Tuesday, 29 June 2010

How do you solve a problem like Team England?

Before wa talk about solutions lets have a nice sober look at the problems we face with English football. We gave the world the sport that has now surpassed all others as the King of sports, more popular than any other, if you made four piles of jumpers and threw a ball at 22 people , there would be a game even if they didn't speak the same language. So why is it that the land whence sprung the funny old game cannot field a decent side in the World Championship of the sport it invented?

I'll start at the peripheries and make my way to the core of the matter slowly as it's worth looking at it from a few angles. My first target is a press machine that fuel our vanity and expectations like delusional parents telling their 5 year old they're brilliant on the piano even if we're rubbish. Of course we'll go all the way, that loss to Malta or Northern Ireland was an aberration, we played the C side , it was cold, it was wet, it was too dry, the pitch was to blame. We will triumph over all comers and bring to an end 44 years of pain. Then the lads get on the plane for South Africa, the already frenzied war drums and shrieks reach a terrifying level of insanity that make Joseph Geobles seem reasonable and measured in his expectations of the players. Once there, the media machine crank it up to ludicrous levels with adverts exhorting us to "Do it for Bobby", Brian Blessed shouts at us to excel and take no prisoners. After a while of this you begin to think they surely they wouldn't go to these lengths if were utter shite? They must be as good as they say they are, Com'n lads, make us proud! For Bobby , for the Busby Babes, for the Hillsborough victims, for the soldiers in Afghnistan, for little baby Baz and his Mam and his dog.....YOU CAN DO IT. Imagine being one of the players so assaulted by all this pressure, all those hopes and dreams on your well paid pampered shoulders, can YOU resist maybe getting a bit nervous? Then the inevitable crash as manager and players board the bus emblazoned with ironic words like Glory and Pride. The inquisition in the various media begins even now with huge banner front pages crowing the news of the returning prodigal sons who are not worthy of forgiveness, their clueless manager talking of meetings and deadlines. These hapless inadequate ambassadors, once heroes, were never as good as advertised and the press knew it, The FA knew it, Murdoch knew it, WE knew it. But the red tabs, television networks and various promoters were not going to let that wee detail stand in the way of a massive marketing exercise designed to make millions for certain parties involved. A World Cup without England? Sepp Blatter would rather kiss a cucumber in public than miss out on all those supporters, I mean travelling parties. The Sun wouldn't sell as many papers, and ITV would have an even harder time getting us to watch James Corden. And now the Jackals fall on the players like some kind of tsunami of hate and shame. Indignation and anger following every word photo and page. Hardly the kind of behaviour conducive to a realistic branch and root review of football.

Next goat in this tragicomedy of errors is the combined ego and power of the Premiership. These clowns pay ever increasing wage packets to players who rightly believe they are above most people and clearly superior to any mere mortals within a golden age of them. Not content to inflate wages and egos the Premiership goes out of it's way to staff teams with only the caviar of footballers. Real Madrid may have its Galacticos, but the Premiership is the richest and most expensive league on planet Earth. Filled with the great and nearly great from all over the globe, If you're Jimmy Grimble trying out for Man City, you won't get a game until all the overpriced talent have a go first. Little wonder England can't find a decent back four, midfield or goalkeeper. If every foreign player left the Prem today, the top 6 teams would be so strapped for players it would allow in form mid table sides to grab top spots. One of the worst talent deficits is in the goal keeper gap. Peter Check, Edwin Van der Sarr, Shay Given, Brad Freidel, all are better than the two keepers who to played for England in the last 6 years. West ham and Portsmouth, powerhouse teams that finished so close to bottom you could smell the fear months ahead of the last day.

This next target is the one I know you'll find most amusing. The oddball collection of managers the FA has hired and fired since Svenn Goren Useless. First offence, they to a man ignored the wealth of under 21's and assuming the collection of passionless mercenaries could be made to play as a team, they still needed somebody they could respect. Maradona, Dunga, Lippi, Hiddink, all command the respect of their teams. They say jump the players ask, how high sir? But our wastes of space would take any order from Keegan, McManaman or Shearer as a suggestion and an invitation to question the manager's wisdom. The only man who manages in England that could do the job is Alex Ferguson. None of these soft babies would dare talk back to him. More importantly, apart from some very strange formations and subs a few year back, Fergie has clearly got it right with his lads. I suspect Wenger would do as well. They both understand the English game and the players and they have the weight of experience and authority of award winning seasons to impose their thinking. Something Sven to Capello were not able to do. You can take 22 of the best anythings, but if you don't turn them into a team they are worse than bad, they are an accident waiting to happen. One of the huge mistakes Capello made was to choose players not fit for purpose, did not require the players to seriously try out with real risk of being dropped. Treated the players like monks or children, not mega stars with a routine that for better or worse produces results. He then locked them up away from family and friends doing more practices than ever did at their club sides. Hermetically sealing these players was only ever going to lead to one thing, they would get tired sloppy and loose focus. Lastly he never varied 4-4-2. Arsenal got rumbled that way by the end of the run of 49. There is a school of thought that states if Odin himself came down to boss England, he couldn't get these Toffs to put in a single half of decent football.

Lastly the Players. Any group of lads who know they need to be healthy for MAN United, Chelsea, Arsenal, or Liverpool, cannot be expected to give it their all for England. Is it any wonder we saw the spectacle of a manager and selected players get trotted out to give post match interviews all singing the same drug induced cheerful message that the team played well, they were unlucky to get the goal not given, and had it counted, who knows how great they would have been. Honestly, they were lucky it wasn't 8-2 Germany. Capello is realistically looking at loosing his job, even it is the insane asylum better known as the English FA. He should be made to give the money back and go home now.

So how do we fix this? "Simples" as a certain meercat would say. First we accept that we won't qualify for Euro, that we won't qualify for the next World Cup and that the current crop of England caps will be told to finish their days at club sides while England do the following drastic treatment.

1- Look at the under 21's and under 19's. Form a team that will compete from here in against the rest of the World in European and WC qualifiers.

2- Conduct a two year program during which the length and breadth of Great Britain is scoured to find and train up the next great goal keepers needed to dramatically improve the chances of England Wales Scotland and NI.

3- Finally implement the dream of Trevor Sir Brooking whereby we install a full training system throughout Great Britain that will produce enough quality players to fill every Football team in every division twice over with Keepers, defenders, mid-fielders, sweepers and strikers. These player will then replenish the Leagues and develop into powerful talented players that will be diverse enough that even an amateur trained on FIFA 2010 could at least cruise through the qualifying without any embarrassments.

4- Un-tarmac the pitches turned over to car parcs for the London games or other such sacrifices perpetrated to local parcs over the last few years. Convert a large number of 11 a side pitches currently being used by 10 year olds into 7 or 8 aside pitches with smaller nets. If you keep it proportional, the young players will learn and develop better.

5- Bring in total football, teach players enough skill to respect and understand how other positions play. Look how the Brazilians broke down Mexico. It was the kind of multitasking you just don't get with English players. We all want to be the hero and score the goals, but somebody has to be stopper, somebody has to defend, somebody has to feed the ball up to the front.

6- Reduce the wage packet to only 30 times that of a teacher per year. Limit the number of non local players a club can bring in and lower ticket prices by the amount saved.

7- Force players who want to play for England to compete in open trials for spots. No player should ever be allowed to think he can just walk into a spot because he's at Chelsea or Real Madrid. Besides, if we implement the above, they will have to worry that some younger better player won't pip them.

