Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

Why I hate Modern Football

25 Jul


Rooney & Suarez: shameless

 I resisted the temptation to write about the latest addition to the House of Windsor and instead my attention has been drawn by the pre-season circus that is the football transfer market. Particularly the top end of it.

 First of all, Wayne Rooney. Whatever you think of him as a person – he’s dead to me following an appearance amongst green and grey Orcs polluting the Broomloan Road Stand at Ibrox a few years back – there is no doubt Rooney is a sublimely talented footballer.

 He combines powerful build with speed off the mark and a low centre of gravity which allows him to change direction quickly enough to fox most defenders.  Add to that exceptionally accurate passing, good control, courage in the air, occasionally audacious acts of supreme skill and a very tidy record as a scorer, and you have the best English player of his generation.

The downside of this appears to be that although a family man, he is as greedy and arrogant as (a depressing number of) modern players are.

 Not for Wayne enjoying playing for one of the world’s most famous football clubs, earning a million pounds every month and playing home games where crowds of 70,000+ eclipse all others on these islands.

 No, Wayne wants to be loved.  By elderly Scotsmen, apparently.

 He sulked like a bairn because Alex Ferguson had the temerity to expect:

1) he’d earn his money by performing to the best of his abilities; and

2) he’d play for the team rather than just for himself.

 ‘I wanna transfer’, said the Scouse simian. ‘Nae chance’ said Fergie.

And that was that, until David Moyes acknowledged the genius of Robin van Persie (the player without whom United wouldn’t be Champions) without making similar diplomatic noises about Rooney.  

Here we run up against the modern dilemma I’ve devoted a lot of thought to, given a lifelong belief that working people are on the sharp and shitty end of an employment relationship rooted in a Victorian era imbalance: it is footballers, not their employers or managers, who hold the whip hand.

If Rooney isn’t happy and isn’t playing in his favourite position, how hard is he going to try when he’s picked? David Moyes knows the answer to that.

And if Rooney isn’t playing then United still have to pony up a quarter of a million pounds every week until his contract runs out. Which makes no ‘business sense’.  

My inner-cynic thinks Rooney – or more likely some freeloader advising him – has engineered a dispute with United’s new manager so that he can work his ticket to Paris or play for Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, where the Portuguese coach has made no secret of his admiration for Shrek’s footballing talent.

 Let’s see how this one unfolds.

 And before I go, a quick word for Liverpool’s Luis Suarez: that word is ‘parasite’.

 This repulsive but talented nyaff is currently working his ticket at Anfield, having spent the summer moaning about the way he’s been treated by the English media. Arsenal have bid £40m for his services and, pardon me while I faint from shock, Suarez wants to talk to them.

 Well, Luis, I don’t want to get all geography teacher on you, but Arsenal also play in England.

 Notions of loyalty and respect seem like antiquated concepts to the modern footballer but putting myself in the shoes of Liverpool’s long-suffering fans I’d want this little shit hung by the ankle from the Liver Building.

 Let’s recap on Luis’s recent track record, keeping in mind that Liverpool FC have stuck resolutely/foolishly, by him.

 October 2011, racially abuses Patrice Evra of Manchester United. Then denies it, and after an FA investigation and being afforded Kenny Dalglish’s idiotic, unequivocal support is caught bang to rights. Banned for 8 games and fined £40k. IMO gets off lightly.

 Next month? Obscene gesture to Fulham fans gets another game ban.

 3 months later, nearly causes a riot by refusing to shake Evra’s hand at Old Trafford despite agreeing to do so before the game.

 Later that year admits to diving to win a penalty at Stoke.

 In January this year handles the ball into the net at Mansfield.

3 months later bites Brani Ivanovic of Chelsea. For this he gets a ten game ban, which means he’ll miss half a dozen games wherever he starts the season.

 In short, Suarez is a low-life.

  Here we have 2 of the game’s biggest names effectively spitting on their employer and deliberately engineering moves, moves which will probably secure these multi-millionaires even more money.   

 I don’t have any great moral points to make here other than modern football is shit and to note that for almost the only time in the past 2 decades I’m arguing that employers deserve a bit of loyalty from their employees. Go figure.

 Enjoy your season!

