by the humour throughout.  At times I literally laughed out loud, giggling in a caravan on a foreign holiday, trying desperately not to wake the kids.  By the end the characters have become those we know from “ Trainspotting” and “Porno”.  The ending is comical chaos but falls short of the euphoria of other novels but we knew that had to be the case.

Welsh has been accused of “glamorising heroin addiction”  but anyone who has read the vivid descriptions of a skag boy’s existence will be put off for life.  For this and his brilliant use of dialogue he should be on the school’s curriculum.

Skagboys is a great book, Irvine Welsh is in top form and it takes its place alongside the others in this series.  Hopefully one day Renton, Spud, Begbie & Sick boy will ride again for another scam.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

3rd test & stuff

We should be at the end of the fourth day of the third test match but due to the shite weather we’ve only had two days play.  God we were lucky at Trent Bridge last week!   England won the toss and put the Windies in to bat, Jimmy & Broad both being rested with Onions and Finn taking their places.  For WI Shiv (best batsman) and Roach (best bowler) are injured and there are many changes.  It’s a competitive day but it ends with WI 280-8, honours just about even?

Sunday should have been all England and when inn removed Rampaul with the third ball of the day that was the way it looked.  Enter Tino best for his first test in about three years and mayhem.  Ramdin inched his way from an overnight 60 odd to his second test hundred but best stole the show with a world record 95, the best ever score by a test no.11.  All crash bang wallop it was too, a great, fighting knock from a great entertainer.
England batted and managed to get in a bit of a mess at 49-3 but KP & Bell both scored fluent half centuries to leave England at 221-4 at the close.  Then there was no play on the final day, no result in this match but after two full days cricket, WI were ahead on points but neither side ever looked likely to win. 
My pre series predictions have been pretty accurate all round, he says smugly.  West Indies performed better than I expected but England were under par.  They will have to improve if they want to beat South Africa later this summer.

As mentioned elsewhere, I’ve just returned from a week on the continent and once again I’ve found myself embarrassed by the behaviour of my fellow Brits abroad.  The kids missed a couple of days school so for the first few days of our week there were very few English families around.  However the Brits arrived at the weekend when the schools closed for a week and the noise level ramped up immediately.  The jubilee weekend giving the exiles the excuse to stay up late drinking heavily and singing badly.

A good example of the mentality I‘m talking about reared itself one morning.  I overheard a skinny, shaven headed little man tell his children, “they’re not as good as us, they’re foreign…”.  I held his gaze, him not knowing if I was Dutch, English, German or whatever, he looked away.  I didn’t say anything but was thinking “Not as good as you?  Must be a fucking cockroach…”

 By now it will come as no surprise to find that I rarely feel the urge to befriend my fellow Brits when I go away.  Yes I’m an anti-social git but many of the people I meet are an embarrassment.  Shaven head, tattoos beer gut with a football shirt stretched over it, worn as a challenge.  Tribalised by the media representation of bloody football.  The Brits think that Britannia still rules the waves, we own the world and have no need to bestow our manners on the stupid foreigners.  Yes it’s a cliché but yes its bloody true!!  The blokes aren’t much better either.  This is no snap judgement, it’s something I’ve observed in the last decade or so, probably since I became a parent.

I haven’t always had this attitude, there was a time when I travelled the world as a proud Brit and probably acted just like the people I’m slagging.  In fact a Scottish friend, Lyall (where the fuck are you now dude?), once described me as “the most English, Englishman he’d ever met”.  Although I knew even then he wasn’t being entirely complementary I was far from offended.
But what really have we got to be proud of?  I certainly have pride in the bravery of my grandparent’s and great grandparent’s generations but don’t use it as a reason or excuse to hate Germans.  A football win nearly 50 years ago is irrelevant now but a couple of heroic failures made me proud.  Cricket, now that’s a slightly different matter!

As ever I’ve got loads of books on the go.  Recently I finished “Mad, bad & dangerous to know” the autobiography of the explorer Sir Ranulph Fienes.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but thoroughly enjoyed it.  Sir Ran’s descriptions of the extreme expeditions he’s attempted are vividly written and easily took me away to the coldest and highest places on earth.  He paints the pictures far better than very many authors who write for a living.  Liked it a lot and the title sums the man up nicely!