Aug 04


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Just in case anyone’s interested in keeping up with the not-exactly-shock-a-minute final 24 hours of the transfer window, the Guardian has a rolling update going. It doesn’t look like anything much is happening, though.

Talking of windows, there was much absurd disgruntlement about Exeter’s team bus for yesterday’s game at Farnborough. It had large Plymouth Argyle insignia, and “Ginsters – Pride of Cornwall” logos all over it. And one of the windows had been put through! I was just saying how breaking the window of your own team’s bus seems a touch counter-productive when I was informed that the window had been smashed by an irate local who objects to buses lingering in the broad vicinity of his home. I’m not sure that’s true, but The Football League is beginning to seem like a distant haven of sanity.

Bye bye Bobby

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Bye bye Bobby
“We’re in a dog-fight, so the fight in the dog will get us through – and we’ll fight.” – Sir Bobby Robson

I knew Sir Bobby’s days were numbered on Saturday when he left St Alan of the Gallowgate on the bench for the game against Aston Villa.

Poor, muddle-headed old fella. Didn’t he know his Newcastle United history?

The faithful had seen it all before. Wednesday 25 August 1999. Sunderland v Newcastle United. Magpies’ manager Ruud Gullit, attempting to settle a score with Alan Shearer, leaves the St James’ Park icon out of the first XI for this bitter match against their local rivals. Newcastle lose 2-1 in the pouring rain. Three days later, Gullit is resigned from his post.

Five years and two days on, we’re looking for another new manager.

“What he found out on Wednesday night was that football is chalk and cheese, and it will be the same on Sunday. I don’t know whether it will be chalk or whether it will be cheese.” Bobby on Kieron Dyer.

Things have been going pear-shaped at NUFC for some time. The bad start to the season (two points from four games), the string of poor results that goes back much further, the rows between Bobby and Alan, Bobby and Dyer, Bobby and Robert, Bobby and Bellamy. The bizarre outbreak of conjunctivitis in pre-season. The sale of the club’s only top-flight centre half. The ludicrous chase for Wayne Rooney, a trophy player, sure, but not one who’d stop the leak of goals at the back, something that amounts to a betrayal of our world-class goalkeeper.

And the chubby chairman, Freddy Shepherd (remember him?), a loathsome man who models himself on Ken Bates and Doug Ellis, and fancies himself as being the real boss of the team. That’s Bobby’s real downfall. That’s where the real story lies.

“Robert said I was picking the wrong team. At the time I was – because he was in it.”

For all the fact that we’ve never been anything other than a top-six also-ran during his time, Bobby was loved by the fans.

We were able to forgive him the odd miscalculated South American purchase, the inability to remember his own players’ names, the lack of any silverware during his reign. Because he was Sir Bobby. Probably our biggest failing, but one that I was happy to live with – at least for the time being, til the end of his last season, so long as we were safe.

Usually there’s some sense of closure – often even joy – when a failing manager is sacked by one’s club: Dalglish and Gullit being the two most recent examples for the Gallowgate faithful.

Not this time. Not surprise, either. Just emptiness.

It’s probably best for the club. The new man will get the chance to buy a couple of players, offload a couple of deadweights, maybe even string a few results together. Who knows, we could even win a trophy – something that’s never been done in my lifetime.

Whatever happens, I’ve no doubt that however successful Newcastle is in the future, Bobby will be missed and fans will look back on his tenure as a happy time.

Maybe he had to go now, maybe this time he wouldn’t have been able to turn round our traditional poor start, maybe we’d be struggling to stay in the big time come season’s end. We’ll never find out.

But this much I do know: the grand old man of English football deserved better.

“It’s over, forget about it, it’s gone. We’ve enjoyed the ride, brilliant. We’ve paid the money, got the ride, got off the tramcar – let’s go again.”

Wise words.

Aug 04

Marvellous article from G. Strachan in the Guardian…

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Marvellous article from G. Strachan in the Guardian, about the dread spectre of ‘player unrest’, about which we hear a great deal these days.

Gordon, typically forthright, says it doesn’t exist, that it’s made up by malign shadowy forces with axes to grind. I think he’s probably right.

