Footballers saying sweet F.A.

Scotland, like the rest of the UK, and – I assume – Europe, is in the grip of a cold snap. We had a moderate fall of snow in Porty a week ago today, and although that (and the snow that fell two days later) has now melted, temperatures have mostly remained below zero. I can’t remember such a sustained spell of freezing weather here. No doubt this is due to global warming, which seems ironic. 

It saddens me greatly to read of glaciers melting and shrinking. If it’s any consolation, I found some small glaciers had formed on the inside of my living room windows a few mornings ago, although I suspect they won’t go any way to offsetting the damage being done in the Alps and elsewhere.

A few months ago, I began leaving the butter out of the fridge, so that it would be more spreadable on my toast of a morning. Now I’m considering putting it back in the fridge, to soften it up a little.

While Britain freezes, meanwhile, we’re watching a World Cup played in (mostly) high temperatures in Qatar, a tournament dogged by controversy and allegations of corruption, which seems par for the course. It was, after all, organised by FIFA.

But this year there’s been a fair bit of bleating from various ‘progressive’ nations about Qatar’s various human rights violations, with respect to immigrant workers and treatment of the LGBTQIA+ (I may not be up to date with with acronym, and so will use ‘LGBT’ from here) community.

I fully expect (having not read up on it fully) that Qatar is indeed guilty of many crimes in these regards, and abhor any such human rights abuses. But I find the responses of the various FAs and the players themselves distinctly underwhelming.

If they (the FAs) were so upset about Qatar being chosen as the venue for this World Cup, they could have boycotted it. Not turned up. That would have sent a serious message to FIFA, and to Qatar. Would they have been financially sanctioned by FIFA? Probably (I don’t know).  Would they have lost out massively, financially? I’m sure they would. Would some players have lost their only opportunity to play at the highest stage (if indeed it is the highest stage in football, these days)? Almost certainly.

Too high a price to pay? Maybe. 

While Qatar are no doubt guilty of various crimes as alluded to above, I don’t remember anyone complaining about the World Cup being held in the USA in 1994. The USA, perhaps, can’t be placed in the same category as Qatar, but are likely responsible for variously bad behaviour both within and without the borders of their own nation. So, I imagine, are all countries, really. If the World Cup was ever held in England or the UK, the finger could be pointed at us for various misdemeanours. Especially if history is taken into account.

So if we’re going to hold a World Cup in an actual country on earth, and not on a neutral venue such as the moon, then let’s expect that the host country probably isn’t a shining light, morally-speaking. It seems a safe assumption. And if the nation in question really has ‘crossed the line’, then have the strength of your convictions and boycott the thing. Although the question remains for me – who gets to define where the ‘line’ is? If we – as humans – have taken it upon ourselves to decide what is right and what is wrong, then which of us gets the final say on what is and what isn’t?

At the start of the tournament, several captains of European nations announced their intention to wear armbands supporting the LGBT cause. Until, that is, they were threatened with the sanction of…being booked. Would this have hurt them (the captains) personally, and harmed their teams’ chances? Of course. But how much do they care about these causes they purport to support, if they aren’t prepared to make even the smallest sacrifice to make the point? It all looks like shallow posturing.

In 2003, Zimbabwe’s Henry Olonga and Andy Flower wore black armbands in a match in the Cricket World Cup, being held in South Africa. They publicly stated why – to “mourn the death of democracy” under the Robert Mugabe regime. Were they sanctioned? Olonga received death threats, never played for Zimbabwe again, despite being only 26 and in his prime, and was forced to live in exile.

Footballers, if you want to show support for a cause you believe in, please do so. If you will only do this if it’s convenient and doesn’t cost you anything, please don’t bother.

Stay warm, Britons. And Happy Christmas, if I don’t write before then (as seems likely…!)

In the footsteps of Beckham

Hackney Marshes, 6am. The sun is up, but only just, and the vast expanse of grass is still damp with dew. There are a few fellow runners out at this hour, along with a dog walker or two, as I circumnavigate a number of cricket outfields, and several football pitches. It was on these pitches that a young David Beckham honed his skills, maybe even was spotted.

I am reasonably confident that any athletics coaches in the vicinity will not be spotting me today, as I lumber around the white-lined perimeter of pitch N7. The mercury is to hit 26C today, and even at this unearthly hour it’s warming up.

Multiple circuits complete, I run back along the towpath by the River Lea, over a deserted footbridge, and past several tied-up barges with quirky names.

A fox emerges from the bushes, and darts back in again, before I have time to question if it was the culprit responsible for distributing the contents of my sister’s food bin across the garden path during the night, and then defecating in the middle of the gateway. On arriving back home, I find myself increasingly keen to find a fox to help me with my enquiries in this matter, as I clear up all the food detritus before the heat of the day causes a stink.