Do I think this green and pleasant land will come to pass? A man can dream.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Ich bin ein angry England supporter

Shambolic, catastrophic, dire, apocalyptic, mingning, decrepit, rubbish, Howler , clanger, mass suicide, torrid, incoherent, shite, crap, unacceptable, cringe worthy, load of utter donkeys droppings, incompetent, lazy, useless, debacle, spanking, dismembering, utter humiliation.

abominable, amiss, atrocious, awful, bad news, beastly, bottom out, bummer, careless, cheap, cheesy*, crappy*, cruddy, crummy, defective, deficient, diddly, dissatisfactory, downer, dreadful, erroneous, fallacious, faulty, garbage, godawful, grody, gross*, grungy, icky, imperfect, inadequate, incorrect, inferior, junky, lousy*, not good, off, poor, raunchy*, rough, sad, slipshod, stinking, substandard, synthetic, the pits, unacceptable, unsatisfactory
That felt good. Before I go on about our quality side, let me say a few words about goal line technology. That was a goal, it took a second  of replay to see that. Football is the only sport to not embrace the modern world, is FIFA a bunch of Druids? Maybe they're Amish or perhaps they haven't been off their estates in so long they don't know the world has moved on since 1870. Sepp Blater is a luddite who is bringing football into disrepute, he has to go NOW.  I say this for the matches to come and the deflated unhappy fans  yet to be disappointed by yet another such debacle. I think this may be the straw that broke the camel's back as half the FiFa executive are home nation reps

Now on to the main event. What was Capello thinking? He played Barry, he played Milner he played an entire side of worthless over paid lazy Premirship pansies. The only decent person out there was David James. I apologize for every bad thing I ever said about you Calamity, you kept us from being spanked 9-0.  Then Capello chooses to sub in Heskey when we're down and he can't score. Where was Crouch? I would have accepted Beckham at this point.   Then the man in a post match interview says England played well. What match was he watching? What drugs is he taking , I can use some now. This is what happens when the powers that be do not take International football seriously.

I would have been happier sending the best England had, even if they were 19 years old, look at those Germans, young men  mostly, but they are good, they are well formed into a team, and the manager has them playing like a Panzer division. Our team consists of a collection of stars who are used to getting their own way and getting paid wages we can only dream of. What ever pride in wearing the three Lions  vanished the first time they got a big contract and a permanent spot in the rotation. This is as bad as the bad old days under Svenn, then no one had a look in unless one of the Man U, Arsenal, or  Liverpool stars was hurt. It's time to rip up the car parks that cover pitches all over London in advance of the Olympics, get young people playing en masse and invest in the domestic players like Australia have done for every sport they have gone on to master.

Something is rotten in Denmark and it starts at the top. The Premiership is partly to blame, they have produced a 2nd rate England side by eschewing ( my word for the week ) home grown talent for Mega Stars from any other places. They then pay them huge wage packets that could have gotten a less spectacular but more English set of players Premiership wide. After not much more time, these same players would be just as big as Kaka, or the winker Ronaldo. Next we need to set up goal keeping academies, churn out enough of these geezers to staff every team down to Nationwide three times, maybe then we'll have a  few stars to choose from in goal.  Lastly, why is not Britain naturalizing a few more footballers from other places, every other country in Europe has it's Brazilian, Turk or Cameroonian. .  Our defence also needs sorting, that back 11 of England was like butter on hot day, seems the system only really ever focusses on strikers. Brazil have exported the concept of total football to the rest of the world, we need to adopt it. I'm not saying the top Brazilian strikers are the best keepers on earth , but I suspect they can teach Green a few tricks.

Enough already about England, I'm sick of them, hope they all crawl off into a hole for the summer. Wags money mansions cars, it's what they know, Rooney , Lampard, Gerard, Cole, Heskey, Terry, Upson, Milner SWP , the lot of them were shades of their proper form. I'm more embarrassed having supported England than I've been before. Oh I was upset other times, always had a decent scapegoat, (Listening to Five live.... Grow up Capello , Resign now.  Don't wait for the meeting you eedjit. ) Where was I? but this time even if the goal had counted , we still would have lost 4-2, we deserved to loose 8-2 but James was that good. I hope he knows we appreciate his work.

Germany proved they deserve to win the whole thing now. I will be supporting them in the next round and Lord Help anybody who gets in their way. Argentina will  give them a good run  but it's the only side that can do that. So there it is the real World Cup final will be a Quarter final. Nothing else matters. Brazil are decent , but not good enough for me, Germany will edge them in a tight game. Today only one side came out to play and showed us from the first few minutes how it's done. One of the few European sided to do so. France Italy, Greece, Spain and now England., have all played rubbish anti football. Only Spain seem to have woken up in the last few minutes to save face, the rest are all deservedly gone.

Not sure if I'll watch the Argies now or just flip over to Top Gear, Mexico could still pull a blinder .....

Fezzes are cool The Pandorica Opens part 2

With apologies to Douglas Adams  possibly the funniest man in modern times to touch science fiction.

The Pandorica Opens part2 was everything I expected from the Moff.  Well paced, not entirely incomprehensible once you'd seen it in it's entirety and FUNNY. Moffat is humour , Moffat is the spirit of adventure fused  to the innocence of the by gone serial only ever successfully brought back to life by Indiana Jones.Every few minutes something happens that tugs at your heartstrings only to be replaced by an Abbot and Costello moment funnier than the last. A more cynical person would accuse the writers of writing to formula, but that would be like saying a recipe well done is nothing new. You still like the cake your nan baked even if she's done it a thousand times. This new Doctor finds new ways to keep the story moving using plot devices that engage your mind but don't take your brain for granted. For every question it answers it asks another and answers it. Even the ones that have left you hanging  like what about the shard? and how'd he do that without staying in E-space? Where did that crack come from? get conveniently pushed on the deliciously sexy and dangerously attractive River Song.

The next series is clearly going to be where all that banter between River and the Doctor gets fulfilled. Is she married, is he asking her to? The answer is YESSSS .  And yet you know it can't end well. She tells us it won't. We know there will be an explosion, we feel the invisible hand of the exiled Time Lords working their influence on him them from behind the slo-time envelope. Matt Smith series two will be a CRACKING one.

In one of the best scenes of the episode and not the only one to make you go back to HHGTTG, Rory decides to stay behind and guard the box our Amy is in. There is a combination of complete innocence and love with very real comedy moment that makes you think "the first million years were the worst, then the next million years were ....".  Ghosts of Marvin, the android who waited. Rory unlike most boyfriends in Who 2 , has been given a really respectful and sensitive use in the story arc. He keeps coming back as a dramatic reference point in the life of Amy Pond. Clearly while her imaginary Doctor is the stuff of her dreams, even wet ones judging by the snog she'd like to give the Doctor, she loves Rory and always has. A little  thing like non existence or being turned into an Auton won't stop that.

On the subject of our Amy, that little actress who plays young Amy. I ordinarily cannot abide small children in Doctor Who, it's not a children's programme, not like we imagine them to be these days, but this little girl can travel with the Doctor as often as she wants. This bright little ginger spark Caitlin Blackwood  lit up the screen from the first second she appeared. Inspired casting that could have gone horribly wrong, had us reading books of emotion on her face as she took us in a Madeline sort of trip from the social worker to night at the museum. Poor little girl with no parent in that big old house. The Doctor will take care of her. He loves her. not like he loved Rose, that was the kind of mature, fully explored sensual and sexual love, this is the love of a Father for his daughter, albeit adopted. He even shows up to dance at her wedding. I'm a grown man  but I nearly cried then.

The device of the Pandorica is interesting in and of itself. It fills a number of roles, mysterious puzzle box, bringer of life, back up file storage and representation of the finger of God himself. No one explains where the Pandorica itself came from or who built it. It's just there. all powerful, very mysterious and clearly keyed to the dna of the Doctor and Amy. Part machine part Diety, the Pandorica IS Pandora's box whence springs al lthat is good and all that is evil. For without one the other would not exist. The Pandorica is the creation myth retold for a new generation.

If I had to name a MOTM for the episode ? Hmmm tough call but I'd have to go with little Amelia, she made the whole thing work. she was the glue that bound the main players together. Her scene in the museum with older Amelia and the Daleks later on worked only because little Amelia worked.

