Mate, you can change anything apart from your football club – Part 3

26 03 2020

In this post, the third part of this 3 part trilogy in three parts, there are some photos from my Curated Aspirational Experiences.


Mate, you can change anything apart from your football club – Part 2

25 03 2020

So your humble narrator had devised an adventure to keep him happy, did your humble narrator manage to cope without his old club?

Did your humble narrator end up regretting his life choices on a never-ending bus journey in the slanting rain?

Did your humble narrator question the whole point of standing next to an enclosed piece of land watching strangers run about so he could place a tick on a list that nobody cares about in the vain hope that somebody might feign interest in what he was up to?

Did your humble narrator meet lots of interesting people? Read on to find out answers to these questions and much much more.

The matches that your humble narrator attended as part of his adventure were;

Level 1 – Premier League – Huddersfield Town 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 2
Level 2 – Championship – Stoke City 1 Millwall 1
Level 3 – League 1 – Shrewsbury Town 2 Southend United 1
Level 4 – League 2 – Oldham Athletic 5 Bury 2
Level 5 – National League – Barnet 1 Braintree 2
Lavel 6 – National League North – Hereford 1 FC United 3
Level 7 – NPL Premier Division – Nantwich Town 2 Mickleover Sports 3
Level 8 – Northern Premier League Division 1 West – Droylsden 1 Trafford 2
Level 9 – NW Counties Premier Division – Whitchurch Alport 1 City of Liverpool FC 1
Level 10 – North West Counties Division 1 – Cammell Laird 1907 8 Stone Dynamoes 1
Level 11 – West Cheshire Division 1 – Ashville FC 2 Newton 3
Level 12 – West Cheshire Division 2 – Capenhirst Villa 1 Maghull Reserves 3
Level 13 – West Cheshire Division 3 – Chester Nomads Reserves 1 Aintree Villa 2
Level 14 – Altrincham & District AFL – AFC Stockport Warriors 2 Altrincham Hale “A” 4

It was easy to decide which destinations to visit because the rules of my rule-governed adventure, and the need to consider public transport use, meant those particular destinations were self-selecting.

If you look at my list of matches then cast your mind back to the last vestiges of yesterday’s post you will notice that my preliminary research had gone awry in the stark grey reality of my technicolour adventure, I visited football ground at 14 levels rather than 12.

This development started when I discovered a problem whilst researching the possible destinations in Level 12. To my horror a few casual clicks revealed that the English football pyramid actually had at least 13 levels. What was a convinced aesthete to do with an odd number of levels on a technicolour endeavour such as this?

The erstwhile invaluable websites stopped offering enlightenment. Cheshire’s football appeared to stop at Level 13, the Liverpool and Manchester league systems appeared to exist at the same levels as the Cheshire leagues and the footballing situation in the areas near Cheshire was either too confusing, too inaccessible or Shropshire.

The symmetry of my endeavour was only restored by a chance find; the good old Altrincham & District Amateur Football League. Three cheers for the public pitches of the Altrincham area!

When I started to formulate this pair of blogposts I pictured a problem, which evidence would prove that I’ve actually had the sort of footballing adventure I’m claiming? At first I thought a photo of the match programmes would do but they aren’t really available below level 9 and by the time I reached Huddersfield’s ground they had sold out.

A photograph of tickets would be pointless, as they don’t always issue tickets outside the Football League. The Barnet ticket is there because I had to buy one and the Hereford ticket is there because they gave you one as you went through the turnstile.

Therefore I decided that my proof would be a photo of a kick off from each match.

Premier League – Huddersfield Town

Championship – Stoke City

League 1 – Shrewsbury Town

League 2 – Oldham Athletic

National League – Barnet

National League North – Hereford

Northern Premier League Premier Division – Nantwich Town

Northern Premier League Division 1 West – Droylsden

North West Counties Premier Division – Whitchurch Alport

North West Counties Division 1 – Cammell Laird 1907

West Cheshire Division 1 – Ashville FC

West Cheshire Division 2 – Capenhirst Villa

West Cheshire Division 3 – Chester Nomads Reserves

Altrincham & District Amateur Football League – AFC Stockport Warriors

A problem came to my mind whilst as I was on the adventure, how could I explain what I was up to? I not only needed an easy phrase that encapsulated my adventure I also needed to grasp the zeitgeist. The only thing the 21st Century loves more than the application of a twee label is the application of a self-aggrandizing label.

Some people would label my research-based adventure as “groundhopping” but there’s more to it than that. On the surface there are similarities; “groundhopping” involves travelling around in order to visit football grounds because someone feels like it and I was travelling around to visit football ground because I felt like it.

However there was and is a world of difference between the two. I knew that I wasn’t merely “groundhopping”, I was doing research, I was on a quest, I was on an adventure into the slightly known (in some cases).

Groundhoppers tick off boxes on a list whereas I lovingly progressed through my curated list of hand-picked destinations by enjoying lovingly hand-crafted experiences that chimed with my bespoke aspirations. Therefore I decided that I wasn’t “Groundhopping”, I was enjoying the bespoke elegance of “Curated Aspirational Experiences” imstead.

For most of my adventure I could see the attraction of “Curated Aspirational Experiences” as they allowed the stress-free appreciation of association football. For something supposed to be a pastime watching football is often stressful.

I remember the times when the football club I used to watch was in pursuit of the continuation of relative success. Within weeks the pursuit always felt more like the continuation of the previous week’s stress rather than the continuation of relative success.

The relief felt after goals or the joy felt on post-match journey became fleeting glimpses obscured by yet more worried questions; “Yeah but what if we don’t win next week? We’ll be behind, then we’ll get further behind and I won’t be able to go to Europe”. It was football as a treadmill.

So after years of football stress the “Curated Aspirational Experiences” were great. My hand-crafted list drove me toward new destinations and I was curating my own happiness via a carefree sense of excitement. I had absolutely no stake in the outcome of any match so I was just there to enjoy, take the odd photo and sometimes leave early for the train home.

All of my “Curated Aspirational Experiences” were enjoyable in their own way, even the December Saturday when I missed the first 15 minutes of the Huddersfield match. As a shrewd individual I took the anxious 3 hour wait in Newton-le-Willows as a sign that it would be one of those days. I’d normally relish an unexpected stay in the greater Wigan conurbation but on that day I could have done without the combined effects of a Northern Rail strike and shocking platform manners.

I can still see the sheepish visage of the man that clearly knew he was pushing past someone to deprive them of a place on a packed train. I find that one become rather philosophical when one misses more three trains because other people fail to show decorum. I consoled myself with the thought it was better to miss a train than forget your manners. As a freelance sociologist it was nice to encounter the subtle effects of a mature market-driven society

Fate rescued my day whilst I was trying to take an after-match photo of Harold Wilson’s statue that featured my scarf around his wrist. I was attempting to find the perfect angle when someone came from behind me and started talking. It turned out that he was Harold Wilson’s cousin.

I mean what are the chances of that happening? It was only because I had decided to get a later train, in order to salvage something of my fraught day, that I ended up bumping into the cousin of Harold Wilson whilst I was looking at a statue of the Labour Prime Minster.

It was nice to experience new vistas on my adventure. I can finally say that I’ve been to Barnsley, Droylsden and Kidderminster. I can finally say that I’ve seen Nuneaton’s George Eliot statue, Oakwell’s shiny red wall and the picturesque pubs of Whitchurch. While these may not sound like proud boasts at least I can say I’ve had a taste of those places, that I’ve walked their pavements. You don’t need to see the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower to gain pleasure from travelling.

Owing to the Welsh domestic pyramid’s selective appeal I relished the trips to the bigger grounds and it was nice to become lost in crowds again. My “Curated Aspirational Experiences” also reminded me of the reassurance you feel when you see other people walking whilst wearing football colours, especially when you’re slightly lost or the match has been in doubt due to the weather.

Whilst “Curated Aspirational Experiences” were generally interesting and certainly lessened stress they also had a slightly negative side in that I felt that they set me apart from everyone.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something antiseptic about my visits. In football’s world of belonging and partisan passion I felt like a passenger, an observer, a dilettante, a libertine. I feared that I appeared to be the little more than a parasitical visitor, one of those judgemental sorts that turns up with a cynical eye expecting to be royally entertained.

Not everybody need roots and a sense of belonging to enjoy football but I do. I may have given up my team and I may have occupied my time in an interesting way but I still missed the sense of belonging that only comes from watching football with a group of people you know.

During the latter stages of my adventure I wondered if it had an academic side, had my “Curated Aspirational Experiences” developed from a simple way of passing time into a quest for truth? I wondered if there was a universal truth that linked the various levels of football.

I am happy to say that my research has enabled to find the link that links all levels of football (cue drumroll)..…..

Any football match can be a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

I await the announcement of next year’s Nobel Prize for Freelance Sociology with bated breath.

As you can see it didn’t take much thought to realise that any quest for a universal truth would be fruitless. Having said that I still gained three insights from my “Curated Aspirational Experiences”, even though I already knew first two of them.

The first insight was similar the findings of my Nobel Prize bid; any match between two evenly matched team has the potential to provide entertainment.

The second insight was that the only commonalities between levels of football are a referee, an inflated football, two goals with nets, two sets of different coloured shirts and painted white lines on the ground.

They say the glorious premier league is the most exciting league in the world but the glorious premier league match I witnessed wasn’t more entertaining simply because it took place in the glorious premier league, although it still had appeal if you wanted to witness the stifling of the aesthetic potential of contemporary sporting contest by the exacting style of game management they employ these days.

The matches at Shrewsbury, Oldham and Hereford were far more entertaining than my premier league  showcase and there were lots of goals at Cammel Lairds, and I could have bought a Nigerian replica shirt for a fiver.

The third, and most important, insight I gained from the “Curated Aspirational Experiences” was that if you want to enjoy football try watch it with people that you like. The odd “Curated Aspirational Experience” is fine but lifestyle curation requires long breaks for contemplation and appreciation.

Before I end this post I must offer a word of warning to anyone that may decide to do something like this;

BE CAREFUL lest the process of travelling become too intoxicating.

Towards the end of the season the idea of travelling on a rudderless journey through football became slightly too seductive. I was travelling between Chester and Nantwich on public transport when the continual exploration of football’s arcane byways became the best way to pass the time.

I reasoned that I could start with all the grounds of Chester, before moving on to the Wirral, then Cheshire.

I pictured sunny days in country pubs, I saw a table with my pint and my book upon it. I saw myself rising at twenty to three to saunter over to the sun-dappled football ground for a pleasant couple of hours. I saw a bus ride back to Chester station and a walk interrupted by another couple of pubs.