Today’s work venue is Chingford, where David Beckham went to school, as it happens. It’s my sixth day there, and all has gone well, apart from some momentary confusion on Day 1 when I blindly followed the citybound crowds at Clapton down to Platform 1, when I really needed to be on the quieter Platform 2, heading out of town, towards Essex and the M25.

I experienced the glory of the M25 on Friday night, heading north to visit some old friends for the weekend, but despite my trepidation it was child’s play compared to the static queues on the M1. However, I was in no rush, and made it in time to have a decent burger near Kenilworth Road, prior to taking in a raucous first leg of Luton Town’s Championship play-off v Huddersfield Town. 

There followed a weekend of mostly sitting around in the sunshine, watching play at the local cricket club, who conveniently have their ground just on the other side of my friends’ garden gate, making it perhaps the best back garden known to man. Cricket-loving man, at any rate.

So, the London leg of the tour has been a reasonable success. I am developing quite a fondness for bagels from the Jewish bakery on Brick Lane, and crumpets, and the warmer temperatures.

This weekend I head southwest to Horsham for the next date on the tour. I am unsure if David Beckham ever made it to Horsham. I shall enquire.

Sun, sea and socks

A month or so ago, I wandered through to the back of the flat. There was an odd noise coming from outside. I didn’t recognise it.

Two days later (my membership of Neighbourhood Watch has been rescinded) the noise was still happening. I peered out the window, and realised that one of my neighbours was running a sprinkler in their back garden. A sprinkler, I say. Attached to a hosepipe. Watering the garden. For days. I have only read about such things.

This is a Scottish summer of unprecedented heat, certainly the best summer since I was in short trousers. And I’m back in them again. I have been wearing shorts for weeks, which has turned my legs from a shade of translucent blue into a dull pink. I have been to the beach multiple times, and even paddled in the sea. The grass in Holyrood Park is brown. I have, on several occasions, left home without an emergency jacket and pair of trousers in the car boot. And I have completed several loads of washing without washing a single sock. Well, almost.

Although several of my acquaintances consider cricket to be a game which requires one only to stand around in a field, wearing white, the unpopular truth is that one does have to break into a gentle trot now and again. And breaking into a trot while wearing flip flops is positively dangerous. Ergo, cricket socks have been worn and washed.

Only last Saturday I was standing around in a field wearing white, and wearing socks, and looked over to see the opposition players huddled underneath a couple of umbrellas on the boundary. This is not an entirely unprecedented sight in Scottish cricket, except that it wasn’t raining. And the players under the umbrellas were, to a man, of Asian extraction, sheltering from the fierce Scottish sun.

A few days back, I walked up a brownish hillside in Holyrood Park, and found a clearing to sit down in. There were discarded bottles in the nearby bushes. Water bottles, not alcopops. Even da yoof are concerned about dehydration it seems.

Meanwhile, all the way from Russia, the World Cup has been captivating most people, especially south of the border. “It’s coming home” has been the hashtag of choice. 


I feel confused. What is coming home, exactly? I thought football came home in 96. Did it go away again? Is it coming back? 

Except that the tournament has been in Russia. Do they mean the World Cup’s coming home? In which case, England isn’t its home. It was made in Italy (I checked) and Germany would surely have the best claim on it being at home there.

All very confusing.

The Glamour Girls and myself watched the England semi-final at IndigoYard last night. England took an early lead from a free-kick. There was a somewhat muted response… a couple of shouts, suppressed quickly, the shouters suddenly conscious of their Englishness in a Scottish bar. But they needn’t have worried. Most of the place didn’t seem all that interested in the game, and there were no celebrations when Croatia equalised. Not even from me, although that may have been because a large man in a blue sweater walked in front of the screen at the moment in question.

Croatia went on to get stronger and stronger, and eventually scored the winner in extra time. I was saddened, although not distraught. England exiting a major tournament always brings a certain amount of relief. Although if they won something again at least it would mean we presumably wouldn’t hear quite so much about 1966. Maybe.

Now I guess football isn’t going to get a chance to come home for a while… Croatia and France aren’t such bad places to hang out for a few years mind…

England in shock World Cup exit

I find myself in London, watching the game with my sister as England take on Germany in the World Cup.

“Great tackle.  GREAT tackle”, emphasised Mark Lawrenson as Ashley Cole went in studs first on a German ankle.

“The referee got that one right,” the commentator asserts not long after, as replays showed Rooney throwing himself melodramatically against a German defender.

My sister can’t understand why I am not fervently rooting for England.  I find it hard to grasp why she is.  Alison, though, lives in England, where the hysterically one-eyed media coverage of England’s various footballing campaigns doesn’t seem quite so inappropriate as it does in other parts of the UK.  For my part, I take no specific pleasure in England losing, as some of the natives in my adopted country do.  An English exit from a major tournament brings relief, rather than glee.

Germany’s keeper whacks a long goal-kick down the middle, and Klose holds off the attempted foul from Upson to poke it into the corner past James.  “Sunday pub league goal,” dismisses Lawro, as if the Germans should somehow be ashamed of themselves for scoring it.