‘A fascist, not a racist’? That’s an egg-free omelette…

03 Apr

Di Canio waving to his Mum?

I’m a fascist, not a racist.’

Aye right, Paolo, that’s like saying you’re an egg-free omelette.

The appointment of Paolo Di Canio as new manager of Sunderland AFC caused uplifting, heartening rows to break out all over the place.

All the major UK tabloids (!) had pictures of this disgusting specimen giving the Hitler salute to Lazio fans in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.

A Sunderland Director resigned, the BBC covered the issue commendably, Di Canio himself held a press conference on Wearside and in a not-very-fascist-at-all move threatened to ban journalists who asked him about his politics.

Still, I suppose it’s better than killing them or herding them into concentration camps.

I wrote a very long blog on this yesterday which my computer ate so I’m not going to rehash it.

Suffice to say the English Premiership has shown that incidences of sexual assault and rape regularly committed by players, paying over £100k a week to irretrievably mediocre journeymen and having once proud football clubs reduced to being the toys of super-rich kleptocrats, oligarchs and parasites is not a nadir.

Once a fascist……..

Instead, we’ve now seen a major Club appoint a man who is a publicly-avowed supporter of Benito Mussolini, has ‘Dux’ tattooed on his arm and the fascist flag tattooed on his back – where it hides the yellow streak he showed when confronted by Ranger Ian Ferguson in the Celtic Park tunnel after he made a ‘broken leg’ gesture to Fergie from the safety of the Parkhead pitch.

A cynic shouldn’t be surprised that adherence to the ideals which resulted in millions of needless deaths and the industrial killing of over 6 million Jews isn’t enough to have you shunned. I suspect sadly, that most ordinary Sunderland fans will care more about whether this diseased maggot manages to keep their Club in the English Premiership and avoids relegation.

But in a world which cares about the price of everything and the value of nothing, it is a comfort to see so many people are genuinely appalled and disgusted that this could happen.

Perhaps there’s hope for us yet?

The paralympic legacy. Less hate crime and an end to the scrounger rhetoric?

10 Sep

In the closing ceremony of the Paralympics, Sebastian Coe opined that the hugely-successful event would change the perceptions of disability forever. That’s a pretty big claim to make.

Let’s have a look at one of the things which would have to change in order for Lord Coe’s words to ring true, disability-related hate crime.

Last year there were 1,788 recorded incidents of disability hate crime in England and Wales, an increase of more than 18% on the previous year and the highest since incidents were first recorded. Data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by The Guardian newspaper showed that the number of recorded incidents grew by 50% between 2009 and 2011. And while 1,800 reports were made to Police last year, the Crown Prosecution Service made only 523 convictions for disability hate crime over the same period.

Nor are we ‘only’ talking about people being verbally abused. Many of these cases are serious physical assaults. Statistics can be dry, dessicated things, so let’s look at a case you may be familiar with.

Thirty eight year old Fiona Pilkington killed both herself and her disabled 18 year old daughter Francecca in 2007 following years of abuse and intimidation carried out by a gang of young people in their Leicestershire neighbourhood. (I say ‘young people’; I mean ‘cowardly vermin’) Ms Pilkington had reported the abuse to police more than 30 times, so we can only imagine the fear, desperation, frustration and powerlessness involved in the decision to end her own life and that of her teenage daughter.

With the charity Mencap having reported that nine out of ten people with learning disabilities are bullied or harassed every year, Fiona Pilkington’s case clearly wasn’t an isolated tragedy; it is an everyday occurrence. When ignorance and bigotry are allowed to walk hand in hand, a trail of destruction always follows.

Prejudice against disabled people didn’t start in May 2010, but if our current political class are going to lead rather than face down a portrayal of disabled people as benefit cheats and scroungers, prejudice and hatred will fester and grow amongst the credulous or intellectually challenged.

I’m an optimist by nature and political inclination, so let’s see if Sebastian Coe’s prediction pans out. For that to happen we need a political earthquake: a complete change in government rhetoric and as yet unseen political courage challenging the idea that people with disabilities are to be pitied, ignored or patted on the head.

Paralympians have shown what they can do with a level playing field; given the same opportunities in the wider society, disabled people have an enormous contribution to make, enriching our civic life.