On the whole as Paulo Nutinni would say , 10 out of 10.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Funny Britannia, the state of the Jester

The other day on one of the forums I live in, I posted an anecdote. It really did happen and every Polish family, Jewish family and family of anybody who ever lived through the camps and Siberia found this joke not only funny , but they laughed with abandon and total honesty. But when I told it to a group of highly intelligent people with a strongly developed sense of humour and irony, people who habitually tell the most elaborate and often beyond the pale bad taste stories, there was the kind of silence you get when you've just informed somebody they've got months to live and will die of cancer.  Clearly some subjects are too sensitive outside of the community of those who suffered, to be considered funny or to take the piss out of. But that's the point isn't it? To survive you need to take the piss out of things or they will get you.

Let me step back a bit and explain why  this post today. My wife and I are writers, we have over the last two years been writing a series of scripts for an adult comedy to be broadcast at some point when the stars align and BBC3 or ITV throw some money at us and make us as big as French and Saunders or Armstrong and Miller. We have drawn from a rich well of Slavic and Jewish humour that runs so vast and so thick in our respective families we barely know sometimes when we're being funny or just saying perfectly normal things any body else  would say.  I mention this only because we tend to say things as they are and try to find the joy in most situations even if they may sometimes appear on the surface not to be the most comfortable situations. It's when we're among the customers and staff of a little shop we like, our stories get the kind of reaction we least expected, we make them laugh, they don't want us to leave and they look forward to our next visit. Any comedian's definition of paradise wouldn't you say? And yet there is problem, while we have spoken to some industry types who have liked our style, we have been asked time and again "will this sell in the US?" " Won't THAT be offensive?" . You have characters who smoke???!!! And the short answers are.... No it won't sell outside of NYC and Seattle, yes it's offensive and why the hell not smoke , it's vile and dangerous , but go to an asian newsagent and ask him or his family  just how much of their life has been paid for by smokers. Just becuase the PC police and the Ministry of don't do that it's bad for you would like us to excise certain human activities from any representation of reality, doesn't mean they don't happen or we don't think of them.

A case in point is the programme on BBC last night. "Are you having a laugh" examined the treatment of disability in language and humour. It demonstrated clearly that the group about whom off colour jokes are being told aren't offended as they are telling them themselves. It's ok to laugh people, take a chill pill for Christ sake. The feminazis and politically correct brigade of the 70's and 80's sucked all the life out of us. We can't say merry Christmas to another Christian for fear of supposedly offending some Jew or Muslim or Hindu. Well don't believe a word of it, my wife wished me a happy Easter and I wished her a good Passover and nobody died of embarrassment. When asked where is he in a crowded room, I pointed out for ease of identification , "next to the black kid"Was fast simple and allowed the worry friend to spot their child right away. Was I trying to offend? no. I was trying to communicate in concise honest language a picture of reality . When we stop auto censoring, maybe we will be as a society be more tolerant and accepting of others. As a Pole surrounded by a sea of other ethnics  living in a white anglo saxon society, I had to adapt and be open to a lot things or I would have been lost ages ago. But my anglo saxon mates aren't that lucky, they tend to be ignorant of the ways of others or so sensitive they need to consult a book to see if it's ok to react one way or another.

While irony is well known in English humour and is nothing new, ( watch Rude Britannia on the BBC ), the art of fatalism is less so.  Oh yes the we bang on about how we know we're going out on pens to the Germans, but when you compare that to jokes about starvation and death at the hands of organized genocide, the English tend to get all preachy and sensitive. Let me tell you something. . My family, both sides, have lost everything so often and been kicked out of our lands so often by one power or another, we've lost count . If it weren't for fatalism and irony  working in close tandem, most of my relatives would have gone barking mad ages ago. The fact some think we have, is testament to the fact we can laugh at most anything life throws at us. We draw the line at some things , but that has more to do more with the rawness of any given situation. The reason we do laugh at some of the most horrific things humans have done to each other is simple .....So we will not repeat it again, so we will never forget and be wary of it. Fatalistic humour is our survival instinct telling us to be careful and never take our liberties and freedoms for granted. It's why you find Jews and assorted Slavs for example the first ones to sound the alarm bells of totalitarianism. Those of us who forget this are ourselves doomed to repeat the same crimes on others.

This of course begs the question, WHY LAUGH AT ALL? Humour is the sword that slays despots, bullies and pedants. Humour is the instrument with which we surgically remove offensive people and laws from the public place. Regimes with guns and soldiers have shrunk back in fear at the awesome power of humour time and again... Social injustice and rank stupidity have also come under the sharp eye of the satirist. Georgian England saw the rise of ribald but politically sharp commentary on the Royals, politicians merchants and landed gentry that had forgotten the tenets of noblesse oblige and had given in to base greed and personal excess. This tradition is alive and well on programmes like Mock the Week and the Tory version , Have I got news for you.  Somebody has to pierce the pomposity of the ruling classes or else we end up with untouchables we never ever question.

Is that it ? Humour for defence? Of course not, it's also to deflate the silly little loops of habit and ritual we all get into that become so great in our lives we no longer question them. It's there to serve to remind us to get off our high horses and see the bald unadulterated truth that only small children see . While duty honour and obligation are what made our way of life so much more stable and civilized, it was the sense of humour that poked fun at ourselves that kept us in check. Humour teaches a child what is acceptable and what is not, what is silly and what is deadly serious. Humour teaches each and every one of us to look at ourselves a bit more critically and see our own flaws. As the Bible says, let he who is without sin tell the first joke. Well if we had to wait for that , there wouldn't be any comedians. It's all about intent. If you choose to do something "funny" to insult and humiliate with extreme prejudice to seek trouble where none exists, like racists do, then you are scum and not in the least bit funny. But if you choose to be funny to make a point, highlight something unfair, to lighten a tense situation, to unload the stress of a long day or even longer week, then by all means, please laugh. If you don't you'll die of an ulcer at 30. look at all those emo saddos who committed suicide or shot up a school in the USA, they would still be alive and lot more level headed if they had just laughed....How many racists do you need to screw in a light bulb? None they enjoy being in the dark.  Sarcasm. Hindsight and brutal honesty can be found in that joke. A joke told during the later part of 40 years of Communism in Poland; What do you call a group of people under a bridge sniffing an empty spam tin? Drug addicts. Fatalism and irony at it's best.

While modern comics and comediennes have embraced the the full lexicon of four letter words, some slipped away from the subtly of sarcasm, irony and fatalism in favour of shock. Shock for the sake of shock is only funny for a second and grows tired very fast.  Comediennes in particular for the longest time in the 80's and 90's were about as funny as a root canal.  Being preachy and angry at men just didn't go over well, it's when comediennes joined comedians in laughing at the world from their own personal political and cultural stand point, that they became funny. Handicapped people have learned this lesson as well, they sit in that comedy frontier were we as a society are just now learning to laugh with people who are crippled ( YES CRIPPLED) by debilitating conditions that make life less than ideal. One comic last night put it best, children ask you  does it hurt, once you tell them it doesn't , they want to know how you do things differently. It's called curiosity, the opposite of fear. They themselves will tell you they aren't differently abled or challenged, they are in fact crippled and have accepted the life given them by circumstances.  They are also fatalists in their humour now having crossed over from simply being unfunny advocates for change. The basic problem is that between the illness known as political correctness and the cultural invasion of all things American, much that made other peoples unique and interesting has been washed away over the last 30 years, including the ability to laugh at many things, that is only now beginning to return. Ask a person who lived through the blitz what is funny and you'll be shocked by the answers. Not so much for the answer itself, but how much what is funny and how you react to hardship has changed.

Where I find the greatest offence on telly today, is the freak show called Big Brother, some choose to be humiliated on there for money, fair dues. But others are mentally ill, in fact I'd say a good half of them have had some kind of psychotic condition that needs care not ridicule .  Producers have found it easier to eschew actors an writers and replace them with sad delusionals, mentally ill persons and other assorted non entities. That some of us watch such train wrecks speaks to our desire to seem smarter and better than others. A perfectly normal thing, that fact we need to laugh at bad trannies  the dim witted and the mentally ill, speaks to how little we think of ourselves.

