May 05

Football Reports #2 – The Tabloids

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The tabloids often stumble across a decent pun (I remember the Freund or Foe headline for a Spurs vs West Ham game some seasons back that sadly can never happen again). But for each of these there is a counterpoint in Chop Souey and Kieran Dire. Over and over again.

I find the reports themselves aren’t too dissimilar to the broadsheets, although the format is rather fractious and complimented by more action-orientated photographs. Paragraphs are generally shorter and punctuated with brassy headings, ‘Cruel’ and ‘Giant’ for the cup final on Saturday though the references are oblique.

What I like about the tabloids are the player scores. Objectivity and memory are minor factors in determining these marks out of ten. Cross-referencing to the report itself is another reconciliation process fraught with auditing issues. It goes something like this: All players score sixes or sevens unless, scored a goal = eight, sent off = four.

Earlier in the season, Juan Ugarte of Wrexham scored 5 in a 6-4 win. The NOTW gave him an 8. I also remember the same paper giving the Czech tackle monster Tomas Repka a zero after one shite performance. And it flattered him.

Football Reports #1

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I’ve been giving a little thought to what I like and dislike about football match reports.

The best ones translate like an impressionist painting; expressing the feel of a game without becoming bogged down in the minutiae of corner counts and possession. Chronological reporting or (more crass) obvious bias are the worst and I generally find that last gasp equalisers or late winners skewer the report as (I guess) it’s mostly written by the final whistle and balanced towards the result after 85 minutes or so.

The stretched analogy is another process which irritates me. At its best, say Stuart Hall fixing on Imperial Rome or a Russian Circus and wrapping his report around it, you’re carried along in the slipstream. Delivery plays a part of course, but others stretch the theme until it snaps under tenuous pressure. I recall a Bradford City report from the Sunday Times incorporating Peter Mandelson, the US election and Angus Deayton. The game itself barely got a mention and Bradford were relegated that day.

May 05

Tor! Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger

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I knew I was the target market for this book by page 10, “have you ever wondered why TSV Munich have 1860 as a suffix when the German game didn’t get off the ground until the 1890s?” It’s precisely the sort of thing I have pondered on and off for about 25 years.

The GDR has its own fascinating chapter. The notion that success would reflect well on the regional Communist officials led to whole teams being uprooted in the dead of night. You need a decent Berlin team? Bring that one from Dresden over. Stasi informers were everywhere; in the stands, on the bench, playing the holding role in midfield. East Germany first crossed swords with their neighbouring capitalist dogs in the 1974 World Cup, beating them 1-0. They heroically defended this record by refusing a rematch. East Germany sounds awful and amazing and it was only, like, just over there.

Excellent stuff, published by the WSC people with a new updated paperback edition.

Mike’s Pop Pilgrimages No.6 – An Empty Bench in Soho Square

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I didn’t realise how much I liked Kirsty MacColl’s music until she died.

I sometimes feel sad listening to her voice, it carries weariness even in the happy songs. An anthology released earlier this year captures it well, all the heartbreak and make-ups and curious diversions. She wrote so many good songs about herself and when her own life dulled, she covered others wisely. There was also a period as the 80’s flipped to 90’s when every single record in the charts featured Kirsty on backing vocals.

I loved the Tracy Ullman version of her first single, the way the guitars chimed and the baaaaayyyyyyybe yell that could shatter glass at fifty paces. I remember sitting in a school girlfriend’s garden and kissing her enthusiastically as this record soared from an upstairs window. Her parents were in the kitchen and I thought it prescient, they don’t know about us. I also didn’t know she had glandular fever and kissed my way to a fortnight off school.

And so it’s Soho Square where I find myself. One of those windy days when the sun is dancing through the clouds and you’re forever taking layers off, then hastily replacing them. Grey skies then shocking sunlight and where is my brolly? The pigeons shiver in the naked breeze she wrote in the song, Soho Square. Maybe, but they also poo on the bench to your memory. A shiny plaque gives the years of her life. She was just 41.

Kirsty’s bench was free so I sat down and munched through three veggie sausage rolls. Soho Square was buzzing with life; office workers quickstepping to the tube, twitching nutters with hands glued to dark beer tins. Everyone else was Japanese. I threw the end of my sausage roll onto the grass and started a pigeon riot.

I thought of Kirsty and that early kiss to her song, then all those years when I never really paid attention until a pub conversation with a friend in late 2000. “What about Kirsty MacColl, then?” I didn’t know what he meant, but the look on his face told me she was dead. And she died the most un-rock’n’roll of deaths.

