Jumpers for Goalposts


Ah, those were the days.  When we used to have a kick-about in the street outside my house, there would invariably be someone who wanted to be Peter Osgood, one who’d play as Peter Lorimer or Georgie Best or even  Derek Hales (well I had to look up to someone, didn’t I ? and I reckoned I was better than Killer was, anyway.) We didn’t have anyone who was hard enough to pretend to be Dave McKay.

Take a look at one of the great sports photos of the 70s. There’s old Dave about to throttle that little-shit-of-little-shits, Billy Bremner – no softie himself. But where Bremner – like  Ron Harris, Nobby Stiles and anyone who put a Leeds Utd shirt on – was a kind of slide-my-studs-down-your-calf-and-into-your-achilles-when-ref-isn’t-looking-sorta-bloke, Big Dave was a sort of snap both your shinbones in two if you try to get past me, in front of the ref, the linesmen, the opposition bench, the BBC TV camera and four JPs and still argue the toss that I played the ball first-sorta-bloke. A very very tough bloke. A great photo.

McKay is reported to be in poor health. It will be a shame to lose another character of my childhood. A reminder of when football was a contact sport, professional players could be built like Fannie Lee and still get picked for the side, and Alan Rough and Derek Hales were in gainful employment, somehow.

Wishing Dave McKay all the very best. Let’s hope the today’s millionaire show-ponies spend a little less time crying and rolling around on the grass this weekend. Big Dave would have given them something to cry about.

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Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Sousa Vieira de Oliveira


Not only a brilliant footballer, but a lot of points in Scrabble, Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Sousa Vieira de Oliveira, or just Socrates to you and me, has died. Having survived a long career of being forced to wear some of the smallest shorts in sporting history, his hobbies of smoking, drinking and fathering kids (see And Where were the Germans? previous post) finally caught up with him.

Said The Daily Telegraph:

“Socrates – who also played at the 1986 World Cup finals – was a flamboyant footballer who boasted a myriad of contradictions.

He was a qualified doctor who never gave up his enjoyment of a smoke and a drink; he was an outspoken political activist, regularly protesting against the Brazilian military junta of the 1970s and 1980s.

He once listed his heroes as Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and John Lennon, fathered six children and spent his retirement penning passionate articles on politics and economics as well as sport.

Socrates won 60 caps for Brazil, scored 22 goals and was a contemporary of the great Zico.

After officially ending his playing career in 1989, he bizarrely reappeared 15 years later, at the age of 50, with Garforth Town, an amateur side in the backwoods of northern England where he featured for just 10 minutes of action.”

A bit of a bolshy bastard, who loved a gasper (this is me talking now, not The Telegraph), Dr Socrates is remembered as much as a champion of the little man and a fierce campaigner against tyranny and dictatorship as he was for his swift, elegant play, his back-heels and his marvellous goal celebrations.There’s a video on Youtube of his appearance at Garforth Town, but this is how you really wanna remember him.

In a world when all we’re left with is the dignity and charm of John Terry, the wit and wisdom of Joey Barton and the grace and sportsmanship of Robbie Savage, it’s nice to remember a time when soccer was populated with gentleman and scholars, in every sense of the word.
And shorts that cut you in half.

That’ll Bring Water to Your Eyes

MovemberGrid

Fußball Kommt Nach Hause


Day 24 in the Why Bother House and Mike is in the diary room…

The most extraordinary news to come out of South Africa is not that we lost, not that we were given a lesson in football, not even that the world now accepts that Sepp Blatter is a git, no more qualified to run FIFA than I am to run The Smaritans. No, what is quite extraordinary is that there were no reported acts of mindless hooliganism after the match. Whether the Foreign Office and Officer Smellie successfully stopped the English Formation Garden Chair Throwing Team from traveling to the World Cup, or the Nazis of St George were simply priced out of the market is unclear.