My wife and I were shaped by  a lot comic inspirations, The Marx Brothers, Python, The Goons, Air Farce, 2nd City, Mad Magazine, Gilbert & Sullivan,  19th century Russian writers, Mel Brooks and  Polish / Yiddish comedians and comediennes you would never have heard of like Boris Tomashevsky, Sholom Aleichem or Gertrude Berg, but who influence the very comedies you watch today. These past practitioners of the great art of satire blended music, wit, irony, fatalism, sarcasm along with a sharp blade to get their points across. 

After a lot of thought, we came up with some laws , while not yet as famous as Asimov's laws of robotics, they should explain at east in part what makes us laugh.

Laws of Comedy

1. Yellow is the funny colour. Anything yellow is instantly funny, and a person dressed in yellow instantly has funnier actions or dialogue.
2. If your characters are in an easily escapable situation, they cannot escape until it has reached the maximum impact of funny.
3. If you feel the urge to say something at inappropriate times, say it.
4. If you believe you have gone too far... keep going.
5. If you can't say it, sing it.
6. The hard K sound is funny.
7. When in doubt put a man in a frock.
And finally ...The Zeroth Law of comedy - All things no matter how inappropriate or serious can be made to be funny.
*the Zeroth law of course supersedes all other laws as long as it does not go against them.

Remember people, it's all about intent. As long as you aren't just having a go at some innocent person or group to wind up out of ignorance, it's funny. And another thing, if you go see a comic who advertises him or herself as rude and the show is called "I'd like to kick you all in the balls", please don't be surprised if they are in fact rude and offensive.

So maybe now I tell a story already? My wife's Bubbie  who had survived the camps, had finally after much badgering from her own family accepted a long standing and very gracious offer by the German government to stay at a health spa.  This was to care for her leg injury she had suffered during the death march from one camp to another, staying just ahead of advancing Russian troops. Upon her return to New York  they asked her what it was like. She replied with a smile "You know I think I've had had enough of German showers".

Then there's the one where my wife was sitting in the office of a Jewish travel agents office, who was offering her a trip to Auschwitz. She decided to think about it and called her Aunt who had spent time under the care of Dr. Mengele . When my wife returned for the next meeting, and the travel agent  asked her what her decision was she said.  "I spoke to my Aunt about Auschwitz as a holiday destination and she said ,the food was awful and the hospitality left a lot to be desired"

I hope you laughed, the rest of us did.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Arivaderci Roma, Italy tumble out & Fun Corrie is back

I'll be perfectly honest, yesterday was one of those days that just make you want to just scream , why am I doing this. Four matches, only one was of any kind of significance to me at all in any way. So apologies in advance. I won't be dwelling on the foibles and special moments of what was in small moments a pretty good day of footie. The really important thing to take from  the day was the dumping out of the World Cup of Italy. Something I predicted as early as their first proper match when they sleep walked for 90 minutes. What happened to Italy was the well deserved result of taking your own greatness for granted and the misguided belief by the manager that he above all others was the holder of the Holy Grail of football. You have no idea how much joy it gave me to watch the Italians moan and suffer as the day got worse and worse, well all except one lady who clearly believed herself to be at a rave somewhere on planet ecstasy. So you can understand, In 2006, I was sat in a cafe full of Italians watching as they were awarded a late penalty. A penalty they knew was the product of a massive dive and never ever deserved. They of course scored the goal and advanced to the finals in the end. But if there was any justice, they would have to a man,  said no ref  we can't accept it. After the match the cafe  supporters quietly filed out and didn't have any of the usual OTT celebrations, this of course did not stop them from pretending they were the best after the final  . Well this time as the saying says, Karma is a bitch. All those dodgy pens, dive induced yellows inflicted on opponents and ref rushes that had got them this far , finally didn't work. They would have to work for a result. Even the disallowed goal was particularly tasty, how often had they in 2006 alone benefited from the same kind of clearly wrong call  without so much as a word to say , sorry ref we were massively offside. In fairness it was a dramatic fight back but not good enough. And that is the point of all of this. Italy were not worthy of advancing and they didn't. All those hang dog faces I saw , young boys, old men,  women who looked like their mother had died, I'd like to say I felt bad, but no , they deserve it after the pain they inflicted on others in 2006, served them right.  Joining France and maybe Spain soon , the big European sides are being exposed for the lazy players they have become. Italy got a taste of it's own medicine and I don't think they will even be aware of it. Instead, the post mortem will start in a few hours and the ref will be evil and the other side cheated. I say this as I've heard it all before from them and I'm sick of it. Say what you want about Brazil or Germany, but they aren't actively trying to win the game first by man management , mind games  you know cheating. They try playing football first before resorting to smoke and mirrors. Just maybe over the next two years under a new manager Italy might get a younger better less arrogant side and return to the pretty football they used to play. If England go out next Sunday I hope it's only after playing their very best and leaving it all out on the pitch. At least we'll know they tried. How many teams showed up this time and simply expected the opposition to promptly fall apart and hand them the next round on a plate? If there's one thing good about this World Cup over the most recent ones, it's that this time it seems only the teams that were good enough have been allowed to advance.With luck the last four teams to advance tomorrow will be sorted in short order and we can see the pressure cooker do or die football that we have seen in the last few days from the winners continuing in the knock out matches.

And is if to remind me life is more than football, I was told by one of the laptops that I needed to upgrade my adobe flash player. The Acer was fine and did it's little dance and 2 minutes later we were back on line , but the Vaio was going to be difficult. Error messages, special help pages , un-installing the old version of Flash player, none of it seemed to work. Finally after what felt like 4 hours later but was in fact only an hour of cursing, it somehow decided to cooperate. It just did what it refused to do for the last few days.How rude, why didn't it just sort itself at the first time of asking? I can't tell you why some upgrades are  more frustrating than others, but this was one of the upgrades from hell.

All that faffing around with websites and down loaders delayed the main event of the post match relax. Catching up on Corrie. With the adobe and Java script sorted we could fire up the ITV player and watch the morning after the night before. Graham Proctor, village idiot savant and sensitive soul finally won the babe lottery and spent the night exploring Tina McIntyre. Here is where it gets interesting , and by interesting I mean fun. Tina was supposed to tell her ex, Bob the builder,  and Graham is going to tell the ever peaceful and serene David about the development. Knowing Graham, it isn't going to be simple or predictable. You have to see it to believe it. The best comedy sequence in years  going back to before Kim Crowther started as head producer. There is a blanket gag first used in Abbot and Costello , a pair of handcuffs, a radiator , a lunging David and finally the comedy cherry on top of the cake, the street scene in which David plays the clown so well you almost believe he isn't just doing it for effect. Phill Collison has in this ep finally taken control and returned the keystone cops humour we used to take for granted on Corrie. I was so happy I gave it my full attention. Stories about ordinary people have come home and I suspect the OTT bizzaro ones are in the bin where they should have stayed.Corrie is fun and again, I hope it stays that way for a long time to come.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

We shall fight them on the beaches and Lennon Naked

Today was not for the feint of heart, leading 1-0  is always an invitation to disaster that  we cannot afford and I must confess that despite missing the entire first half of the England match, it did not stop me from shvitzing till the final whistle .. Now you may call me unfair but on the back of the last few displays , I should be pleased the England we know and love was back. Truth be told, as good as we were, it was still all a bit stilted and uncertain. We beat Slovenia, not Brazil or Portugal. Any other day we would have said it was just good enough but we could have done better and we wouldn't be wrong. Rooney is hurt and If we want to take the next few games by the scruff of the neck, Capello has to continue his comedown from the previously hard and unchanging policy of playing certain people out of position and excluding others. Today we saw what worked and should have been done on day one. with the exception of Gareth Barry the line up was as good as it gets. Please don't for a second take from this that I think Capello is fit for purpose, he isn't. If I knew what was the perfect solution  I'd be running the FA not writing this blog, but I do know there is a special touch required to get a result from this collection of egos and talent and Capello does not have it.