The Justice Campaign for accountability for her death

Anthology track listing and reviews

May 05

Reasons to vote Official Monster Raving Loony

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Reasons to vote Official Monster Raving Loony

Knigel Knapp (Knight of the Unknown) is standing in Hackney North. If elected he will:

Ban the bendy bus (they’re too big and too bendy)
Install Stocks instead of Asbos

The rest of it is silly, but I don’t see Diane Abbott sticking up for Routemasters. He also says these promises may be fibs.

May 05

Penguin 70’s

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To cash in / celebrate its 70th birthday this month, Penguin have published 70 slim titles. The range is eclectic; short stories, essays, travel writing, Borges! Um, Nick Hornby. They are cheap at ‘1.50 each, although I was expecting a cover price in line with its age (the Penguin 60’s were 60 pence each).

I’m indebted to the Penguin 60’s for another reason. I was a 20 a day smoker when they were published. I weaned myself off tobacco by keeping these little books in the back pocket of my jeans or slipped inside a coat pocket. Every time I felt the craving of a cigarette, (at a bus stop, in a coffee shop, erm after sex) I would whip out one of these titles and substitute fiction for nicotine. I wore them like a patch and was free of Marlboro in a fortnight. I was also in a position to converse freely about great works of literature having read the opening chapters to many of them.

More info here.

Apr 05

James Joyce and the Adriatic

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Our first encounter was in Trieste. Back in the days of empire this city port belonged to the Habsburgs and later became the southern pin of the iron curtain. Most of the surrounding coastal towns are Venetian in character, with tall campanile towers and arched loggias. Trieste has greater subtlety, atypical of Italian cities; a kind of Vienna-on-Sea. It’s graceful rather than attractive, the squares floored with Carrera marble and behind the imposing civic buildings sits a crumbling medieval quarter built across Roman foundations.

One hundred years ago, in strode the young James Joyce. He was newly married with a degree in Latin and keen to take what we now call a gap-year, teaching English abroad. The year away eventually stretched to an on-off decade in this pretty corner of Europe. It was here, among the cafes and piazzas that he wrote Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and large chunks of The Dubliners.

A bronze statue of Joyce stands by the Grand Canal in Trieste. He looks in a hurry, with a book tucked tightly under his arm. The sculpture is lifesize and in the bustle of a passegiate, he merges with the crowd, head down, thoughts of literary genius on his mind no doubt. After that he seemed to follow us everywhere. At the Hotel James Joyce with its traces of the 18th century and Italian copies of Finnegan’s Wake in reception, we drank cheap fiery grappa and awoke with headaches. In Pula, around the coast in Croatia, we bumped into him again. This time he sat outside a caf’ (“Caf’ Ulysses” inevitably) legs crossed, enjoying the April sun. Joyce taught English here, but showed little affection for the town. Pula has beautifully preserved Roman temples and a colossal amphitheatre and now celebrates a writer immune to its charms.

He returned to Trieste with the germ of a Homeric idea and tapped out early chapters of Ulysses. This most Dublin of novels evolved so many miles away from its backdrop. He wrote to his wife calling Trieste “the city which has sheltered us” and a century on, with its statues and plaques and literary trails, it shelters him still.

Apr 05

Memories of 1997

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I lived above the sandy chines of Bournemouth and election eve was sunny. John Major had visited the south coast about a week before. He stood on a soapbox that was no longer an endearing quirk and tried to speak. I couldn’t hear him, everyone was chanting “six more days, six more days” and he gave up. In the dying days of the Conservative administration, British politics was practically theatre.

All over the country the Tories were being upstaged by these Labour guys in suits and ties and modern rhetoric. The Labour stereotype was no more, despite the Daily Mail’s insistence that an iron curtain would fall across the Cotswolds. They looked like people you knew at work. What did they stand for? Can’t really remember. Tough on education and the causes of education? Something like that. The point is, they weren’t the Tories and that was enough in 1997.

The Government were a shambles, lurching from scandal to crisis. The Sun withdrew its traditional support, seeing more readership potential in their love children. And there were plenty of those. The old guard on the right hated Europe because (and I paraphrase, but only slightly), garlic-eating foreigners lived there. This wasn’t John Major’s idea of politics; no satisfying thud of leather on willow and the ripple of applause. The day after the election he was photographed at Lords, a place he had longed to be for some months.

I started the evening with a bottle of white wine and drank it from a pint glass (I wasn’t sure if I was new or old Labour). Exit polls put the result in the bag and the word landslide bounced around the TV studio. You could feel the fizz of excitement when the results began to trickle through. I remember my girlfriend coming home after a handful of seats had declared and it was something like 3-2 to the Tories. “Oh no” she said, but it was OK, these were the very safest Tory seats with names like ‘Upper-Tweed-on-the-Wold’ and even they were close.