Some have suggested the preposterous theory that our footy fans have learned to accept defeat and to respect Johnny Foreigner. Whatever the reason, it does seem rather ironic that on the night that England go down to the biggest defeat and humiliation in their World Cup history, their fans have finally stopped rearranging the furniture of the world’s bars and bistros and have started to get themselves a reputation as “true sports fans”. Who’d a thunk it? I wonder if they mastered the tune to “No Surrender to the IRA” on the Vuvuzela?

So now we enter that traditional period of mourning when the only noise to be heard is the scraping of knife sharpeners all over Fleet Street and the jingle jangle of coins in sporrans as the jocks giggle themselves silly while they revel in the Auld Enemy’s demise. And it’s a fair cop. Who but the most one-eyed of Englishmen could fail to see the humour, inevitability and justice of last night’s debacle? One Caledonian chum with understandable glee sent me this “newsflash” this morning:

“The England players’ plane home is being diverted from Heathrow to Glasgow, where they are expected to receive a heroes’ welcome”

I expect the bars of Glasgae and Embra were rammed-out last night, packed with revellers with Gorbals accents and fake German replica shirts. Inspector Smellie had seized a shedload of dodgy shirts bound for “Up the Road”, but one must assumed a few got through. There’s nothing our brother fitba fans enjoy more than see the English bastards take a good shoeing (on or off the field).

Talking of shoeings, the Groinstrain Correspondents of the British press sure are giving the once great Fabio a severe pounding in the knackers this morning. How things change ? Just a few months ago the back pages were gushing about this Italian genius, lauding his tactical nous and giving thanks for his not being Sven. True to form, they’ve dropped him like ‘Arry Redknapp drops ‘is aitches and will, in all probability, hound him out of office.
Fabio Capello and England’s timeline of failure. Countdown to meltdown: how it all went wrong for Capello and Co.” offers The Telegraph. “Should Fabio Capello have resigned as England manager after their defeat?” asks the Guardian.”On Your Bike, You Greasy Wop” orders the Daily Mail (I may have made one of those up). You get the picture. The bandwagon has been kick started and it’s springs are heaving under the weight of the Groins, itching to say “we told you so” when, in fact, they said exactly the opposite.

Why Appy Arry or Woy of the Wovers would even consider taking on the job is beyond me, but the Fourth Estate’s finest seem set on the fact that it should be one or the other. I shall send my commiserations to them now, poor sods. The first task for whoever gets the job is to send out that search party for John Terry. He went missing in the German penalty area last night and hasn’t been seen since. Whatever Fabio could be blamed for, we surely can’t take him to task for the Keystone Cops defence last night. Cole and Johnson had all the speed and acceleration of Glacial Erosion, while Terry looked like he was wearing calipers. It’s a pity Matthew Upson didn’t show up, he would have loved it. Has Gareth Barry actually lost a leg?

Once Fabio has been dealt with, the journalists will doubtless turn their attention to the team. Our Wayne, Frank, Steven etc will suddenly be dubbed “useless wankers” having been feted as Gods for years. Perhaps Theo Walcott will actually have a chance of making the squad next time ? (unless he’s burnt out by then, of course). But whatever happens, the headlines will be vicious and hurtful to several young men who only months before were, apparently, world-class.

The Colonial press, of course, take a different view. It’s not the manager’s (sorry, coach’s) fault they went out, nor do they blame the team. No, it’s the game itself which is to blame.

I guess that means the American population will retreat to the ball parks and the basketball courts, to watching The Lakers and The Cowboys, The Yankees and The Blackhawks. They can give up pretending they either understand or care about ‘soccer’ for another four years. I wish I could. Charlton Athletic are due to lose to AFC Bournemouth on August 7th. If the New York Post think it’s a stupid game, they should come down to the Valley one weekend. We don’t know the meaning of stupid.

And Where Were The Germans?