While we’re here, another bizarro tale from professional football’s less fashionable reaches. This time: York City. Bless them, fan-owned club, working hard to move on from disastrousness, a beacon of goodness in the murk. More or less. Anyway, at the end of a piece talking about the shaky position of their manager after a bad run of results, is a mention of employment law. It involves Terry Dolan, who I best recall being hated on by the disgruntled fans of Hull City, a club he expertly guided to two relegations. He was fired by York, but the article seems to suggest that he has successfully sued the club for win bonus payments relating to the period following his dismissal! After a quick search around the interweb, I couldn’t find another mention of this. Can it be true?

Aug 04

U-S-uh, how does it go again?

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U-S-uh, how does it go again?
Watching the highlights of the Olympics women’s football final this evening (a fitting end to the great Mia Hamm’s career) it struck me that one of the reasons a lot of people find the US’ sporting successes difficult to stomach is the constant chant of “USA, USA, USA, USA” that dominates the air whenever their folks are doing anything but losing.

That wall to wall USA could be regarded by non-Americans as annoying and smug is nothing new, of course. What hadn’t occurred to me before, though, is the fact that it’s probably the easiest sporting chant on the circuit.

It’s got everything. It’s short, it’s punchy, it’s difficult to misinterpret, it demands very little in the way of the spectator’s energy, and it seems to go on for ever. It certainly gets its message across. You’re never in doubt when the Yanks are about.

Think about the competition (and I think it’s important to stress that I’m talking objectively about pure motivational aesthetics rather than expressing any particular personal bias or allegiance).

We Brits have the effective but dull Iiiiiiiinnng-glund and Scawwwwwww-tlund, as well as the less snappy (though no less worthy) Wehhhhhh-yulls, but all these require a great deal of energy for relatively little payback, and thus tend to give up the ghost before the American chant.

France are unimpressive, with neither the country’s name nor the substitute “Allez les bleus!” being particularly forceful. “Italia” is certainly effective, as is the Japanese chant of “Nippon”, all undoubtedly aided by their clap-along potential.

There are many other examples, where passion for sport can overcome a trickily constructed name. Swathes of South America, Africa and Asia can boast such dedication.

But I’ve yet to find a country that really matches the US for reliability, style and efficiency.

It’s just. Not. Fair.

And that’s one more reason to try our best to beat them.

Split Allegiance: a Very Bad Idea I’m Going to Try

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Not sure how this’ll translate, but I’m going to root for two NBA teams this year. I realize that this means that I will be being disloyal to the Portland Trail Blazers, the team I’ve followed my entire life, but they deserve it. I’ve stuck by them in the lean years; we used to go see them at the Memorial Coliseum back before they were any good at all, a new franchise that always had the Rookie of the Year but no veterans and no discipline and no hope. I’ve triumphed with them: I actually left the room during Game 6 of the 1977 finals so I wouldn’t jinx the final moments of the game, 55 howling suburbanites screaming for Philly blood and me in the Stark’s backyard with my fingers and toes crossed. They got really bad right after that, then good again in the mid 1980s and early 1990s, only to be thwarted by Detroit’s mini-dynasty and Chicago’s major one. And I stuck by them in the last few years, the “Jail Blazer” era, when we went through a succession of unlikable unmanageable prima donnas and troublemakers and knuckleheaded decisions by management.

But I cannot root for them anymore, not wholeheartedly. This is NOT because we failed to make the playoffs for the first time in two decades this year, and it’s NOT because we just traded two fairly good role players for aging headcase Nick Van Exel, nor is it even really because I never got over the way we rotated our logo 90 degrees to make it “cooler,” only to achieve the opposite effect. No, none of those things.

It is because my heart has been stolen by another team, the gritty overachieving Milwaukee Bucks. Michael Redd, he of the square head and the deadly shooting touch! Lurch-like fellow Daniel Santiago, who will probably start again now that we lost Brian Skinner to the Celtics! Tiny rookie point guard T.J. Ford last year, slicing up defenses like birthday cake, only to suffer a season-ending (but hopefully not career-ending) spine injury! And the guy I think should have been Coach of the Year, Terry Porter, who went to college up here at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, was on the Trail Blazers for the resurgence, and managed to take this team of nobodies to the playoffs when every single pundit had us slated for a bottom-five finish!

My old team is still strong in my heart but my new team is just as strong right now. This is madness, I’m torn between two lovers unless I can learn to EXPAND MY HEART like the Grinch on Christmas morning and love them both equally, tragically, ecstatically, unwisely, too well. Pray for me, Freaky Triggers, pray like you’ve never prayed before.

