Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Trials With Terry

What is it Chelsea fans say? ‘John Terry. Captain. Leader. Legend.’ Something like that. They’re understandably loyal at Chelsea mind you. The rest of us tend towards something like ‘John Terry. Loudmouth. Lech. Very Slow When Faced With A Striker Who Can Run A Bit.’

Of course the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The best thing about John Terry is that he’s stopped playing for England. Ah now, that was just my little joke. The best thing about him is all those things that Chelsea fans adore – his whole-heartedness, his never-say-die attitude, and the fact that for an English centre-back he’s really quite good at passing accurately to a team-mate.

Those of us who witnessed the slip -on-the-arse that crapped on his dreams in 2008 can’t have been unmoved. Indeed I moved from off the chair and on to the floor very quickly, guffaws raining from my throat. Then again, the bloke stepped up when, say, Knackersless Anelka couldn’t. 

On the pitch, the odd allegedly racist remark aside, he has been a model professional. He is very good at what he does, and was, undeniably one of the best England players at the Euros. It is off the pitch where most of his shit happens.

There have been rumours – and these are only rumours – that Terry took it upon himself to take guided tours around Stamford Bridge (the football ground not the site of the battle of 1066) for £10k a pop. (I think any monies accrued have been donated to charity since if indeed they were offered in the first place.)

It should be pointed out that he has been found not guilty of much of this stuff: not guilty of attacking a doorman with a bottle; not guilty of attacking a bottle-man with a door; not guilty of being racist whilst using racist language; not necessarily guilty of shagging Wayne Bridge’s bird when Wayne was still with her. Indeed Ms Perroncel, a lingerie model and ‘nightclub hostess’, has often denied the relationship. Which is good cos JT is the father of twins n that.

Frankly that whole saga never much bothered most people, did it? So Terry was an unreliable mate and a disloyal husband – it’s not like that sets him apart from any other footballing legend, is it, Ryan? And Bridge probably could have bought himself a huge, state-of-the-art pram from the money he was earning as a mercenary Citeh bench-warmer. Get over it.

The fact that this led to Terry losing the England captaincy was silly but inevitable. He still got to go to the 2010 World Cup, mind – partly because there wasn’t a player in the squad who wanted him back in England while they were away for three weeks - and at times he still seemed to feel that he was England skipper. That press conference betrayed a man who was quite happy to show how bent out of shape his conk was, regardless of the consequences. The consequences were that some bright young German things made the Captain, Leader, Legend look like Corporal Jones. He was far from alone.

When Capello returned to Terry as skipper most of us were gob-smacked. Mud was sticking to him like a sun-baked hippo, Ol’ Fab had always insisted that the captain’s name should make no difference, and there he was giving the armband to Football’s Dark Side. Odd, to say the least.

But it is of course all this racist stuff that has brought things to a head. It meant Terry lost the England captaincy again – which was fair enough with a charge like that dangling over his head. But to be perfectly (fat) frank, I feel a bit of sympathy for the bloke for the first time… ermmm, ever, actually. If the criminal courts have found him not guilty then why try him all over again in a courtroom with less stringent applications of the law?

I mean if he was charged with nicking an apple, found innocent, and then his employers had a quick tribunal type thing and thought that in all honestly he probably might have nicked the apple so that’s probably enough reason to say he did (particularly when scrumping is front-page news these days) then one might just feel that the world had gone tits up.

There is the idea floating around that Terry ‘had it coming’. He is not a model citizen. He must know what’s coming or he wouldn’t be resigning now. If nothing else, it has always been very obvious that playing for his country means a heck of a lot to him.

But it’s farewell, JT. I’m not sure that he’ll be a huge miss for the national team despite what Hodgson says. He resigns at a time when England could do with looking a little further ahead than the end of the last lot of hope-crushers. If we’re going to fail let’s get some new people to do it for us, eh?

Terry will go down as one of the best centre-backs England have had – and probably the least-loved. He's been a sort of necessary evil. Even Ashley Cole's value as a superb footballer has seen him tentatively embraced by the English public. But JT? Well on balance I'd say 'Captain. Leader. Knob-End.'

Monday, 17 September 2012

Give Peace a Chant

This week two issues have raised heads uglier than the crowning peak of the cyst on a hyena’s arse. I know you're all thinking of the Duchess of Cambridge's bazongas, you rapscallions you, but I was thinking of the following: firstly, the matter of shaking heads with someone you despise just because you’re about to play football against them; secondly fans thinking it’s okay to be plain vicious to grieving people.

I’ll take the second first as it’s the easiest. Stop it. Just stop it, you evil mindless troughs of foetid shite. I’ve never understood the delight some take in mentioning the Munich Air Crash so some United sickos might think that Hillsborough is a chance for terrace bores to get even. It isn’t.

