A Spot of Bother


Flat.

I remember feeling like this before. I’d seen Ben Johnson win the Olympic 100 meters final in 1988. I’d watched the race live on tv and it was a fantastic spectacle. Johnson was sensational. He mullered them.

Except he wasn’t and he didn’t. He was stripped on the gold medal, having taken performance-enhancing drugs. I took it personally. To have enjoyed such a magnificent performance, then just hours later to have that enjoyment dashed by learning that the Canadian was a drugs cheat. I felt hollow. It was a real downer.

I suspect I wasn’t alone when my initial joy at seeing Usain Bolt run for the first time was tempered by the fear that he too may be on something. I remember turning to The Incumbent and saying “oh god, I hope he’s clean”. Bolt was a new face, a fresh face, with a touch of class, a bit of the rebel about him. He had a cheeky smile and a rehearsed pre and post-race comedy routine.

He didn’t act like a middleweight boxer on the blocks:- sniffiing and snorting, punching the air like these sprinters tend to do. He winked at the camera, he struck the pose, he actually looked like he was having fun. “For Christ’s sake let this bloke not be a drugs cheat”. Pleasingly at time of writing Usain seems to run short distances in very fast times without the help of any illegal stimulants (though I’m told he loves a Guinness or three) .

Cycling and F1 seem forever to be making headlines for some form of cheating or another. The lack of moral fortitude that surrounds Grand Prix racing is well documented, at one stage a F1 team impelled a driver to risk death to both himself and to the watching spectators by crashing his own car into a wall at high speed. All for the good of the team.

There is a school of thought that professional cyclists couldn’t possibly perform to the high level they do throughout the season WITHOUT taking drugs, such are the pains and stresses the riders put themselves through. Drug abuse in this sport is rife. Almost accepted.

So common are the instances of cheating in the above sports that it’s difficult to see any fan (and there must be some around, surely ?) getting too upset when the next scandal is exposed. It’d be a bit like a soccer fan having his week ruined because he saw a center forward dive in the box, or a midfielder feign injury, or a player wave an imaginary red card to get his opposite number sent off. It just happens far too often.

When South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje was discovered to have accepted money from a bookmaker in exchange for making certain decisions on the field, the world of cricket was plunged into a mire of cheating, gamesmanship and skulduggery. Part of my world, and of cricket fans the world over, fell apart. Cronje, up until that point, was universally regarded as a good egg, a model sportsman. Our beloved game was in danger of being dragged into the murky depths previously thought to be the domain of baseball, Italian football and national hunt racing.

The very phrase “it’s not cricket” was born out of a sport which prided itself on fair play, the corinthian spirit, and the feeling that ours was a noble sport, played by gentlemen (conveniently forgetting that the greatest of all english cricketers, W.G.Grace was one of the biggest rouges, diddlers and rapscallions the world of sport has ever known.) “It’s not cricket”. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s not how to play the game ! If Hollywood ever portrays an old English duffer they’ll invariably write “it’s not cricket” into his dialogue to illustrate he’s both English and clings to this quaint idea of “fair play”

Cricket, apart from being the greatest of all games, is perfectly set-up for betting and therefore cheating. There are so many opportunities to bet on each part of the action, and if people can bet and make a lot of money on those events, then you can bet your favourite testicle that someone will have worked out how to fiddle the outcome, con the bookie and make even more wads of cash out of it. And that leads us on nicely to the current scandal which has erupted over the weekend.

Several players on the Pakistan team currently playing against England in a series of matches have allegedly received money from persons unknown to bowl ‘no-balls’ (foul balls) at specific times during the match. Evidence gathered by the London News of the World newspaper suggest that specific moments were singled out for these illegal acts to occur, and right on cue that’s exactly what happened. Apparently it’s called Spot Fixing (as opposed to Match Fixing). It doesn’t seem to have altered the outcome of the match (the Pakistanis lost heavily, and would have done so in any event) but the inference is that if these lads have been found out to have taken cash for intentional cock-ups here, what else has been going on ?

Have they previously thrown matches ? Have they gotten themselves out earlier than they would have naturally have done so ? In the multi-billion dollar world of cricket betting it’s impossible to predict you’ll win a match, but much easier to chuck a match, or drop a catch or bowl a ‘no-ball’. There’s been a suggestion that some of these young men don’t merely enter into these nefarious activities because of the financial rewards offered by the odd dodgy better or bookie. Allegedly players have been intimidated, families and friends have been threatened, some have even been kidnapped. All very murky, if not distasteful and distressing stuff.