I'd like to take a moment to address my American readers, I admire you immensely,  you cheered today when Landon Donavan  booked  the US spot in the final 16 with a last minute goal. You were the kind of supporters any team , national or league would want. A truly well deserved result by any account. Sadly however , we rang my in laws in the YOU ES EH right after the match. These folks are as average Americans as you'll find and they were only vaguely aware there was a World Cup on and they didn't seem at all pleased or excited to learn of the win or the fact the US had advanced. We then tried this with my wife's family in New York and it wasn't much better. There are countries with shite sides who care more about football than the USA. I am astonished at the lack of penetration into the greater conciousness of Americans considering the fact your team have managed to do so well in the greatest tournament on earth. Poor football mad Irish people of every age and size look on from the outside while you get a great run, in near complete anonymity. It's times like these we see just how isolated from the rest of the planet the USA is. Only when this changes, will football get any respect.

The next match that had me and most of you most likely in a grip, was Germany v Ghana. Let's step back for a second. We all assumed in a bit of our own arrogance that if we won by even the slimmest margin (which we did) we would go top of the group and not have to face Germany in the next round right away. Well nobody told the Americans and the scoundrels won our group. Suddenly it became incredibly important to know just how well Germany would do. Doom and gloom set in from the opening minutes of play, but as the match wore on, it became clear the Ghanayans were not going to be taken lightly. I even relaxed and allowed myself to think that Germany would be forced to a nil nil draw and come 2nd . How wrong I was, in the 60th minute Ozil scored and shattered my zen like mood of quiet confidence. Ghana sadly never seemed able to convert a number of chances to get a least a draw. So there we have it, Germany win the group and Ghana advance. Just the sort of news we wanted to hear.

So we go forth to do battle with towel wielding Germans intent on taking our spots, the Dunkirk spirit is upon us,  the spectre of  every penalty shoot out and ignominious defeat at the  hands of the Germans rises up like bile in the pit of the stomach of every England supporter ahead of Sunday. Yet again we face the daunting task of getting past Germany in a World Cup. Fellow blogger and self confessed optimist Keith Topping told me the following ...It's not a question of confidence, it's just about belief. If you go into a game shitting yourself because of who you're playing, you'll get beat. If you don't, you still might get beat but if you do then there's no doubt about it. I for one will shit myself for England , as long as the lads don't !

To take our mind off events in South Africa we mass migrated to BBC4 for perhaps their biggest ratings in months. Lennon Naked was Ab Fab meets Train Spotting meets potted history of the Beatles. A gritty sometimes hard to watch portrayal of a haunted man who's life started badly and got worse by his own hand. Christopher Ecclstone noted Manc and ex Doctor does not spare the rose coloured reputation many fans including myself had built up over the years of this clearly tortured soul. We get a picture of a man who does not know what he wants and seems never satisfied with anything. Ecclestone's Doctor , I mean  Lennon, encases himself in a skin of superiority  surpassing rudeness and often exuding a complete lack of appreciation for any loyalty or friendship ever shown him. That is until Yoko Ono played  by the lovely Naoko Mori better known for her work in Torchwood, shows up. The pair of oddballs indulge in all manner of surrealist art, bizarre recordings and to some, still misguided after 40 years, peace initiatives.  There is a clear line drawn between Lennon-Ono and the lads, he is the reason they broke up, as if any of us who ever copied the White Album minus Revolution number 9 ever had any doubt. In the end you walk away with the impression that John Lennon was for most of his life a lousy son, a terrible father, an angry confused person who transcended mere mortality to Godhood without ever resolving those issues. Only when his Hera (Ono) entered his life  did he even begin to show some kind of serenity. A good friend of mine once spent the night in hospital with John Lennon who was there to watch over another rocker recovering from a massive overdose of pharmaceuticals. His impressions of the man were interesting  considering that Lennon himself was coming off  heroin at the time of the vigil. Freaked out and imagining lord knows what, they talked through the night. John Lennon I suspect even on a good day was not somebody you wanted to get too close to. My criticism of the film as such are that many events that took place were moved around, Beatles that weren't at certain things were placed there willy nilly and yet other events may not have even taken place at all. Clothing, haircuts and other details easily verifiable were fudged for the sake of a more streamlined story. Why should simple fact stand in the way of a good story that gets to the core of the man? I mention this only that should you watch this for an excruciatingly accurate portrayal of Beatles history, you'll do better  reading a few books and watching the hours of documentaries already out there. If you want to understand the man, watch this film. A highlight for all you Naoko Mori fans who have wanted see her naked since she played Toshiko Sato, you see it all in a tasteful sequence recreating the famous Lennon-Ono nude portraits session.  All in all a great way to top off a day of butt clenching football.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Oh God, not more football? World Cup day 12

You know I'm supposed to be writing about television, Doctor Who, Mock the week and great documentaries on BBC 4 and Channel 4 , but I can't seem to make the time to watch much after all that football every day. I promise in the next few days to throw in some Coronation Street and of course review the John Lennon film on this Wednesday. Even my cooking has suffered to where I just throw stuff in a pan or a casserole and hope it tastes good and lasts a few days. My Father and my wife will have to wait till the day after the final before I'm back in with the pies, sauces and roasts they come to expect from me. Till then its mundane risottos and Thai chicken and  noodles for them

But as long as I was ever able to get away with it, every two years I take a month off from the rest of life to enjoy either the World Cup or Euro. And this year I get to do this in grand style. Got the match on telly and the laptop handy to obsess over it all with my whovian mates. Now you have to wonder what that's like. Are Who anoraks any different from the regular supporter in a pub or a park? Well on the surface no, they bang on about players , positions, reputations and have the same preconceived notions that drive their passions and team selections. Where they differ is the humour. Your regular supporter will make the usual puns, unflattering remarks and occasional play on words. Our little group have scaled the heights of wit and culture to include references to Vladimir Illych Lenin, beards, The Fabian society, Lord of the Rings,  the labour leadership race, philosophers, latin, various Doctor Who episodes , monsters, doctors, writers , Rassilon, Archimedes, Greek mythology, and of course Brian Blessed. Some of the humour is a bit low brow I will admit, but occasionally it is quote worthy and you will see it in more than a few blogs. In other cases we keep the fun to ourselves, as frankly it would be like telling advanced accounting jokes to a Vogon constructor fleet captain. And if Mick McCarthy or Adrian Chiles knew what we were saying about them!...Our worst(or best) material is the "spirit of the moment stuff" where we use place names, countries and players to construct complex attempts at double entendre sentences. You may have seen a fairly easy one today from the Argentina match. it said "Don't messi with the Greeks". Now if the football wasn't  of such a low quality that we were driven to such distraction , we wouldn't need our precious football thread, as it is, there have been days one could have gone  barking mad with boredom or simply fallen asleep and missed entire matches. Thank God for Gallifrey Base.

Now as you should know, today was the first day of double booked matches, so I won't be going into as much detail as I might usually. Except for the occasional highlight , I missed the Mexico Uruguay match having eschewed it for France South Africa. I got the drama I expected, I got the pathos the sense of history and the ultimate humiliation of a great team by it's own manager. Domenech left on the bench Evra, Malouda and Henri. The lacklustre performance that had France down 2-0 by the 40th minute was both expected and sad. You saw a demoralized  side that was barely there struggling to stay interested in the manager's instructions. Then in the second half , with Malouda  subbed in a bit earlier, Thiery Henri came on and that was it for South Africa. The Ribery Malouda Henri combination galvanized the French and they scored in the 70th minute. Given more time I'm sure they would even have drawn.  I feel terrible for the French players who could only hope to snatch a bit of dignity from a situation I would not wish on my worst enemy. In the end, it finished 2-1 and the South African players and French players exchanged shirts and genuinely warm greetings. Too bad Raymond Domenech  could not help himself with one last bit of disgusting behaviour, having shook hands with most everybody else, he refused to do the same with the South African manager.  Now in case you're from another planet, it's the football equivalent of spitting at somebody. You don't do it and you if you do, they better be worthy of the insult. One hopes the nasty little troll retires to his cave never to be seen again. You have to wonder what we would have seen this World Cup from France if he'd been sacked in '06 like he was supposed to be. As for the South Africans, they were a great team that really did give it their all. The fact is that they could not and should not have advanced any further than the group stage. When they have a better developed domestic league and can produce footballers like Ghana or Algeria, they will be ready to play with the big boys. Classy till the end, I can honestly say it was fun seeing them play.