I saw myself reconnecting with some spirit or other whilst surrounded the bucolic loveliness of a village football ground. I could hear the leaves sway in the breeze, I could see the rusting pitchside fences and the clutch of locals standing under the shade of some ancient trees.

I scoured the websites hoping to formulate plans for trips to Cheshire idylls but all I found were clubs that didn’t play in the villages they were representing and home matches that were played on vague shared grounds in the middle of nowhere. There went my pastoral pleasure.

But then the seed had been planted., It’s like Lao Tsu once opined; “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”

My thoughts then became words which then became action and the compulsion to visit all the remaining grounds of Chester and in some Wirral clubs before summer came. I just had to keep watching football.

This is the trouble with public transport, it lets you drift off on flights of fancy, especially when you’re travelling through the picturesque places of Cheshire like Tarporley or Tarvin.

Let us finish by returning to consider the position at the beginning of the post. Is it possible to disregard Mate, mate, maaaaaate you can change anything apart from your football team mate“?

Well of course it is because I haven’t gone back to watch my old club’s home matches. However, like everything on planet Earth, it’s not that simple. I need the presence of people I can chat with to really enjoy football.

Thankfully I have another club to follow now, more about that at a later date.

Mate, you can change anything apart from your football club – Part 1

24 03 2020

At last the Llandudno Jet Set’s fulsome review of the 2018-’19 football season.

You know how it is, you can change anything about your life apart from your football club.

Those golden words been my guide ever since I first heard it and I am reminded of them every once in a while all the time. I’ve read the noble words on social media

Mate, mate, maaaaaate, you can change anything apart from your football club mate“.

I have heard the noble words in films, I have heard them in TV programmes and I have heard them on the replacement banter buses on to which I was press-ganged during those times important engineering work improved the efficiency of the national banter network.

“Mate, you can change anything apart from your football club”.

I saw the logic behind the words because it all stood to reason. It’s a simple case of QED, I have heard the words therefore I knew.

I knew that you can change anything apart from YOUR football; your socks, your car, your washing powder, your opinion, your clothes, your holiday money, your wife, your house, your opinion, your politics, your morals, your opinion, your bespoke concierge service, your artisanal dog food sourcing service, your opinion, your stall’s location in the marketplace of ideas, literally anything apart from YOUR football club.

Consequently I knew that I if was thinking about changing my club I couldn’t do that because it wasn’t possible to conceptualise a thought such as that.

I knew that it was easier to reverse evolution than change my football club. I knew it was easier to change the course of history by travelling back to 1914 and delaying Gavrilo Princip on a Sarajevo sidestreet with an interesting anecdote about the Postonja Cave system than change my football club.

I’ve grown to knew that football is far too important to allow people to take an interest simply because they want to relate to their friends, family or locality. I knew that football is just far far too important to let people develop an attachment because they found a particular badge in a 1980s sports shop. 

The connections between YOU and YOUR FOOTBALL are so strong that when YOU choose YOUR club YOU’RE choosing to alter YOUR DNA. When you choose a football club YOUR FOOTBALL CLUB becomes part of you. YOUR football club is in YOUR blood, it’s in the tears that makes YOUR face paint run and it’s in the sweat that makes YOUR matchday trainers smell after a while.

That’s football for you, it gets to you, it surrounds you with its power, it draws you under its spell. You can feel football’s power in the liquids clumsy people spill on your new trainers, you can feel it in the molten contents of your inedible pie, you can feel it in the irritating loudmouth that’s sitting next to you, you can feel it in the eerie silence that descends when an away side scores. That’s the power of THE FOOTBALL!

When YOU choose a football club to follow YOU are buying a vehicle for YOUR hopes and dreams that means when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune cut YOU to the quick YOU bleed (Insert the main colour associated with YOUR club here).

In short football may change but you cannot. YOUR football club is YOUR club! FOOTBALL IS YOU AND YOU ARE FOOTBALL!

Whereupon I arose one morning and left my bed upon the wrong side.

I was quickly overcome by a moment of clarity.

I was now woke.

“Mate, mate, maaaaaate you can change anything apart from your football team mate” suddenly sounded like a challenge I wanted to accept.

A quick decision came forth!

I was going to stop watching my football club forthwith!!!!

The year was May 2018 and apart from the occasions I begin to Iook back, I have yet to look backwards.

(The last part of the blogpost has been exaggerated for artistic effect, I have been woke for years because like the rest of the dapper Llandudno Jet Set I was born awake.)

When I considered my decision logically I saw two positions. The first was easy acceptance; I could simply accept the following sentence “I will stop going to watch my football team” and stop going to watch my football club.

The second position involved giving in to years of memories and human connections. Would my happy thoughts exert the countervailing pressure that tips my mind’s balance back towards an erstwhile normality? Did I have the fortitude? Would I give in? Would I go back?

With the aid of hindsight I can say that it wasn’t really that difficult to respect the decision to stop going to watch my football club. Mind you I have always found it easy to respect the metaphorical lines that I have drawn in metaphorical sand.

I don’t buy newspapers from the Murdoch stable, I’ve never voted Tory or travelled using the banter bus (apart for those times I was press-ganged onto the replacement banter buses during times of important engineering work to the national banter network) and Freeview has provided me with enough entertainment for the last decade and a half.

They say every journey starts with a single step but my journey started without movement. As you may imagine it all felt rather strange at first because I rather naturally felt like I should be going to the place I’d always gone.

By the third scheduled home match my new view grew of its own accord and I just stopped feeling like I should go, then I virtually stopped missing it. We hadn’t even left the summer and I was already showing important emotional growth!

In my old way of seeing things a free Saturday meant “OMG what a cursed waste of time”. My new way of seeing things meant that I finally realised that a free Saturday was actually a proverbial gateway to possibilities and I was free to do anything.

I now had a fully laden Smorgasbord of cultural fare from which to feast! New places beckoned! New experiences called! I could visit museums, or go to the cinema more often, or stay at home, or stay at home and read a book, or finally develop my pottery skills, or enter north Wales’ pro-celebrity open mic circuit with a light entertainment masterclass.

I could become a renowned social media influencer, or a fashion vlogger, or a contrarian icon whose output of bon mots is 70% hot takes and 30% molten takes, I could take up film criticism or become that social history documenting documentary photographer that north Wales has always been crying out for. I almost started to wonder why I hadn’t done this before.

So what did I choose from this rich cultural Smorgasbord? I naturally chose to watch football matches, only this time I was going to do it my way!

I must be truthful for a second or three. I hadn’t totally disowned my old club at the start of last season. I had taken a stand about home matches but I still wanted to visit the away grounds I had yet to visit.

I eventually tired of away matches and my last one took place at the end of November. I paid to go in, stood behind the goal and watched my team score but felt no compulsion to celebrate, It felt like I was watching someone else’s club ran around in blue shirts.

From the perspective of emotional growth I may not have deployed an iron will about my season’s path of purity but at least I knew that my lingering feelings of belonging had evaporated, a deep attraction had been replaced by the absence of feeling.

Now that I’ve got those details off my metaphorical chest let us get on with the story.

Before the free Saturdays started, for a touch of normality, I began last season with my usual summer games in Scotland; a couple of League Cup matches and Celtic in Europe. For the rest of the season I adopted the take it as it comes approach to north Walian matches, some clubs I hadn’t visited (Mochdre, Llysfaen, Ruthin) and some I had (Rhyl, Prestatyn et al). Llysfaen’s pitch was something else.

With a lot of Saturdays to fill I realised that I could go and watch the club I co-own, FC United, more often so I went to watch FC United more often. 

By the end of the season I had managed to go to about twenty FC matches and they were mostly good days, even with the spectre of relegation’s embrace. I saw some good goals, visited grounds I’d never been to before like Nuneaton, Kidderminster and Hereford, and had more than a few decent chats with some decent people.

I went to watch FC so often that I was on nodding terms with some of away day regulars and even though I’m not a Mancunian it was nice to feel a certain sense of belonging again. I felt the giddy highs of the away victories featuring “United Football” and the muted lows of drizzly home defeats.

I was there at Alfreton on Easter Saturday when relegation still looked avoidable and I was at Broadhurst Park on Easter Monday when relegation was confirmed. I felt twinges of angst and de-fiance in the sunshine of a late bank holiday afternoon. It’s funny how football defeats always feel slightly less dispiriting in the sunshine.

This may look like I had merely substituted one club for another but it wasn’t quite like that. I had already been a FCUM member for quite a few years so I was used to going to watch them. Look I don’t care about that mate, I just decided to go to watch them more often ok. Is that alright? And anyway I’m the one writing this and who are you to spoil the narrative?

Everyone’s a critic these days, even your internal monologue.

Aside from going to more FC matches I decided to have a little rule-bound adventure on my season of free Saturdays. I decided that I was going to watch a match at every level of England’s football pyramid in the same season!

I let two simple rules govern things; 1) I would try to visit a ground I hadn’t already visited and 2) I would try not to spend more than £25 on a ticket.

My mind’s eye saw a clear theoretical path from the clichéd park to the premier league so I thought that my little adventure would be a nice little endeavour. England’s football pyramid appeared to have 12 clear levels so as a convinced aesthete I was happy to be embarking upon a symmetrical adventure.

Tomorrow your humble narrator will bestow the second part of this story upon you, ’twill be a tale that will announce what happened when he embarked upon his noble adventure through football.

Things to do at the football part 65

2 01 2019

1. Read

Critchley in Barnsley

Pearson in Hereford

Engels at FC United

Saviano in Wrexham

Private Eye in Huddersfield

Calvino in Oldham

Adams in Stoke

Zephaniah in Tranmere

2. Photograph your feet

For more of that click here.

3. Find Stickers

For more of that click here.

I didn’t say “Football, bloody hell?”, it was “Bloody football is hell”

31 12 2018

Sudden changes of heart are nature’s way of reminding one that one is an insignificant carbon-based unit, and therefore whatever thoughts momentarily pass through one’s conscious mind do not really matter in the vast span of space and time.

For example, the sight of footballers limbering up in Glan Conwy’s brilliant October sunshine convinced me that I missed the simple joy you feel when playing football.

Anyone that has played football knows football’s wonderful sensations. The fresh air, the verdant grass, the sense of satisfaction when foot and ball connect perfectly.

I remember my memorable goals and mazy dribbles, my penalty saves and reaction saves. I can remember how my application of delicately graceful force once encouraged a self-opinionated winger to switch wings and the occasions when I felt like an unbeatable goalie for our six-a-side side. Football joy stays with you.

