Monday, 1 June 2020

And we're off! Sort of!

And we're off!

Sport begins in the UK on what people are calling Happy Monday. (Tomorrow is Rueful Tuesday, then its Wait-A-Minute Wednesday, Think-Again-Thursday, F**k-This-Friday, and Stay-At-Home Again Saturday.)

For every life that's being lost during this crisis there's a couple of hundred thousand pounds sterling that's way more important. and anyway it won't half cheer us up! Bye bye Granny, hello French 2000 Guineas! Woohoo!

Yes the first reentry into the sporting calendar is that perennial yawn horse-racing. You remember that, right? It was the bits of Grandstand that you used to turn off every Saturday afternoon. Little men sitting on mighty beasts and cracking them on their flanks is not my idea of fun. I've even stopped having a flutter on the Grand National cos £10 of my money is riding on your back, Neddy,  then you're  more likely to see a curtain being drawn around you than the finishing line.

Incidentally if they shot the jockey too, I swear to God they'd be jumping those horses over those fences with a bit more care.

Horses, I'm told, love horse racing just as much as we do. Really? Funny how they're never in the crowd watching isn't it? They might have helped at Cheltenham - if we could've kept everyone a horse-width apart we could saved 10,000 lives right there.

Anyone, the gee-gees will be galloping around some empty acres for our amusement and penury from today and that's just grand. And it's as meaningless as a Matt Hancock stat.

Snooker is starting too. What you need when a respiratory infection grips the globe is a small room with a few blokes coughing in it just to reassure you. Okay there'll be no audience, but they'll still be taking all the necessary precautions. Washing your hands between every shot is going to take its toll but for those of us old enough to remember it'll just feel like Dott v Ebdon.

Of course the German footy has been going for a bit now and I have to say there's been nothing more impressive than the likes of Sancho and Thuram using their platform to express their support for #BlackLivesMatter and justice for George Floyd. Of course there's nothing condemning a racist assassination for getting you an instant yellow card. Nice one, ref. If Trump has his way you'll get sent off in the MLS for wearing a t-shirt that says 'That Hitler? Not a big fan.'

People will always say keep politics out of sport. Bollocks. Sport is a brilliant platform for political statements and so it should be. Ask Tommie Smith and John Carlos, and Peter Norman come to that. Ask Jesse Owens for God's sake. Ask Colin Kaepernick. Ask the entire country of South Africa.

There are now young black sportspeople pointing out that Floyd's death is the ghoulish and wicked extreme in the everyday world of casual racism that dogs not just the US but here too. Rashford, Brewster, Cori Gauff, Naomi Osaka. They are not sucking it up and neither should they.

And Lewis Hamilton (yeah, I know Formula 1 isn't really a sport) but Hamilton has addressed this head-on and pointed to the silence amongst an almost exclusively white world of motor racing. His fellow drivers have responded.

Others have suggested that the hashtag #blacklivesmatter is somehow unacceptable. These 'reasonable' folk who say 'No, no, no ... ALL lives matter.' As if by pointing out the atrocious inequality of their income and treatment, and the recurrent obscenity of cops killing black men, they are somehow privileging themselves. As Rhian Brewster tweeted 'We don't want special privilege. A level playing field is all we've been crying for.'

'All Lives Matter' is just people unaffected by prejudice, and unaware of their own privilege, telling black people to go away and get a better slogan and then we can talk. It's patronising, irrelevant bullshit.

Meanwhile back in Blighty and all is well. Thanks to Dominic Cummings and his litany of gutless apologists - do these men have remotely activated electrical filaments in their urethras or are they just gutless worms? - Britons can get back to being proper Britons again, using our British common sense. We can throw ourselves into the sea and summon an air ambulance. We can crowd onto beaches, disperse a bit more Corona and then leave said beaches looking like Carrie Syminds front room after she'd confronted Boris Johnson about the Arcuri affair.

We can do what we like because Dom can. For a while there we were all pulling together, keeping our two metres, thinking of others, not least the poor sods we clap every Thursday night. Then we realised that we don't really care about other people. Rules are for other people, right?

We look at our sportspeople - often they are young, inexperienced, brilliant and well-paid - and when they f**k up we haul them over the coals. If they're black and they f**k up, even worse. They're role models, you see. They should be using their position to encourage goodness and decency.

But if you're in government, you don't need to worry about being a role-model. You can lie, relentlessly; you can father children and abandon them; you can hang out with European neo-fascists; you can take an infected person the length of the country and make up the most laughable excuses for driving them out on a birthday trip and it's fine because what you do doesn't particularly matter. You're not a 20-year old footballer with ten England caps.

Except that's not true. If the person who makes the rules breaks the rules then the rules stay broken. Because trust is broken. We all know that. No amount of horse-racing will take that fact away.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

The EPL - Football's Indifferent Masters

Well Sport is slowing stirring, opening one eye, peeping out from under the continental quilt of Covid-19 and looking for ways to find some sort of rebirth. 

