Where Were You When You Were S***?

You always remember your first day at university.

I wasn’t particularly nervous. I had been living away at boarding school for a few years, so was already reasonably independent…and extremely confident. So I strode into my new halls of residence with my chest out and head up.

I was scanning everyone and was happily stunned by the array of attractive ladies (my boarding school had been an “all-male” affair). But despite the hoards of eye-catching blondes, as I walked into the JCR two individuals stood out and grabbed the attention.

And they weren’t women, far from it, they were big lads – northerners – dressed in full Manchester City kit – shirts, shorts, socks and boots!

It was a Sunday and these two second years had already settled into their seat to watch City’s first match of the season. I couldn’t resist, I grabbed a can of super-strength lager and sat down with them.

For the following two hours I was regaled with stories of City’s few highs and many lows. They were ‘proper’ fans, and they actually took pride in their teams heartache, failure and persecution. They weren’t envious of their neighbours ongoing success – quite the opposite – their teams struggles and failures drove their passion.

Looking back, I probably should have joined the elite set and charmed some of the gorgeous girls in the hall bar. Others judging me on that first afternoon would have formed an obvious first impression – beer swilling football thug (which wasn’t true, I was just too timid to step out of my comfort zone).

But until about 3 years ago, Steve and Tony were the only passionate Manchester City fans I have ever met. However, especially over the past three weeks, I have noticed something very strange happen. Facebook and Twitter seems to be awash with photos of people I have known for years proudly sporting their 2012 City shirts. They are even photos of babies decked out in mini strips and wrapped in scarfs.

In fact at least one of these ‘passionate fans’ was there that September afternoon in 1999… Sitting in the bar charming some of the aforementioned blondes!

On Sunday I wanted City to win the league, largely because I am getting bored of United’s dominance (& because you can’t help but enjoy a smug Ferguson squirm). But their hard earned title shouldn’t be for the old flirters, with their brand new City baby grows – it should be for fans like Stevey Hough (who 13 years later I did email to congratulate).

I really hope he got a ticket, or at least sat their last Sunday afternoon in his 1999 shirt, shorts, socks and boots…

Celebrities – Credit Where it’s Due

We all enjoy bemoaning celebrities.

The sordid world of super injunctions, loose morals and media manipulation fuels our anger towards these money-grabbing dark icons. Giant cars, flash parties, MTV cribs, rich lifestyles… Let’s be honest, we are all a little envious too!

Well last night I got a tiny taste of it all through an invite to the Stoke Park Classic Party.

If you’re unfamiliar with it, Stoke Park is a spectacular estate just outside the M25 – home to a beautiful golf course and a magnificent 19th Century hotel and spa. And yesterday it played host to the Stoke Park Classic Golf tournament, an invite only exclusive event. Although my invite didn’t extend to the tournament (which is a good thing considering my lack of golfing ability) I did manage to wangle a call up to the after party (thanks to the kind people at Jaguar – one of the major sponsors).

So suited up I found myself sipping cocktails, sharking canapés and rubbing shoulders with a host of celebrities from the world of sport and tv.

This story has a sub-plot and a very upsetting one. I work with a girl, an amazing girl, who has been locked in a battle against a very rare form of heart cancer – Jo is a determined fighter who will never give up. Although I don’t know her well (barely at all) her blog updates give everyone an insight into her unbelievable strength and personality. I’ll insert a link to her blog at the end of this update – it is inspirational.

A number of  her friends and my colleagues have been working hard to drive attention to her fight – and have managed to get a host of celebrities and public figures to show their support for Jo by simply agreeing to a picture holding a “Go JB” message. Through the power of blogging, twitter and facebook they then publicly showcase her incredibly brave battle.

I was with one of her close friends last night and had an opportunity to offer something to this. Together we roamed the room and meekly approached a few of the big names. Without fail they all quickly agreed and offered up a part of their appeal and popularity to help a girl they have never met. So DJ Spoony, Will Greenwood, Tim Lovejoy, John Regis, Dougray Scott, Ieuan Evans, Jamie & Louise Redknapp all posed with their “Go JB” placard.

What’s more they were all so approachable, amenable and much more normal than I could have ever imagined. They weren’t self-absorbed, prickly and ignorant – they were all warm and helpful. And Will has already retweeted his photo, pushing Jo’s message out to his 73,000 followers.

So let’s stop with the celeb bashing – yes there are some nasty feral celebrities, but then there are also plenty of rough immoral “regulars” too…

…and then there are some amazing people who we should all value and support! http://myacheybreakyheart.tumblr.com/

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Content with Popoularity

This afternoon I received an interesting comment on my last blog entry (see England’s New Dawn & the comment by descartes1).

Today in England Fabio and Harry have dominated every headline. But have the broadsheets, tabloids, broadcasters, tweeters and bloggers (myself included) been guilty of pedalling popularity over genuine news?

I’m a big fan of the BBC’s broad coverage of news and current affairs, but today they are certainly as guilty as anyone of promoting England’s search for a new national team coach at the expense of all other items. The dreadful footage of shelling in Syria has been bumped further and further down the agenda to make way for the inane opinions of average ex-footballers on England’s current management dilemma.