Just ask Stephen Hawking, Tanni Grey Thomson, Billy Joel or Pete Townshend.

Or go back in time and ask Agatha Christie, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Lord Nelson, John Milton, Aristotle….….you get the picture.

The Playfair Olympics?

09 Aug

Others have covered the politics of sport in great depth, in particular examining the hypocrisy around corporate sponsorship from companies like McDonalds, Visa, Rio Tinto, Atos…….and a previous favourite brand name of mine.  Adidas, a company already boasting about £100m profit from games-related sales have simultaneously been exposed for paying Indonesian workers 38p an hour, and withholding $1.8m dollars of redundancy money for Indonesian people working for PT Kizone. That’s the last pair of Sambas I’ll be buying for while…

It has been amusing and irritating in equal measure watching the UK government scrabbling to associate itself with a popular Team GB punching – to say nothing of running, jumping, swimming, kicking, sailing and riding – well above their weight.

But even then our political class they can’t help themselves. Witness the disgraced Jeremy Hunt, caught crawling round Sith Lord Rupert Murdoch and showing that for the British Establishment, even in the midst of the Leveson Enquiry, it is business as usual.

But it was professional Tory buffoon Boris Johnson (supposedly positioning himself to elbow call-me-Dave out of the way) who made me laugh loudest. Boris popped up on the 6 August Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme to tell us that the Olympics reflected well on Tory values: somehow ignoring the three Labour politicians who actually brought the games to London – Blair, Livingston and Tessa Jowell – in his haste to stand next to something the British public appears to be enjoying.

The one thing Johnson said which gave real food for thought was his strong assertion, repeated in the Daily Mail the day after, that there is ‘a direct correlation between effort and achievement.’

Actually Boris, you and your Bullingdon Club pals Dave and wee George Osborne, along with the owner of the rag which printed this garbage, are the living proof that the opposite is the case.

Because simply coming from a wealthy family, having a private school education and attending Oxford or Cambridge University are sure-fire ways to access ‘achievement’ more effectively than mere hard graft and application.

Step forward Jonathan Harmsworth.

Ever heard of him?

Thought not.

Mr Harmsworth is one of the most influential people in the UK. Otherwise known as the 4th Viscount Rothermere, the 43 year old Daily Mail owner is worth a cool £1,020,000,000. Jonathan inherited his family fortune of over £1b in 1998 and ironically given the Mail’s anti-French – well, anti-everybody not English – stance is, er, French. Athough only for UK tax purposes, the avoidance of, you understand…

I doubt Jonathan he has ever faced anything more challenging than deciding between Bollinger, Krug or Kristal, so what does it say about supposedly meritocratic Britain that our entire political discourse is heavily influenced by a viciously right-wing, non-domiciled, tax dodging aristocrat whose main ‘effort and achievement’ was being born his Father’s son?