The pursuit of wonderful sensations kept me playing football, like the feeling when you find a teammate with a slightly difficult to see through ball, the feeling of curling the ball past a keeper or performing a wonderful save. There was also the esoteric happiness in blocking shots, cleanly dispossessing opponents and playing the ball out of defence with calm assurance (Not my words!).

It’s funny how the memories appear to you in a splurge when you are reminded of something. The sight of two groups of males receiving expert coaching was my gateway this time; Glan Conwy were doing the one touch piggy-in-the-middle thing beloved of Barcelona and Llandudno Albion were doing speed drills.

I felt the heady rush of knowledge. I could have done something at this level! Yes I could have played on a Saturday, had I felt like it. I was capable of playing the ball out of defence with a calm assurance (Not my opinion remember), I also had a keen sense of positioning.

I’m sure that I would have found a level, any kind of level. My memory tells me that I could curl a football like John Barnes, mark like Baresi and turn like Darcey Bussell and who am I to argue with that assessment? I am not the sort of person that gives out praise willy-nilly.

Within minutes of the kick-off a character-building change of heart happened. I was glad that I no longer played football. What does the fresh air and verdant grass matter when football still contains the process that turns yesterday’s joy into today’s aches; ankle pain, aching knees, sore back and nagging pains in my hand when it’s cold.

My feelings changed as soon as it became clear the technically advanced warm up hadn’t signalled the Welsh Alliance’s move to a more technical plain. Both sides still demanded that “big heads” were needed “on this”. I visualised my ankle giving way in the sticky mud and my hamstring going twang as I was outpaced by one of them tricky wingers.

I soon progressed to feeling rather glad about never playing on any Saturday. I just couldn’t imagine feeling any joy, I mean where’s the pleasure in giving up the leisure possibilities presented by the end of a working week so you can hoof a football clear or narrowly dodge a juicy whack to your shins?

My football career may have been helped if I could have been bothered with organised football but enjoyment seemed to be elsewhere. I didn’t fall through any metaphorical net, I was interrailing through Europe when the talent trawler visited.

I was already feeling like Proust before I saw the players warming up. The smallest details near Glan Conwy’s club house, the pungent smell of deep heat in the ether and the clumps of mud that fall from football boots, placed me inside that changing room of yore.

I could see the sunlight thorough the frosted Perspex slits at the top of the wall and the marks the door had made on the marble effect floor tiles, I could see the Sellotape on wall’s wood effect panelling and the jagged edges of the hole two thirds of the way down the door.

The smell of deep heat is the memory that connects me to past happenings most quickly; the crap banter, the unspoken competition about boot quality, the feeling of not feeling my legs after a hailstorm, the harsh cold gripping me after the first slide tackle in the rain.

I’d never really seen eye to eye with organised football. Two of my more palatable memories are the pitch I took to be a normal grass pitch in Bethesda, my foot sank into the liquefied soil and reemerged with a film of shiny brown liquid. There was also a school match on a day of heavy rain, a couple of us thought it would be a good idea to get used to the conditions by warming up early, obviously the rain stopped before the match and I ended up with a heavy cold.

I’ve always hated playing on teams with people I don’t know. I was usually sat quietly, trying to change quietly, as my more confident teammates treated us to a tirade of “humour”. I wish I had been able to affect an air of confident diffidence but I was quaking at becoming their target.

I must have been blessed with a little skill because I was playing for the side but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t belong. I had not received the subtle schooling of north Wales’ elite junior football so I failed to develop a cocksure air or taste for humiliation based humour.

My feelings have remained. Organised football is ill-fitting boots pinching your Achilles tendon, mud splattered cuts and omnipresent scapegoating, it’s a nebulous sense of honour that convinces someone to propel a fellow human through the air with casual violence.

Organised football is listening to an opposing captain’s passive-aggressive support of his side of thugs, it’s listening to opposition wind up merchants, the sour grapes of the defeated and “Oh it’s like that is it?” from an entitled nobody.

Organised football is the pointless effort to impress disparate people thrown together by the same colour polyester and  helping cocksure humiliation experts, it’s about protecting the honour of a group you can’t abide and risking injuries for people you can’t stand.

This thinking even seeped into my lowly level of recreational football. I once twisted my spine playing in goal one Friday after school, I have countless scars from sand infected grazes after years on north Wales’ heartless all-weather football scene. Social pressure eh!

In a cosmic sense, everything is balanced, I have coped without football and football has coped without me. I know that I feel more contented as “football watcher” than “football player”. 

This is what I love about football, it allows once the space to think contentedly about the world.

By the way, I don’t know whether Glan Conwy or Llandudno Albion won, I left for the bus stop at some point in the second half.

Some photos what I took this year

27 12 2018

The rest of the photos in this collection are currently on loan to another blogpost.

Everybody’s welcome

17 12 2018

Technology provides a vast ocean of entertainment for our amusement and we respect the artistic process by deleting entertainment content from our devices in a matter of seconds, even Hollyoaks requires the careful channelling of creative energy to come into being.

There’s no point in complaining about our decadent arrogance because of the inevitable reply; “Mate, mate, maaaate it’s always been like this. There have always been trends, different fashions, different styles of music, different lengths of football shorts etcetera”. They can say all that but they can’t deny that there was a time when you were allowed to keep vinyl albums.

When Stewart Lee complained about “youngsters these days” in Content Provider his words resonated. When I was younger you couldn’t find the collected works of blah blah blah with a search engine, you had to make an effort, and have the right sort of friends with arcane knowledge, to get involved in a musical subculture. I could pity the youngsters these days for missing out on a sense of gratification that took years to mature.

I happened across a football-related example whilst luxuriating on an August pavement outside Llandudno’s luxurious hipster micro pub. I sipped a luxurious drink under clouds of the deepest north Walian summer grey (Pantone 1118) and life felt alright, then three of them modern youngsters turned up to discuss their fantasy league teams with an assured air of authority.

Questions fulminated as I was forced to listen to people discuss the economic value of other people like slave owners. Did these experts know the feel of an icy blast from the Urals in the 64th minute of a humdrum league match? Did they know the stress of arriving 15 minutes into a match because a supposed two hour journey took six hours? Why is it so easy to look and sound like a proper mad football fan these days? Thankfully I had a train to catch.

To return to my salad days, the 1990s were a simpler time of unlocked doors, cheery neighbours and the ERM fiasco. Nobody wanted vulgar displays of ostentatious football analysis so nobody “curated” a “luxury football opinion”. We may not have been able to conceptualise gegenpressing or source artisan retro shirts from the internet but oh how we revelled in the joy of the moment like troglodytes.

Imagine not caring how far Marco van Basten ran in a match, imagine not being able to cash out, imagine not hearing someone add ”mate, mate, maaaaaate” to every tenth sentence. Imagine not taking football quite as seriously.

The beautiful game’s true beauty is that everyone can interact with it in their own way. Take the ex-Brazilian international Adriano. Some of us recognise him from a past world cup, some watched him a lot, some have appreciated his goals on you tube and some would need wikipedia to find out who he is. If we go by his bare statistics (played professionally for 16 years, won titles in Italy and Brazil, 50 international caps) we could conclude that he wasn’t bad, if we could be bothered to have an opinion of course.

In the luxury opinion curation game one simply has to be judgemental so Adriano is lambasted because he wasn’t as good as his avatar on a computer game, and Andrei Shevcheko (17 year international career, over 120 goals in Serie A, European Cup winner) is breezily dismissed as an elite striker whose powers slipped away in a single moment

Decline is it? If I may be permitted to wear my “freelance sociologist in trainers” hat for a moment, my informal research into the pressing issue of “football decline” indicates that most players suffer a relative decline in speed, power or skill as time passes, it’s usually called “getting old”.

I will say one positive thing about the luxury opinion curators, at least they don’t stride around grounds brandishing Stone Thailand armpits as they parrot the inane ditties of you tube.

If I may be permitted to tilt my “freelance sociologist in trainers” hat to a jaunty angle, my research process has discovered that lots of annoyed people watch football. For example last season a Bangor fan loudly complained that Bangor were “too pedestrian”, after four hours of careful consideration I filed it under “Reflex comments that angry fans use as proof that they care more than we do”.

My next piece of freelance sociology will see me attempt to discover the identity of the group that the shouters are trying to impress.

It is gratifying to know that I am not the only one that has noticed that some people are trying too hard. A wonderful article entitled SUPPORT AS PERFORMANCE – NOT EVERYTHING IS A ‘MENTAL’ has been written. Is there anything more tedious than the knowing LOOK AT ME!!! behaviour of the fan park drink throwers and IKEA store invaders?

I don’t understand the appeal of those “fan parks”? You are already sharing an enclosed public space with people that normally give “the footy” a swerve but went along with “the vibe” because “we’ve sooooo got this mate” then some legend throws the contents of a plastic cup in your general direction.

Fan parks are the epitome of sponsored cynicism, little more than insipid communal experiences for the atomised citizens of market economies. What’s wrong with staying at home or going to a pub?

When I see people displaying knowing LOOK AT ME!!! behaviour I can’t help wondering how they developed an interest in football. In theory sports marketing provides a plausible explanation, football’s original punters fell into decrepit obsolesce years ago and Fabulous Football needs new punters to buy, literally buy, into its world.

The recent history of the Ricoh Arena could be used as a good example of sports marketing’s ability to create demand. Basically speaking cold hard business logic took a dispute with landlords, coupled it to a perceived demand for the rugby product in the midlands, and consequently Coventry City, a relatively big football club with a long history, became the tenants of Wasps, a rugby club that hails from London.

On the surface the Ricoh Arena still seems to be Coventry’s home ground; Coventry play there in front of sky blue seats and there’s a statue of Jimmy Hill and a Coventry City memorial garden outside the ground. If you look more closely you can spot the subtle signs of takeover; the stadium’s superstore only stocks Wasps merchandise and Wasps take credit for organising pre-takeover events.

Sports marketing seems to have worked here; the sporting midlands now has another set of big crowds with lovely disposable incomes and few people seem to mind that Wasps have moved to a more receptive market.

There is a caveat. This is an example drawn from rugby not football and it’s well-known that rugby fans and football fans have differing concerns; rugby fans focus on freshly ironed gilets and getting to the pub for Banter o’clock whereas football fans generally prefer coats. Football is definitely different from rugby, they say that the “build it and they will come” idea would never be tolerated by football fans.