Don’t get me wrong, many people care passionately about Fabio’s successor, but at the same time most have absolutely no interest. This morning millions of people will have tuned in for their daily digest of relevant British and World events, but have been met with a gurning Garth Crooks lamenting our chances at Euro 2012. As a football fan myself even I am bored of this blanket coverage. I’m also genuinely interested in the Levenson Inquiry, The Bank of England’s interest rate announcement and the plight of innocent Syrian civilians, but they have been blacked out to make way for more football. So is this irresponsible journalism, celebrating uneducated popular culture?

This blog has helped me understand the reasoning behind the universal media’s decision. I try hard to be relevant, to vary my content and to at least push out a few credible posts each week – but when I do nobody reads them! They’re dull, pointless and void of controversy. However whenever I try and analyse the Six Nations, Redknapp’s accounts, or another woeful cricket performance people log on – they read, like and comment on every post in their hundreds. I can’t win – I have to either bow to popularity and keep writing about sport or persist with responsible blogging and write solely for myself…

And I only write a simple blog, I’m not trying to increase viewing figures, circulation or ad revenues!

So sorry, I will continue to analyse the popular headlines is a vain attempt to drive up my hits, and only occasionally slip in a relevant yet very boring update (just like this one).

England’s New Dawn?

So Fabio’s gone.

It’s difficult not to blog about this today. I have been saturated with news, reaction and detailed analysis of it since about 7pm last night. It’s the top twitter trend, the BBC’s headline piece and will no doubt be on the front page of every paper.

Did I like him? Not really. Yes, he had the best win percentage of any national manager and has only lost 6 games during his charge. He should have stirred pride and gratitude from the English public…but he didn’t.

The FA made a massive misjudgement when hiring Capello – he wasn’t the first foreign coach, but he was the first who couldn’t actually speak English. Fabio may have had a loveable personality and an eloquent way of communicating his passion for our national team, but we had no way of knowing this – as it was all lost in translation.

And this was also the root of the team’s disharmony. How could he motivate, or more importantly communicate complex tactics, through a combination of pidgin English and a translator? These are the two most important factors in managing a national side (who have a few weeks to grow team unity and an effective game plan). No – Fabio’s record was down to luck…he was lucky enough to preside over a good batch of English stars at the top of their game. He was always going to beat Slovenia when his line-up included Terry, Cole, Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard.

So what next? Redknapp got slice of luck himself yesterday – not enough evidence to convict him over his dodgy dealings. He’s the favourite of the players, bookies and the public – in many ways it has to be ‘Arry or the FA will be fighting uphill again from the start of another reign.

But whoever gets the job, they are actually in an almost unique position for an England manager. The golden generation are no more – the stars of 2010 are largely past their best: Rio, Lampard and co. are struggling to even hold down a regular place with their clubs. Harry (we hope) will inherit limited expectation, a clean team slate, a major championship qualification, and a long list of potential new new stars (Wilshere, Sturridge, The Ox, Phil Jones etc.).

In fact Harry Redknapp could be the luckiest man in football – everything has slotted into place. And Fabio can now fully concentrate on his other commitments, like his role as a puppet on the Dolmio adverts…

Played by Hooligans…

How many times have I heard that old adage:

Rugby – played by hooligans, watched by gentleman
Football – played by gentleman, watched by hooligans

The problem is, as an English sports fan, the saying no longer holds true.

The first line probably still applies. The general rugby fan is reasonably wholesome, more interested in a family day out and a few warming pints than goading opposition supporters and storming local pubs. And the English rugby team certainly proved at the recent Rugby World Cup that they can still be classed as hooligans. Mike Tindall and co. managed to not only make fools of themselves (tossing dwarves and snogging locals), but they also let down the wider English public and even managed to embarrass the Royal Family. Well done Mike!

The major problem with the saying focuses on the football team. Yes the hooligans still rule the terraces (despite the best efforts of the family stand and numerous ‘kick it out’ initiatives), but unfortunately the same idiots now also perform on the pitch.

Almost all the current crop of big-name England internationals have at least one major front page headline to be proud of. Our (former) captain John Terry has a long list of misdemeanours, culminating in his current race row. But he’s not alone, Wayne Rooney has had a few Grandma prostitutes, Gerrard a few nightclub brawls, Ashley Cole managed to cheat on Cheryl, and Giggsy (yes I know he is Welsh) cheated on his wife with his brother’s…not exactly gentleman are they?!

And it gets worse – the current crop of sporting stars now have a new outlet, a new hi- tech opportunity to embarrass themselves and their clubs… their social network, and in particular their twitter accounts.

And who is the leader of the sporting digital generation? Joey Barton, a man who must never be referred to as a gent. Well done Joey, we know you once read an abridged copy of the sayings of Nietzsche and yes, your uncle is gay, but this does not make you any less of a dreadful thug. Joey’s list of bad boy antics make JT look like Mother Teresa – he once slapped a 15year old Everton fan, and even put out a cigar in a youth players eye! How can he be the twitter icon for the new generation? He should be in prison!

