Tag Archives: sport

Anything but clubs

I look across the peaceful fields of England and a calmness overwhelms me. Rolling through the countryside in a train to some beacon of urban grandeur – Stevenage say, or Taunton – I wonder how our nation can feel so cramped, so busy, when there are glorious grassy plains as far as the eye can see.

As I rumble through these ancient green lands with so many stories to tell, of lords and serfs, farmers and shepherds, men and women of toil and endeavour, I spy two people meandering across the verdant terrain.

The fury is immediate and profound. Golfers.

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The wooden spoon

Times like these, a man needs a good laugh.

There I was, nursing what turned out to be an unnecessary guilty complex after a Thursday night went wrong. On the sofa, Saturday afternoon – there was no Friday – feeling sorry for myself and being glared at across the room as if my existential dread weren’t already the size of Dion Dublin’s cock. Yes, it’s Homes Under the Hammer. Self-flagellation. Which is probably a doddle for Dion Dublin.

The news comes on the TV. India and Pakistan continue their merry dance-of-the-soon-irradiated. There’s something to do with Hillsborough, like most days. Jeremy Corbyn storms past journalists shouting ‘Good morning and goodbye!’ like a senile Truman Burbank.

Surely the sports news can save us. It can! Look! Women playing rugby!

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Touching me, touching you

You are a filthy paedophile.

You must be – why else would you be singing gaily along with every litre of lung capacity to a song about the delights of an 11-year-old girl? You’re doing an awful lot of ‘touching’ of a pre-pubescent teen – ‘reaching out, touching me, touching you’. Bill Wyman shakes his head in disapproval and Tom O’Carroll senses his time has come at last.

But it’s fine. You carry on parading your nasty sexual perversions in front of thousands of sports fans, each of whom is merrily doing the same in some kind of bacchanalian wankathon in a concrete bowl. I’ll slip out muttering that you’re all twisted ghouls, somehow making myself the killjoy in the process.

Because I really, really fucking hate Sweet Caroline. And apparently I’m completely alone.

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The next boat back to Tuvalu

FIFA has certainly had a rough patch of late. Dodgy deals behind closed doors, confederation presidents handling suspiciously overstuffed briefcases, botched bribery attempts from the chronically awkward Brits (bless them), more expensive Swiss watches than even Salvador Dalí would know what to do with and a couple of incredibly misguided venue choices for the next two footballing extravaganzas. Could it get any worse?

Amazingly, yes.

Continue reading The next boat back to Tuvalu

Disregard for cool

The world needs to hear this: skateboarding isn’t fucking cool.

With the announcement that skateboarding is now going to be in the Olympics and various celebrities skateboarding around their private jets before they board them to get away from their fans, I thought it would be a good time to remind everyone of the worth of standing on a plank on wheels. Skateboarding is actually so tragic that it should make someone dressed as a Storm Trooper at a cosplay convention look like Johnny Depp. And he is the coolest man on earth, known fact.

I am sure to the outside world that skateboarding looks cool. It has an underground vibe to it, breaking into places, skateboarding, being arrested and then being released from custody only to do it all over again the next weekend, before going back to a job you hate on Monday because you spent so much time skating during school that you failed every exam you did and ended up writing for a blog that screams at the world, that got a little too personal at the end there.

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The pride of Tom Daley

Recently I endured the painful experience of being forcibly pinned down by my best friend.

He isn’t usually given to violence, or sexual deviance with older women but, in his defence, he had discovered me throwing the contents of my handbag at the television. On reflection this was probably quite a disturbing sight for him. He had recorded several episodes of his favourite programmes on the Sky box and was in imminent danger of not having a screen to watch them on – again.

He didn’t seem particularly surprised to find me in such a rage. This was probably because he’d presumed that I had been watching the Chelsea match and was suffering from a serious bout of indignant rage following Diego Costa’s late winner against West Ham. I wouldn’t normally give a shit about West Ham’s result but I had placed a small wager on them winning the league this season (lunacy I know) and anyway, I fucking hate Diego Costa.

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My career as a ballroom dancer

I’ll tell you what’s been grinding my fucking gears recently: ski jumping.

The other week I was channel hopping when I stopped on a trailer for the Eddie the Eagle film. This was followed by the show The Jump.

Now, for those of you who don’t know much about the sporting history of England, especially on a social level, until the 1950s you were not allowed to be a professional sportsman. It was seen as unbecoming for a gentleman to be trying too hard; for example, if you worked on the dock yard, you could not participate in the shot-put as you had an unfair advantage. Even to this day, the English prefer the plucky underdog to the consummate professional.