The fact that MK Dons has fans may slightly contradict that stereotype but the concept of franchising is anathema to most fans, MK Dons are an aberration. Whilst franchising lacks widespread support too many football fans tolerate the thin end of the corporate wedge. The gentrification of half-time haute cuisine and £1000 season tickets is accepted, pay TV subscriptions are renewed and plans are made to meet down “The Etihad”, “The Tony Macaroni” and “The Emirates”.

Sports Marketing could be the cause of this acceptance because it seems to be everywhere. I certainly see the beautiful game’s version of sports marketing whenever I wear my “freelance sociologist in trainers” hat. For example I came across Sky’s football advert whilst undertaking informal participant observation as a commuter this summer.

The televisual part of the campaign featured people with excited little faces rushing to fill sofas in a gianto-stadium, as soon as I saw it I suspected that it was just the sort of froth that encouraged a certain sort of person to have a go at the old footy.

I developed similar observations after Easter Monday’s unexpected field trip to Macclesfield. To cut a long story short I ended up in Macclesfield because FC United v York was postponed whilst I was in Manchester. Only two local matches had survived the rain; Crewe v Port Vale and Macclesfield v Chester, Crewe’s match was all-ticket so Hobson’s choice sent me to Macclesfield.

Whilst there I encountered a Carling advert that claimed “Football is never just 11 v 11”.

Even non-“freelance sociologists in trainers” would be able to spot the common tone of the two adverts; “SEE YOU, YOU’RE DEAD IMPORTANT, FOOTBALL IS YOUR SPORT, SO GET INVOLVED WITH THE FOOTBALL AND GIVE US ALL YOUR MONEY”.

Sports marketing seems to encourage people to act in a certain way so it’s tempting to blame it for the behaviour of the easily led, before we join two and two together it is worth bearing in mind that people are never just willing dupes.

The adverts contain such ridiculous stereotypes that it’s difficult to see how people would use them as behavioural advice. Who actually watches football in this sort of ecstatic state?


It is amazing that twenty-six years have passed since Sky invented football and they have still to work out how the fans of their sport behave. Fans are not continually on the verge of beatific ecstasy or volcanic rage, nor are we gibbering morons hooked on the buzz of watching televised football in pubs. sadly the stereotyping appears to be contagious.

Simple ideas undermine sports marketing. Firstly, repeatedly saying something is great does not make that something great. The esteem with which the sports marketing industry coats itself isn’t matched by reality. Sports marketing may motivate someone to consider something, or spread the awareness of an event, but it cannot force people to pay attention, or attend something, if people don’t want to do something, they won’t.

Secondly, a carefully crafted image isn’t always a true reflection of reality. Free market propagandists tell us that a free market is the best way of organising society because it “democratises opportunity” but you cannot access the free market if you have insufficient resources. Similarly sports marketing has created an inclusive image for premier league football but poorer fans are unable access the premier league dream.

Sports marketing cannot eradicate football’s earthier qualities. On my way back from Easter Monday’s excursion to Macclesfield I noticed an A4 piece of paper on the door of a Crewe station buffet;

The football world painted by that piece of paper is a place beyond the ken of the sports marketers, a place that smells of the petty regulation of fun, League Two aggression and “No Football Colours Allowed”, 

They can market the glossy premier league jamboree all they like but football is about more than 22 sweaty millionaires, it’s about local affiliation, long coach journeys, sharing stories in the pub, trains with standing room only and other heady things. Some people are actually drawn to football by these earthier qualities, odd no?

So why do some people take an interest in football? I haven’t got a clue but here’s my best speculation. Perhaps some of their workmates only talk about football. Perhaps their friends discovered the japes one can have at the footy. Perhaps they’re following stereotypical behaviour patterns because they adore the intoxicating personalities of alpha males.

Perhaps it’s fashion. Perhaps it’s You Tube. Perhaps they once followed a crowd to see where it was heading. Perhaps they like polyester clothing. Perhaps the world is merely a stage and people are merely playing the role of “football fan”.

If the last point was true I could become north Wales’ very own Lee Strassberg with a downbeat football actor’s studio; “Luke Darling! That was wonderful! But where is your sense of realism? Where’s your true sense of self? Try to be the bored football fan, not act like a bored football fan!”

I realise that you read “everyone can interact with it (football) in their own way” some time ago so most of this post may sound a little illogical (people are only interacting with football in their own way) or misanthropic (none of these people directly impinge upon my life) but I can assure that I am neither illogical nor a full-time misanthrope.

To be honest I don’t really care why other people like football, or how they interact with the sport, because it’s none of my business.  It’s just that I prefer to interpret football’s culture in my own way and I’ve lost count of the occasions when tedious behaviour has shaken me out of a carefully constructed reverie.

For me it’s like the concept of free speech; anybody can speak but nobody is compelled to listen. I wish that other people would stick to their part of the deal that I have just implied. I am only asking for ignorance of irritating details and a bit of peace, is that asking too much?

What do you do when you’ve nowhere to go?

2 11 2018

I haven’t really been going to watch Bangor City this season. I’ve been to the odd away game in grounds I’ve never visited but I have failed to yield to the selective appeal of home matches.

Other fans have also developed similar viewpoints, For example John and Joe have offered two fantastically evocative expressions of despair.

So here we all are, a football team in blue continues to play but we no longer care. How does one cope when one feels one’s club has left them?

In my case you make threads of tweets written in the purest sarcasm. My shattered peace of mind wasn’t my only inspiration. there was also the more official social media sources.

With gaps between the tweets and the date on the left, what follows is an illustration of the first four months of the footballing season.


In truth the removal of the obligation to care has been quite liberating.



Now is the season of our Discontent (Part One)




July 17th (Some twitter user had claimed any critics of the present regime should bugger off to be Caernarfon fans)

– It would seem that I am now no longer a true Bangor City fan, I imagine that my wife will be delighted.


July 19th (The Telford match had already been called off and I was indulging in sarcasm)

– To prove that I’m not as much of a false Bangor fan as I claimed I shall go to the home friendly with Telford a week on Saturday. I’m looking forward to it immensely. Can’t wait!!!!


July 22nd – I can’t believe it’s less than a week until Bangor City host Telford, I cannot wait.


July 24th – I didn’t leave Welsh football, it left me.


July 28th (Football PR babble masquerading as #ClumsyHashtags began to appear in official social media output) 

– On my way to the station to get the train to Bangor. It’s just like Christmas Day! #cantbeatmatchday #youjustthatcrackleofpreseasonexcitement

Train delay, oh no. I’ll have to wait a little bit longer to to feel that crackle of preseason excitement course through me as I walk past Morrison’s. #matchdayexcitementboilingtofeverpitch #delayscantbluntthegloriouscrackleofpreseasonexcitement

We’re on our way, after a delay, it’s gonna be a great preseason day! #cantbeatmatchday #cantbeatthecrackleofpreseasonmatchesinpreseasonbeforetheseasonstarts #excitement #anotherhashtag

Off the train, on the way to my first pre-season match of the pre-season and the excitement is crackling away. Walking down the Holyhead Rd to see the pre-season! #cantbeatthecrackleofpreseasoninpreseasonbeforetheseasonstarts

So I got to the ground and what do I find? The turnstiles are shut, that’s what. The main door was locked too. It’s like there is no game or something. Why weren’t we informed. I’m too disappointed for words.  #thecrackleofpreseasondissappointmentisthebestkindofdissapointment

On the upside if I rush I might make it to St Mirren v Dumbarton now  #youhavetotaketheroughwiththesmoothinpreseasonbeforetheseasonstart

Made it just in time for kick off! #dontstopbelievinginpreseasonexcitement

Things to do at the football – Part 528

30 10 2018

Here are some more books at the football.

I call this edition “Martin Keown likes reading books at the football” or “Reading at the football is the new rock and roll”

Mankell in Bethesda

Welsh at Hearts

Limmy at Celtic

Vonnegut at St. Mirren

Hobsbawm at Everton

When Saturday Comes at Barnet

Mundial Magazine at West Brom

Freud at St. Asaph

Conn at Guilsfield

Camus in Meliden

McGarvey in Prestatyn

Jennings in Denbigh

Roth in Ruthin

Cope in Chester

Rousseau in Shrewsbury

Burgess in Gresford

Boyle in Nuneaton

Orwell at Kidderminster

Orwell at Glan Conwy

Kennedy Toole in Llandudno Junction

Amusing yourself at the football part 176

31 05 2018

I’ve started taking pictures of books at the football,

Schneider at Altrincham

Bradbury at Bangor

Marx at Macclesfield

CLR James at Rhyl

Le Carré at Connah’s Quay

Levi at Alfreton Town,

Welsh at Coventry City

Zizek et al at Betws-Y-Coed

Hawking at Llanfairfechan

Joyce at Prestatyn Sports

Welsh at Old Colwyn


For what it’s worth I blame Nick Hornby.

Just get behind the lads, go on, just get behind the lads

30 05 2018

Get behind the lads, get behind the lads.

That’s our job, we have to get behind the lads, that’s what fans do!

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our strikers has been cautioned by the police for tweeting racial abuse”

Look, just get behind the lads. That’s our job as fans.

“But our captain is the biggest buy-to-let landlord in the north.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our left back abuses our fans on team bonding sessions in town.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our manager is an insufferable bore.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our left winger diverts his wages through the Isle of Man, Liechtenstein and the Cayman Islands in the name of tax efficiency.”

Just get behind the lads

“But one of our midfielders spoke in support of Tommy Robinson whilst he was on Question Time.”

Just Get behind the lads.

“But our vice-captain has been dubbed as “the worst landlord since Rachman”.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our right back co-wrote an episode of Mrs. Brown’s Boys”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our reserve keeper founded a company to deal in conflict diamonds.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our midfielders still likes Morrissey.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But our reserve full back like speaks like a university student…….and stuff”

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our midfielder wears a Make America Great Again cap in post-match interviews.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our strikers is a part-time DJ in a local pub but tells people, via his own you tube channel, that he curates a cultural happening that highlights the synergy between cool people, cool places and cool times.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But one of our defenders has launched his own right-wing populist party and they’ve staged a coup in Peru.”

Just get behind the lads,

“But our board members are nothing more than a plague of goodwill locusts that have already ruined nearly a dozen clubs.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But the football world is now little more than a cynical homage to Thatcherite logic. It’s two millionaires arguing over a throw in, it’s match tickets with prices in three figures, it’s imperialistic giganto-clubs replacing the alienated fans from their local communities with tourists that offer strident opinions on trains, it’s a media that won’t let you think about anything else, it’s an industry continually expectorating PR flim-flam. Football is now a moral vacuum where the only measure of worth is the illusion of success.”