After midnight, came a period of about forty minutes when the Conservatives didn’t win a single seat. Election analysts were whirling their arms around liked mashed-up nutters fronting an army of red stick figures. No MP’s in Wales & Scotland, half the cabinet wiped out, incredible swings in the safest of seats. I think Neil Hamilton was my favourite because he was such a cock. I must admit I find his wife a little attractive, but that’s my problem and I’ll deal with it. Portillo too, of course. I was jumping up and down at this point and drinking Archers straight from the bottle. He was the smarmiest, the oiliest, the embodiment of the Class of ’97 Tories and he was beaten by the meekest man. I felt like I was on the terraces. England 4 Holland 1 was only a year ago and the sensation was similar.

Bournemouth was no barometer of public opinion and re-elected a Conservative. Neat Archers gives you a spanking hangover.

Mar 05

Mike’s Pop Pilgrimages No.5 – Wayne Hussey’s willy, London

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Mike’s Pop Pilgrimages
No.5 – Wayne Hussey’s willy, London

I used to be a bit of a goth. No, that’s not true, I used to be a lot of a goth; a suede-booted, black-haired, cross-in-ear, bangle-wristed embarrassment to my parents.

My gig-going days began when the Sisters of Mercy split, a spawn of goth bands scurried from their ashes. Ghost Dance one night, The Mission the next, reborn Sisters at the weekend. There were various establishments where people like me could congregate away from those who wanted to punch us. The Pink Toothbrush in Rayleigh and Prince of Orange in Chelmsford were both places with Snakebite-varnished floors and Nephilim friendly DJ’s, where gothic sub-culture almost looked like a movement. However, these places were merely staging posts on the path to goth enlightenment.

The holy grail of goth pilgrimage was the Intrepid Fox in Soho. In the late eighties acceptance in the Fox (by barstaff, by crimped nutters) meant you had passed your goth finals. The Guinness came decorated with a five-pointed star and the pool reserving system was based more on bullying than leaving a coin on the table. I revisited about a year ago for the first time in a decade. The Fox looked lighter, cleaner and a bloke in a suit sat at the bar. A gang of bikers should have been beating him with a stool, but no. It had changed irrevocably, although the smell of ancient sick still haunted the place.

My finest goth moment came at the Fox. All About Eve were touring their hippygotharse nonsense about harbours and meadows at the Astoria. Post-gig, Wayne Hussey of the Mission sat in the pub with his hairy bandmates. In an interview in that week’s Goth Times he’d complained about the inadequate size of his manhood. In the scrum for his autograph I asked him if it was true. He sighed and scrawled small willy Wayne on my arm in black biro.

So this meeting between the goth singer and the goth fan ends in anticlimax with the former writing ‘willy’ on the latter’s arm. Using the law of diminishing returns (scientifically proven by Cult albums) I think this ends the pop pilgrimage.

I washed my arm a week later when my manager in the Bank of England Financial Markets division asked what the writing under my sleeve was all about.

Mar 05

Mike’s Pop Pilgrimages No.4 – Rachel and James, Manchester

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Mike’s Pop Pilgrimages
No.4 – Rachel and James, Manchester

A different sort of pilgrimage this time. Rachel was a college hanger-on. One of those lost souls who drifts about campus, knows everyone, but doesn’t technically belong there. A rumour surrounded her and excited a lad of my disposition and record collection; Tim Booth of James wrote Come Home about her.

Anyway, she fell into my orbit. This was Manchester. Hang on, it was 1992, this was Madchester and my taste in fashion was curated by Afflecks Palace on Oldham Street. Cool as Fuck t-shirt? Tick. Flares? Sorry, but yes. Tendency to use the word ‘sound’ to convey appreciation? Aye.

So I’m at the Boardwalk one night at (forgive me sweet lord) a Northside gig, when Rachel flashes her lashes in my direction. The band are chugging along in their bowl cuts, playing Conference level indie-dance and saying “fookin’ yeah!” between songs. I tuck curtain hair strands behind my ears. Rachel has a beautiful lilting Irish accent, a voice that sings through sentences. I’m enraptured and better still, I’m in.

So we head back to my digs in the hard-to-find-beauty of Bolton, where the mills that Blake found satanic are just crumbling away, a town living on past glories of looms and spinning mules and where it never stops raining. The house is asleep although upstairs I can hear one housemate, Good Looking Grant, playing Sonic on the Megadrive. She puts a shushy finger to my lips and we retire to the lounge. We drink homemade beer from stained coffee mugs. I try, with subtlety, to confirm the rumour about the James song. This approach is skipped around, so I just blurt it out, “are you the Come Home girl?” She smiles a maybe, says she knows the band well and tells a complicated story about Tim Booth, Attila the Stockbroker and her teenage runaway self. It sounds feasible and before I get the chance to interrogate she kisses me and storytelling for the night is at a close.

She left town a week later and I never did discover the truth. If this sounds too romantic, let me tell you she also got it on with Good Looking Grant before she went.