So the story surrounding Eddie the Eagle befits the English sensibility. For those who don’t know it’s basically Cool Runnings (the story that is, I haven’t seen the film so couldn’t comment on it) and Eddie couldn’t jump for shit.

And then there’s The Jump.

Why the hell am I being made to watch a bunch of over-paid, under-talented leeches have an all expenses paid winter vacation? They can go skiing any fucking time they like, or at least could when they had money and didn’t need to flog their carcasses to pay the plastic surgeon.

I mean, seriously, why do celebrities get to do so many amazing and sometimes life-changing things? In the Jungle, ballroom dancing, they even help them find love. Let’s say I wanted to use the medium of reality TV to boost my career as a ballroom dancer. I’d be forced to slug it out with quite potentially thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of other people. On Strictly it’s about a dozen. It’s like everyone wants to win the Champions League, but celebrities start in the last 16 whereas you or I have to start from the bottom of the Ryman’s.

I wouldn’t mind so much if they’d properly hurt themselves once in a while. But no. It’s just another lump of dirt kicked in our faces, proving that the sole point of such shows is to attract larger and larger audiences by seducing us with a glimpse of these demi-gods of modern society.

Why can’t Joe Bloggs do all that cool shit?  What better way to ensnare an audience than by showing relateable people? I’m not Dean Caine, I’ve never been in a cereal advert or played one of the most iconic characters in all 20th century fiction. I do not relate to those people, it merely stokes my ire.

Surely we all remember The Crystal Maze – which has returned to our lives, albeit as a pay-and-play experience – Fort Boyard and the Krypton Factor? Real people, doing real shit. Since Big Brother and the explosion of celebrity culture and reality TV, we’ve somehow all been lulled into thinking that it’s actually interesting watching these vacuous souls.

Fuck, at least if I watch a soap opera, I’m watching paid professionals, expressing themselves through their vague approximation of art and talent. When I peer into the toilet bowl, I do not find myself spellbound. I am not willing to live my life based on what these ridiculous people say and do. Fuck ski jumping.

Quick feet proper prospect

Thrashing about in a foetid quagmire of death and deceit it may well be, but there’s no denying the world is an interesting place. You may rather take a soldering iron to your eardrums than hear another word about the EU referendum, schools, hospitals and the BBC being privatised or the heavily misguided blowing themselves up, but while the news may be repetitive and miserable there’s always something remarkable or outrageous around the corner to spice life up a bit. US mass shooting? How many!

There are so many compelling and provocative topics to pepper conversation with, and serious debates to tickle the synapses. We could talk about whether it’s worth knotting a series of capes together to string up anyone involved in the making of Batman v Superman, or any of the eight hundred other superhero movies currently signalling the death of cinema. Or whether an elderly Elton John’s been sticking his cock in places he shouldn’t, which is a conversation I overheard the other day, and can never unhear. Turns out it’s the other bloke anyway.

Maybe that’s what some people talk about. It’s not what I talk about, though if I could I would, except the Elton John bit. No, I have to talk about something else.




And now you’re bored of it as well. Feel my pain.

Most weekends, some weeknights, groups of mostly men kick balls around pitches like we used to as schoolchildren, getting paid comfortably more than we did as schoolchildren and apparently enjoying themselves far, far less. The unlikely legends of Leicester aside, these people are hateful, avaricious and pay little mind to fans who can in no way afford to buy replica shirts with their names on, but who do so ahead of such luxuries as bread and rent. For an accurate representation of what modern day footballers are really like, Google the words ‘Benzema diamond football’.

You might wonder, therefore, why the public would care what these arseholes get up to or have any interest in talking about it. You might expect that the sickening nature of the modern professional footballer, so far removed from reality – ‘Messi tax evasion’, anyone? – would lead normal people to react to the start of a conversation about football by spitting, screaming and windmilling as though someone had just wished Zika on their firstborn.

But no. Rare indeed are the days I’m not forced to have a conversation about football. What happened at the weekend, who’s getting transferred where, whether this or that manager has lost his mind in a press conference. And, best of all, what will happen in the future.

