Monday, July 31, 2006

Not American sport’s finest hour

Gatlin faces prospect of life ban

World and Olympic 100m champion Justin Gatlin is facing a lifetime ban after confirmation that his B sample tested positive for testosterone.

The American announced on Saturday that he had failed a doping test in April.


Landis gives positive drugs test

Tour de France winner Floyd Landis has given a positive drugs test, his Phonak team revealed.

The 30-year-old American, who claimed Tour de France victory on Sunday, has tested positive for unusual levels of the male sex hormone testosterone...

Ok, that was a snide headline in revenge for the endless soccer-bashing. Of course it’s not an American problem – it’s a particular problem in particular sports and is a function of the competitive drive (in which, as in so many areas, America leads the way).

In order to win things, you need the drive to win at all costs, not least the cost to your own body. Heaven knows what horrors these athletes are storing up for their old age.

Cycling, sprinting and weightlifting are three sports which depend on making unusual and unnatural physical demands on individuals. All three have become consumed by depressing, cyclical battles between the drug testers and the drug takers, who seek to find ever clever ways of masking the things that mask the things that mask the drugs.

And it's an open secret that in all three sports the drug takers are, well, everybody.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


From Ananova:

Jockey faces ban for butting horse

A top jockey is facing a ban after head-butting his horse after it played up before a race.

Paul O'Neill butted City Affair at Stratford after he was thrown before a two-mile hurdle, reports the Guardian.

Having landed on his feet, O'Neill appeared to drop his crash-helmeted forehead on to his mount's nose.

The pair were reunited for the race and finished fourth.

Paul Struthers, a spokesman for the Horseracing Regulatory Authority, said O'Neill would face a disciplinary hearing for improper riding.

John O'Shea, who trains City Affair, said: "Paul rang me and said he was sorry for what
happened. I haven't seen it yet.The horse is a very, very difficult character, but I couldn't comment on the incident until I've seen it."

Perhaps it called his mother a terrorist.

Congratulations T & P

On Saturday I gained a brother-in-law and a sizeable hangover.

Have a wonderful time in Canada.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A golfing tragedy

From Ananova:

An eight-year-old US boy hit two holes-in-one with the same golf ball within 20 minutes.

Harrison Vonderau and his dad Dave were playing in a father and son tournament at a course in Cleveland, Ohio.

They both started screaming and jumping up and down when Harrison hit his first hole-in-one with his pitching wedge.

"We almost fell down we were so excited," Dave Vonderau told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"I never had a hole-in-one, but I was happy to watch his."

But they could not believe their eyes when he repeated the feat with his nine iron 20 minutes later.

Poor lad. Used up his entire lifetime’s supply of holes-in-one 13 years before he’s allowed to buy a drink.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Poet's Corner

These poems all have proper rhymes and some are even funny.

Click here to go to the full Think of England poetry site.

Reviews: ...I give that an 11, on a scale of 10. - Hey Skipper ... Byronic - Peter Burnet ... The stuff of a future poet laureate - Toque ...Chavtastic - Wonkotsane .... A right proper use of the arts; cultural warfare. - Duck

The Art Snobs

The Chav


Ghosts of Christmas

Outside Wells Cathedral

The Blogger's Lament

Do It Yourself (commissioned)

Heir Apparent - for Prince Charles

A Regular's Sonnet (Spenserian)

Odds and sods:

Cold Calling
Bristolian Limericks
Spam poem
Anthem for American Teeth

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Ballad of Zinedine Zidane

Thoughts on football, the World Cup in general, and the 2006 World Cup in particular

Football vs The World Cup
The football World Cup has very little to do with ‘football’, as most football people understand the term.

Football is about freezing Saturday afternoons spent yelling torrents of fruity abuse at hapless wingers, misfiring forwards and clod-hopping centre-backs in between sips from paper cups of extra-salty Bovril and tentative nibbles at absurdly hot steak-and-kidney pies. Football is about daft one-eyed optimistic views on your club’s prospects at the start of the season followed shortly by extreme pessimism before each actual match, then followed by the crushing reality of mid-table mediocrity, ignominious cup exits and managerial fiascos. Football is the weight of club tradition, character and history, the decades of heroes and villains, thrashings and narrow squeaks, rare triumphs, occasional disasters and very common disappointments. Football is about love-hated local rivals, the supreme, vicious, tribal joy of victory over them and the deep chasms of despair that follow defeat. Football is the brief, ecstatic moments of light between long seasons of darkness and failure. It’s also about having a pint and a plate of chips afterwards and treating all those imposters just the same. Football is about sitting through all the rubbish irrelevant highlights on post-pub-closing Match of the Day only to miss the bit you really stayed up for because you couldn’t wait any longer to nip to the toilet. Football is about wondering why your absurdly hot steak-and-kidney pie has no kidney in it – can kidney really be more expensive than steak? – and if it is, what the hell kind of ‘steak’ is this, and what sort of effect might it be having on my digestive system?