Just get behind the lads.

“But what about the morally relative jargon that’s employed to obscure the pandemic cheating?”

Just get behind the lads.

“But what about our well known internet fans? One of them says that we can’t doubt him because he has an moral MA in the Sociology of the false number 7, an apparent MPhil in Football Analyticalness and a virtual Phd about Franco Baresi’s running gait whilst wearing asics boots. Needless to say he will have already had the last laugh at least 96 hours before you’ve heard the question you worthless cretin.”

Just Get behind the lads.

“Right then, I’m Offski.”

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just get behind the lads.

Just Get behind the lads.









In other words, never silence them analytical sensibilities.

You’ve got to sell yourself at the end of the day mate

4 02 2018

Football had never provided a stable employment sector and those working in the sport perpetually carry this cultural baggage. John Jenkins had known its weight for twenty two years.

If you’re lucky to have a career in professional football you get used to a lack of stability. It’s there when you start out as the system that appears to offer glory and riches sheds hundreds if not thousands of doe-eyed hopefuls to the anonymity of real life without a second thought.

When you’re playing there’s an omnipresent sense of fear, fear of injury, fear of reduction to bit-part status, fear of not gaining a new contract. It’s there when a manager’s honeymoon period ends, it’s there when youth coaches realise they can be relieved of their roles almost without notice.

JJ thought he knew where he was with football but it only took a couple of days as player-manager to realise that the pressures he now faced had a totally different feel. Within a couple of weeks he had noticed that the pressure was omnipresent. No sooner had one challenge been bested than another hoved into view. Summers were now a mixture of phonecalls and thwarted plans, even when he was on holiday, especially when he was on holiday.

Today’s problem was just another layer of worry, another part of the managerial tapestry; it was the end of November and his United side were on a bad run. There was absolutely no way of denying that things looked bad, or that the sense of pressure had increased, JJ hadn’t woken up with a sunny disposition for six weeks.

When people talk about “them that work in football being so astronomically rich they don’t worry about the day to day grind any more” they are only giving a partial story. Abundant riches may exist and they may have cushioned people from real life pressures to an extent, and even cushioned football’s pressure to an extent, but they have also exacerbated the sense of pressure.

How can you truly enjoy financial security without job security?

A lack of wins quickly becomes “a major slump” and a virtual scandal.

We must win.

We must entertain.


At times the premium income didn’t feel worth everything that went with it, JJ was still amazed that football had become so short-termist.

When JJ began his managerial role some of the older coves from football’s fraternity offered him candid advice. Some of the advice was useful; it was better to remain aloof from the players, shouting did lose its impact after the first time, he always asked advice but stuck to his decision in the end and he wasn’t afraid to change.

But other parts of the advice sounded like it came from a different time. The memory of someone else’s words cannot prepare you for the sensory onslaught of “a major slump”, it’s something that you have to feel to understand. You have to actually live through a six week period where you veer from thinking about next season’s European logistics to reading tweets that label you as a fraud.

JJ’s experience had provided a fast eye for detail so he had been the first person to notice that things were going astray. He could have offered his opinion to the public weeks ago, if anybody had bothered to ask, but he didn’t for two very good reasons.

Firstly, he remembered how he felt whenever his manager had publicly criticised his team. Teams rely on confidence and negative public interventions do not help, confidence has to be sustained not dissipated.

Secondly, he remembered the wise advice about being careful around journalists lest they chip away at everything you’re trying to do. Everybody remembers public managerial meltdowns and that’s not how he wanted to be remembered.

When strident questions began to fill JJ’s football landscape he knew that people had finally caught up with his analysis. The idea that people appeared to think that managers were unable to understand football was once a source of private amusement but the terrace critics, radio show callers and tiresome journalists were no longer amusing.

JJ detested the constant need to justify himself when his side lost and loathed the overly fulsome praise when his side won, he hated expressing the same sentiment ten times.

Losing because a couple of details in a match slightly eluded your side is bad enough but being forced to listen to other peoples’ opinions was probably the worst part of the job. His trusted coaching staff were the only opinion he needed and they only needed to express their opinions once.

Everybody else’s input was less than worthless in terms of winning football matches, yet these opinions were everywhere. Even when he wanted to switch off from football the opinions were still everywhere. He used to say half-jokingly say to his friends “Could you still read that newspaper if you knew it also contained a less than flattering public opinion about you?”

He could say with sincerity that people were entitled to their opinion, they paid his wages blah blah blah, but why did everyone try to sound like an expert, anybody can look like an expert in hindsight but why does everybody try to sound like an expert before the matches as well? It’s very annoying when you have to humour the people that don’t appear to know that it’s very easy to think when you aren’t under the pressure of judgement by end results.

Fans still came to speak to JJ as he entered the ground on a matchday, or when they saw him in Tesco, and they were always supportive. Hearing a small example of simple human warmth  like “Come on JJ, we know you can turn this around.” could always pick his spirits up.

JJ always came across as an optimist but he could see a hundred well-wishers and only remember the harsh words of the single critic.

His uncanny ability to pinpoint individual voices in the crowd didn’t help. He hated that split-second of nervous tension when he actually caught a critic’s eye, he hated seeing the shameful face, he hated seeing someone that had been caught doing something they didn’t want to be judged upon. It was pointless behaviour on every conceivable level.

It’s amazing that people think they can say anything within the anonymity of a group, but them it’s equally amazing that people don’t seem to realise that the twelfth row isn’t very far away.

Good natured patience was out these days but anger was very fashionable in your “modern football” . The good will that automatically came with the status of authentic club legend was clearly no longer limitless. Last week JJ had made the mistake of searching for his name on twitter and it was almost soul-destroying, all of the goals he scored and trophies he won were faint apparitions, the latest defeat was all that mattered.

JJ really disliked the judgemental way in which some people thought about football. Hair-trigger emotions do nothing but create pressure. Don’t we all want the same thing? Don’t we all crave the same success?

Everyone knew JJ’s place within United’s history. He was in second place on the highest goalscorers’ list and fourth on the list of appearances makers. Everyone knew his part in the titles, cups and European nights. These past glories, memories that had made everyone so happy, had been placed in the dustbin of history by some people because United had gone weeks without a victory.

Fans might be amazed to learn that managers don’t entirely trust fans with fickle attitudes because it’s like dealing with spoilt teenagers. How can people move so easily from clichés about temporary form and permanent class to the judgemental “He’s lost the dressing room he has”? How can people not realise that they sound ridiculous? It helped that JJ was always perfectly aware that patient fans still existed.

Those that work in football view their sport with an unsentimental air. There are few grey areas when it comes to results and United’s recent record was stark by the end of November; depending on your point of view United had either failed to win for six matches or only registered a single win in the ten matches since the middle of September.

JJ knew that these results weren’t good enough but he was still an optimist, he tried to spin the situation by saying that because seven of those defeats had been by a single goal things could change quickly. He knew things could change quickly, he had seen that happen plenty of times, including three or four of United’s seasons.

There were too many unreasonable expectations.

For example JJ once asked a fans forum whether they would accept a judgement about themselves if that opinion was based on things they were unable to control? While most seemed to agree with this fair point a few of the more confident fans provided answers that were variations of “Yeah, but….”.

JJ responded to those people by asking whether they thought a manager could actually control everything. When a few responded with “Yeah but” again JJ let fly;

“I’m sorry some of you feel like that but you haven’t seen went we do in training. You don’t see how hard we work every day to get things right. You don’t see how the coaching team tries to think about issues and problems. You don’t see how some of our training drills are based on the analysis of opposition’s weaknesses. You lot just saw the misplaced pass, the mishit shot and the opposition goal go in.

You don’t seem to understand that we can work all week on something, and that this approach can work perfectly for ninety nine percent of a match, but the tinniest of details, the most insignificant of small details, can still go wrong and ruin all of that work.

You can analyse and find weaknesses, you can try to work on things to instil confidence but Smithy can still slip and the cross can still arrive at their striker’s feet, or they can still score the winner against the run of play because Damo was five yards out of position when the ball was halfway inside our half.

So tell me, how is a manager supposed to deal with that?”

Nobody answered with “Yeah, but” that time but this was the judgemental environment that managers have to deal with.

When JJ answered his board’s call for help three and a half years ago he became United’s first player-manager for a quarter of a century. The speed with which the decision was made, and the situation progressed, naturally led to a feeling of dislocation. It wasn’t just his new responsibilities there was a new style of human interaction.

One of his old managers advised him that he had to put distance between himself and the lads in the dressing room. On the most basic level this isn’t difficult because you can just stop using the dressing room, however it is more difficult situation on the emotional level.

You have to change from the person that’s in the middle of dressing room humour, the person that started most of the dressing room jokes in JJ’s case, to the person that has to drop his mates, and you have make this change almost immediately.

Until this forked road in his journey coaching certificates had been curiosity that involved vague ideas about post-playing career options but now he had to actually use them. Would his mates listen to him? Would they play for him?

Those worries were without foundation because his quiet sort of charisma was sufficient. The players wanted to win for him and the fans. JJ wouldn’t let them forget the fans. It helped that his golden touch meant that he could still weigh in with his share of goals, admittedly he didn’t score the quantity of goals he used to but he was the most senior member of the squad.

The first season was a great success because it produced the first cup triumph for twelve years. JJ had been not only been able to combine managing and playing, he had made a telling contribution in many matches like the late semi-final winner and the explosive derby winner.

The second season had been good as well as European football had been achieved again. He may not have contributed as much as the first season but he had still scored three or four important goals. The third season was much the same.

The fourth season was very different. The positive results were slower to come, the cup matches were closer as the side seemed to win thanks to luck rather than skill. European football was achieved by the slimmest of slim margins.

JJ knew football was like that. He had always thought that United’s fans lived up to their reputation as patient and knowledgeable people but it turns out that some of their fans were just like everybody else when they thought success wasn’t coming their way.

In this particular autumn JJ knew that he hadn’t been quite doing it on the pitch over the last eighteen months. He had been the first to know, it was his body.

He was slightly slower to react to everything, some passes moved slightly too quickly and some crosses were slightly too high. He was still in the right areas of the pitch but you don’t lose that special awareness.

JJ wasn’t particularly worried that the passing of time was reducing his effectiveness, it happened to every player and you cannot hide from the progress of time. He wanted to keep playing and he thought he was good enough, his general recption as he warmed up and the crowd murmur when he was about to come on told him that.