But it’s much sadder than that. One of the headline-grabbing names accused of taking bribes is that of Mohammad Amir, an 18 year old fast bowler who has been quite magnificent this year. Watching him bowl gave me the same goosey feeling that I had when I saw Bolt run the hundred meters for the first time, when I watched Ian Botham skittle the Aussies in ’81, and Freddie Flintoff destroy bowlers in 2005. I never saw George Best play as a kid for Man Utd (before he hit hit the bottle) but I reckon if I did I would have been awe inspired, realised this was the next great player. Amir has been sensational. The youngest bowler to reach 50 wickets in Test cricket, he plays the game with a smile on his face while all the time retaining that nasty streak all great fast bowlers need. But the headlines wont say that in the morning, or for weeks to come.

If these allegations are substantiated, Amir will be forever associated with this next sorry episode in cricket’s recent squalid history and not his fantastic feats on the field of play . He won’t be the first (or the last) from his nation (or any other) to be involved in back-of-the-hand deals with back-streets betting sharks. But if you’d have watched him this summer, as I have, you’d be as sad as I am for having that joy of seeing the beginning of a brilliant new career replaced by the despair of yet another young talent seduced by the dark side of professional sport.

Flat ? You bet I am.

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Back in the Thick of It


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As the great Sir Terrence Wogan once said: Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana. Can it really be 82 days since we last heard the shameless cries of ‘Foul’ from the Wankers of Westminster, having been caught bang-to-rights with their fingers in the till ? Let me get this right, they turn up for work once a week to get their mugs on camera on a Wednesday lunchtime, steal our money, use that money to fund their businesses and gardeners AND get 82 days off summer holiday? It’s a tough life. 82 days off ?? I’ve had shorter marriages. It only seems like yesterday that I was here ranting about Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears, and if I’m not very careful I shall start again.

It’s amazingly over 3 months since I left the magazine and started working here at The Thunderer. Christ that’s flown by. I still get that new-boy feeling every now and again, but have finally remembered the names of most of the people I work with (although in conference the other day I couldn’t think of my Editor’s name, which wasn’t a great career move). The very sad thing is they keep giving me work to do, which is not what I signed up for, but it means I never clock-watch. Well hardly ever. But the time flies by, and that’s really all we can ever ask for, isn’t it? And dirty great wads of cash. And the odd pint. And a laugh.

When I joined the Ashes hadn’t yet started, Michael Jackson had died of natural causes and Gordon Brown was quaffing heavily in the Last Chance Saloon. A 100-odd days later, Jacko’s doctor is to appear before 12 men good and true, charged with Whackicide, the Aussies have returned home, urn-less. Gordon is now standing sobbing at the back of that saloon, refusing to go home, while the cleaners mop the floor, the bar staff bottle-up and the bouncer slips his big paws round the waist of a drunk teenage girl and offers her a lift home. I bet time isn’t flying for poor old Gordon. I wonder if he ever wakes up in the morning, stares at the ceiling and thinks “Oh fuck it, I’ve had enough”. How tempting must it be to ring Cameron and say “It’s all yours, have the sodding country, see how you like it.” It can’t be far away now.

How different might it all have been for Gordon had he still had the benefit of some nasty little bastard running the show like Alastair Campbell, or even better Malcolm Tucker? Neither would have let catastrophe after catastrophe befall this government. Malcolm would never have let Gordon back out of that original, promised election last year, Alastair would have taken Hazel, Jacqui and the rest of the expenses cartel around the back and horse-whipped them. And neither would have overseen the financial crisis without at least a dozen members of the Square Mile, the FSA and the ONS being strung up by their cajones and swinging from those lollipop clocks in Canary Wharf.