Oh for Christ’s sake ! When is this competition gonna liven up ? They’re doing it on purpose, you know. The only sodding World Cup since 1974 that I have any chance of seeing most of, and it’s been a mixture of dullness, mediocrity and monotony. I mean, did you watch Portugal vrs The Ivory Coast? It had everything I love about soccer: Millionaire show-ponies, falling over, feigning injury and trying to cheat their way to a victory. In the end they cheated their way into a 0-0 draw. Anyway, when Drogba and Ronaldo are on the pitch, what did I really expect? Fair play?? Well, actually I did think I was in for at least a goal. Or at least an attempt on goal. Nope, all I watched was some poor ref trying to keep the lid on a particularly niggly, nasty little affair as they pulled shirts, flicked heels and rolled around like they’d been shot. Boo! You’re rubbish ! Get off !!

The more I see of these matches the less painfully woeful Eng vrs USA seems (or is that the beer talking again ?). Brazil have just taken the field against North Korea and one can only hope for either a) Brazil win by a cricket score or b) N Korea nick a shock point, or even better a win. Some hope. Brazil will probably get a last minute penalty and come out 1-0 winners. GOD this is dull. I can’t quite believe that the only side that look like they’re worth watching is The Germans (though, as I write, N Korea look like they want some).I never thought I’d write this, but Germany looked slick, fast and exciting. THE GERMANS!!!! Mind you, they were playing The Strines, who having won the toss and elected to bat, then realised,half way through the second half that they were in fact playing footy, not cricket. By the time the back four had taken their pads off it was too late. They were all out, and were lucky not to asked to follow-on.

I digress (and The North Koreans are getting better and better -32 mins gone)

I thank the gods at Virgin Media for ESPN Classic who all fortnight have been showing classic World Cup encounters from year gone by. This morning’s was 1982 Brazil vrs Italy. remember that one ? Paulo Rossi hat-trick? Zico, Falcao, Socrates? Huge beards and or haircuts, shorts cutting them in half? You must remember ! Earlier I’d watched a recent interview with Socrates who’s still alive, though you’d hardly know it to look at him. I was reminded that the Brazil Captain from that 1982 tournament smoked 40 cigarettes-a-day back then, and by the look of him, he smoked most of them though his eyes.

Ever a thinking footballer, Socrates is now a doctor of both medicine and philosophy. I can’t imagine Wayne, Christiano or Kaka following in his footsteps, or maybe they will. I neither know or care. All I care about is England look dull/crap (delete where or if applicable), Germany look exciting and talented, and to cap it all, Der Kaiser Beckenbauer has been on air telling anyone who cares to listen that English football is going backwards. And he maybe right. Can you imagine this English lot being level at 0-0 with these current Brazilians at half time, as North Korea are ? No, nor can I.

Beckenbauer. Fucking Beckenbauer! Of course he’s right, but he can still fuck off. I was racking my brain to think of an example when a German team was dull, one-paced and were drubbed. I can ‘t bring myself to watch 1966 yet again, and the Berlin 1-5 debacle is too funny to watch at my time of life. But finally, I found one. And it’ll probably be the best match I watch all week.

And it has Socrates in it too. Just not that one.

Great Touch for a Big Man


Paul Collingwood, having just captained the English cricket team to its first ever victory in a world final (albeit in pyjamas), is reported to have been given a few months of to recoup. He says he feels mentally drained and physically exhausted. It’s been a long season and he’s picked up a ‘couple of niggles’ along the way which ‘aren’t getting any better’. With the Ashes coming up in the winter, the English cricket authorities have begun a rotation system, having rested Andrew Strauss and Jimmy Anderson last winter, Collingwood along with Stuart Broad looks set to recharge his batteries before the main business begins in Australia in November. Broad would certainly need to rest his jaw, given the amount of bleating and whingeing he does on the playing field.

The rotation system of course is a favourite of soccer managers, and Fabio Capello is not different. He may well have to do a bit of it while shepherding his 23 young men through to what he hopes is an appearance in the World Cup Final. He’s not against rotating his opinion as well as his team. He’s already picked unfit players (something he said he wouldn’t) picked players out of position (which he’d previously ruled out) and those out-of form (ditto). Still, so far he’s not budging on the WAG question. The players will only get to see their loved ones once-a-week during the tournament, thus preserving their natural bodily fluids to sweat on the pitches of South Africa rather than in the bedroom/the balcony/the back of a limo. Colleen’s had the first result of the Cup, I reckon, and at least John Terry will be close enough for his team mates to keep an eye on him.

