Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Williams It Was Really Something

I find myself conflicted by Wimbledon.

There’s so much about it that makes my Northern working-class gut retch acrid bile. Yesterday the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (and if you’re a true blue-blood when you get a title the lackeys just say ‘pick a town, any town’) got front-row seats because... because, I dunno, his Mum loved the tennis, didn’t she? Cue, moist eyes and me missus grabbing for the Kleenex.

Murray gave them a bow – it must’ve been sarcastic, surely – and I thought they least they could do was bow back, or tell him to stop being so feckin’ stupid. But if you’re brought up that way you just do an infinitesimally small nod as if somehow you deserve it.

I mean all the great and the good have been there to watch, haven’t they? – Bob ‘Wake Me Up When He’s Finished’ Willis, Dermot O’Leary (the little plank at the start of X-Factor), erm.... oh you know, all of them. It’s like one of them ‘orrible ITV C-list festival shows ‘An Audience With Andy Murray’.

Oh and Billie-Jean King was there – still looking like the scariest schoolma’am in the history of American education.

She’s regarded with great fondness by the commentators, with much being made of her ‘knowledge’, ‘expertise’ and ‘enthusiasm’. The implication is that she’s one hell of a bore.

'Course Wimbledon holds on to its traditions like a drowning man clinging to driftwood. Rafa Nadal is defending the Gentleman’s Singles which actually makes it sound like a website detailing exclusive public conveniences for closet homosexuals. The women compete for the Ladies’ title. Ha! That’s no lady, that’s a screaming Eastern European banshee.

Everyone’s still wearing white - presumably cos it looks proper against the green of the grass. I couldn’t give a toss what they’re wearing although I don’t think Venus Williams was helped by trying to play tennis in a lace bin-bag.

There’s also the major bug-bear of hearing two-bit also-ran former British number threes chuntering away about players whose deeds far exceed anything they’ll ever do. Like sparrows giving flying advice to albatrosses.

You watch the tired litany of English wild-card holders all bombing out in the first round and you know for a fact that in 2020, half of them’ll be working for the BBC for 2 weeks of every year.

And there’s the fans, bless ‘em, queuing up in their little tents and looking for all the world like the bit of Glasto that’s set aside for the Women’s Institute. (Incidentally, watched a bit of U2 and, like avocadoes and Little Britain, I’m still at a loss as to why they’re so popular. Beyonce, on the other hand... ha-cha-cha-chaaaa!)

And yet despite all the hackles on me back, it’s a fantastic tournament. This may have summat to do with the fact that we live in rare old times as far as the men’s game is concerned. Jimmy Connors doesn’t seem to appreciate the rivalries at the top of the game cos they’re all so nice. I used to hate watching Connors play meself cos it was hard not to wish a decent barber on the basin-haired grunter.

Federer and Nadal (complete with perennial injury cloud) we know all too well. Djokovic is clearly a magnificent player but appears shorn of any personality on court, except when he’s smashing the shit out his racquet. (I empathise with the lad; it usually takes me four points – or pints - to get to that stage, not two and a half sets).

But yes, they’re all nice lads.

People in the game’ll tell you that the Williams sisters are nice lasses n all. I’ve no doubt they are. Trouble is no one seems to warm to them in this country. Now let me be frank. I think it’s cos Venus and Serena stomp up here with their strapping, let’s not deny it, black limbs and make one Caucasian after another look like they’re made from so many stale twiglets.

Elena Dementieva - serves like a girl.

Now I could take or leave the Jehovah’s Witness stuff but then again I don’t remember either of them sticking their tennis racquets into my hall to stop me closing my front door. And I could probably do without the use of ever-increasing decibels when the point gets very serious.

But there seems to be an underlying sense that their achievements need to be downgraded somehow. They did it their own way, their Dad learnt tennis from a book, they don’t play enough tournaments, they seem to be able to win them whilst managing a business and having a life... all most irregular.

And maybe, too, it’s the fact that there’s two of them. If one don’t get you the other one will. And somehow that’s not fair.