How reassuring it was to see Mr Tucker back on our screens on Saturday night. Usually I steer well clear of violent, venom-spitting Scotchmen, and I’ve met a few in my time, but I can’t get enough of Malc. I only wish my anger would manifest itself into such lines as ”Did you know that 90% of household dust is made up of dead human skin, that’s what you are…to me”.
This week he had Glynn’s chair thrown away. It was one of those chairs that is supposed to give you maximum support and perfect posture- you know the ones. Got anyone in your office who sits on a large brightly-coloured beach ball instead of a chair? Bet you have. I’ve seen a few in my time. Oh for a lit cigarette or a scalpel. “But, Mike, I have a bad back and this ball really helps. And the colour matches my RSI gauntlet. There it is, next to my S.A.D. light”.

You get where I’m coming from, right?

So for the three months I’ve been here I’ve been the recipient of several emails, each one more insistent than the last, from our Health, Safety and Environment Dept informing me that I need a ‘Workdesk Assessment’. They need to make sure I am comfortable and not at risk of developing any aches and pain while at my desk. Yes: It’s Sitting on a Chair Lessons. I ignored the first two invitations. Replied that I “was fine” to the third. The fourth came by return to which I wrote “No, honestly, I’ll be ok: I’ve been sitting on chairs for years, with a 98% success rate”. Only the threat, in the fifth email, of being hauled up in front of the beak has made me relent. I am still, after all, on Double Secret Probation and I wouldn’t want to jeopardise that now, would I?

Imagine all the money large companies could save by frog-marching out of the office all the HR Depts, Occupation Health Officers and the like ? Fortunes could be saved. They do nothing for no-one, apart justifying their own existence. Nothing. “But what about all the days-off-thru-sickness we save industry ?” Cobblers: It’s the same sort of people in offices throughout the land who are habitual RSI-getters (you can spot ‘em a mile off). Nothing anyone can do will change this type. Takers and slakers, every man jack of ’em. They spend a luna month in the nurse’s office throughout the year; never get a sniffle, they get Beriberi or Green Monkey Disease, and they are lacing up their running spikes at 5:58 every afternoon and are off out the door like Usain Bolt before you can say “actually could you just give me a hand with this”. I’ve seen Occ.Health people come to desks and measure angles and distances of keyboards, monitors and, of course chairs. Next time you see them in action, just watch the face of the worker they’re attending to, forming a skiving-off strategy. “Do you suffer from pain in your wrist, shoulder blade or achilles heel while at your desk?” they’re asked. “Well, now you come to mention it I have developed quite a sore knee when I’m asked to log on, yes”. “Hmmm…thought so. You need a new chair, a foot-rest and every other Friday off with stress. That should see you all right. Also, we’ll make sure your boss doesn’t give you too much work”.

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I don’t need to name these people, we know who they are and THEY know who they are. They all look the same, with interchangeable names. They’ll be one sitting near you in your office today (unless you ARE one of them, in which case you’ll be reading this from the comfort of your home sofa). Of course people get ill, we all do. Some just get ill more often than others. A good mate of mine, I won’t name him (another Jock) came limping up the office once and I thought “oh here we go, he’s either fallen off his scooter or he’s got RSI of the ankle. Manky scotch git!” Neither were true. Turns out it was gout, and I couldn’t have been more pleased. I was so glad that I wasn’t the only one feeling the effects of time on my aching body. Gout! Brilliant: traditionally associated with old men and heavy drinkers, and my mate was at least one of them. Time catches up with us all in the end.

On Thursday, I officially enter the world of late-middle agedness when I take up the company’s offer of a free flu-jab. As noted on these pages previously, I am a magnet for a cold and flu bug. Typically, I make sure I have spread it throughout the office before I go off to my sickbed. Well, I’m determined this year to nip it in the bud (or bug). I always thought that flu jabs were for the elderly or infirm, and so here I am. It’ll probably make me feel like death warmed up for the rest of the day, but I won’t be calling for a footstool, wrist-brace or truss. I shall merely sit at my desk, and when the Occ Health girls come to call, I shall merely quote Malcolm Tucker and say :”Come the fuck in, or fuck the fuck off”.

I may even put on a scotch accent.

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A Bad Taste in the Mouth


Advanced warning to my friend who said she read and enjoyed my blog, “but not the boring sports stuff”. Please feel free to scroll down to the next post, it’s all about music.

Anyway

Don’t you think it would have been better if, when Tom Williams went into that Clapham Common joke shop, he would have gone the whole hog? For those not-in-the-know, Williams plays for Harlequins Rugby Football Club and is the centre of a scandal having been found to have bitten on a joke shop blood capsule, thus faking a blood injury so he could be substituted. I’d have loved to have seen him emerge from the bottom of the ruck with a fake arrow through his head and one of those rubber nails though his thumb. If you’re gonna feign injury, have a bit of style about it.