Sports bodies could do worse than ask Matt Hancock to come up with an arbitrary target – 100,000 sporting fixtures by May 15th, say – and then it will definitely happen. Okay so half the footy matches were played on FIFA, the British Grand Prix was nothing more than Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel sharing a socially distanced Scalextrix and the County Cricket Championship just carried in as normal cos no one bothers to watch that any road, but hey 100,000 is 100,000*.

But the football authorities are looking at ways to get things moving again. Behind closed doors seems to be the most likely first option. Of course Arsenal fans will notice very little difference in terms of atmosphere, save that they won’t have to endure Piers Morgan braying his criticisms of Meszut Ozil from out of the posh seats. 

The rest of us will watch from our sofas (or behind them if you support the Boro) and wondering when if ever, you’re going to get back to that glorious match-day routine:

The pint in the pub, the whiff of onions and salmonella from the hot-dog stands, the moral crisis as an adjacent fan offers up another racial slur as banter, the slow unravelling truth that the dreadful performance of a fortnight ago is not looking quite so bad in the light of this week’s effort; and finally the post-match pint-packed moan, the slammed front door, the catflap swinging cos your moggy knows better than to hang around, and the all-too-understanding wife looking up from her Netflix nonsense with a face that says ‘I am sorry for your loss.’

Some fans might enjoy it. West Ham fans will feel closer to the action if it’s on the telly than they do at the London Stadium. Man United fans will enjoy the Scousers’ inability to fully enjoy the moment of their Premier League resurrection (but not as much as the wholesale abandonment of the season altogether).

As for the players themselves, well there’s talk of cooping them up together for six weeks of quarantine, before the season kicks back off again. It sounds hellish. It’s bad enough being incarcerated with your own family. In our house, home schooling has become home shouting followed by home sulking followed by the type of atmosphere that you could microwave potatoes in. But being cooped up with your workmates? Is there a space in the country big enough to house the collective egos of Paul Pogba and… well, anyone. And where will Man United house all Pogba's hairdressers?

I suppose all the players will need testing too although when it comes to Jordan Pickford why bother? He hasn’t caught anything all season. Gordon Taylor, Middle Earth’s only successful export, was on the radio saying all the players will be ready by mid-June, which is easy for him to say when he’s not going to be man-marking Jack ‘Reckless’ Grealish in the near future.

Taylor also suggested games might not be the full 90 minutes – well surely they can make that retrospective? Liverpool would be 20 points down if they took the scores from 80 minutes across the season. In fact Man Utd would be a few titles down if they took it further back. The Vulcan-like mind-melding of Sir Alex and the match officials in order to extend a game to indefinite lengths would be of no use in this new 40 minute a half world. Fergie Time be gone!

(I can't help thinking that there was a time at Buckingham Place when the two words Fergie Time must have sent an icy shiver down the collective spine of the Royal Household. Mind you, if you can still tolerate her ex-husband, then maybe not,)

Any road it's at times like these, some dimwits ask if 'football really matters'. Surely just knocking the season on the head and starting again like they’ve done in France makes sense. Well PSG get the trophy before the season starts, so that’s hardly relevant.

And there are livelihoods involved here. It’s obscene for the richest clubs to even consider not keeping as many workers on the payroll as they possibly can – so obscene you might call it Bransonian. The poorer clubs… well there’s a case for arguing that a small town club does more to bind a community together than any other single entity. There’s a case for arguing that without them clubs, all British football becomes is Have-Way-Too-Much FC vs Have-Way-Too-Much FC second XI. Then again, this is precisely what the Premier League was designed to do. Slice off the money-making top tier and let it serve itself first and the national game as a whole a very distant second.

Indeed, you might want to draw a parallel across the country generally. If you create an elite (based almost exclusively on wealth) and your main focus is to maintain that elite even if it means broadening the gap between the rich and the just-getting-by (remember how Theresa was going to help us there? In fact, remember Theresa at all?) then at a certain crisis point, only those members of the elite will be able to withstand a catastrophe. Now, if that elite was in any way interested in sustaining the wider community above and beyond its own narrow interests it might consider using its accumulated funds to support, maintain and benefit those weaker than themselves, until the catastrophe passes on and we can all rebuild again.

But then again, notions of ‘the greater good’ carry little weight in the murky upper echelons of business and/or government, where private firms are helping themselves to NHS contracts, even as the government stallholders clap the endangered souls brave enough to keep going in to work to clear up the debris of their indifference.

But I digress. It’s only footy innit? Just a game. An indulgence, a little luxury on the side. Well no. It’s a living. It’s a passion. It matters. Enormously. It’s more, to me at least, than just another commercial sector that lives and dies by market forces. It’s time for the Premier League to represent more than itself. Lecture over.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Oh shite! BJ’s back!