Because we all know, don’t we? There’s no conversation that has as much confidence in its truthfulness than one predicting the future of football. Men declare things to each other as though the chances of their sooth-saying not being utterly bang on are of similar likelihood to Tim Peake knuckling down and being a spaceman rather than chatting to Earth all day long. (“To discuss the Welsh steel crisis, we’re joined on the line by Major Tim Peake.”) Palace WILL beat Sunderland at the weekend and Mourinho WILL buy Pogba when he gets to United and Djair Parfitt-Williams WILL be the new Geoff Hurst, though he probably needs a loan move first, he’s got great skill but needs to bulk up a bit, I was watching him for the under 21s the other night, quick feet proper prospect I think I might kill myself tonight.

For clarity, I don’t find the subject matter taxing. I’ve been going to top-flight football for 20 years and continue to allow my team to bend me over every summer to the tune of over a grand for a season ticket, the cheapest one they do. I know football. I just don’t need to fucking bang on about it with the regularity of a new Rod Stewart covers album.

At a friend’s birthday get-together a few weeks ago I was, as is the way of 21st century London, one of the first in the pub. As various men turned up, some friends and some acquaintances, there wasn’t a single one who didn’t think it appropriate to engage me in a conversation about the interminable race for the Premier League title within 30 seconds of opening their mouth.

And none of them seemed more than vaguely interested in it themselves. It’s as though football is a conversational blockage that has to be shifted before conversations about real things can begin. Football is the smooth yet inexplicably painful stool that must be passed before the serious business of uuuuurrrrggggghhhhh Jesus I don’t think it’s ever going to stop can get under way.

I’ve brought this on myself, of course. People assume I love football and want nothing more than to roll around in it so it covers me like glitter. Someone recently said to me “Are you the football guy in your group of friends?”

We’re all the football guy.

In the late nineties there was a weird viewpoint frequently trotted out by many, me included, that anyone who didn’t like football was a bit strange. It was about the time Tony Blair decided he was a Newcastle fan and bought our souls with his devilish charm. People who had no interest in any sport would declare allegiance to a team seemingly chosen at random, and would concoct a plausible tale for why they supported it – lying about where they used to live, bestowing psychic powers on a childhood pet or relaying the death-bed request of an elderly relative that had a decisive impact on them at a formative age. Yes, as Great Uncle Gerald felt death’s icy grip around his aorta, he decided he wanted his last words on Earth to be: “Please, don’t ever give up on the Albion”.

At the risk of creating a recurring theme, on Saturday I was in the pub with two friends. One has been living outside London for longer than is good for his wits; he now heralds the death penalty as the cure for petty theft and on Saturday was explaining to me why he thinks intelligent life exists only on this planet and nowhere else in the universe. Northamptonshire’s solid record of creating simpletons claims another triumph.

I set about pointing out his many errors. This is the type of conversation I live for – a vociferous debate between friends with no risk of traded fists. It allows you to explore your own beliefs, refine them while under pressure, and change them if they turn out to be based on foundations with the solidity of Mormonism. Things were coming along nicely – I was on the verge of personally discovering alien life, as good as.

But there were three of us around the table. My other friend is known to abhor conversations like this though I’m yet to ascertain why. He’ll sit there feeling left out, increasingly agitated, putting me off my game as he prepares to deliver the inevitable “Come on guys, do we really have to talk about this?” For once deciding to pre-empt him, this exchange ensued:

“Come on mate, join in, you must have a view on it.”
“I don’t see why you always have to talk about stuff like this.”
“What would you rather talk about, football again?”

For the love of all that’s holy, why?

And in a job, where you often don’t know someone well enough to engage in serious debate about whether Sadiq Khan will bring about the end of days, football is utterly unavoidable. As I sit here, I can hear a man talking. Over three sentences, I’ve heard him use the words ‘Sunderland’, ‘Everton’, ‘Villa’, ‘Newcastle’ and ‘Arsenal’. Either he’s planning Britain’s most mundane road trip, admiring vintage handguns and renting Iberian accommodation, or he’s talking about football. It’s 9.16 on a Monday morning. The woman he’s talking to almost certainly asked him a question about his weekend and added to her personal list of regrets soon after.

Most miserably of all, there’s no way out. In recent months I’ve started responding honestly to questions about football. “I guess you don’t want Man City to go through eh?” “I couldn’t care less.” “Really?” Witness the dismayed look on the face of the football gobshite, denied their chance to explain to you why it’ll definitely be Spurs’ year next time because of their great English spine under the stewardship of the mighty ‘Poch’. Grange Hill called and want their nickname back.