The true events of Hillsborough are barely believable: the police tactics, the FA decision to allow the game in the first place, the subsequent alteration of stories and statements all beggar belief. A clutch of folk who some have tried to label as bleeding-heart Scouse families who all talk and act like some sentimental scallies from a Carla Lane ‘comedy’ have been proved to be patronising meatheads.

These people simply wanted to know why their loved ones were blamed for their own deaths. Now they are on the way to getting some truth and some retribution. It’s late, but it’s a good thing.

It’s almost less believable that some people – and it’s always a small minority, just as the Islamic nutjobs hollering at America because some bloke’s put a shit film on youtube are – think that it’s really okay to sing happily about tragedy.

At least people within the game are coming out to condemn it utterly now. To be fair most of us ignore it and hope that no one thinks it’s us. Singing a bit louder than them helps. The chief executive of the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust Duncan Drasdo has condemned it too, although in adding that ‘there was nothing that was specifically referencing Hillsborough’ in the chanting is disingenuous to say the least. I think the rest of us know what they were on about.

Now of course there is such a thing called freedom of speech in this country which allows people to speak their minds. For instance I can say that Geri Halliwell is a useless assembly of human cells that I wouldn’t be happy to find on the soul of my shoe and, well, you know, that’s just my opinion. (It’s true though, isn’t it?)

It probably also means that you are allowed to sing songs that express joy at the death of others no matter how repulsive you are. If your mind is a sewer you still have the right to open it up so we can all have a whiff.

But I’m not sure that football clubs have to let you back into their ground if they can prove that your mind is indeed no more pleasing on the senses than the hole beneath a Glastonbury plank. So that has to be the first thing: identify the malicious bastards, ban them and then preferably send them off to Egypt to make an anti-Islamic film on the streets of Cairo.

And maybe ManU and Liverpool could make a bit of an effort to get their heads together as institutions and present a united front – although obviously they won’t be able to call it that. They’re both saying the same thing. Say it together. In the same room…. I know – frightening concept isn’t it?

That might not be a bad idea for Anton Ferdinand and John Terry. Perhaps it could be a bare-knuckle contest with Ashley and Rio holding their coats.

‘Course all this hullabaloo raises the question of whether someone ought to be forced to shake hands with another person when he thinks that person has called him ‘a black cunt’. I dunno but, on balance, I’d say it’s fair enough (irony alert).

Whether this means that they should do away with this pre-match handshake is another matter. Of course this idea was brought in as part of the Respect campaign which, pointedly, people couldn't have less respect for if they had a long lens and a French passport.

It invites footballers to behave like gentlemen and you can tell how well it's worked. Footballers now speak in hushed and reverent terms to the match officials. The use of oaths and curses is almost never seen. Yes, sometimes footballers might fall over in the act of going past an opponent but this has more to do with the unreliable nature of the modern football boot than the fact that they are cheating diving bastards.
And best of all that awful shirt-tugging that used to go on – well now, if it happens at all, it is merely to get the attention of an opponent in order to have another hearty handshake.

Now I know this polite stuff was intended to set a good example to all those diving and cursing little wannabes that fill up football fields of a Saturday morning but to be honest they're more likely to be out there practising how to win a penalty kick like Danny Welbeck than paying any attention to some old-school decency at the top of the match.
And frankly do we need it? If it's just a bit of a faff that's exploited by footballers to make public their dislike of someone else then for Gawd's sake just send 'em down their relevant ends and leave it to the skippers to do the chivalry. Although of course in Chelsea's case that probably means John Terry. And JT's been refused more handshakes than a post-op James Herriot.
The FA might help the Respect agenda if they got on with the retrospective bans for simulation. Three game-ban and you have to play the first game back in Tom Daley's budgie-smugglers.
That should rebalance the Respect agenda nicely.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Seeing off the Cynics

There was, apparently, some item on the Today programme at the beginning of this week asking how long it would be before Britain returned to its old cynicism. (That'll be the cynicism that greeted the winning of the Olympic Games in the first place... and the waste of money... the fact that Lord Snooty was in charge, etc.)

As an Australian might say (as he grimly totted up his nation's swimming medals) 'Ah, look...' as long as there are Camerons and Borises giving all us regular chaps a hearty pat on the back for our good works then cynicism won't be far behind. I find the neglect of Ken Livingstone in all this a little baffling. Think of his speech after 7/7 and you won't find a more statesmanlike response to serious adversity.

Boris's popularity is enough to bring out the cynic in anyone. He's like the bastard child of a golden labrador and Hugh Grant, with a Latin reader tucked under his collar.

But no matter how hard they try they cannot rob us of the one thing I'd forgotten I had: national pride. Just when you thought that the bullet-headed secretly-swastikaed fuckwits had taken permanent possession of our national flags, along come a swathe of dedicated and talented and Gawd help us multi-ethnic individuals to sweep it back into general ownership.