It’s bollocks of course. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate their achievements. They grew up in Compton, played a sport in which black people are as rare as a decent salad in Newcastle. They’ve contended with implicit prejudice, personal tragedy and, as Serena’s blubbing proved after her victory in week one, they care deeply about the sport they play.

I mean what's not to like?

Maybe, like the retrospective love-in that the (not very feminine) woman Martina Navratilova enjoys and deserves, there’ll come a time when a nostalgic fondness for the Williamses overcomes us all. I remember Chris Evert being ‘Miss Poker-Face’. Then she married John Lloyd and we loved her. Ahh!

Maybe Serena could take up with Jamie Murray, eh? Or we could just acknowledge that, even with injuries leaving them looking rustier than the bedsprings in a water bed, both Venus and Serena proved themselves to be two of sport’s greatest exponents and fiercest competitors.

In the meantime, Rafa’s foot’ll be fine and he – and Kvitova (who?) will be champions.

PS Is there a bit of you out there that wouldn’t mind if a bit of David Haye was left in Hamburg?

PPS Mike Doyle died today. A great player, one of them who, were it not for Bobby Moore, would’ve played for England many times.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Fun of the FIFA Fiefdom

Now I don’t want to get all heavy this week but might I begin by quoting the FIFA statement on Honest Jack Warner: “As a consequence of Mr Warner's resignation, all ethics committee procedures against him have been closed and the presumption of innocence is maintained".

Well there you go - in FIFA land it appears that you can be as dodgy as a Peter Beardsley haircut for years and years but as long as you resign before they finish their investigation you are presumed innocent. Dunno about you but there’s something in that very statement that suggests Warner is guiltier than a shepherd caught with a ewe’s hind-legs in his welly-boots.

Vice President, Mr Warner, does not mean President of Vice.

Look out sepp n Jack. Check your watches are still on your wrists!

It strikes me that when the police come round my house looking for stolen goods I can just tell ‘em that I don’t live there and re-direct them to my blameless criminal record.

If I get caught speeding on a motorway I’m sure the Old Bill will be more than satisfied when I remind them that I gave up my driving licence a couple of days ago so the fines no longer apply.

Fact is, Blatter’s FIFA have such contempt for the traditions of law and ethics that they wriggle off the hook like greased Berlusconis at every turn.

Warner’s insistence that he’s done nowt wrong is accompanied by a curious mention of the FIFA tradition of offering ‘gifts’. I mean what the fuck does that mean, Jack? If you go for a meeting with Mr. Warner what can you expect? A paperweight? A signed photograph of Dwight Yorke? A contract for the building rights to a new football stadium/education facility?

I think, though, that it’s the blatancy that feels so insulting. Like Assad’s ridiculous speech blaming a little bunch of ‘saboteurs’ for a wholesale nationwide protest in Syria. Or the fact that the senior executives responsible for the Potters Bar crash all worked for Railtrack – which no longer exists – so they cannot be hauled in front of the beak.

I mean are we really supposed to be that thick?

Blatter’s been greasing so many palms nowadays that it’s impossible to shake anyone in FIFA by the hand without sliding off and hitting your chin on the million-dollar shagpile. The man who put the Swizz into Swizzerland is proving pretty well non-stick too. But anyone who believes the ethics committee operates independently of the Sepp-tic head must be lost in a cloud of hippy happiness somewhere in a field in Somerset.

And FIFA, remember, is an organisation that is intent on laying down codes of conduct to the game’s officials, its players, its managers. From what you can glean from this latest hollow joke of a ruling, that means keep diving, feigning, tugging and whingeing. Get away with as much as you can. It’s what football people do, isn’t it?

Meanwhile one of sport’s most fastitdious gentlemanly pursuits has got itself a new hero. Rory McIlroy, a leggy pixie of a man, tonked the field to all parts at Congressional last week.

Here's Rory modelling the new McIlroy Ear-Muffs

I’m not a golf nut. In fact I only have to see a Pringle sweater and I want to firebomb the nearest Edinburgh Woollen Mill. For me, the question ‘What’s your handicap?’ is right up there in the list of crap conversational ice-breakers with ‘What are you driving these days?’ and ‘You look a bit like that Gary Sinise fella out of CSI.’