Russia, racism and rethinking 2018

01 May

It was tempting at the time to mock the hubris involved in England’s unsuccessful bid to stage the 2018 World Cup, but that was before the sheer scale of FIFA’s corruption and vote-rigging became apparent, something which made a sick joke out of the body which supposedly manages football across the globe. But that wasn’t the only reason those of us who pay attention to these matters realised 2018 may be a memorable World Cup for all the wrong reasons – because although racism in UK football has decreased enormously in recent years this is not the case in Russia, host country and authoritarian kleptocracy. Quite the reverse. Let me illustrate the point with a Blackburn Rovers reference.
Chris Samba, the former Rovers skipper is currently making his way for Anzhi Makhachkala. You may not have heard of them, but that won’t last. Anzhi are managed by Guus Hiddink and have recently signed Samuel Eto’o and Yuri Zirkhov, a tangible sign of the wealth now floating around Russian football. They’re a team familiar to those of a Rangers persuasion, when having drawn them in the 2001/02 UEFA Cup we had to play a one-off eliminator in Warsaw because their ground was too close to Chechnya – then, literally, a war zone.
In a March game against Lokomotiv Moscow, Samba had a banana thrown at him, one in a long line of despicable racist incidents that have taken place since the Russian league season resumed this year. Nor are these down to a few isolated half-wits.
Samba’s team-mate Roberto Carlos, the Brazilian defender formerly of Real Madrid, had bananas thrown at him twice last year. In 2010 Lokomotiv Moscow fans directed a banner depicting a banana at their own player, striker Peter Odemwingie, despite Odemwingie being born in Uzbekistan and having a Russian mother! The player unsurprisingly baled out shortly after and now plies his trade impressively in the more civilised, progressive and diverse environment provided by West Bromwich Albion, the Hawthorns and the borough of Sandwell.
Despite a shamefully long list of incidents, Russian Football Union president Sergey Fursenko made a bizarre claim which ought to worry anyone concerned about tackling racism within football: “I’m absolutely convinced that we don’t have a single club with a racist orientation, or that has showed racial intolerance,” Fursenko said.
Is that why Spartak Moscow striker Emmanuel Emenike was racially abused by Zenit St Petersburg fans the other week?
The club whose former coach, ex, Holland and Rangers manager Dick Advocaat, admitted he wanted to sign black footballers but publicly acknowledged the club’s fans would never accept one?
In the year that Rangers played Zenit in the UEFA Cup Final, Marseille players Ronald Zubar, Andre Ayew and Charles Kabhore were all racially abused by fans of Zenit. Luckily we didn’t hear any abuse aimed at Jean Claude Darcheville or Brahim Hemdani, but that may have been down to that fact that ¾ of the crowd were Rangers fans……
And Burnley defender Andre Bikey was subjected to sick chants during his time at Lokomotiv Moscow.
We don’t have a single club with a racist orientation or that has showed racial intolerance?
‘Aye right’, as Scots say to disprove the mathematical theory that two positives cannot make a negative.
Having visited Moscow late last year, I found it a fascinating place of contrasts, a genuine mixture of East and West, Bentleys and 4x4s jostling with Ladas on chaotic, permanently congested roads, high rise tower blocks climbing alongside onion domed churches, a luxury goods shopping arcade where the GUM store once stood, directly opposite the tomb of Lenin……yet after four days in the heart of Europe’s most populous city I don’t think I saw more than two dozen black faces.
Having spent almost ten days trying to secure a visa and looking around the Moscow Metro at a sea of white, Slavic people (seasoned only by a few faces from North or Eastern Asia, Turkmenistan, the Black Sea hinterlands and the steppe) I couldn’t help thinking this didn’t feel like a very diverse or welcoming environment. In fact, the xenophobia was palpable at times and with obviously Western clothing and default ‘do not f*ck with me’ demeanour used when alone abroad, I drew more than one barely concealed glare of hostility.
None of this changes the fact that Russia will host the World Cup in 2018 and a seismic shock is necessary if the tournament is not to be overshadowed by the issue of racism. The Russian Sports Minister, Vitaly Mutko, has already pledged to tackle the problem, a distinct improvement on Sergey Fursenko’s bizarre denial, but there is no escaping the fact that, as in Italian football in the 90’s, racism has become ingrained in some of the country’s fan groups, with ultranationalists and neo-nazis taking a prominent role. (I need hardly point out the irony of neo-nazis prospering within a nation which played the major part in defeating fascism, but who said the politics of hate was rational?)
Recently the RFU and the Russian Premier League unveiled a task force to tackle racism while Spartak Moscow owner Leonid Fedun announced a fund to help, and that’s a good start. Sports Minister Mutko for one believes the problem can be cracked. “”The process of preparing for the World Cup will force through solutions to these problems. Fans, cities, stadiums and society will all get involved…and the championship itself, in the course of its preparations, will try to solve these issues one by one.” I hope so Vitaly – I really do.
Closer to home, although the emergence of Twitter has given those few knuckle-draggers who can spell a new chance to spew their hateful and pointless garbage, racism in football – like Celtic winning a treble or good behaviour by Mario Ballotelli – is rare these days. For me and the thousands of others who helped drive racism away from the terraces and stands it is unthinkable that, in six years time, the world could watch and listen to slavering morons monkey-chanting and booing players because of the amount of melanin they have in their skin.
As well as making me doubt Darwin, that may just prove controversial philosopher John Gray correct when he wrote ‘Knowledge grows, but human beings remain much the same’.

Stephen Smith: writer

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