Seldom has a summer of sport so elevated and transformed a people. There are those who reckon this is just another example of bread and circuses, but this was no ordinary circus. The Paralympics seemed almost to surpass the Olympics in terms of its drama and capacity to move. From David Weir - arms like Popeye, voice like Becks - through to Ellie Simmonds who is possibly the most astonishing athlete I've ever watched (yes it is probably because she's tiny but goes like a fecking jet-ski) every day of competition held something to admire.

The Paralympics is wonderful precisely because it is a celebration of ability. It's all very well to have soggy well-meaning folk telling you how every person is important and capable. It's another thing entirely to have it demonstrated: to watch folk regardless of any apparent impairment do things way better than you could ever manage.

It is also - and this applies to sport at its best - a celebration of honesty. The reason I like running and jumping so much is that gamesmanship is very hard to impose. All right, a sprint final might begin with a pantomime of posturing that wouldn't look out of place in Lion King the Musical, but ultimately it's eight blokes in eight straight lines and the fastest one wins.

In a longer race there may be jockeying for position, some team tactics, the odd spike in the calf, but in the end it's whether Mo Farah can lengthen those threadlike limbs despite being hunted down by the ravening pack behind him.

Andy Murray's Grand Slam win has come at a time in the game when bellowing at umpires and trashing equipment is a thing of the past - if you think a decision's wrong, call up Hawkeye and it'll give us a peachy little thrill to boot. I could do without the oceans of time that seem to pass between Djokovic's serves, and I once managed to read an entire Indian takeaway menu between a first and second serve from Rafael Na.... bounce, bounce, bounce, tug at bum crack, bounce, bounce, mop brow, tug, tug, bounce... dal.

Some of the usual sporting blights have been kept to a minimum. There doesn't seem to have been too many failed drugs tests, although if there were ever an event for weightlifting cyclists we could solve any employment problem for health professionals overnight.

But now, Ryder Cup apart, it's over. No more blind footballers (although seasoned Shaun Wright-Phillips watchers might disagree); no more wheelchair rugger buggers; no more cerebral palsy sprinters...

And so it's back to...

Last night England drew 1-1 with Ukraine and I thought they did okay. One way to avoid scepticism with the national team might be to acknowledge that we're not very good. Hodgson gave a few new boys their head last night. Given Messi is a Tidy footballer, maybe Woy should pick Tom Stupidly in the number 10 shirt next time.

I don't much mind that the lad had a mare, really. I'd rather we had 11 Oxo-Chambermaids gifting possession and trying fancy flicks than an overhyped bunch of slackers just trying to ease through 90 minutes and wait til Saturday comes.

1-1 was okay. And okay is the team we've got.

If you need a reason to get down and dismal then look no further, boys n girls, to the Premier League. Here's a place where money speaks louder than words, words mean nothing very much, much is made from very little and little is given back to those that create the atmosphere that makes football the game it is. (You might even call the fans the Gamesmakers.)

Yes sir, every shirt tugged, every linesman shoved, every nightclub brawl, every highboard fall, every bollocked ref, every coach gone deaf, every single time it crosses the line and no one checks on the telly, every utterance that falls, mind-numbing and obvious, from the plonkers panel on the pundits couch, we're going to be thinking longingly of a Hannah or a Jess or an Ellie or a Johnny and wondering whatever happened to the dignity and integrity of sporting endeavour.

And yet, and yet... we still might end up with some barrel-chested millionaire Argentine nicking the title with the last flail of his right boot and you know what? All the money in the world can't rob that of its jaw-dropping wonder.

[Can you hear that? That's the sound of the mighty cynic within my soul thumping on the door and demanding to be let out.]

Monday, 3 September 2012

Kopping the Flak

Three games in and Brendan Rodgers is officially shite. That's the news I'm getting. It doesn't do to take an average team high enough up the table to require the services of a sherpa cos there'll always be some glory-hunting success-starved muppets waiting to dangle the BIG CLUB carrot in front of your ass's nose.

At present Roberto Martinez looks like the cleverest man in football. He's turned down Aston Villa - the benchmark for Big-Club-Mentality/Small-Club-Results - and that particular spitting cobra is being wrestled to the ground by an already ashen looking Paul Lambert. Martinez managed to duck the Koppite's job, and it seems clear he's dodged not so much a bullet as a fecking torpedo.

Let's remember what Rodgers took over for a minute - a squad of overpriced underperformers cobbled together in a spending spree that would have astonished Imelda Marcos. Rodgers couldn't give away Jordan Henderson and he must've tried.

Nevertheless Dalglish, whilst grunting through post-match interviews like a dangerously unmuzzled Highland Terrier, still managed to hustle Liverpool to two Cup Finals, win one, and almost claw back the other.