Capello is running a tight ship at the team’s high-altitude training camp in Austria: Peter Crouch has to sleep in the same size bed as everyone else this time round, and has been bollocked for wearing slippers around the camp. Capello likes his boys smartly dressed. It must be some relief to all that King David isn’t in the squad as Christ knows what the boss would have made of him swanning around in a sarong, Victoria’s drawers and slingbacks. The games room is off-limits for most of the side, so Wayne, Rio and company will be barred from playing as themselves on the PS3. Diets will be monitored at all times.

Austria was chosen as the venue for the pre-tour training camp as Capello wanted to replicate as near as damn it the conditions in the High Veldt where the English will be playing their matches. This is where we see the Italians genius: Not only is the atmosphere similarly thin to that in South Africa, but there are almost as many neo Nazis in Austria as they’ll encounter among the farming communities when they arrive down south. Once the competition begins England will make their base in Rustenburg, SA, not to be confused with Rastenburg, Poland where A. Hitler‘s Third Reich XI set up camp during their own quest for world domination.

Historians point out that Hitler’s men may well have succeeded but for the fact that, although they possessed a devastating attack, they were a team packed with right-wingers, and were vulnerable in the air – which an RAF Select XI exploited in the quarter-final played at Biggin Hill.

Hitler's back three discuss zonal defence during summer training at Rastenburg

But I digress.

So taking a leaf out of the books of the great minds from cricket and football, I have decided to rest myself, to recharge my batteries, to get my mind straight. I’ve picked up ‘a couple of niggles’ over the season (which, let’s face it, has lasted since 1983) and they’ve shown no signs of getting any better. In fact I get more niggly as the years pass. My week’s low-altitude training in Amsterdam didn’t pay the dividends I’d hoped for, but I can’t blame the fact my WAG came along with me. No, a strict rotation policy is what I need. I know you think rotating a squad of one is gonna be difficult, but I have a carefully planned strategy to get me through the closed-work season. Playing in a solid 0-0-1 formation, I shall alternate between The Crown, O’Neills and, when I really want to punish myself, The Railway.

In the games room (my couch) I shall play no more than three hours per day, switching from Tiger Woods Golf , FIFA 10, and Red Dead Redemption, which I’ve just had a couple of hours on and is quite superb. Tiger might get squeezed out (not for the first time).

A strict diet from the Sun Bo chinese takeaway (chilli beef me-up), Khans curry house (mismas every time) and the imaginatively dubbed Blackheath Fish and Chips (all major credit cards accepted, and at these prices highly recommended) will keep my girth at the diameter to which it’s accustomed.

I have promised myself the bathroom will be painted, the banisters sanded and the bushes and hedges in the garden kept neat and trim. If I can’t find a source of income soonish, I may have to rent (or even sell) Railway Cuttings, so a month off is a great opportunity to get the house in top shape to impress any potential buyers.

But with 3 World Cup matches every day and villains and varmints to shoot on a video game, I may have to break a promise or two. Now where are my slippers ?

.

Times Up


Dear friends and others

After what seems like only 10 months at The Times, Mr Murdoch and I have decided to part company (though I don’t think he knows it yet. He’ll doubtless be distraught when he finds out). My last day here will be Friday June 4th, after which I shall be sat on my arse at home watching the World Cup and Test Cricket.

So this is just a quick note to say bye-bye to those with whom I’ve worked here, and hello to all you out there who might wanna employ me in future (oh come on ! surely?) My mobile should remain the same, if I can get the bastards to give me my PAC code.

Keep in touch, it’s been a blast. Honest.

MB
Soon Not-to-be Features Picture Editor
The Times
London

Mike is available for wakes, strikes, global recessions, individual depressions, international financial slumps, natural disasters, acts of God, play-off humiliations, county court judgements, redundancy settlements, post-mortems, political carve-ups, serial killings and weddings. Standard network rates apply. Calls from mobiles will be higher.