Enough of this velodrome nonsense

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Enough of this velodrome nonsense, check out some proper cycling.

Aug 04

Womens Pole Vault Final

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Womens Pole Vault Final

It had everything; intense competition between two Russians who can’t stand each other, a world record and a contestant knocking off the bar with her boob. It’s a strange looking, unnatural event and I think a clean one, where drugs are unlikely to add value.

It was a two-horse race, both in terms of medals and aesthetics. At 4.70m Isinbayeva smacked into the bar and looked beaten. She had one jump remaining and took a risk, raising the bar to 4.80m and gliding over with ease. Feofanova had to clear the same to stay in touch. She gave up in mid-air.

Isinbayeva vaulted 4.91m to extend her own world record, screaming in delight as she flipped over the bar.

Aug 04

Olympic Avoidance Log: Blonde Lady Sail & Futurbike

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Olympic Avoidance LogI did remarkably well at the weekend, only managing to see bits and bobs via the news. Apparently winning a couple of medals because other people were disqualified is more important than any other world event. Not watching any event live I would be tempted to say I saw no Olympics at all, but the truth is that the ITV news on Saturday devoted a good five minutes to the damn thing. Being in someone else house, I could not turn it off. Therefore I saw highlights of rowing, some horsey nonsense, and what can only be described as the Blonde Lady Sail – this seemingly being the entry requirement for that group.

There was also some sort of pursuit cycling which has never failed to confuse me. Why chase the bugger. Just stop and he’ll be round in a couple of seconds. Why is it that bikes used in velodromes don’t have spokes and instead look like some FuturBike with all in one flying saucer wheels. Coupled with the long hats and body stockings, it is all remarkably silly. Still the rest of you punters I am sure were clapping along, we won a medal after all.


Dear the Rest of the World,

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Hi, how are you. Let’s get right down to it: I am American by birth and citizenship, I have never left North America, I have played baseball while eating a hot dog, I stopped playing (our)soccer to play (our) football in 8th grade mostly so I could do something normal for a change, I have eaten rattlesnake in Wyoming and met Fred Biletnikoff, there is no getting around it.

So I think I am as qualified as any to speak for our entire nation when I say that we’d like to apologize for our appalling assholery during these Olympics. Paul Hamm is an ungracious twit whose scores have been artificially boosted by an intimidating judging system. Gary Hall Jr. is on some kind of drug that no human should be on, he’s a pumped-up dude-man who would try to start a fight at Taco Bell about someone getting cuts in line ahead of him. Our vaunted basketball team has shown itself to be a large collection of selfish million- and/or billionaires, and has been righteously stuffed for it by Lithuania and Puerto Rico, guttier teams who’ve been playing together for yonks (oops that’s a Britishy sounding thing scratch that) since Mary met Joseph, teams with a pinpoint vision and lockstep profundity.

I will not apologize, as did our TV commentators, for Justin Gatlin and Shaun Crawford staring into each other’s eyes as they crossed the finish line in the 100m trials together, I thought that was awesome. And nothing has been more gangsta than Crawford winning a heat wearing a baseball cap backwards on his head since, I dunno, maybe Comaneci or something. I will kind of apologize for our inventing softball and shoehorning it into an Olympic sport and then winning nine straight games only giving up one run, that ain’t right. But we’re all thinking eight more years and someone will jump up and beat us down like protesters.

And we’re sorry for the fevered Los Angeles crowds in 1984 acting all Orwellian with the “U.S.A.” crapola, celebrating even though the CCCP wasn’t there was mighty uncool. And we apologize for all the “Do you beLIEVE in MIRacles” when we won the hockey gold in Lake Placid, we won the game but we shouldn’t have acted like it was the second cousin of Buddhahood like that.

But no sorry for Jesse Owens sticking it to Die Mann back in the day and no sorry for Bob Beamon. They were cool. Gatlin, who used to see himself as an artist and designed prom dresses for girls in his high school before realizing he could run ONE HUNDRED METERS in LESS THAN TEN SECONDS, is cool. Our 17-year-old fencer, Mariel Zagunis, from my once-hometown of Beaverton, Oregon, is cool.