For the second match I did not choose wisely, I thought not unreasonably, Argentina Greece would be a ripping time. A match for the ages, a match about which epic songs would be sung. How wrong I was, Greece parked the bus and shut down a timid Argentine offence for the entire 1st half and the better part of the 2nd half. Considering that a draw still had Greece exiting, you would think they would have tried to bring the game to Messi and co, but no they just passed the time doing as little as was needed to not be beaten but no more than that. Makes you wonder what they could have done if they had applied themselves. Like all such sides, Greece was soon opened up and except for Messi who could not score to save his life , the game came alive in the last 20 minutes  ending with a 2-0 score line. Maradona did a funny little dance you have to see to believe and that was it. Argentina will go far and their next victims will surely not be so lucky as to last 70 minutes on the defensive I didn't watch Nigeria South Korea but  you have to see this lowlight . Yakubu makes the biggest miss in World Cup history , sending a sitter wide from in front of the net.  watch it HERE , Ok so he redeemed himself with the pen  but the goal would have sent Nigeria into the group of 16 .

For England tomorrow is the big day, we play Slovenia in a do or die game that's going to either unleash the furry of every England supporter or make them squirm quietly as they tolerate the situation for the sake of the lads in hopes that somehow we do the impossible and win the the big prize. I don't think for a minute we'll do well , the pitch is not perfect , we're under pressure and we could get a card happy ref like we saw earlier this week. So much can go wrong that I will just sit quietly at first and hope they don't screw up. Anything after, that sees us not going out will be accepted with humility and  caution . Any of you who start the we're number one bolloks should be sedated and sent to rehab, just be happy we are still in it. one game at a time and we can maybe get through this without going completely mad.

see you all tomorrow with more World Cup news .

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

"It's been an itsy bitsy start here with Liverpool" & other World Cup follies

Another day another obvious conclusion thrown out the window.  The news from French base camp and English base camp continues to be strange and it's harder and harder to take the actual football seriously. But it's not all  something you would only expect in an over the top footie film trying to keep you interested past the scene where Pele, Beckham and Dizzy Rascal face Germany in a tense battle of pens. Some of it is even stranger. One of the best bits today was a subtle error which showed the strain some of the commentary types are under. During the ITV portion of the day while Spain and Honduras were playing , an auto pilot set of instructions kicked in when you heard the following "It's been an itsy bitsy start here with Liverpool". They could be forgiven for the confusion as the place was awash in current and past Scouse players. What it does demonstrate is that despite the professionalism of some, you do eventually reach a point where you need to be taken off the mike and rested. In a less pleasant episode from the same broadcast, Adrian Chiles , noted football commentator and humanitarian, went out of his way to take the piss out of Honduran players and their  not so on key or well sung rendition of the Honduran national anthem. Perhaps they weren't the Welsh boys choir, but they sang with passion and true patriotism. Pity Adrain ,our own players aren't capable of the same. Maybe if they cared a bit more we'd not be in such trouble. If like me you think Mr. Chiles needs a bit of a reminder  to grow up and show a little respect, you can send a polite but strongly worded note to OFCOM. While I'm at it, it needs to be said, ITV has ignored, underestimated and treated poorly in commentary, countries not in the traditional seeding of so called "Big Clubs". ITV World Cup football is only ever on because we must. I avoid the run up tuning in only for the match itself. On a lighter note, I'd also like to complain that FIFA, the responsible ones for the camera work, are just not showing the lovely lasses like they used to. I'm aware that perhaps not as many of them came, but surely they can do better than the miserly collection of munters we've been treated to this far. BTW I must be imagine things. I'm nowhere near South Africa and yet I  hear a vuvuzela moaning like an injured  water buffalo somewhere near here. Note to self, must go on a search and destroy mission later. Wait it just cut off  suddenly like, there is a God after all.

In a tournament where the big boys from Europe are showing cracks and frankly playing like they would rather already be in training camp at their respective clubs, the South Americans are head and shoulders ahead of the rest of the pack. Even IF they have massive contracts to get to after the WC, they are in fact doing all they can to insure their team does well and the fans at home are proud of them. Brazil, Argentina,  Uruguay, and Paraguay have all come to play and win. I can only assume that the next World cup in Brazil will be the absolute best ever one regardless of anything else. A genuinely football mad continent in which the host nation is one of the top practitioners of the sport. That tournament, unlike the PR ones in the USA and the Far East  will be a celebration of the world's game, hosted by the most passionate supporters on Earth. A fair final this time around would in fact be an all South American affair as they are the most deserving of being in  it aside from Germany .

Ah the football... If you missed the ambulances collecting the body bags, Portugal destroyed North Korea   7-0 , 6 of those in the 2nd half . I don't know if that's a record for most goals in a single half , but it has to be close to one. Poor North Koreans, they did keep the wolves at bay for a time , but Tiago and friends were indulging in target practice and nobody was going to stop them. The most important thing about this result is that the others in Group G have to do a lot more than just win or draw to advance. As usual, goal difference plays a big a part in the fate of the other teams.  Too bad they forgot that in the early stages. All those missed shots and cautious draws will come back to haunt more than a few teams between tomorrow and the final reckoning for the 16 teams going into the knock out rounds. The  North Koreans, we can only hope, will not be badly treated on returning home, should be proud of their performance. If they had been  an English club side, they could have kicked around fizzy pop for several years. Before I forget, the other thing I took personally from this match and judging from the reactions of mates, is that we still with a passion, want to do terrible things to that grinning oily twat Christiano Ronaldo. It was fun for a while seeing him  increasingly frustrated at his inability to score, sadly he broke his duck in the end. Seems memories are long and we all still feel the sting of going out on pens to a bunch of diving cheats who were the principle perpetrators of crimes against football in that infamous Portugal Holland match of 2006.

Chile Switzerland was an entirely other kettle of fish. The 1-0 result flatters the winners and is one of the most poorly officiated matches of this tournaments. 9 yellows and 1 red. Mad ref K Al Ghamdi did all he could to destroy any tempo to the game with a continuous stream of mostly ridiculous yellow cards whose only effect was to stop the match in its tracks. At one point it was clear players were worried about even moving a bit for fear of attracting the attention of the card happy official. The biggest problem was the clear intention of the ref to curtail any kind of body contact that would be taken for granted anywhere else and for the first half of the match kept Chile from getting anywhere near goal. To the bankers credit, the Swiss defence did do an admirable job of stripping Chile of the ball several times and stymieing any penetration...in other words they parked the bus. In case you didn't know, Switzerland now hold the record for not conceding  a goal in 551 minutes, surpassing Italy as the stingiest defence in the World Cup  . Chile will in fact rue the missed chances and the missed penalty. Near the end they almost conceded a goal  that would have left the result 1-1, a disaster if you consider what it takes to get out of the group stage. In the end you should ignore the fan boys at ITV going on about the famous victory, Chile did not do enough with it's chances and may well end up paying with an early trip home.

Liverpool v Honduras was a better show, despite the minnows never getting near the Spanish keeper, it was at least pretty football. for most of the match. 2-0 does in fact reflect the honest result, Honduras defended well and were a worthy opponent. There was bit of rough stuff and we saw the use of a bog roll as on pitch treatment to a nasty split lip. TBH if the Saudi ref had been at this one the card haul would have been twice as high. But football isn't a rough sport for nothing, we got a good physical  match with some pretty passing.  Only problem again is the scoreline, 2-0 may not be enough to get out of the group. Spain never really turned on the heat like Portugal or Germany. It's all still to play for and Spain know they could have nailed down the spot if they had tried earlier and harder .