But I digress. The point is that for 99% of football-lovers in football countries, football is about following a football club.

The World Cup is a different animal altogether. Football is a fan’s day job – it goes on week in, week out for most of the year, every year. The World Cup is a unique, bizarre, far-too-big festival that happens for a month, one summer in four. It has a superficial resemblance to football, but it is really about two things quite unrelated to football…

Patriotism vs Nationalism
Firstly, the World Cup engenders thinking about your country’s place in the world. Football happens to be the physical game that teams play in the World Cup, but fundamentally the actual game played is secondary to the questions about patriotism versus nationalism.

Patriotism is a good thing, nationalism is a bad thing. When it comes to the World Cup, patriotism means supporting your country and hoping that it wins, but accepting rationally that other countries might play better football in a better way, and enjoying others’ success when they deserve it. Nationalism is the irrational belief that your country is superior to all others, has nothing to learn from them and if it loses then someone else (referees, cheating foreigners, Cristiano Ronaldo etc) is to blame.

Watching the World Cup in a World Cup-mad country like England (or Germany, or Italy, Spain, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Sweden, Ghana, Czech Republic etc) focuses on this tension between nationalism and patriotism all the time.

Now that we’ve given up world wars, this doesn’t happen to the same degree with any other event. The Olympic Games foster patriotism, but they are too unfocused, too splintered, too much about individual achievement to raise serious questions about nationalism. The World Cup allows each qualifying nation to compete on a level playing field at the same game, and thus to discover how their particular national approach stands in the world.

Football vs Soccer
The second thing that the World Cup is supposed to be about, is a joie de vivre celebration of ‘soccer’. Here, I idiosyncratically define ‘soccer’ as ‘the game of football in its highest-quality expression.’ (In the World Cup, people start talking about ‘the good of the game’. The good of the game is of practically no interest to the football follower: his club comes first, his country some way behind that, and the good of the game an extremely distant third.)

In theory, the best players from the best football nations are all gathered together in one place, and thus the best possible soccer will be played, with the best possible soccer team eventually triumphing, all for the shared entertainment of the big happy family that is humanity. In theory, of course. But as with so many things in life, there is a significant gap between theory and practice, of which more later.

The 2006 World Cup then, should be judged against all preceding World Cups in the light of these two spheres: nationalism/patriotism; and the soccer spectacle.

Germany vs History
In the first sphere, the competition was an undoubted triumph for the host nation. In a country where games were held at places like Berlin and Nuremburg, and where guests included the Polish, the French, the Dutch and the English, the spectre of Germanic nationalism was a rather awkward presence.

But in perhaps the only instance of the World Cup working some magic, the German people discovered something remarkable: it is possible to be patriotic without being nationalistic. The German football team itself had an unexpectedly successful tournament, playing great attacking football all the way to the semi-final before losing in the best game of the tournament to Italy. The Germans waved flags, hooted horns and sang about Deutschland without shame, and without alienating their guests. They even seemed to take great joy in winning that most worthless of games: the third-place play-off. For the first time in memory, English fans were hoping Germany would win after their own knockout.

If the discovery of positive, healthy German patriotism is the only worthwhile legacy of the 2006 World Cup, then it’s no small one.

Coaching vs Talent
If the World Cup was a success from the patriotism/nationalism point of view, it was a pitiful failure from the soccer spectacle angle.

The great pity was that it started so promisingly. A rush of thrilling games (Germany 4 Costa Rica 2; Argentina 2 Mexico 1) and great football (Argentina 6 Serbia & Mont 0; Spain 4 Ukraine 0) in the Group Stages fooled us into thinking we were in for a classic competition. But as soon as the knockout stages arrived, fear of losing conquered the will to win well, and the defensive shutters came up. Sven Goran Eriksson, England’s overpaid idiot of a coach who managed to take the best set of naturally-gifted attacking players the island has produced in 40 years and make them play with all the grace and instinct of a team of shop window dummies, was merely the worst. Brazil and Ronaldinho never got going and even Argentina sacrificed their attacking sprites Riquelme and Messi in favour of midfield thugs when they came to the quarter-final.

With the sole exception of the Italy-Germany semi-final, all the knockout games were pretty dismal affairs. There was no single outstanding teams and no outstanding strikers.

But why did this happen? Where are the unexpected superstars? Where was this year’s Maradona or Roger Milla or Carlos Alberto or Paul Gascoigne? Where was the exotic spectacle we used to associate with World Cups, when young, wide-eyed geniuses we’d never heard of appeared from some godforsaken South American ghetto to shock and awe us with fearless, joyful, raw talent?

