Wednesday, December 12, 2012

We Need To Talk About Kevin




The weekend’s Premier League games saw yet more controversy.  Diving players, racist taunts, pitch invasions and a bloodied Rio Ferdinand reeling from a missile impact which, had it landed a centimetre below the eyebrow it struck, could well have blinded him.    Yet this type of behaviour is nothing new.  Fully four years before the birth of Ferdinand, on 24th August 1974, at the rear of Blackpool Football Club’s Spion Kop, a young man named Kevin Olsson was stabbed in the stomach during an altercation with rival fans.  As the seventeen year old lay bleeding on the stepped terraces amongst the discarded pie wrappers, glowing cigarette butts and freshly expelled urine, he might briefly have wondered what would become of the game that he followed. 

Kevin, you were the first person to be murdered inside a British football ground.  And I’m sorry to have to report that, along with you, football died that day in 1974.

Since that time, our national game has flattered to deceive with successive makeovers designed to make it more palatable and appealing to successive generations.  Yet the game has been so full of short-term greed and lacking in long-term visionaries that it has consistently failed to right its wrongs.  As a leopard never changes its spots, this animal will always revert to its natural state – a wild and ugly beast that symbolises all that is wrong in our spoiled and petulant society.  A game riddled with racism amongst many of its supporters, a preternatural propensity to cheat amongst its players and a singular lack of respect for authority from significant sections of the baying masses that gather to participate and support at almost every level of its existence.

Disasters of every type have come and gone since Kevin Olsson’s death.  At Hillsborough and Bradford, hundreds perished in terrible tragedies at substandard stadia where supporters were treated like cattle.   The Taylor Report that followed revolutionised ground safety with fans ensconced in all-seater comfort within brand new hospitality-suited pleasure domes.  For a short while, it seemed as if progress was being made.

An Australian media mogul named Rupert decided football was the sport on which he would build his television empire and with that decision came an injection of previously undreamed of wealth.  Soon, clubs were fighting for their share of the millions in a spectacular and unseemly display of greed.  The Football League was fragmented, with the FA Premier League formed to house the elite.  Football once again demonstrated an all too familiar ability to reflect the society it serves to entertain.  The rich would get richer, the poor could take their chances. 

Murdoch’s millions inflated player salaries to ludicrous levels, with clubs living wildly beyond their means.  In the past twenty years, the average national UK wage has risen by 186%.  The average wage of a UK footballer has risen by over 1,500%.  Top players earn more than £1 million per month and the wage bill alone of several clubs outstrips their total turnover.  Yet this profligacy and excess, this mercenary milking of a club’s resources has become the norm.  “Who can blame him”, are the words most often heard when yet another player jumps ship to secure a further ten grand a month on an already unimaginable salary.  And that is symptomatic of the problem.  There is no blame in football, simply a resigned shrug and a bow to what is perceived as market forces.  The last time we had such a collective bout of sticking our heads in the sand to avoid confronting such a problem, the banks crashed around us and the repercussions swept around the world like a giant tsunami.  Whilst the demise of football as we know it will never be as cataclysmic, it will surely come unless we acknowledge that some form of root and branch review of the way the game conducts itself is required.

The sport has become a plaything of the rich and famous, stripping once local clubs of their identities as more and more overpaid outsiders (from within and without the UK) are parachuted in to clubs - clubs that once relied on talent scouted from within thirty miles of their grounds – to chase yet more financial rewards in the form of European competition.  The end result has been to leave many of those who follow their team to fashion a revised identity through a reversion to obscene chanting, racist gestures and random, missile-throwing, violence.