The barbed dressing room comments told him that his teammates had also noticed; “It looks like you’ll have to drop yourself gaffer.” And he’d return the badinage but behind it he knew they knew, you can’t hide in a team of highly tuned professional sportsman.

Then he started to hear the comments from the frustrated crowd “You’re too old Jenkins.” He knew that they were just frustrated and taking it out on a passing target but it didn’t make it any easier to hear. Twitter was full of harsh words and the phone in shows spoke about the tarnishing of memories. He still scored a couple here and there but it wasn’t quite the same.

Alas, you cannot hide from the passage of time.

A general sense of pressure was building, if only people looked at the game as he did, then they could see that we weren’t far from where we should be, or could be. Injuries hadn’t helped but the absence of that elusive quality called confidence had been more important.

JJ knew that fans paid good money to come and watch us but some fans didn’t seem to understand that shouting at “their” players until their veins were popping out of your neck didn’t make the players play any better, or concentrate more, or score more, or stop the other side from scoring.

JJ pinned his hopes on January, he knew that a new sense of urgency from a few new faces could help.

He wasn’t sure if he had enough resources to tempt the kind of players he needed, he wasn’t sure if they’d come anyway if truth be told. United still had a pull, and to judge from past conversations with people so did he, but would it be enough? Money was too tight to mention, as Simply Red once said.

So how would JJ freshen things up when money was tight? How could he get his squad to think about things and adapt?

He thought about varying training, but they already did that. He thought about slackening and increasing the tempo but they’d done that as well. Different tactics might work but what if they didn’t? If only he could put his finger on the missing ingredient.


In the middle of December a cartoon light bulb illuminated above JJ’s head. The answer had been staring him in the face all along. He was going to put himself on the transfer list, he was going to sell himself.

He knew the side had been relying on his reputation a little bit too much, he could still produce a brilliant flash of inspiration but United needed a more regular supply of inspiration.

He knew he could do a job for someone, he knew that he could get a good price for himself and the move would impress the chairman as it would be one of his efficiency savings; his contract contained a special premium if he played.

The brilliance of the decision was in its simplicity, with JJ the player gone JJ the manager had one less problem to think about. The other players could thrive without the added pressure of his presence in the team.

He tried to explain his idea to his family and they said that they could understand what was going to happen, although he could see the doubt in their eyes, especially his wife.

He tried to explain further; “The idea came to me as I watched Superman 3 the other Sunday. You know that scene with the Bad Superman?” He son looked at him with amazement but his daughter wasn’t sure.

He was still wondering about the best way to broach the subject with the players on the next day’s drive to the training ground, would they think he was mad? After JJ’s announcement the squad looked at the decision from two perspectives.

From a football perspective the players wondered if this was a wise move. They knew they needed JJ’s skill and calmness, or even just his mere presence.

On a more fundamental level they wondered if JJ had lost his mind, how could he create two people by separating the player from the manager? How could he sell himself and remain as manager? JJ assured them all that it would not be a problem. ”I’ll explain all at the press conference” he said, and with that he was gone.

JJ spoke to the board, they were also incredulous but again he assured them that there would be no problems. The chairman perked up when he heard the bit about efficiency savings. JJ assured the board that there would be no problems. ”I’ll explain all at the press conference” he said, and with that he was gone.

The club’s PR department called a press conference for the next day with a statement that contained enigmatic phrases “GROUND-BREAKING DEVELOPMENT!!!!” and “WORLD’S FIRST!!!”.

After the press release social media was alive with rumours, questions and incredulity. “How can a manager sell themselves and remain in post? The guy’s lost it!!! #lostit” being one tweet.

Social media rumour-mongering turned the press conference into the biggest media event the club had ever hosted. The nationals were there, international journalists were there, twice as many television cameras were there.

JJ began by carefully explaining how he would become the first Player Manager to remain as a manager and sell themselves as a player. As soon as he started speaking there was a noticeable hum in the room. JJ then introduced the philosophical underpinnings of his idea. He started with Cartesian dualism…

“I believe that there are two kinds of foundation: mind and body. The mind can exist outside of the body but the body cannot think. This theory has been called substance dualism and it’s compatible with every type of outlook, whether that’s scientific, philosophical or religious.

For example from a religious point of view immortal souls are said to occupy an independent realm of existence that’s distinct from the physical world. Therefore in effect it is possible to separate one’s mind from one’s body.”

…continued with concepts..

“The idea of non-reductive physicalism tells us that while mental states are physical they are not reducible to physical states, therefore we can separate the mind and the body.

Here I am talking about an idea like anomalous monism that was first proposed by Donald Davidson in his 1970 paper Mental events. In the paper Davidson stated that descriptions these so-called “mental events” are not regulated by strict physical laws.”

…moved on to Chalmers…

“David Chalmers, in his idea of naturalistic dualism, outlined the explanatory gap between objective and subjective experience that cannot be bridged by reductionism.

For Chalmers consciousness is, at least, logically autonomous of the physical properties and requires a new fundamental category of properties described by new laws of supervenience, but we don’t need to detain ourselves with the full implications of that here. It is enough to say that like other philosophers Chalmers sees his work as naturalistic because he believes that mental states are different from, and cannot be reduced to, physical states.”

… then Jackson…

“…Another philosopher to bare in mind here is Frank Jackson. When he revived a theory of epiphenomenalism he revived something that tells us that mental states do not play a role in physical states.

For Jackson there are two kinds of dualism. The first is that body and soul are two different substances. The second is that body and soul can be different properties of the same body.

He goes on to states that the mind/soul are internal, very private sphere that are not accessible to observation by others. For example we can know everything about a dog’s ability to follow a scent but we will never know how a dog experiences the following of a scent.”

The press knew that this was no ordinary press conference. How many press conferences made you question metaphysics? JJ continued..

“..While I appreciate that the reason for calling this press conference may sound a little “different”, and I may invite ridicule, I believe that I have just established my idea’s sound philosophical grounding.

I realise that I may be the first manager ever to quote philosophy so extensively in a press conference so that in itself may sound surprising but it is only surprising because this the first time that I have openly quoted philosophical ideas in public.

I started an Open University degree five years ago and I have since progressed to a Distance Learning Masters in Philosophy at the University of Durham. Until this moment I have looked on this education as a private matter, a charming diversion from the world of football.”

While tranches of the audience were agog, large clumps were incredulous. JJ then explained the part that a Sunday afternoon nap played…

“…The idea came to me as I watched I Superman 3 on TV the other week. I was having a nap and woke up just before the scene where Superman turns bad. I carried on watching and thought that I’d love to be able to do that, I don’t mean wreck an oil tanker by the way!

I mean separate my mind and body.

Then I thought why not! I could split my Player-Manager role into the separate roles of Player and Manager. The philosophical ideas that I have studied in the past quickly came to mind.

I went to the university library and took out books on the ideas of reanimation, transmogrification and transubstantiation. When I read them I knew I was on to something then.”

JJ finished the press conference by assuring the fans that knew this move would be a world first but they had to go with it. JJ assured them that it would be the best thing in terms of the squad, the coaching set up and most importantly, metaphysics.

With that he was gone, he didn’t take any questions.

The media and social media went into what they term “meltdown”. Sanity was doubted. At home JJ turned on to the news challenges and members of the public guffawed.

JJ wasn’t downhearted, he knew that he had done the hard bit by convincing himself that it was possible to separate the mind from the body, he still reasoned that there was nothing to stop him from visualising different parts of his mind developing separately, all he had to do was make it happen.

For all of his conviction he wasn’t quite sure how he’d do that, he just knew that he would show people what he meant. JJ must have have felt calm that evening because he enjoyed a very pleasant night’s sleep.

Strange things afoot!

The next morning JJ’s Mercedes was resting at the lights by the branch of Tesco he normally visited when something strange happened.

An extremely odd sensation washed over him, it felt like something was being sucked out of him. The sensation only last a couple of seconds but a distinct aura remained. The lights changed and JJ pulled off.

The aura slowly developed in intensity. A couple of sideways glances told JJ that it was developing into human form. He didn’t feel worried because something told him that this is what he wanted to happen.

By the time he was in his training ground parking spot another body was sitting in the passenger seat, it was a perfect copy of him. JJ felt that instant rush of elation that comes with relief. This is exactly what he said would happen! He had proved philosophy correct and the naysayers wrong.

Both JJs left their car at the same time and walked towards the training complex’s main buildings.

Naturally people took double takes as the JJs walked past. Pete Kennedy spoke for everyone when he said; “OH MY GOD!!! BOSS you were right, YOU WERE RIGHT!!!” When they went through the main doors JJ the player went one way and JJ the manager went the other.

JJ the manager sat at his desk as if he’d been liberated. Everything felt lighter and more positive, joy and relief, relief and joy. The workload suddenly felt smaller, he could do his job properly, concentrate on everything that he needed to do in the office, and not worry at all about taking part in training.

As JJ basked in the relief of the new situation Pete Edwards stuck his head around the door. JJ asked his best friend what he thought about everything. “Jesus I don’t believe it JJ, you were right, you were right!”.

Pete continued babbling and a thought came to JJ “Bloody Hell, it’ll be a bit weird if they see two versions of me at training.”

JJ told Pete that he thought that it would be better if he and the rest of the coaching staff took training until JJ the player left as things would be less complicated that way. He would still give general guidelines and observe training from his office because the last thing we need the players to do is freak out, we’ve got matches to win. The Assistant Manager left JJ to get on with his piles of paperwork.

When JJ realised how much he could get done without taking part in training he thought about changing his mind but he resolved to stick to the original plan. He was still going to sell himself, how weird would it look if two JJ were seen together? It was lucky that United didn’t have a match this weekend otherwise we’d be knee deep in fuss.

On the training pitch JJ the player went about his usual business. His teammates had obviously felt the natural surprise of finding out that the metaphysical development had actually happened but they also were reassured that aside from the knowledge that there were two JJs nothing seemed to be different. They weren’t two JJs on the training pitch at this particular moment.

It helped that JJ the player seemed to be the JJ that they all knew, he looked exactly the same, sounded exactly the same and ran in exactly the same way. He looked exactly like the same as JJ the player-manager.

The older members of the squad couldn’t help notice that JJ had returned to his old relaxed self. When they mentioned this to JJ he said “Well I haven’t got to worry about managing now have I?” with the old sparkling eyes. The sparkle was back!

JJ the manager heard the effect of social media fuss before he saw it from the windows on the far side of his office. The hubbub caused him to move towards the windows. The training ground had been mobbed by fans, journalists and TV crews.