Sadly, the chances of World Cups recapturing those glory days are shrinking every year. The single biggest reason is that the World Cup is no longer the place to find soccer in its highest-quality expression. The place for that is in club football: specifically, the European Champions’ League. That’s where all the best players in the world actually are, including those from countries who miss out on the Finals due to the positive-discrimination of the qualifying rounds. And since the richest clubs buy up all the world’s talent in its teens and play them against each other every year, there’s no longer much chance of the ghetto kid shock. Familiarity – of the players of even the more obscure countries to the fans, and of the players to each other – deadens the exoticism of the spectacle.

Zidane vs Zidane
This was a tournament in which cheating, diving and referee-baiting reached new lows of frequency and sophistication, and the time has come for retrospective punishment using video evidence. Portugal were the worst offenders, but not the only ones.

Germany, coached by Jurgen Klinsmann, the man famed for taking the dramatic dive to laughable extremes in the 1980s, were ironically the best-behaved team by the latter stages.

When they went out, the only ray of light left in the soccer spectacle stakes was Zinedine Zidane, the Marseilles magician who won the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 Euro Championship largely by himself. Zidane came out of retirement and ignored the universal consensus that he was too old and too slow, to play football that confirmed suspicions that of the two current players with claims to Pele/Beckenbaur/Maradona/Cruyff-style ‘greatness’, his was still much stronger than Ronaldinho’s.

But alas. ‘King Zizou’, the Algerian-heritage backstreet boy with an other-worldly aura who was worshipped like a god in France, performed a banlieue back-alley bit of GBH on Marco Materazzi’s chest with ten minutes of his illustrious career to go, created the unforgettable image of a very forgettable tournament, shocked and awed his faithful followers and instantly proved once again that men are not now, never were, and never will, in fact, be gods.

Days later, it was announced that due to an unfortunately premature voting schedule, Zidane was officially the player of the tournament.

So much for joie de vivre….

…but what the heck, roll on the next over-hyped, far-too-big, Yank-ignored, nationalistic jamboree, and South Africa in 2010!

Friday, July 07, 2006

On finding yourself turning into a personification of your own Quinglishness parody

We went to see an outdoor production of The Importance of Being Earnest* in Queen’s Square last night…

…soft rain fell, intermittently.

*The Importance of Being Earnest contains more laughs per minute than any other literary work except perhaps Austin Powers 2 and Orrin’s Collected Thoughts on Darwinism, so with a competent cast you can’t go wrong. This was a competent cast, but they didn’t quite have that little extra spark which can send an uncontrollable, constant, building wave of mirth across an audience throughout every scene.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

On finding yourself in the odd position of celebrating a French victory

From the Times:

SMILE, smile and be a villain. And how we love a villain — someone who can be blamed for all the wrongs of the recent past, someone to wish harm on for ever, someone to inspire a gloat at every hint of personal failure.

Cristiano Ronaldo has become the scapegoat for England’s defeat in the World Cup, as Portugal beat England on penalties in the quarter-finals last weekend. Ronaldo played a significant role in Wayne Rooney’s sending-off and sent his own gloating levels into hyperspace after scoring the decisive penalty.

The Portuguese were an insufferable lot even before the Rooney-Ronaldo incident. Every bit of niggling, diving, faking and whingeing had been indulged in, every aspect of Latin football that most grates on the English psyche.

Ronaldo might be custom-built to get up the noses of all the followers of English football. He is good-looking in a gloriously smarmy, Italian-waiter fashion and is seriously vain about this. He has the air of a man who thinks that the world in general, and football in particular, not only owes him a living but also a perpetual gratitude at being privileged to know him.

He is distinguished more than anything else by his use of the stepover, a showy and — occasionally — effective footballing ploy. Someone once claimed that he set a world record for stepovers in a single match — 504 — beating the previous record of eight.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s pantomime villainy in getting his own club team-mate sent off in the biggest game of his life should not be used as an excuse for England’s own dismal performances at the World Cup.

But nonetheless, the despised Portugese winger does seem to embody everything that the English loathe about what the Latins have brought to our beloved game: diving, shameless cheating and gamesmanship, injury-feigning, arrogance, lack of team spirit or dignity or sportsmanship, and worst of all, great skill and usually, victory over us.

A talented player, I grudgingly admit, but by goodness Ronaldo’s face is one that it would take a very, very long time indeed to tire of punching.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


From Ananova, some short time before England’s traumatic but predictable exit on penalties against Portugal:

A man has bet £200,000 in cash on England to win the World Cup.

If England become World Champions he will win a world record pay-out of £1.2million.

The gambler, an Arab in his 40s, went to the William Hill in London's Park Lane two days before the tournament began with a Fortnum and Mason hamper holding £50,000.

He bet on England at 6-1.

It took staff 30 minutes to count the money which was all in £50 notes reports The Sun.

The next day the punter returned with two hampers with a total of £100,000. And he came back again on day three with another hamper with £50,000, making his total bet £200,000.

A spokesman for William Hill said: "Our eyes popped out when we opened up the first hamper. When he came back on the second day with £100,000 it took over an hour to count it."

I can only think that he was trying to make some sort of artistic statement, a la the KLF.