(By the way my golf handicap is that I’m shit at it.)

Nevertheless you can’t help warming to the Tigger-toed lad from Holywood. Anyone who can smile while they’re earning vast sums of money has got to be welcomed. If only Andy Murray could summon up more than the odd rictus grimace, eh?

Plus McIlroy possesses that easiness of style which suggests that the golf fairies were at one end of his Moses basket when he was a gurgling babe, magicking touch into his fingertips. (I’m not sure what the golf fairies look like, mind, although I bet Ian Poulter has got the outfit somewhere.)

And of course, young Rory has turned around two terrible experiences – the last at Augusta was as bad it gets, and got stronger from it. When a lad like him plays in a way that a pitch n putt plonker like me can entirely empathise with, then you know the lad’s having the worst round since the Blue Bell ran out of beer on draught.

Even the American galleries were right behind him, although there wasn’t any home-grown talent to root for, was there?

How delightful it is to live in times where American sporting dominance seems to be on the wane! Wimbledon starts this week and the men’s champion has as much chance of being American as it has of being a pony.

All right the women’s champ will probably be a Williams – which most people have told me will be boring. Well you know what if it’s not a Williams it’ll probably be some six-foot-one inch blonde Eastern European with all the personality of a flagpole. So you takes your pick.

I mean who wants to spend two weeks looking at this?

If I had to choose a winner this fortnight, I’d go for the weather, narrowly followed by Nadal. I reckon Venus’ll win the lasses (they tend to share it out between them Williamses). There’ll be one British woman in the second round draw (Keothavong’s playing some other English lass who’s 2,376 in the world).

And Murray’ll make the semis. Sigh.

Meanwhile Villa-Boas has resigned as Porto coach and appears to be on his way to Stamford Bridge. He’s like Mourinho’s Mini-me. You wouldn’t be surprised if Jose’s funding a Mourinho-cloning laboratory would you? Be interesting to see how many of the old guard allow themselves to be lectured by a lad who’s barely out of his managerial short trousers.

Fact is, Chelski could do with an offload of the Drog, Lamps, Essien et al. Maybe the New Boy’ll make it happen. Interesting times.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Hamilton's Accidenticals

There are bad boys in all sorts of sport.

In some sports it doesn’t seem to harm you that much. Iron Mike Tyson was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Infamy – I mean Fame. Not sure whether Evander Holyfield’s earlobe has joined him there.

Robbie Savage seems set to be setting our teeth on edge on with his squeaky-balloon voice on 5Live’s airwaves for years to come.

John McEnroe has become just about the best former player turned commentator there is (apart from, of course, the mighty Richie Benaud, but then Richie never questioned the umpire’s seriousness).

And now motor racing has its own bad boy… Lewis Hamilton. ‘Is it cos I is black?’ he asked half-jokingly after the last race. To which I hope the stewards responded with ‘No, it’s cos you’re a twat.’

"And if he doesn't get out the way then I just ram him, right Boss?"

Even I have to admit that the Canadian Grand Prix was unbelievably exciting. The only thing that ever makes F1 interesting is rainfall. Personally I’d happily watch it if the half the contents of the Pacific Ocean was ritually doused on every track across the globe (especially if the Gollum of motor racing Bernie Ecclestone was underneath it).

But torrential downpours aren’t enough for Lewis. He’s driving like a steroid-pumped road-raging wanker in one of them not-quite-sports-cars that the Japanese build. I wouldn’t be surprised if he can’t hear instructions from his pit-lane cos he’s got some dog-awful Black-Eyed Peas cack blasting into his earholes.

I’m not sure it helps that the cars seem to have ads on them for beer. If I had a car with Singha written on the front in the rear-view mirror I’d be trying to get to the pub twice as fast meself. Maybe he should join another team. Red Bull gives you wings and given the places Lewis tries to overtake he’s going to bloody well need them.

As Niki Lauda said the point is that one day the lad’s going to kill someone. It’s not as if he’s one of them indestructible Chelsea tractors. It’s all well and good telling us that F1 fans love the overtakers. Fact is he’s on his way to the undertakers if he’s not careful.

