Sunday, 26 August 2012

Perked-up By The Premier League.

I'm not quite over my post-Olympic Blues but the Premier League has opened up with a something not far off a bang.

Hilariously, Manchester City seem to need to add a player or two to a squad the size and cost of the entire Russian Navy and they've only played a couple of games. They're rapidly becoming a footballing version of a shopaholic's wardrobe. There's simply no limit to the number of floral tops we need.

It's not dissimilar to that time when Britain's Laziest Millionaire Winston Bogarde sat around the corridors of Stamford Bridge doing fuck-all. I'd've strapped a dust-cloth to his arse and he could've cleaned a few seats while he was there.

Citeh will be miffed that Van Persie's still in red, and his appearance for United without rooney raised a few eyebrows. If it's a straight choice between the two then on current form RvP is just the better player (in the same way that Usain Bolt is a just a better runner than Oliver Hardy). Rooney may well be a little concerned, especially now he's had that nasty old gash - ahem.

Me I think Wazza is suffering from Reverse Samson Syndrome - he's never been the same since Delilah the Trichologist stuck all them follicles in his nut.

To some people Chelsea have made the most impressive start, but all that means, really, is that they've played three games to everyone else's two. Di Matteo - who could easily be cast as an intelligent humanoid alien life form in a passable Sci-fi TV series - has every right to be chuffed, mind.

Hazard looks as good as his namesake Micky, Mata looks more and more the identikit Spaniard - short, neat and nimble as a tap-dancing whippet - and Torres has almost made more highlights packages than there are highlights in his preposterously girly barnet. On MOTD, Lawro, dressed like scrunched-up bacofoil, made the valid point that Chelsea seem to be set up to accommodate Nando and if he gets knacked they might not have a Plan B. Plan A looks topnotch, though but.

Arsene Wenger has never had a Plan B, unless it's to moan about the fact that the opposition weren't nice about his Plan A. The early signs aren't good. Once again they are playing toothless footy - I've seen more bite in a box of tissues.

Brendan Rodgers's Liverpool awoke from a nightmarish start and looked good at Anfield. Rodgers hasn't sacrificed his principles and it was brilliant to see the lad Sterling getting a start ahead of habitual kick-teases like Downing.

Swansea have starte brilliantly but then they were aided by some bloody awful work by Jaskelainen and Collins. Big Sam crumpled into his dug-out like a slowly deflating bullfrog, as he does when his lump-it-up-to-the-big-man-philosophy yields nowt. Whoever said 'Football is the Beautiful Game' had not met Sam Allardyce.

Everton, who tend get out of the blocks around March, have started the season with fists swinging. It's weird, like watching a tortoise with an outboard motor attached, but it's refreshing too. Pienaar's looking a world-beater again and if they can keep a hold of Baines and Jagielka, who knows?

Aston Villa look the most troubled thus far. Paul Lambert has always carried the air of the depressive bachelor uncle that no one really wants to talk to at a family do, and at present he may have a few more footy funerals to attend throughout the year. Unlike Southampton, say, or Reading, you can't see where a revival might come. Good though Everton were, Villa were as clueless as a very badly written detective novel. I fear for their future.

But there's been plenty of talent plus the usual fast pace and relentless passion and God help us I'm pleased that it's back so soon.

It certainly has been a better week for the Armstrongs of this world. Neil finally passed on to the next life and if it's heaven, then he really ought to have found it before he passed on. As for Lance... well there's a chest-thumping, truth-bending bullshitter and a half.

It was easy for the uninformed (and yes that includes me) to dismiss the constant barrage of insinuations in his direction as being some sort of envy-fuelled witch-hunt. It was eay to have automatic sympathy for a bloke who lost a bollock to cancer and yet appear to have more balls that at least 50% of mankind put together. There was also the fact that the bloke was clearly a bit of a knob-end - but then a lot of single-minded people are.

Now, the double-speaking toe-rag has pulled out of a court-case that would have inevitably relayed to the world at large a litany of misdemeanours. And he, despite his relentless denials - if indeed 'Prove It!' is a form of denial - has slipped away before the public humiliation can begin.