Michael Phelps is kind of a nothingburger personality-wise, and I pretty much disliked his posturing after the relay, but the Aussies did do that whole air-guitar thing in our face four years ago so chalk it up to Mme. Payback, who is indeed a luscious bitch, plus the kid is a really good swimmer. He’s not as bad as whiny old Brandon Larsen or all our other badsport types, we dish it out, we might as well learn to take it, but we can’t take it, we’re fairweather johnsons, we need to run with the alpha dawg, whatever. A nation of yapping hounds, your reaction to it all just depends which side you’re on. Argh.

Actually I might be in the minority on this, so consider it the minority report. I like us being fair winners, I don’t like us being pouty weenies, that’s about it. Any country that wants me, and can interest me in their beach volleyball teams (hint hint Brasil call me) can have me.


Matty Jo.

Aug 04

Nine Unarguable Reasons why Synchronised Swimming is the Only True Olympic Sport

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Nine Unarguable Reasons why Synchronised Swimming is the Only True Olympic Sport

(as told to mark s by his top pal dr risk*) (and glossed a bit but NOT MUCH!!)

1. Dr Risk – who is three-quarters sea otter btw – wz captain of her college Synchro team
2. She calls it “Synchro” = bcz it is the Techno of sport!!!
3. It requires the judges to MAKE JUDGMENTS instead of looking at a stupid stopwatch or counting on their fingers = it dispenses with the tyranny of the ordinal over the cardinal HURRAH!! (what kind of a “sport” are the hundred metres or the marathon?) (don’t get me even STARTED on how many ways races are lame) (except possibly plant-pot races) (*struggles not to get started*)
4. At the climactic point of one of the events Dr Risk captained back in the day, an “audience member” – viz actually the captain of the male waterpolo team in disguise – was seized from the audience, dragged into the pool, stripped and “drowned” (ie kept underwater w/o breathing until no one present not already in on the surprise believed he could still be alive); then raised to the surface in a moving busby berkley-esque pieta. All this – says Dr Risk – is entirely within the framework of Syncho’s OFFICIAL possibilities. If only the sport as played at international level weren’t ruled by corporate sponsors and frightened rockist politics…
5. …viz in 1996, for the Atlanta Olympics, the first time the team Synchro event was included, the French team – very highly regarded and generally expected to win – were banned, by their own sports minister, Guy Drut, from performing the routine they had chosen and worked on, which contrasted the exciting style and ugly reality of Nazism: because it risked “being misinterpreted” (ie it risks the judges having to MAKE JUDGMENTS!!); and also apparently because there were fears that it would BRING SYNCHRO INTO DISREPUTE!! (!) (!!)
6. As Dr Risk points out, Olympic coverage does not have a good record rejecting the Leni Reifenstahl swagger. Well here’s a sport which – of necessity – includes intense formation discipline and a shedload of buffed fit bodies, plus (out of its own hundred-year history) a significant element of creative scene-making. It demands technique, stamina, a gift for pattern-making and dramatic spectacle – ie an awareness form-as-content and content-as-form – and almost inevitably (if presently somewhat invisibly) involves intensities of sexuality, strength vs grace, passion vs calculation, ritual vs invention, intelligence vs instinct…
7. Hence ie ==> it’s already wide open for:
i. routines which expand to expose the commercialisation, trivialisation, routinisation and general manipulative-spectacular degradation of sport (and indeed life) as a whole;
ii. acts of intervention which turn the tables on the judges;
iii. fourth-wall-busting** coups de theatres so potentially startling and exciting and unexpected that, by being marked low or banned or deemed inappropriate, will allow/encourage we the audience – in judging the judgments of the judges etc – to confront the roots of our own cultural habits, prejudices and terrors
8. Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams
9. If we take the Olympian ideal seriously, says Dr Risk – on its origins as much as its revival – then isn’t Synchro actually nearly the ONLY sport which makes the cut? Or anyway it would be, if (as Dr Risk insists they ought for every possible reason to be) the swimmers were BUCK NAKED…

*(For some reason my informant requested this cognomen. Admittedly she uses it quite a lot elsewhere. Having experienced her idea of “getting you to the airport on time” I have to say she has earned it.)
**(Except unlike feeble old cinema or proscenium-arch theatre Synchro can bust ALL FOUR WALLS AT ONCE!!)