Right. Who’s had enough of this?

Who’s fully intending to just blow this all off and see if we can’t try this herd immunity theory for ourselves? Or shall we stick with our Prime Minister’s strategy of Not Seen and Not Heard Immunity?

Some say this lockdown is bringing out the best in people. Me, I’d say it’s bringing out the truest spirit in people, and not always for the better. If, for example, you achieved a lot of success through craven mendacity then it’s very unlikely that that will change when you’re put under pressure. Every time a government minister potters out in front of those flaccid Union Jacks I feel that the nation has turned into an overly tolerant headmaster who’s giving them all one last chance to ‘fess up before we expel them from our collective rears like the foetid balls of gas they really are.

While Johnson recuperates in his elegant sty, and his expectant fiancĂ©e wonders how this perennially late responder was so premature on that one occasion, we have been led by one Dominic Raab. D-Raab, as the legend on the cardboard packaging read when he first arrived at the Foreign Office. There’s been a reasonable amount of sympathy for a man who looks (and occasionally talks) like central casting’s go-to-Nazi Uber-Lieutenant. How can you possibly fill in for the Blonde Bullsh*tter? Well, turns out you can massage figures and creatively lie in less flagrant a way.

Boris is back now so God knows how Allison Pearson’s going to cope without slipping off to rub one out every five minutes. In fact I envisage Andrew Neil leading the Daily Telegraph in a sponsored Spaff For The NHS to greet the Second Cummings.

Sadly that won’t mean less of Matt Hancock. Matt, it seems to me, possibly cowed by the situation, talks utter bullocks, gives us more and more bum steers and gets less bullish by the day, the dozy ‘effer. Dreadful cattle puns aside, therewas a time when he smoulders as if he imagined he was Aidan Turner playing Matt Hancock in the movie adaptation of his autobiography HANCOCK: THE MAN THAT SAVED A NATION. Time and the terminal decline of far too many human beings seems to have restored a wretched back-catalogue of platitudes that you can boil down into three pithy soundbites:
‘This is unprecedented’
‘Our amazing NHS staff’
‘We’re ramping up the PPE/Ventilators/level of deceit*’

*delete as applicable

Of the others only Michael Gove seems ready to poke his puckered package of processed piss over the parapet. Gove has been practising social distancing from the Truth for his whole adult life and so is a safe if slippery pair of hands right now.

Meanwhile Priti Patel tells us shoplifting is down on last year. That’s probably because shop-opening, and indeed shop-owning, is down on last year, but you know, some people will make any stat look bad won’t they?

Liz Truss has said very little, so no change there. Even her longest orations contain as much substance as a cheesy wotsit. As for the rest of ‘em, well I’m not saying this cabinet is thick, but there are actual cabinets, fully functioning and made from finest English beechwood, that have higher IQs than the lot of them put together.

Meanwhile people die in their hundreds every day and Premier League footballers invite their mates round. Latest Numpty is Moise Kean, the best teenager playing in Europe (after Mbappe) this time last year, and until recently struggling to ease the agoraphobic Theo Walcott out of the first eleven.
Kean, who has spent his entire time at Goodison socially distancing himself from the first team, took it upon himself to host a party in his apartment. Now don’t get me wrong, he’s on top dollar every week so chances are his apartment is like a flaming national museum compared to the eight people two rooms horror some families are going through. But I fancy that the old two metres apart is hard to sustain in an environment like that.

But once again we are hoping that footballers like Kean, Grealish and a collection of Arsenal halfwits are going to lead by example and well, they’re not. Not if the PM is shaking hands with Covid-19 patients, not if toffs left, right and centre are blithering on about the impositions on their personal liberty and how appalled they are by it. I’d love them to try other ways to limit their freedoms once this is all over. Things like poverty, zero hours contracts, reliance on food banks, see how they seriously hinder your ability to have fun. I mean I’d love to be gallivanting about infecting the relatives of vulnerable old people too, but I’m just not that much of a self-centred c**t.

Of course, sport would be a wonderful distraction from all this. And I fear that this season is going to be written off, which only the most shite-minded fan would find acceptable given Liverpool’s majestic form. If they have to finish it behind closed doors I wouldn’t much mind. If they can’t, we could just say Liverpool won it anyway. Cos they did.

 Having said that, I wouldn’t mind everything just starting from scratch. We could even have the Brexit vote again, given that the unintended consequence of the Government’s hopeless handling of this whole crisis is the death of the age group most likely to have voted Leave.

Mind you, they were right though, eh? Imagine being part of an organisation that cooperates over testing and ventilators and PPE provision? We’d be in a right state now wouldn’t we? We’d be losing as many citizens as Spain or Italy and we’d be relying on foreigners to pick our fruit.

Thank God we’re doing it our way.