Not engaging with football talk makes you as weird as the people who know nothing about it, but more dangerous, as though you have Grays Sports Almanac tucked in your back pocket and refuse to share its contents. Perhaps there’s nothing left but to go all in: ban any form of conversation on any topic that may stray towards the controversial, and focus all our energies on remembering whether it was ‘77 or ‘78 that Ipswich last won the cup.

Evidently the world will be a calmer place if we simply restrict chat throughout the day, every day, to Ighalo’s goal drought at Watford and whether David Moyes could do a job at Stoke. Parliamentary debate will be replaced by ‘banter’, and the UN will be replaced by FIFA because what could possibly go wrong there?

And when little green men with lasers show up to prove I’m right, we can just football them to death.

Cashing out

Paul Kaye lives in the same part of London as I do. You’ll know him even if the name isn’t familiar – he was Dennis Pennis, that red-haired red-carpet terrorist who used dubious press privileges to ask Wolf from Gladiators if his Nobbies itched on set and whether Eamonn Holmes had ever shat on a glass table.

I see Paul at the tube station from time to time, on his way to film another intriguing character role in that niche he’s etched out for himself in shows such as Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and Humans. He plays long-faced, greasy-haired, gurning minor villains who inevitably get their comeuppance at some point. He plays them well.

It turns out these roles have been little more than prep work for his finest creation yet. I speak, of course, of ‘Morris’.

Morris has lately been seen bouncing on ridiculous springed heels up a tall building and jet-packing alongside a high-speed train, in his bid to gain the attention of his apparent mentor, a man named Victor. This Victor, no stranger to the Costa Blanca one suspects, is the owner of a popular betting company that has made him a considerable fortune; he presumably had some degree of sign-off of the adverts in which he appears alongside Paul Kaye. And if ever a more infuriating set of commercials has been made, well, they probably star Ray fucking Winstone don’t they?

Adverts are atrocities at the best of times, but the modern scourge of television must surely be betting ads. As proven by the imminent return to our lives of vital, crucial and epic football matches – up first, Leicester City versus Sunderland – sport is more important in every way than every other aspect of your being, but it’s just not enough is it?

It turns out sport’s even better when you’re not actually there watching it live surrounded by man-babies screaming hateful abuse at a player they hadn’t heard of weeks ago, but instead sat at home betting on it. Four lads lounge about on sofas in a living room watching a match, wearing the type of generic, no-logo-no-sponsor shirts not seen since Billy Meredith was in his pomp. Something happens in the game and they guffaw and groan and roll about in shared ecstasy in a way not witnessed at a football stadium since John Terry got kicked in the head that time. The camera cuts before we see their eyes lock and someone make an O with his mouth.

Do you? Don’t you? I do yeah, I really do fucking hate betting ads. The famous Winstone ‘have a bang on that’ ads are, remarkably, not quite the most despicable of the betting ads out there. That series of eye-straining adverts with blurry footballs and diving goalkeepers flying all about and a Tesco version of Block Rockin’ Beats behind it; Betfair, possibly, and it’s the pinnacle of inhumanity. It seems to be making the point that it’s one thing to win a match, it’s another to win a bet on the result, but you’ll enter a whole new world of fascinating glory if you manage to get the number of yellow cards in the second half of a League Two play-off semi-final right.

If you consider yourself a punting genius when you get (that is, guess) the number of corners right you might want to blank Stan James next time he asks you if you fancy a flutter on the Netball World Cup. If you’re falling for Victor’s lines, delivered peculiarly grim-faced by a man who milks every punter for what amounts to free money on his part, you deserve to be locked in a room with Morris on a pogo stick shouting ‘VICTOR! VICTOR!’ into your face, while the disembodied head of Ray Winstone rotates about you intoning menacingly: ‘Balotelli to score next, eight to one, Balotelli to score next, eight to one, you cant’.

The latest wheeze from the marketing boys in the betting industry is ‘cashing out’. At just the moment you might finally be about to recoup some of your losses, claw back a little of the dignity lost at the hands of Mr W Hill over years of failed sure-things, you’re given the option to take less of your winnings than you’ll be due if you simply stick to the original agreement. Guaranteed money now, for giving up the bet halfway through. Do you? Don’t you? Of course you do, because you’re a man who knows his own mind, and that if you don’t recoup a tiny bit of your daughter’s marriage fund you’ll be home tonight to find your clothes ablaze on the lawn. The kindly bookies must have introduced this for our benefit. They must have. They must have.