You might say that in an era of super-doped cyclists, Lance was the best junkie pedalling out there. But that doesn't much excuse it. Credit is due to the Tour de France for instantly stripping him of his titles, even if that means that they have to give the first finisher who hadn't failed a drug test, which conjures up the image of a beardy old Breton called Bernarrrrd with onions on his bike suddenly being slid into a yellow jersey.

Still cycling has set the benchmark for drug-testing in modern sport, and, if we don't want to watch chemically altered freaks fighting it out (and there's summat to be said for that) then the testing has to be rigorous in the extreme.

I sincerely believe that Wiggo, Cav, Trott, Pendleton, Hoy and all them two-wheeling Titans have never had to resort to shifty medical practices to win medals. Indeed the French'll have you believe they simply made the bikes out of magic dust instead. But now I'm backtracking into some sort of Olympian reverie.

Never mind. I'm going to get out my hankie, pretend I'm Arsene Wenger, and watch that Van Persie strike again.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Robbo's Predictive Text

The new  football season has rather snuck up on me this year – although not as suddenly as it has on Mark Hughes and Chris Hughton. I’ve seen Jodie Marsh have more cover at the back. Still it was remiss of me not to give you a sound unbiased foretelling of the season to come, so here it is.

If Wenger makes you club captain, it means you’ve got one season left. Gooners might say that Arsenal can be good without Van Persie, but then some people will tell you that they buy Nuts magazine for the articles. At least Arsene’s not been arsin’ about with regard to purchases: Cazorla is very good, Podolski’s erratic but talented and as for Giroud – well, he could be Chamakh Mark Two. 5th.

Their decline has been as inexorable as the slow fattening of a Tory politician’s cheeks. Lambert worked wonders at Norwich but it’s hard not to see Villa’s downward velocity as terminal. No new boys of note means that a lot of young, eager, average players will be toiling away in the hope that Darren Bent can make summat out of nowt. But that only happens to one in 14 million lottery entrants. 18th.

The European champions. Abramovich scattered his roubles across the earth and finally a mean-spirited and charmless eleven, spearheaded by a centre-forward whose greatness was directly proportional to time spent in the upright position, won the Champs League. Hell we were even a little bit chuffed for ‘em. Drogba’s gone now, Oscar and Hazard are in. (Josh McEachran will be sent away again to some orphanage for Lost English Talent.) I’m guessing they’ll be prettier, and leakier, but they’ll hold on for 3rd.

No Rodwell or Cahill, and once again the squad looks no deeper than a pool of cuckoo spit. If Everton could start a season a little quicker than a pensioner emptying a purse, then maybe they could challenge for 5th or 6th. But it’ll be 8th.

Petric looks a cracking player and Jol has bagged Rodallega who, like a beautiful virgin, looks good but isn’t worth bothering with. Still can’t see Fulham struggling too much if they can keep hold of Dembele. 10th.

Well who the fuck knows? Rodgers knows only one way, and I’m not sure adding Joe Allen will make them all play the Rodgers way. I think Carroll’s treatment has been a bit shonky. The lad’s not got too bad a touch, he could benefit from playing in a good passing team, and the fact that he has the neck muscles of super-vitamined giraffe might mean simple headers from inside the six-yard box aren’t left to the goofy Uruguayan racist to nod into the crowd. 7th.

Mancini says they’re not favourites. Listen, you won last season when half your frontline were either playing golf or sticking fireworks up their nostrils. You’re MASSIVE favourites. Winning by less than 9 points would be a SHIT season. You’ve got more money than the continent of Europe, and half its strikers in your squad. Shut your tiresome face, Roberto. Please. 1st, damn you.

Fergie must still be hurting from that Aguero dagger a couple of months ago. You’ve got to hope so any road. Van Persie is seen as a real statement of intent. Vidic is back. Fergie’ll be intent on pulling Scholesy and Giggsy out of the post office queues for one more year. But the noisy neighbours have become sitting tenants. I can’t see it. 2nd.