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I know of a club in Wales who used to have a one-legged bloke in their Vets team. He’d play on the wing wearing his plastic leg and, at the pace that over-35’s rugby is played at, got along just fine. On one occasion, with the opposing team’s consent and cooperation he removed his artificial limb whilst he was laying at the bottom of a pile of players, and a team-mate stuffed raw liver into the now-empty leg of his shorts. The play stopped, the scrum of players untangled and broke up, leaving this bloke on the floor, screaming in mock-agony. The only guy on the pitch who wasn’t in on the joke was the referee, who duly fainted. Now THAT’S style.

The most worrying thing about the Tom Williams affair, or Bloodgate as the press are calling it, is the complete lack of shock or surprise shown by anyone in world rugby. Apparently feigning a blood-injury is commonplace and what are we all bleating about? Tales of England physios opening up stitches on a player’s old wound soo he could come off the pitch for a fresher player, teams smashing blood capsules into their scalps have filled the sports pages this week. Has it come to this? I listened to a rather gleeful soccer pundit on the radio who was beside himself that at last, the smug holier-than-thou rugger-buggers had finally been exposed for what all footy fans had thought for eons: that they were as corrupt and dishonest as anyone involved in the round-ball code. It’s difficult to argue against. How can we watch the Six Nations Championship this year and believe any injury we see, short of decapitation? I have a feeling I may not bother.

So where does the sports fan turn to for clean, unsullied, cheat-free fun? Cricket? Remember Hanse Cronje, the bookies runner? Mike Atherton’s dirty pocket; or any number of Pakistani indiscretions on and off the pitch? Nope that’s out. How about Track and Field? For every Usain Bolt or Paula Radcliffe, there’s a Ben Johnson or a Dwayne Chambers waiting to happen. Horse Racing? (Keiron Fallon); Baseball? (Barry Bonds) Cycling? don’t even go there.

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There is always soccer, I suppose? I mean it. Perhaps that’s the one I should watch because at kick-off no-one should be under the slightest illusion that any of the 22 men on display has any intention of playing within the rules if he can possibly get away with it. It is a game based on cheating, on conning the referee, on maiming the opposition, on getting fellow professionals sent off the field of play. It makes good tv and the authorities not only applaud it, condone it, they actually encourage it. They must do. How else could it carry on like this if UEFA or FIFA or the FA or whoever did not support this rotten, murky, corrupt shambolic excuse for a game of sport?

Arsene Wenger is fuming that his player Eduardo may be punished for diving in the penalty area and thereby conning the ref into awarding a penalty. YOU BET HE’S FUMING. Every single player dives given the slightest opportunity to obtain a free-kick or a penalty, or to get an opposing player sent off or booked. So why has Eduardo been singled out for punishment? Have the authorities finally had enough of this integral part of the game? Of course not. Sadly for the Croatian, he’s so bad at diving, it was such an obvious cheat that even UEFA can’t turn a blind eye to it. They have to go through the motions of being seen to do the right thing. If they were serious about stopping the cheats they’d have shut down Seria A, La Liga and the Premier League years ago. Lee Bowyer, Drogba, Klinsmann and the rest of them down the years would long be behind bars, or at least have been banned from the game after their first match.

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So I have no sympathy when a mate moans that his team “was robbed” through a penalty-that-never-was, or because the full-back should have never been sent off for a foul that didn’t happen. Sod them all. All of them are cheats. All of them, and as long as you go to a game knowing that, football is almost an enjoyable game. The score doesn’t matter, just watch the play-acting, or the acts of violence that pass for a sporting past-time. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses or how, just sit back and watch the show and see if you can spot the young lad, new to the game, who hasn’t quite got it yet, trying to play them game as written in the rule book. Fret not for him, he’ll come around in the end. In seasons to come he’ll be rolling around the penalty area, screaming for the magic sponge after being felled by an invisible foot. They’ll probably make him England captain of he’s convincing enough.

Of course that sort of thing doesn’t happen at Charlton. That’s five wins in a row, by the way. It’s a beautiful game.

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