But their League form, coupled with King Kenny's preposterous handling of Suarez's racism - I still wonder what the hell Glen Johnson was doing in that Suarez t-shirt - meant that it was only right that Mr Incomprehensible should step aside.

Rodgers looked a good fit. He said the right things - as did Roy Hodgson - about this being a job that you couldn't turn down. He's got his way of playing and it's a style that had several TV pundits getting a tad Onanistic about it. (I'm sure Sam Allardyce watched it with incomprehension: 'Where's the big lad upfront, eh? And the other big lad upfront? And where's the big lad in midfield and the enormous big lads across the back? It's not football, that.)

Rodgers' second act was to pretty much bad mouth the lanky pony-tailed Geordie behemoth who almost rescued the FA Cup for them. Not only that but, fed by Stephen Gerrard's right boot - a foot second only to the right peg of the statue of St. Peter in the Vatican in terms of Scouse worship - Carroll leapt like a seaworld dolphin to power home a majestic header in Euro 2012 and it seemed that the lad had turned his world around.

Rodgers, though, didn't want him. There's me thinking that a bit of the old tika-taka (and saying that in a Liverpool accent leaves a helluva lot of phlegm on your keyboard) might be just that little bit of finesse that could make Andy an all-round international centre-forward but Brendan's not having it.

So the lad who had started to treat that £35 million millstone as merely a two-quid necklace from off the Bigg Market - a lad, moreover, that was on the cusp of acquiring utter cult status at Anfield - was on the A road to E Bay.

But you know what - who cares? He'll be bringing in a new man. A better man. An opportunist. A hanger off the back of the last man. A ruthless, incisive, lethal finisher. (Or he could bring in Borini.) But no, nowt. Clint Dempsey withdrew at the last minute and Rodgers has zilch on the bench to turn to. It's not smart, is it?

Nevertheless it is too early to judge. But for a horrid back pass from the Slovakian model for Munch's The Scream, Rodgers might already have the defeat of the champions under his belt. As it is the Baggies thumped 'em, with Suarez helping their cause with a display of wastefulness not matched since the laast time Prince William bought his wife a pie.

The home match with Arsenal must've promised much, especially given the Gunners' acquisition of another goal-shy duffer in Giroud. But Wenger's team were all over them, really. Diaby has spent his life doing second-grade impressions of Patrick Vieira but yesterday the lad was every bit of him with a bit of Yaya Toure thrown in to boot.

Cazorla is the main man, though. He's got that enviable feathery quality of a Silva or an Iniesta. He reminds me of someone (an emaciated Peter Kay?) but more to the point he cost the same as Joe Allen. Allen's a nice little player, typical of the Swansea team that we all delighted in patronising last year, but is he the hub around which Rodgers team can develop?

Of course we may be making too much of this lack of an out-and-out front man. Rodgers may be so enamoured of the Spanish style that he feels he doesn't need what we beer-swilling barflies used to call 'an old-fashioned number 9'.

Of course, Rodgers could always turn to the King of the Pinged Hamstring, the Traitorous Trafford Turncoat, the Free Agent everyone's talking about. Michael Owen? Welcomed back? With open arms or with firearms?

Whatever, there's a whiff of a manager already on the backfoot, a gaffer not entirely supported by just another bunch of detached American opportunistic owners. Henry has said he would never jeopardise the club's finances by sanctioning risky purchases but anyone who, having watched Fulham last season, wouldn't have coughed up £6 million for Clint Dempsey really doesn't know what they're talking about.

Meanwhile Dempsey has thrown himself into the wacky world of Villas-Boas (which translates as the House of Snakes, I believe). Martin Jol must be chewing through the filters of his Marlboro red-tops every time Tottenham is mentioned. Not content with sacking the bloke for doing a decent job, they've just nicked his midfield.

Thing is, I still think Villas-Boas has got the tougher job. It strikes me that no one really knows if he's up to much. His new job will be as demanding as the Chelsea one. He's got plenty of jostling egos at WHL. He may have better handwriting than the man he took over from (then again so does a rhesus monkey) but he doesn't come across as a bloke with a bedside manner. Plus he is getting full and frank support from Daniel Levy which is never a good sign.

There are new brooms everywhere but the ones who appear to making the best starts are the ones who haven't come bustling in with a radical agenda: Clarke, Laudrup, Hughton (notwithstanding the drubbing by the Swans) all seem to have given their teams a firm footing.

Footballers don't like change, apart from the loose variety that tumbles out of their Armani jeans of a Saturday night. It's one thing to get hold of a bunch of young 'uns and tell them this is the way it's going to be. It's another to convert some old lags.

In the long run, I reckon Rodgers will outlast AVB. But in their cases the long run might not even be the length of the home straight for a pissed-off Pistorius.