Plus it was pissing it down. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to drive a car that quick. Me, I’m happy with summat that gets you from A to B, preferably driven by someone else so I can get stuck into my Singha beer.

But everyone knows you have to rein it in a bit when it’s chucking it down. It’s one of them eternal truths of the road – like motorway service station sandwiches are overpriced and you can’t get a decent pouring teapot at any of them. Or Nissan Micras are driven by old people. Or… stop me. I’m about to consumed by that horrible condition known as Clarkson’s Guff.

Fact is they’ll have to ban the lad if he carries on like this. And no, Lewis, it’s not remotely cos of the colour of your skin – it’s because of the colour of your fellow competitors’ trousers after you’ve loomed up their wing-mirrors.

On a note that is almost as life-threatening, can it be true that Alex McLeish is going to take up the reins at Aston Villa just weeks after taking his doughty alehouse team of Birmingham City down a division?

"How much more money am I gonnae get at Villa? This fuckin' much!"

In Brum that’s going to go down like a glass of pureed phlegm. Amazingly the board at St. Andrew’s saw fit not to sack him – which given he won a Cup seems reasonable. So for him to resign seems a tad shocking. (Mind you football managers these days are as expendable as paper knickers so it’s hard to blame them if they become a bit self-serving.)

Villa fans won’t want him anyway cos he’s of tainted stock. They didn’t want McClaren either. Houllier was welcomed with folded arms and half of them didn’t much care for O’Neill.

McClaren has of course weaved a strange course since he put down that brolly (or flew away on it like Mary Poppins). Of course if that particular McClaren had been being driven by Lewis Hamilton he’d have taken a few other managers out en route.
He’s now at Forest, which must be delighting the locals. And Villa fans too.

But Villa fans are amongst the hardest to satisfy, I reckon. They’re up there with the Geordie bottlers when it comes to having expectations that aren’t supported by any evidence whatsoever. Martinez would’ve been a good choice but he, unlike McLeish, has appreciated the loyalty shown to him and stayed with the Rainbow Coalition that is the Wigan Athletic squad.

Chances are that Villa fans would look a bit suspicious if Guus Hiddink walked through the gates at Villa Park with a spring in his step.

Still I have to agree that McLeish doesn’t seem a good fit. He seems to settle on big lunks who get the job done and when you look at the talented lads at Villa, who knock it about well on occasions, there’s going to be an almighty culture shift.

I mean if you want a manager who’s good with young players, happy to bring them through if he thinks they’re good enough, and has had success before in different leagues, then McClaren would be as good a pick as any.

He's back - the fella with the umbrella

The England debacle has done nowt for his reputation but frankly Capello’s England aren’t up to much are they? Maybe he’s just a victim of our expectation that cos we invented the game we should be the best at it.

Let’s face it, the best England players right now wouldn’t get into the first teams of many other national sides. After all, a lot of them play for Villa.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Swiss On A Roll

Tired, England were. That’s why they could only scrape a 2-2 against some Swiss youngsters who were barely out of their trainee leiderhosen. Tired!

If England’s players always end up knackered in June then we may as well throw in the beach towel now. It reminded us all too clearly of the abject tournament we suffered in South Africa when Capello first labelled his team ‘out of puff’.

The new England kit is apparently going to be stripy and cotton. The subs benches are going to be futons and all the lads will be issued with blankets and inflatable neck pillows should they nod off pitchside.
Jack Wilshere in training for England's match against Switzerland

The problem is to keep the planks on the field awake. It’s important to choose the right planks, mind. I’m not sure what Micah Richards has done wrong this season but clearly he’s a better right-back than Glen Johnson. The Liverpool man is fine going forward but at the back he’s a wandering charity gift bag.

And as for Lampard, is he earning ten pound a minute in sponsorship for Childline or summat? Cos there’s no other reason for him to be on the park. Lamps seems to need four touches for every one from his team-mates. And he’s got to be the luckiest penalty-taker ever. Every one gets scuffed to the keeper’s right but somehow squirms in.