When training ended the world saw the evidence with their own eyes, two JJs got in to JJ’s car. The crowd and the media surrounded the car as if they were insects in an Indiana Jones film.

After the exchange of pleasantries about weird days neither JJ spoke on the journey home. There was no need to speak, they both knew what each other was thinking and they both instinctively knew that the situation was too strange to think about.

Helen met the two JJs at the front door and kissed both of them she was so flummoxed. Their children stood in her wake and gazed with disbelieving faces, Mark said to Emma, “SEE, I TOLD YOU Dad was right!”. All Helen could say was “I knew I shouldn’t have doubted you when you had that look in your eye!”.

Without speaking JJ the player took himself to the spare room he decided that it would be better if he stayed in the spare room to avoid confusing everybody, he was the JJ that was going to leave after all.

Later that afternoon Helen casually asked JJ the manager a question “Yeah but what about his clothes? Is he going to share your wardrobe or what?” which was a quick reminder that life often throws unintended consequences into your path.

JJ the player told them not to worry, he’s be fine in training kit for a few days, he was only going to be lounging around the house anyway.

Neither the player nor manager had the desire to venture out of the house, especially with media people about. They both realised simultaneously, naturally, that it was a great situation that they didn’t read the tabloids. What kind of person wants to see themselves plastered all over the pages of a tabloid?

JJ the manager logged out of social media and they both kept the news channels off the telly. Merely getting to work was enough at the moment for a few days.

On the fourth day after the profound metaphysical development JJ the manager ventured to a third destination for the first time when he visited Tesco. A person sidled up to him in the pasta aisle and said “I’m sorry to see you go but I’m also glad that you’re staying as well!” All of a sudden the situation felt beyond weird.

At least when JJ the player went clothes shopping JJ the manager knew that his clothes would be cared for. JJ had always been a fastidious type when it came to personal appearance, he hated getting marks on his clothes and the way that other people could be inconsiderate about someone else’s things.

In the middle of the second week after the profound metaphysical development Athletic came in with an offer for JJ the player and JJ the manager quickly accepted it, JJ the player was glad to be going, he hated not being able to leave the house. He could mourn the fact he was no longer a United player later.

On the day he left as a player JJ the manager offered fulsome praise.

“JJ was the very image of this great club for 15 years so it’s fitting that I offer thanks to him on behalf of our club and our supporters. We’d like to offer JJ the player all the best for the future, except when he plays against us!”.

The press and supporters may have doubted him but he had proved that the impossible could be done. You could create two different people by separating the player from the manager.

For weeks after the transfer the shoulders of JJ the manager remained relatively light. It was great to have a freer mind, a mind that could concentrate on the job of managing. The players noticed that JJ was still relaxed; “Well I haven’t got to play anymore have I!!! I can’t be blamed for you lot cocking it all up can I!!!” he said as his eyes sparkled. The players laughed along with him.

Nobody was able to pinpoint what had changed but it was obvious that something had changed.

Not only did everything feel more relaxed something appeared to be working in matches because United were unbeaten in the first four post JJ transfer matches (two wins, two draws). Everything just felt better.

The fact that it appeared that United had received the better end of the deal probably helped, JJ the player appeared to be struggling to settle at Athletic, and they were doing even worse than United.

The media praised him for his masterstroke and “obvious business acumen” but JJ didn’t meekly accept the plaudits or the media’s representation of the situation. He knew that he always needed a few weeks to adjust to new surroundings, he knew that JJ the player would find his feet eventually, and so it proved.

Once he adjusted to the characters in Atheltic’s squad and their football approach JJ the player’s undoubted skill shone once again; he scored in three consecutive matches in February. By the end of March he had scored seven goals in fifteen league and cup matches, set up a few more and won a couple of man of the match awards.

JJ the manager was pleased that he was back on top form as he knew what that would feel like. It was nice that there was a bit of space between player and manager but JJ the manager still wanted to keep abreast of the player’s progress, which was easy thanks’ to our media’s football obsession.

For a couple of months the United v Atheltic match had been merely the fortieth match in a forty-two match season, whenever an interviewer asked him about the match JJ the manager spoke with a gleam in his eye about people having a great chance to offer a fitting tribute to a club legend. It was easy to feel magnanimous when your side is doing alright.

Atheltic’s improved form didn’t matter because United were maintaining the same relative gap. April’s second match, a 2-0 home defeat, dropped the massively unwelcome hint that if United weren’t careful they could be passed by Atheltic but this hint was dismissed.

In truth Athletic had been catching United ever since JJ the player had hit form.

When JJ the manager watched Athletic on telly he saw a confident team, a team that belied their lowly position with tough and silky football. It appeared that JJ the player had been their missing link. Consequently the forthcoming match had developed a distinctly ominous feel before Athletic actually passed United at the end of April.

In April United reverted to their pre-transfer form. United may have snubbed the first of the optimists “next chances” in April but the month provided other chances, and they were all snubbed with apparent abandon. It is very hard to remain optimistic when your side returns to misery as time appears to progress far too quickly.

JJ began to wish that he could go and do something on the pitch, he yearned to get on and do something, he knew that he could have done something, he still had an assured touch in training. He also knew that FA had insisted that because he had sold the player part of himself he was physically unable to set football on a football pitch.

The cold hard facts were inescapable.

There were three league matches left.

Atheltic were in seventeenth place with 41 points.

United were in eighteenth place with 38 points and a vastly inferior goal difference.

A worst case scenario had developed in plain sight.

It took these bone dry facts for JJ to finally realise that he could be the first man in the history of football to relegate himself.

Atheltic were about to visit United, JJ the manager was about face JJ the player. The match from the near distance was now in view.

The optimistic grasping of March – “I wouldn’t worry just yet” – felt far older than a couple of months.

In October nobody would have predicted that United’s involvement in virtual relegation decider but who would have guessed that United’s erratic form and the quirks of the fixture list would combine to produce such a scenario. Nobody would have thought to envisage that a player-manager could sell himself either.

The media was absolutely devoted to what they had decided to christen “El Metaphysical”. The build-up was annoying for all concerned as the media pursued their usual hyperbole-driven agenda of sell sell sell.

They seemed to interview everybody with a pulse and dragooned the United fans into two camps. One side said that JJ had tempted fate by selling himself to Athletic and the other said that it was impossible to look into the future and adequately predict what will happen.

JJ knew that when you’re in the vortex of football you see how the media works, you see how agendas are constructed to draw interest to a product. JJ saw this in the way they had framed this story.

The media said that JJ the player was thirsting for revenge because he had a massive point to prove and that JJ the manager was virtually cowering in his office because he feared the worst.

In the player’s case this was a ridiculous, why would he wish harm on himself? In the manager’s case it was all too true, but then it was fairly rich for the media to make judgemental comments about a manager feeling under pressure when they were responsible for trowelling on another layer of pressure with their coverage.

Whenever a manager is in trouble the media scents blood and continue getting in the way with their questions, as if their questions actually change something. JJ knew that he had given them the perfect storm with his novel approach to the situation but the course of action sounded like a good idea at the time.

JJ started to dread the press conferences with their arduous, tedious nature, how was he supposed to say what was going to happen? Didn’t these idiots in the media already have a rough idea of what may happen? Weren’t they paid to cover football?

JJ was at the latest press conference table attempting to field the questions like a resolute opening batsman. He tried platitudes but the questions didn’t stop, he tried to put the barriers up with monosyllabic sentences but the questions didn’t stop.

He yearned for things to go back to normal, he yearned to be somewhere else. Fragments of images rushed around his head, a sunny training ground, the post match euphoria of a cup triumph, being at home with the kids. He struggled to suppress his actual thoughts about the situation and was tempted to utter the following rejoinder;

“Do you know something, it is difficult to respect most journalists. To be fair you are skilled in your work environment, you know what you’re doing but why were you allowed to wield such power? You have never had to cope with the strain of managing a football club, how dare you judge me!”

He thought better of that because he knew the journalists were scenting blood.

One of the muckracking tabloid types bowled knee-high yorkers

How do you prepare for playing yourself?” ….. “Have you prepared for the psychological strain of seeing yourself trying to beat yourself?”

The questioning caused something in JJ’s head to fall on its side. His expression and demeanour changed immediately.

The journalists could see that their questions had not only rendered someone speechless they had caused a man to look out from an unmistakably haunted expression, if his eyes could have spoken you wouldn’t want to know their soul-shredding secrets.

JJ thought he’d kept a lid on his emotions but it was clear from the TV news and the following day’s back pages that the press had noticed, something had changed at that press conference.

His wife noticed, his children noticed it, then his players noticed. In the days leading up to the match JJ the manager tried to motivate his squad but the words sounded meagre and felt hollow.

He knew that his gamble had almost failed, he tried to formulate new tactics and thought about trying new faces from the youth team but the end result would yield the same disappointing return.

Even if he avoided relegation this season, what about next season? Going through this again didn’t bare thinking about.

It doesn’t matter how hard we try to avoid the path of time, important dates still come to our paths. The months, weeks and days had receded to hours, minutes and seconds. It was the night before matchday and JJ felt like a husk of a man, an automaton following the indentations of a familiar pattern of behaviour.

In the sixty minutes before kick off he could only offer meagre words that echoed with a clang of an empty oil tanker. He fell back on platitudes, stay sharp, stop them scoring, take your chances. There was a new variation in the coaching;


There was a clear note of desperation in the voice but the players still believed, they wouldn’t let JJ the manager down, they knew how to handle JJ the player, they had been training with him for years. They knew that they had to keep the ball on his left side, he was weaker on the left side.

At half time United were losing two nil and both goals had been scored by JJ the player.

By the sixty fifth minute JJ the player had completed his hatrick and by the 80th minute he had set up a fourth goal.

When JJ the player was substituted in the 87th minute the crowd could only applaud.

JJ the manager was glad to hear the tributes but sorry to hear his personal abuse. JJ the manager focussed on the truly touching movement rather than the fact that he was “totally fucking useless”.

JJ the manager was too stunned to ride the wave of emotion. To lose is one thing, your personal pride suffers, but United had lost because of his alterego’s performance, an alterego that used to play for his club no less.

He was the first manager in football history to have been beaten himself.

No amount of mental preparation could prepare one for such a scenario. Nothing can prepare you for shaking hands with yourself after you’ve beaten yourself in a football match.

As he was about to offer himself a platitude of congratulation when…….The rush of consciousness warmed him.

It had only been a dream.


Thankfully it had all been a dream!

A split second later he realised that he was awake in actual reality, that he could stretch out and feel the duvet, In a split second he realised that it was a Sunday, yes a Sunday.