There’s no reason why they can’t do just as well this season. They’ve kept hold, so far, of Cisse, Ba, Cabaye, and Ben Arfa. Job done. Same as last season, only slightly better. I might be jinxing ‘em but, if Pardew can get his hands on a domineering centre-half then… 4th.

No one can argue with the appointment of Chris Hughton, eh? One 5-0 drubbing later and the reaction of Canary fans was more knee-jerk than a Kevin Pietersen tweet. I think Hughton is the right man, but I also think they’ll struggle. 17th.

There’s summat about a blustery blingy chairman that makes me wish his club ill and as Tony Fernandes oversaw a massacre at Loftus Road, I couldn’t resist a snigger. The off-season purchases somewhat reek of ‘get in who the hell we can’. Only Hoillet is real coup. Sparky should be able to cobble together summat half-decent from the ragtag squad. 14th.

McDermott’s a very sound manager and, unlike some desperate wheeler-dealers, he hasn’t gone mental in the marketplace. But not even a double-dose of Viagra will keep Reading up by the end of the season. 20th.

Difficult start for the Saints at the Etihad – Football’s Who’s Who versus Football’s Who..? Expectations are lower than a banker’s morals but they looked good. Lambert will score goals.They will survive.  16th.

A mate gave me tickets for a Stoke game last season and I couldn’t give ‘em away. Pulis won’t be distracted by ‘the European adventure’ this season – otherwise known as The Rough Guide to the Arse-Ends of Europe. They are solid, reliable, the cottage pie of football teams. 9th.

Steve Bruce’s Black Cats were pretty predictable: decent start, bit of flair, horrible run beginning just before Christmas and ending just in time to avoid the drop. O’Neill’s not likely to let that happen. Dull to watch. Hard to beat. 11th.

Dunno much about Laudrup’s coaching skills but by God he was a wonderful footballer and his team have made a helluva start and it looks like the Great Dane can spot a player. Can’t see all Rodgers groundwork being undone by as smart a bloke as the new gaffer so… 13th.

Much like Liverpool, your guess is as good as mine. AVB at WHL? With RVDV? WTF? Replacing Arry with the Portuguese is like replacing Arthur Daley with Socrates. Sometimes Villas-Boas comes across as too bookish for his own good. Arry knew that players need an arm around the shoulder or a kick up the backside, but not a pamphlet on zonal marking. I think it’ll be tricky. 6th.  

Steve Clarke landed in the Hawthorns when the music stopped and it’s hard to know what he’ll be like. Saying he’s been a permanent number two make shim sound shit, but he’s been well-respected, even at Chelsea where respect is as scarce as Saudi cider. 15th

It’s a delight to see Big Sam back in the Big Time. So much has changed. The new nippy frontline, the interchanging midfield, the strolling libero at the back. Rumours that the Allardyce training session begins with a picture of some grass captioned with the slogan ‘Keep Away From This – It Is The Enemy!’ are untrue. ‘Course, I may not like it, but it works. 12th.

Martinez’s reign has been like King Canute’s, but the tide has to come in eventually. There’s only so long Wile E Coyote can stare at the empty space beneath him before gravity takes over. And without Moses, how can there be a miracle again this year? 19th.

Monday, 13 August 2012

London Pride

Anyone out there still think that London shouldn’t have got the Olympics for 2012. Well, bollocks to the lot of you. The only thing this country’s had taken from it during the past two weeks is its cynicism, but thankfully a bewilderingly naff closing ceremony restored sarcasm to the national consciousness.

Of course, the Games weren’t about that. I had one day there, watched some springboard diving semi-final, and loved it. I felt that true sense of Britishness as we cheered plucky Chris Meares as he sneaked into the final, and we sympathised with a fresh-faced yank as he hit the pool like crumbling gargoyle falling a high wall.

We were escorted and encouraged as we trudged from West Ham tube station by a cross-section of selfless Londoners (sadly for the odd right-wing numpty, all cheerful and multicultural). And you have to pray to God that Cameron doesn’t keep banging on about this supposed aspect of the Big Society cos the rash of political opportunism in the last five days is politics at its most cynical.