Betting is already screwing up sport in all manner of ways, most notably cricket where the Indian house of cards seems likely to flatten the entire sport before the next round of ‘player auctions’ involving teams called things like Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders, like some terrifying re-run of the 1980s. Does that stop Paddy Power plonking Graham Swann in an armchair in what seems to be a field, surrounded for some reason by expectant members of the public, while no lesser figure than the saintly Henry Blofeld is forced to laugh uncontrollably at an unamusing remark from some rugby cretin who’s wandered onto the wrong set? Of course not.

And now it’s wrecking individual lives too – not just of the mugs who fall for these heinous ads but also that of Finchley’s finest comic actor since Terry-Thomas. Paul: you have a sadness in your eyes as you stand at the tube station that few of the genuine greats of your profession could ever hope to emulate on Broadway. Either you are our finest actor or you really need to diversify. Extricating your self from the clutches of the evil Victor may be the first step on your return to greatness. And, helpfully, I won’t have to push you in front of the 10.15 to Kennington via Charing Cross.

Mad Moose

This election is boring me. Maybe it’s my cynicism or my allergy to buzzwords, but the parties are saying nothing to me as a voter of conscience. I’m pretty far left, but lately I’ve actually started to question the sense of Caroline Lucas for a comment that’s so ridiculous I’m actually enraged.

Every April I put up with the endless jibes of idiots that point at the Grand National and shout ‘cruelty’. Lucas has gone on record asking to ban it and possibly all horseracing as we are watching “horses raced to death”. This is an MP I have previously stood up for and followed, but this statement is a rare lapse into misinformation that has sorely disappointed me.

I know my nags. I grew up in a big racing town and worked in the yards and equine veterinary practices through my youth. I’ve seen handicappers, Derby, Gold Cup and Grand National winners both in training and undergoing treatment. The standard of care given to those horses in training is outstanding – the best food, constant love and attention by their lads every day of the week, frequent checks and scans at the slightest hint of a problem.

Horses are worth too much to be mistreated; would you harm a creature worth millions of pounds? They have clover flown in, solarium lamps to warm their backs, swimming pools and cushioned gallops. Racing vets are the best in the world, developing many procedures later rolled out even to humans (such as stem cell therapy on tendons). Jump horses sustain careers over many years, something that can only be achieved with care.

The races themselves have been made safer with whipping bans, safer ground standards, better jump build. Despite what people think, you cannot force a horse to jump or run. Many child has tried, believe me. The best example of this is the famous Mad Moose – now retired and banned by the British Horseracing Board for…not starting. He just said no. No violence, no danger, he just walked off. He once made it to a fence, slowing to a standstill. Does he jump? He does at home and out drag hunting, just not on racecourses. They tried, he said no, and now he’s retired and enjoying life (with a huge fanclub).

So where exactly is the cruelty? Sadly horses do die, but if Lucas looked at the facts it is far worse in the leisure industry where stupidity kills many horses. The worst cases I have ever seen of cruelty are by nameless individuals who starve, overfeed, overwork and even violently attack horses. I’ve been to too many riding schools which beat and overwork their animals, conning the authorities who discourage complaints.

Then there is the meat trade. Most abattoirs do not have CCTV to prove their treatment of all animals is humane, and horses fall through the gaps of the livestock laws. They are packed into trucks where many fall and are trampled to death; the volume of deaths through dehydration is staggering. This is cruelty at its most disgusting.

The real issue with horseracing is not the racing itself – that is after all what they are bred for. It is what happens after their career ends. Then they fall into the hands of arseholes who have no idea how to retrain a beast that knows mainly how to run, that has been treated as a god in a comfortable stable with little interaction with traffic. There are also many horses bred only for speed, with no consideration for temperament or a future career.  Only the economy reduces the amount of (sadly) shit horses being bred. A lot fall into the meat trade, as I’ve said a deplorable and grotesquely unlegislated area for the equine.

So where exactly is the fucking cruelty? I was the first to shed a tear when Balthazar King fell this year, choked up that he might die. Thankfully he is still alive, and being treated incredibly well by top vets in Liverpool. His fall was a mistake, and another horse hitting him a freak accident.

It is horrible, but falls happen. I’ve been fallen on by a small, fat, hairy Welsh pony before – every rider has at some point. Jumping a big fence makes it more likely. If you compare the amount of injuries or deaths in runs against the number of deaths happening daily among normal horse owners maybe it would put this into perspective. Lucas should speak with all the information at hand, spending time in a racing yard and seeing for herself how the sport and industry is run, not spouting vote-courting buzz-phrases.