Coronation Street has nothing on the continuing goings on in the France Camp and England, both having hotted up even more. The French practised today. several players were seen perfecting hostage demands in between passes and penalty takes while Raymond Domenech received the Minister of Sport sent in to get the children in line. While I will never advocate open rebellion for no good reason, these players have cause and plenty of it. Larent Blanc, Manchester United legend is to take up the managerial post after the team returns, and if the trend continues that's  tomorrow night . The only people who seem to think there is nothing wrong with the status quo are Domenech, the FFF and the Government. The tradition of knowing better goes back a long way and shows no sign of waning. In stead of keeping Anelka around and sending in Blanc early, they will persist in destroying the souls of those players. I cannot bring myself to guess how the France South Africa match will pan out, but the South Africans have an excellent chance to go out winners.

Across the channel so to speak, in the England camp, John Terry inexplicably was allowed to have a press conference, followed on by a bit with Capello on ITV. You can read the summary here , but it's clear from  Capello and the FA that it's the last chance saloon time for Capello. Win on Wednesday and he's saved his job for two years, loose or draw and he's gone. I'm torn, I'd love to see the lads win, but I want Capello gone. As far as he's concerned he's done nothing wrong and the players are being dramatic for nothing. As you know, I have argued that our players are spoilt, uncommitted and rudderless, this only explains the normal mediocrity we suffer from. What is happening now goes way beyond that, England are not quite the basket case France is but when  Capello says there is no revolution.....I say  BOLLOKS. The thick black smoke coming from behind him is telling another story. I would be happy of a win, but I won't for a second think it has anything to do with the manager nor will I delude myself into thinking we are world beaters.

Because the English football fan needs to find solace somewhere,  he nuzzles at the teet of someone else's misfortune, it's Perverse!.  So I'll be watching  France v South Africa  as for the second set of matches, here's hoping the footie is worth splitting ourselves in two for.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Same song different verse or rise of the rank referee

The best thing that can be said of today is that it was consistent. Having set the standard yesterday, we continue to see shocking decisions and even more shocking play. I can't say that this world cup is as bad as say 2002. It's not as dirty. I can't say it's as strange as Euro 2008, it's less inexplicable. No, World Cup 2010 is the strangest world cup I have ever witnessed . We've had the atmosphere and eardrum destroying vuvuzelas, we've had a ball that never ever curls down, we've had weather I never associate with Africa or any country that much south or low on the ground. We've had big Euro sides dissolve before our eyes and now the final straw, the incompetent ref. I thought that these low creatures had been rounded up and sent to Sunday side parks after 2002, but no they are back and doing reputation destroying damage. At it's core the original problem was the fact that the local librarian from Ulan Bator or the used car dealer from Uttar Pradesh was allowed to officiate a match with multi million pound contract professional players. These superstars of football were going to at best over awe the amateur  referee and at worse bring out the autocratic demon residing in each and every one of us. I too will be able to book a star. I insignificant full time accountant who has never officiated a professional match, will show the big star just who's boss. You combine that sort of thinking and you get the mess we  witnessed today. More on that as and when we get to it.

Slovakia v Paraguay was everything I expected it to be. An outclassed Slovakia only ever got close enough to goal once and even than it wasn't anything to break a sweat over. Slovakia could have easily been told to stay home and been replaced by the Irish for all the impact they've had on the tournament. Paraguay and it's roster of Premiership and other world league players ran circles around Slovakia eventually scoring 2 goals to knock the stuffing out a weak side. Paraguay should be considered strong favourites to go far in the tournament, one of many South American teams expected to dominate the knock out rounds. Well officiated, well played, it was typical of all games where one side managed the risk, then struck to finish the job of getting  three points.

Italy v New Zealand was a surprise to anybody who expected the Italians to roll in and outclass the start up Kiwis. But if you'd been following things closer you wouldn't have been at all been shocked to see Italy struggle to make any kind of impact on a supposedly weaker side. From the opening goal by Shane Smetz , Italy were forced to fight back from a goal down. the fact they never  did manage to score a goal in open play makes the penalty all the more galling. Vincenzo Iquinta acted like he was some kind of super hero football God  right after the pen went in. His exuberance and confidence would be less annoying if it had been matched by some real attacking prowess by his team mates following the pen. As it is, they just fell asleep again expecting New Zealand to just let them in. No such luck. In fact if it weren't for the pen , it's absolutely certain that Italy would have lost 1-0. They never once seemed close to scoring a single goal. On top of that , even without Gatuso playing, the diving kicking and dirty tricks continued till the final whistle. If Italy think they can win a world cup like this they will have a massive shock in store should they get out of group stage and face any of the teams that came here to play football. I don't rate them to go far or make much of a mark. New Zealand on the other hand , on the back of this performance be able to hold head high however far they go. While I can't for certain say Guatemalan ref Carlos Batres was incompetent or biased, he seemed to only see Kiwi faults  handing out three yellow cards . The penalty awarded to Italy smacked of massive inconsistency or an over zealous application of the rules. Shirt tugging is illegal yes, there was obvious shirt tugging, was it a penalty? No way. Free kick , yellow card, but never a penalty. In matches  before and after this one,  shirts were pulled all over the place  but not a word was said about it. I doubt he'll get another match after this. As shifty as this referee might have seemed the next guy made him look like a wise man.

Brazil Ivory coast, the most anticipated fixture of the day was incredible in it's array of stars and spectacular styles of play we would could hope to see, even Didier Drogba was going to play. How good was this going to be? Well we didn't have long to wait for the idealism to slip into crass opportunism. Lucio and Drogba competed with each other for best dive without once being booked while a player who had a very real cramp was booked for time wasting. While the final result of 3-1 wasn't far from the truth, it was a skewed result.. that 2nd Brazilian goal was a double hand ball that the ref clearly saw. This however didn't stop him from asking "did you handle the ball?" No Guv I swear"  was the answer. And Frenchman Stephane Lannoy believed him , goal stood. I'd like to tell you about some of the spectacular parts of the 2nd half , but I prefer to go on about how Kader Keita intentionally went out of his way to get KAKA sent off. Not only did KAKA never touch him, he grabbed at his face and fell rolling on the ground like he was hit by a sniper bullet. This bit of theatrics would be pretty funny if he hadn't convinced the ref. Added to the soft yellow from before and KAKA was sent off while Keita looked smug and satisfied with himself. I hope and suspect that the officials will review the tape and slap a multiple game ban on this idiot and lift the KAKA red card. It's unfair to deny a player, as good and as unfairly targeted, the privilege of playing in the remainder of Brazil's matches. Between the double hand ball and the KAKA sending off, the ref covered himself in the kind of attention that gets you officiating at the Arctic circle.

Speaking of French people... The fun continued today at France base camp. Patrice Evra had words with fitness director Robert Duverne. the frustrated director un happy with the French Captain's attitude left South Africa and the players left the training ground. They did however take time sign autographs and board the coach back to the hotel. In a further bizarre twist, Raymond Domenech, under siege manager, was given a statement to read to the press. Bottom line , the players want Anelaka to come back and seem to be in all but complete control of their cell block. Now I know all over Ireland people are laughing, crying, and lighting candles in church thanking God for the apparent poetic justice. I don't deny you the mirth , but do remember that they may have beaten you fairly and still have had the meltdown. There is a crisis in French football that will take longer to heal than just naming a new gaffer. The only silver lining here is that they  make the palaver going on in the England camp seem tame by comparison. If you're wondering, they have to play the next match, question is who will be in charge. Will like a few years ago, when Becks managed the side against Argentina unofficially, the French players  make their own decisions and humiliate Domenech further by producing a spectacular win. Or will the stubborn Frenchman make things worse by not stepping aside.