It was a brilliant day but mostly I watched it on the telly, like the rest of you. And I have never before been bothered about how well some geezer does a pommel horse routine. Or how well a lass waved a foot in the face of another lass; or punched another lass in the ribs; or made a horse walk in time to ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’…

I expected to be thrilled by Jessica Ennis and Gawd help me that’s a beautiful woman; I hoped to be shrieking as Mo Farah held off the Horn of Africa down the home straight; I trusted that Bolt would delight me with the apparent afterthought of his utter genius; but I never expected to find that the moments I’ll remember would be so varied and wondrous.

Peter Wilson, collapsing after his final two shots won him something called a Double Trap Thingammy. Gemma Gibbons hacking out sobs as she flipped some French judoka lass and made it into the final. Kat Copeland screeching na├»vely at her mate after they won the rowing “We won the Olympics! They’re going to put us on a stamp!”  (you can take a lass out of Teesside…)  And the subversive grandeur of Danny Boyle’s NHS sequence, mounted before those leaders whose lives may never need to resort to its necessity.

The Beeb’s coverage was really rather brilliant – mind-blowing, compared to the utter shambles of the Diamond Jubilee blathering – and as with the sport, the women were by and large more impressive than the blokes. Balding’s the best sports presenter out there, if you ask me.

Yes, the coverage was shamelessly partisan but the rooting for our guys never spilled into enmity for their guys (but fear not, ye buckets of hate, for the football season has already begun) and hellfire if we can’t get up for our fellow citizens performing on the greatest sporting stage in our own back yard then what’s the flaming point, eh?

I can’t say I loved every minute. Synchronised swimming still comes across as a nightmare sequence from a Baz Luhrmann horror film – is it really necessary to look like a snooty ten-dollar whore in order to compete in a sporting competition? The rhythmic gymnastics is pretty and pointless, the One Direction of the Games. I wouldn’t keep the Horse Dancing, or the thinly disguised wankfest of the Beach Volleyball.

There’s no need to keep men’s football, or start with golf, or continue with tennis now that it’s served its purpose and given Andy Murray the self-belief he needed.

But this all feels a tad churlish. Every sport is preposterous if you choose to see it that way – or heroic and ennobling if it’s your passion. What we’ve seen is that a parade of people trying their utmost, straining their sinews, testing their minds, and in the case of two Arabic women crossing a finishing line just after the next race has commenced but proving that there’s really nowt wrong with being a human being in all its aspects, is as inspiring a sight as life has to offer.

And even if not all of us can even begin to imagine swinging on a bar like Mr Zonderland, or pedalling a bike like a man turned machine like the spark-to-the-flame that was old Wiggo, or float across the land at top speed like the supernaturally graceful Allyson Felix, we can adore the fact that others can, and relish the moments in which we give witness to it.

I knew people who thought that the Diamond Jubilee expressed much of what makes Britain great – whereas I thought it expressed much of what makes Britain cross. Privilege, vapid spectacle, ingrained inherited unending barely unearned wealth… The Olympics expressed far more of what makes this country really rather excellent.

This is a welcoming place, a kindly one. This is a place where the striving is as important as the result. This is a place where taking part is a way of belonging. This is a place where we can get the job done without losing our sense of humour. Hell even the Queen likes a laugh. This is a place where women can do what men can do, because there’s no reason on earth why they shouldn’t.

London 2012, unless the shiftless muppets that populate the political fraternity of that great city manage to turn a legacy into just one more leg-up, will go down as one of the grandest two weeks of my life as a British person.

Of course, there’ll be plenty of fuck-witted economists keen to tell us how much these Games were worth, but theirs is a yardstick that tyrannises every activity in this country. If worth is to be measured exclusively in terms of pennies made then we may as well turn into street trollops tomorrow and take our chances.

I leave it to others to put a price on Mo Farah’s glorious finishing straight. To me, it, and the whole experience (give or take Russell Brand, some banal catwalking coathangers, and the John Lennon face jigsaw puzzle) was pure and golden bliss.