Podolski makes it two after 33 minutes.

I was midway through explaining my Brits-don’t-have-the-right-psychological-makeup-to-win-consistently theory to Alison, when England, rather inconveniently, scored.  She shrieked.  I slumped.

This seemed to be a good time to ‘catch up’, my sister having paused the match near the start on account of retrieving baby Sebastian from his slumbers.  She fast-forwarded the TV back to normal time, just in time to see Lampard’s shot crash off the crossbar and over the line.  Not given.  Cue a studioful of half-time experts who, it would seem, have been campaigning vociferously for goal-line technology to be introduced for years.

Mercifully England’s overall ineptitude meant it finished 4-1 rather than 2-1, or there may have been riots in the streets.  Not in Hackney, probably, where there may well be more local support for Ghana than England.

Two days later, Peter Singer, writing in the Guardian, has a pop at the German goalkeeper for ‘cheating’ by not owning up that the ball had crossed the line.  As, no doubt, the England goalkeeper would have done in similar circumstances.  He quotes cricket as an example of a sport where players sometimes walk even when they haven’t been given out.  Tellingly, to find a high-profile instance of this happening, he has to go all the way back to the 2003 World Cup, when Adam Gilchrist walked against Sri Lanka in a semi-final.  Walking is not common in high-level cricket, or even at lower levels, for that matter.  Besides, Gilchrist once walked thinking he’d been caught, when replays proved his bat had hit the ground rather than the ball.  Gilchrist’s approach was laudable, but at that level a player is entitled to allow the umpire to make the decision.  And if Neuer, the German keeper, had insisted to the referee and his assistant that the goal should stand, they would most likely have waved away his protests.

Having sweated my way into town yesterday and exhausted myself by simply pootering around the South Bank in the heat, I have decreed today to be a rest day.  Sitting around, mostly outside, reading Marcus Berkmann’s Rain Men, has been the order of the day.  My sister is just about to go out for a walk with Maggie and the little girl she looks after on Tuesdays.  Sebastian is upstairs asleep, and I am instructed to get him up at 3.45pm.

“Do I need to do anything after that?” I enquired, hoping that I wouldn’t be expected to do anything too complicated, like change his nappy.

“Change his nappy.”

Deep breath.

“Ok.”  How hard can it be?

Modern Life is Rubbish, Part II

Finally retrieved my skis from the Haxtonmeister a few evenings ago. They had been languishing in his garage for several weeks since his our return from France, awaiting pickup. Filipideedoodaa’s snowboard and boots were also there, so I threw them in the back and dropped them off to her on the way home.

Driving past Domino’s Pizza I suddenly got hungry, and one U-turn later I was scanning the menu. Domino’s are an American firm, and Americans, as we all know, are big on customer service. I reminded myself of this as I stood and waited for someone to acknowledge my presence, busy as they were providing excellent customer service to whoever was on the telephone. Eventually someone looked up, and, startled by the actual bodily presence of a customer, raised an eyebrow quizzically.

“Err, can I have a pizza please?”

Whereupon they were graciously helpful and took my order for a pizza and a bottle of Coke immediately. Only one pizza, as Flip, appearing to have confused her religions somewhat, has taken on a kind of Reverse Ramadan for Lent. No food after 8pm.

So approximately 15 minutes later, the duration of which I had spent standing up in the exceedingly cramped waiting area, watching other unfortunates trying to place orders with similar results, I heard the magic words “Pizza for Quinn” resonating from the ‘kitchen’ area, as a white box slid into view along the metal-heated-rack thing which delivers pizzas into the world.

Sadly, no-one else seemed keen to celebrate the birth of my pizza, and it sat there, forlornly, for easily five minutes or so, before a nice-looking girl came along to answer the telephone at the counter. I waited politely until she had finished her call, and then enquired if I might have my pizza please. Off she went to look for it.

It’s right there, I can see it.

A few minutes later she found it on the rack and presented it to me with a big smile.

“And the Coke, please.”

Top customer service, these Americans.

But back to automated toilets. After writing the last post I was reminded of some toilets in the US, which flushed automatically as you stood up after… you know. This amused me somewhat, as I felt it was a little premature, not having given one time to, err, wipe. So, after wiping, one had to sit down and stand up again, or at least wave one’s limbs around in front of the invisible sensor in order to set off the “time-and-effort-saving” automatic flush.


Finally, hats off to Michel Platini and Sepp Blatter, for putting the Premier League clubs back in their box, after they had expressed a desire to take their “product” around the world by playing a league game in various destinations around the globe. What a bunch of good eggs they are, the Premier League chairmen. “Good for everyone in the game” they say, except perhaps for the local clubs in the cities/countries they would be playing in, their own fans, the environment, and perhaps other English clubs. No doubt the £5m each club stood to earn from the exercise was secondary in their thoughts to advancing the cause of football…

Is it not distressing that football is quite openly referred to as a “product” these days?

Maybe it’s just me…