For, if it is about nothing else, football is about identity.  It is a raw, tribal force – a gathering of young men to prove their virility and manhood.  It is about geography, a kind of sawn-off nationalism that demands respect for, and defence of, one’s ‘turf’ -  both on and off the field of play.  That’s all well and good in modern times as long as that with it comes an understanding of the role of our own and other communities within a broader society.  But, as a moral beacon to those following, football’s light is barely a flickering Swan Vesta.   The financial stakes have relentlessly increased and the rewards have become too great for those participating to ignore.  Cheating has become the norm.   Cheating off the pitch by way of running companies based almost entirely on debt or the ‘false’ income of sugar daddy owners.  Cheating on the pitch by way of diving, referee abuse, feigning injury, the wagging of imaginary cards and all manner of other, so called ‘professional’ actions.  How surprised should we be then, that many fans, like children spoiled by indulgent parents with no sense of fiscal value, have become recalcitrant and unpleasant, unable to contain the bile and vitriol that comfy seating and stainless steel pie ovens have carefully plastered over for the past two decades.

Behind the family friendly fa├žade of Sunday afternoon kick-offs and worldwide television audiences lies a world of avarice, fiscal irresponsibility and a lack of respect and authority.  The lunatics, on and off the pitch, are firmly in charge of the asylum.  The good and decent majority are, once again, silent.

I suspect, if Kevin Olsson were alive today and had been able to see the blood flowing down Rio Ferdinand’s face, he might have opined that the game that exists as we go into 2013 is, despite its shiny packaging, in many ways more cynical, more unpleasant and more deeply rooted in the unedifying values of greed, desperation and a desire to win at all costs than the one he so tragically left behind on the concrete of the Blackpool kop on that warm and balmy August day in 1974.



Monday, January 23, 2012

Slowly... slowly...

... catch your monkey.

Jeez, I hate that saying.   But it kind of sums up my attitude towards training at the moment.  I've begun to cycle again, having let my weight get up to 97 kgs at the beginning of the year.

So far - since January 4th - I've covered 487 miles on the bike and I'm beginning to feel the strength return to my legs.  I'm not too worried about speed at the moment, there's plenty of time for that - so as the boys at the tri club do the usual thing of tearing it up in January, this year I shall sit back and do my own thing.   I've already dropped quite a bit of weight, probably down to around 93kgs and there'll be plenty more to come off.

My left achilles has been giving me problems so I've - once again - had to curtail my running.  I seem fated not to run again but I'm sure I will, one day.

The girls are back at school, the afternoons are beginning to show signs of lightening up and I shall resume on the booze when I go up to see England play Scotland at Murrayfield.

Much to look forward to -- including a trip to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy.  Tickets are selling  like hot cakes and we've bagged some for February.  Can't wait.  I'm a huge Hockney fan -- dig around his work, it's hugely influential and contains so much variety and experimentation.

Above is one I'd like to share with you... it's called 'White Lines Dancing in Printing Ink'...

Toodle pip...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Malaise

Over time, I've come to know my weaknesses.  In life, rather like sporting events, I'm not a fast starter.  Hence a return from a prolonged period of holiday or rest results in an uncomfortable feeling of confusion at resentment at having, once again, to start work.

All of which is strange as I love my work.  But I guess that's not to say that it doesn't come with exactly the same pressures as work does to someone who doesn't love what they do.  Possibly more so as the knowledge of what one 'wants to do' hangs heavy around one's shoulders.   No matter how successful I become in terms of relative happiness or ticking boxes against early life's goals I always seem to manage to want more, to never be fully satisfied.

Maybe that's a good thing.  I guess it keeps me hungry.  So I've promised myself just one thing this year.  No more wasted days.   Whatever happens I will never, ever, waste a day.  Something will be achieved that I have set out to do that day.  Too often it's been too easy to coast.  And I think that might be the issue.  Instead of actually setting new challenges, I've coasted or drifted into a situation where many older goals have been achieved, yet new targets haven't been clearly defined.

Re visiting my blog today has helped, if only in some small way to make me become more accountable to myself.  I need to be able to look myself in the mirror, not only after a race but after every day of the race of life.  For whatever reasons I've not been doing that recently.  Time to change.  Time to shape up.

And the photo?  It's an artwork I bought recently.  Postcard sized by an artist named Alexandra McLain.  I keep it on my desk.  I like it and wanted to share it.

Wherever you are -- a happy and prosperous new year to you.  May your life be filled with happiness and the goals you set yourself be tough but attainable.

Peace and love.