It seems us English sport fans have only one hope – our cricket team. Please don’t let us down Alastair, Andrew and Stuart, we need to cling to your clean cut image as long as we can…you are now our only remaining sporting gentleman.

The Irish and Welsh Lions

I am a World Class armchair sports fan – from the comfort of my living room sofa there is nothing I enjoy more than settling down to an exciting weekend of sport. And no sporting event captures my attention like the always thrilling Six Nations. In my opinion there is no other international tournament that is so passionately followed and evenly matched as the Northern Hemisphere’s showpiece. I prefer the Six Nations to every other major sport competition, including the World Cup (in any sport).

So I had a heightened sense of anticipation on Saturday waiting for the mouthwatering first round of fixtures – and once again The Six Nations delivered: France showed typical flair in outclassing the Italians; England battled the freezing conditions to edge past the Scots; but it was in Dublin that the competition really proved its value, with Wales’ inspired last minute victory over Ireland. Top notch armchair sport.

However if there is one other rugby event that can match this annual tournament, it’s the rare thrill of a British and Irish Lions tour. In 2005 I was lucky enough to travel to New Zealand (with my dad) to watch one first hand. Unfortunately our boys were walloped 3-0 by arguably the greatest ever All Blacks side, but the tour itself will always rank as my most memorable live sport experience.

So at the end of a Six Nations opening weekend, and with a Lions tour of Australia looming in 2013, who would currently make the grade?

As an England fan I was hit with the stark reality that we are now far from the best Northern Hemisphere rugby nation. I honestly believe not one of our starting XV would get into a current Lions side. After watching Sundays match in Dublin the Lions line up would have to almost wholly consist of the Welsh and Irish.

The Welsh backs have to dominate. Phillips, Priestland, Roberts, Davies, North and Halfpenny would all stake a claim. And a few Irishman would also compete in a few areas: Bowe may start, with Kearney and Sexton also close to the lineup. Up front too the Celts stand tall: Adam Jones, Rory Best and Gethin Jenkins would be my front row, with Paul O’Connell and maybe Alun Wynn Jones completing the front five. With the captain Warburton in the back row, Heaslip and O’Brien (maybe Ferris) would form a formidable force.

Not an English (or Scottish) name in sight – although maybe I am being too harsh. The Northampton contignent of Hartley, Lawes, Foden and Ashton have a hope of making the starting XV, and a few Scots too might stake a claim: Hamilton and Gray in the second row, Evans on the wing and the young number eight Denton looked impressive.

I’m sure plenty of Scots and Englishman will stand out across the next two international seasons, but currently the Irish and Welsh hold all the jerseys in my opinion.

But please feel free to ridicule my team and suggest your own 2013 Lions XV. I was an average player at best, and despite enjoying my prostrate sofa analysis, I am far from an professional pundit…its amazing how after one weekend of international rugby we all profess to be seasoned experts!

Transfer Deadline Day…in Lithuania

Many years ago, eight to be exact, I went on a memorable trip to Vilnius in Lithuania. This holiday will always stand out because it was my first as a ‘working man’. Prior to this every vacation had been funded either by my more than generous parents, or by a basic wage summer job. But this time I had money – I had been saving for months to supply a beer fuelled week in this Eastern European capital, and I had managed to put aside plenty of liquid capital, £700 to be exact – £100 of spending money for each day of the trip!

As five newly wealthy 23 year olds we set off with high expectations, and Vilnius did not disappoint. It was the perfect destination, filled with a gruesome cultural history (such as the morbid KGB museum), healthy portions of red meat, an endless supply of cheap premium beer and most importantly hoards of stunning European girls keen on ‘meeting’ young British men. We were in heaven.

And things kept getting better – our soulless executive hotel on the edge of the city had no history or heritage, but it did have a cheap accessible bar – the perfect place to start each evening. And it was in this bar that the most memorable event occurred…

As we sat happily preparing ourselves for that evening’s frivolities we noticed that an endless stream of beautiful girls kept parading through the hotel reception. When one appeared wearing a sash emblazoned with ‘Miss Malta’ our interested really peaked. Finally the most confident of our small group approached one, Miss Netherlands, and asked the obvious question.

“It is The International Miss Estate Agent awards,” she promptly replied.

We could not believe our luck – a beauty pageant in our hotel! But how could we exploit this, we didn’t want to watch it, tuneless Europeans belting out renditions of I Will Survive was not real entertainment – but we certainly needed to meet the girls!

Eventually after roughly five pints we hatched a full-proof plan. It happened to be International Transfer Deadline Day across all of Europe’s major football leagues. We could create an after party that would naturally link to each entrant’s home nation – we could host Europe’s most ‘rock-star’ event in our hotel room.

So we put this plan into operation. We wrote individual invites and asked the concierge to deliver them to each beauty queen’s hotel room. At roughly midnight we retired to room 308 and awaited the arrival of the the ladies…

…imagine my disappointment as I sat there for three hours, dressed as Silvain Wiltord, watching the deadline day news roll in on ceefax, with not an international beauty queen in sight. And now Sky Sports does its best to remind me of this distinct failure on a twice annual basis.