Meanwhile back at the England camp they had a team clearing of the air. In an interview dripping with irony, John Terry couldn't see where the problem was. I invite you to shout the answer at your screens , but don't forget to mention John Terry himself. Such a figure of  trust, no one feels safe leaving their pet goldfish with him lest he try to sleep with it. Capello to his credit seems to be retreating into a shell of non answers and shoulder shrugs. I have come to the conclusion that it takes a an almighty huge talent to be England manager. It's possible that like the Dalai Lhama, there is only ever one person alive at any given time who is the chosen one for this job from hell. Problem is that the FA haven't the connections or the bottle to find this person and hire him. We've tried English managers , foreign managers and now very likely yet another unofficial player manager. I doubt that I will see in my lifetime a winning English side until this mess is sorted out once and for all.

On the lighter side of things, we heard a one of the stranger moments on telly. After 10 days reporting some mostly dull and sometimes shockingly bad matches , the BBC commentary duo  working the Brazil Ivory coast match snapped. They descended into school boy antics ,calling each other Muppet and Scrooge respectively. It's been hard on everybody, you'd go barmy too if you had to stay interested in every last minute of this tournament. Moving along to more pleasant duties, I know a great number of you may be wondering who the actress in the Sky broadband advert is who says "perverse" so deliciously. You'll  be happy to know she is Ivica Slavikova , former Miss Slovakia 2005. What you do with that in google is none of my business, but you won't be disappointed.

Three more matches tomorrow and most likely three totally unexpected results. I wont even pretend to guess how any of these will turn out.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

You're forgiven for now Wayne & the Pandorica opens

So yesterday I asked if it could get any worse. Shock of shocks, the Earth didn't open up and swallow us, the rains did not come down like righteous anger from the Gods and nobody had a supernaturally bad day at the World Cup. Wayne Rooney even apologized for being a twat on camera. It's Ok Wayne, we know you're not famous for having the wisdom and patience of the Mahatma Ghandi. Hell even he had the occasional off day. So if you and the rest of the England squad don't stink up the park next Wednesday, we might even return to normal service.

So what did happen today? we had three matches , two were brilliant end to end stuff and one was reminiscent but not quite as interesting as watching the bit at the awards ceremony when the accountants come out to explain how the voting works.  Holland Japan was technically perfect, Holland enjoyed over 70% possession and Japan frankly didn't show up. So how you ask me  was it possible for the scoreline to be 1-0? Very easy. Unlike Our own lads the day before, the Dutch super stars who populate some of the best clubs in Europe and England, decided to take the path of least resistance. They played pass the ball for a bit , then they did it some more. At some point the manager noticed they hadn't scored a goal yet so signalled the need for them to perhaps try.  For a few minutes the match came to life and Sneijder put one in at the 83 minute where upon they they promptly went back to sleep. Now I'm not for a minute suggesting there is some kind of contractual obligation for teams to provide entertaining footie. I even understand that you get to the next stage as best you can, but honestly,  football of the living dead was a bit much. If they hope to put Argentina or Germany ( should they make it out) to sleep with this , it may more likely turn around and bite them in the ass. Holland can play some strikingly delicious football before they habitually fold like a house of cards to the Germans, it's what we expect of them, so why the sleep walking act? I suspect it was more a desire to protect players from injury ahead of the next stage.

Ghana Australia was another matter entirely . Comedy gold that was. Australia was awash in controversy over if Harry Kewell was going to play or not. Well he did . We even had a pool as to how long he would stay on before he was gone. I had 34 minutes, as it is he was sent off on 23 minutes. Handball if you're curious, a few more inches it would have been his chest and he'd have been a hero. He even argued the card and had to be escorted off the pitch. Kewell aside, both  teams played to win and a 10 man Australia barely showed signs they were even bothered by what would have crippled a lesser side. Lots of chances going both ways, great goal keeping. Some of us even wondered if we could just dispense with a search for a new keeper and offer Schwarzer a British passport. In the end it was a 1-1 draw with both teams deserving the single point. An entertaining match  that went by so fast you never really did  notice the passage of time.

The last match of the day was the equally entertaining but ultimately sad Cameroon v Denmark . The 2-1 result belies the effort both teams put in. A galaxy of current, past and future Premiership stars fought it out in the best flowing match perhaps of the entire tournament. Both keepers were outstanding and the pace was electric. The strategy was to win and not be too worried about leaking goals. The end result was an end to end contest filled with spectacular shots hits and tackles. Samuel Eto Nicholas Bendtner and Rohmedahl each scored. To be honest, Cameroon deserved to win on the strength of frankly unlucky shots on the Danish goal and brilliant goal keeping. A gutted group of Lions are gannin yem while Denmark soldier on into the knock out round. Cameroon should be proud of  the level of play and quality they showed neutrals. While they will have preferred to win, at least they go out in style fighting to the last. Would all the matches be this good , I wouldn't have nodded off as often as I have.

The lowlight of the day had to be the following exchange...which sent me to the kitchen to make my tea rather than have to hear the rest of what would  surely be  the worst commentary since I sat next to a bunch of charvs discussing the merits of popular culture. BBC 's best said the following..."Anyone seen Space Jam? You know, that movie where all the superstar basketball players lose their abilities and a bunch of nobodies end up becoming the best basketball players in the world. Basically, I'm expecting a Bill Murray cameo around the quarter finals." . I couldn't make this stuff up. In a further sign of things to come, we had a BBC screen sans the scoreline or the time for the first few minutes. And In further surrealist developments, the Big Sulk Anelka apparently told Domenech to make love to himself, though probably not as politely as I just put it, as a result he's on the next flight home to water the plants and sort out his recycling. No worries Nic , nobody thinks you did the wrong thing.

Here a few gems from today's idle banter. My thanks to somebody's father and his text messages.The England Squad went to an African orphanage this morning. "it's good to put a smile on the faces of those with no hope, constantly struggling & facing the impossible" said Jamai Umboto, aged 6'  And:  "Oxo are introducing a white Oxo cube with a red cross on it, as a tribute to the England football team. It's called The Laughing Stock.".

Mock the week is back, and I finally go to see it two days later. I swear I think 6.5 hours of telly a day is about the limit a human can take. Even ringers have to take a break when doing the extended dvd LOTR marathon ( not including appendices) at about the 6 hour point. I could feel my eyes trying to glower at me unsuccessfully. Best they could do was water up and sting in a slightly stroppy manner. Where was I? Mock the week, Hugh Dennis, Russell Howard and Andy Parsons joined by guests Diane Morgan, Milton Jones and Chris Addison kicked off the new series in grand style. You could tell they had weeks of material just bursting to be used. I can't wait for the out-takes reel to see the stuff they left behind. The Green howler was dealt with in typical sensitive MTW fashion and the new Condem government was raked over the coals in a tip to Mr. Cameron that he won't be getting any votes from these comedians. I have missed this programme so much, so pleased it's back just in time to take our minds off the troubles on the pitch.

Last treat today was the first part of an all star cast of monsters, friends and companions in The Pandorica Opens. Vincent, Winston and other assorted characters from the latest series of Doctor Who conspired to get a message to Matt Smith that he's in mortal danger of some kind. I won't tell you what happens, you need to watch it yourself, but I can tell you this. "Pandorica opens" is a throwback to the great adventure serials you used to hear on radio or watch on telly. Stonehenge sits atop a secret chamber complete with cobwebs and decaying monsters trying to kill you while you decode the secret message before it's too late. Nothing is at seems while the writers keep tickling the funny bone with scenes you would have found in the funny bits of Indiana Jones. But it's not all laughs my friends, keep a box of tissue handy for a poignant reunion. The ep ends on a shocking note that will have older viewers remembering the way Flash Gordon or Batman used to get into trouble. Will the Doctor get out of this one? Will it all end badly for Amy? Will River Song destroy time and space? Tune in next Saturday --- Same Bat Time, same Bat-channel!

As always, this post brought to you by BBC Radio Newcastle's Nick Roberts and Beat Surrender, you can hear the latest programme HERE.