The substitution at half-time was good but why leave Young on the bench in the first place, especially when Rooney’s off getting his pubes repositioned? And while we’re on that subject, why is Shrek having a hair transplant anyway? It’s a bit like putting a smart new roof on a vandalised council house. It’s not going to look right is it?

D’you think that after the Champs League final he looked at Messi, Xavi and Iniests and asked himself ‘What is it that they’ve got that I haven’t?’ and the dopy slaphead answered ‘Hair!’

Rooney was of course missed but not as blatantly as Darren Bent missed. Bent’s advocates point to his goalscoring record at domestic level. I point to his capacity to fuck it up when it really matters (not to mention Crouchy’s fantastic goalscoring record) at international level.

'Arry's seen it all before at Spurs

There’s always a certain something in Bent’s eyes - it’s called fear. You don’t see it in the pupils of Defoe or even, God hang up his boots, Michael Owen.

But 2-2 wasn’t a bad result in the end. Fortunately the might of Montenegro couldn’t topple the Bulgars so we’re still top of the weakest group in qualifying history. So Capello should take us to the finals, quacking and limping all the way. It’s preposterous that the man’s still in charge.

It’s been an exciting week if you’re Swiss. (That’s not a sentence you’d expect to read anywhere). First there was Sepp Blatter’s re-election as President of FIFA, accompanied by some lackeys and sycophants queuing up to bloody the FA’s nose.

The Argentine representative was particularly offended by insinuations of corruption – Sr. Grondola adding that he’d offered his vote for England’s 2018 bid in exchange for the return of the Falkland Islands. (That’s not corruption – that’s the oldest form of financial transaction – bartering.)

Still Sepp won and talked about steering the FIFA family ship away from the rocks or some sort of bollocksy maritime metaphor. Switzerland is land-locked, remember, and if FIFA'S a family then it's time to call in social services. We need a new father-figure, Gawd help us.

Here's Rog serving in the Swiss Alps - the home of tennis

But there are good and noble Swiss men and one such, the divinely-talented but camply-jacketed Roger Federer, managed to light up the French Open once more. Not that he won it, of course.

Rafa Nadal successfully convinced the press that he was vulnerable this year and then gave Murray a bit of a tonking and barely let Fed have a sniff once he turned around the first set. Put Rafa on a surface the colour of an Essex girl’s skin and he can’t be beat.

Murray did ok against him but it was a bit like watching a tall tent peg getting repeatedly battered into the ground with a sledgehammer. Federer played some glorious shots and whether he bores you or not he has that thing that I envy and admire the most in sportspeople, ease. Brilliance without apparent effort: I’m thinking Zidane, Iniesta, Sehwag, Gebreselassie, Bolt, Bosko Jankovic.

Nadal is not an easy watch. Every particle of his being seems coiled and sprung. None of his shots flow particularly and, like Murray, there’s no discernable relaxation in his face so that most of the time he looks a grimacing maltreated pit bull terrier.

The trouble with a pit bull is it hangs on and doesn’t let go. Even the odd feline Federer scratch doesn’t put him off. He’s beaten his Swissness three times out of every four now. So it doesn’t matter how serene and fluid Federer is, the old attack dog’s gonna catch up with him in the end.

It’s a great time for men’s tennis – what with Rog and Raf and Jockey-Itch. There seems to be a lot of mutual respect (take note Lewis Hamilton) and in Paris they were quick to overrule dodgy line decisions even if they weren’t in their opponent’s favour.

Is it possible, while it takes a break, that football – from its fat ancient pocket-liners to its newly-quiffed and gelled tumblers in their gated communities - might have enough self-respect to want to safeguard the reputation of the beautiful game in the same way?

To not appeal for a throw-in when it hit you last. To not throw yourself on the floor and rail at the ref if he spots it. To not interpret the word ‘marking’ to mean leaving your fingerprints all over the centre-forward’s jersey. To want to represent your country even when the gaffer decides you’re not what he wants and not go off in a huff like a jilted Pageant Queen?

But then maybe they don’t mean to do these things, eh? Maybe they’re just tired. Bless.