Oh the relief, and it was a sunny day. A splitsecond later….



Last Sunday!

So it had only been a week since his old teammate Pete Davies had relegated him.

He may have been saved from the metaphysical nightmare of his dream but he had still been relegated in the penultimate game of the season by his old teammate, was there ever a time that we laughed together on the training ground?

There was nothing more wretched than that. JJ, the hero of the terraces, was the first manager to have relegated United for thirty eight years. He’d been told his job was safe but that’s just a collection of words at the end of the day.

John Jenkins, record appearance holder, remarkable goalscorer, relegated manager.

Then he remembered that there was a board meeting on Tuesday, would the board have had a change of heart?

At that precise post-dream second he wasn’t sure if he cared.

Another hobbytastic use for football.

28 12 2017

After I launched the phenomenon known as “Stickers on Street Furniture” the stickers literally made me the toast of Llandudno’s notoriously judgemental Cultural Quarter but I’m not one for resting on laurels.

This is very lucky because my mind is literally a continual artistic maelstrom and I’m continually formulating yet more artistic departures. My latest masterpiece is entitled…………Feet at the Football”.

The purpose of this continually expanding piece is to point out the continuity of the circumstances in which the self finds itself. In life the context around the self changes but the continuity remains the same. In short, we are all united by the presence of feet at football.

It doesn’t matter what sort of football you watch, or which level, or your location, there will always be a common detail; feet will be in contact with a surface, and it doesn’t matter whether the surface is natural or man made either. Let that sink in mate. Let that sink in.

Anyway, you can follow the action here.

Here’s a sneak preview of what will be on offer;

Well I wasn’t expecting that!

27 12 2017

Let’s imagine that people once predicted football results without the warming embrace of the thrusting venture science of looking at football-related numbers.

Honest guvnor it happened just like that, we didn’t have no venture science to fall back on, you can trust me on that guvnor.

People like me Nan predicted football results for forty years trying to strike it rich on the pools, even your humble narrator and his equally humble friends predicted football results on a fixed odds coupon from time to time, and none of us had no venture science.

Back then everybody predicted them results without no venture science.

It’s mad ain’t it guvnor, we still gave it a go even without them numbers of science behind us. 

You couldn’t keep us down guvnor, we was happy go lucky we was. We was all in the gutter but some of us was looking at the stars

Consider two things that happened in the last few weeks.

The first was the production of this tweet; “Arsenal Expected Goals 5.01 Man Utd Expected Goals 1.82″. I didn’t discover the tweet after the match but I still had the following thought “That’s uncanny!!! The final score was Arsenal 5.01 Manchester United 1.82. If only I could go back in time and put £100 on the result”. If only I could go back in time!

The second was the resumption of the social media debate between the proper football Neanderthals and the thrusting venture scientists that look at football related numbers. It was all Jeff Stelling’s fault because he had the unmitigated gall, if not sheer audacity, to be one of them typical proper football Neanderthal types. He doubted the efficacy of the concept/phrase called “Expected Goals” in a particular context.

Naturally like all other proper football Neanderthals I was aware that a concept/phrase called “Expected Goals” existed. I naturally presumed, like all other proper football Neanderthals, that it referred to the number of goals that one expected to see in a particular match. Presumptions get you nowhere so I fired up google’s banter engine.

It seems that Expected goals is……

“…a metric which assesses every chance, essentially answering the question of whether a player should have scored from a certain opportunity.

Put simply, it is a way of assigning a “quality” value (xG) to every attempt based on what we know about it. The higher the xG – with 1 being the maximum – the more likelihood of the opportunity being taken.

So if a chance is 0.5xG, it should be scored 50% of the time.”

Unless I have grasped the wrong end of the metric stick “Expected Goals” appears to be more than just a method of determining the number of goals that one expects to see in a particular match, it also involves the scientific knowledge of knowing whether a player should score when they find themselves in a position that appears to be a goalscoring position. What a breakthrough!

For a century and a half we proper football Neanderthals have been lumbering around in the dark distinctly unable to tell whether a chance should, or should not, have been scored. Now it seems that we had better pipe down because society finally has a scientific way of determining whether someone should have scored or not from a particular goalscoring position.

Mate, mate, mate, let that sink in, proper football Neanderthals have been quite literally wandering around in the literal darkness of literal football ignorance. Yeah mate let that fact literally sink in.

AND LO they did tweet “THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY” and other social media phrases. AND LO, it did sink in.

For the last century and a half us proper football Neanderthals have allowed players to blithely run around without the correct knowledge, we simply have not been able to tell whether a goal should have been scored or not in a given situation.

Well begone thy darkness, begone!

For now we can see the light!! Rejoice!! Rejoice!!

If I weren’t a proper football Neanderthal I would be really, really angry at those bloody proper football Neanderthals for subjecting us all to the terror of their deeply unscientific football. If only they had been furnished with simple understanding, if only they had been able to assess whether a player has the ability to score goals or not.

I think I need to let that sink in a bit more mate, all those wasted years mate, all those years, wasted! WASTED! I definitely need to let that sink in a bit more mate.

I am telepathic so I know what you’re thinking

“Mate mate mate what do you expect from your proper football Neanderthals? Decisions have never been part of their job descriptions. They’ve literally NEVER had to make decisions about players based on a comparison.

They’ve literally never had to look into the eyes of young hopeful and literally say “I’m sorry Son but you just haven’t quite got it. We wish you all the best for the future.”

You start to ask yourself how could they literally be like that, then you literally remember that they are proper football Neanderthals and they literally can’t tell which players literally haven’t quite got the skills required for a career as a professional footballer.”

Do you know something mate? You’d be correct. Your proper football Neanderthal can’t make decisions based on judgement because they’ve only gained a lifetime’s craft knowledge in the specialised employment sector called association football.

Praise Be!

It’s only thanks to the scientists from the thrusting venture science of looking at football related numbers that we can now predict football results with any level of scientific rigour.

I look back at the time before scientific rigour and shudder. How did we have the audacity to try and predict results? How did we have the audacity to enter betting shops with just the hope of future riches to guide us? It fair makes my blood run cold. How did we cope with that darkest of dark places?

Predicting football outcomes!!! What a breakthrough!

Let us gaze at the glorious idea of “Expected Goals” and hail the breakthrough!

Let us hail all of them science type people mate!!


AND LO they did tweet “THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY” and other social media phrases. AND LO, it did sink in.

Having said all that, knowledge in this area would be extremely useful for coaching staff, as the BBC article says

“To the naked eye they were struggling, but xG was identifying a team that would improve soon,” said Duncan Alexander, Opta’s chief data analyst.

“Lo and behold, around matchday 12, their fortunes changed, with the team starting to score at – and above – the expected rate. This led to them actually performing better than their xG said they should have in their eventual stroll to the title.”

The concept of “Expected Goals” could help player development. For example it could provide the pictorial tools to support coaching like “Have you thought about standing here instead of there?”. It’s an obvious thing to say but performance in a particular match situation could be improved by thinking about that particular match situation, especially when you may be able to call on data.

I can see how the data may inform tactical thinking. It is extremely difficult to control every aspect of a match but individual incidents in specific regions of the pitch, i.e. the penalty area, can help to determine a result. Relevant data about those regions of the pitch may provide insights.

While data is useful within the work environment of football but I am not sure it is much use outside that environment. Coaches have to analyse options and possibilities dispassionately but fans only need to hope for the best, in other words coaches can directly affect match situations but fans cannot.

Concepts such as “Expected Goals” have been sold as part of an analytical approach that will provide layman with a more refined understanding of football. On a fundamental level this idea has potential. The understanding gained through study allows human society to evolve, everybody is capable of understanding society through study, therefore everybody is capable of understanding football by studying it.

The academic study of football would probably require a level of time and effort that most people would be unable to devote but fans wouldn’t actually need to produce data because the media would probably digest and present research.

Therefore in principle the process of study would allow fans to understand more about football. I can see the potential in debunking commonly held attitudes about typical terrace scapegoats. Before we move on too quickly it’s worth considering whether the information provided data concepts actually adds anything worthwhile to a layman’s understanding of football, can fans benefit from data concepts?

Imagine your side lost 2-0. It won’t matter how much detail the stats convey, or how many times you look at them, your side would still have lost 2-0. The scoreline, and perhaps a brief match report, will tell you all that you need to know. There’s a choice to make; accept the score or howl at the moon as an appeal to the deity of football fairness on the basis of favourable match stats. Football has never been concerned about the fairness of outcome, somebody has to lose after all (unless there’s a draw).

Concepts like “Expected Goals” gild a lily that doesn’t need to be there. Aside from providing a slightly clearer view for betting purposes fans cannot do anything practical with the statistical knowledge.

Knowledge about what could, or even should, happen becomes pointless when a match ends with a different scoreline. The fact that scorelines often differ from predictions immediately calls the utility of a metric such as “Expected Goals” into question.

If the concept of “Expected Goals” had never been conceived it would not matter in the slightest, most fans do not need extravagant methodology to prove what they can recall from memory. Let us look at the following quote from the BBC article;

“So if your team is performing above or below expectations at the start of the new season, a look at their expected goals difference could tell you whether that run is likely to last.

And it may also be something worth thinking about the next time your striker misses what you always thought of as an easy chance.”

Fans will already know when their team plays well, whether a season has been below expectations, which players make a difference and which sides are the strongest in their division. These ideas are hardly new, they’ve been around since the 19th century foundation of association football. It’s not hard to pick theses insights up, you just have to follow football,

OOOOH SCIENTIFIC “Expected Goals”!!!!!! Get you, with your magical powers!!!!!

I’ve managed to notice that fans are also able to recognise what happens in individual situations, I haven’t done any research like, I have just noticed by looking.

Let’s imagine that a particular striker is standing in their typical sort of position, a similar position from which you’ve seen him score many times. You know that when the ball is crossed you could be milliseconds away from seeing a goal. You can picture him striking the ball cleanly and the ball flying past the keeper. The football dopamine factory is in full effect during the milliseconds of anticipation between the crosser’s leg moving backwards and the ball flying through the air.

Now imagine that just before the perfect cross lands on the proverbial pre-decimal coin the striker slightly loses his footing in the slippery conditions, so when he connects with the ball he scuffs it well wide of the goal. You don’t need an expert venture scientist to explain why the striker missed because you saw the striker slip. QED or something.

The naked eye can see the effect of a momentary loss of concentration, or when crosses are slightly too fast, or defenders are marking too tightly, or when strikers stumble slightly. Surely we don’t need a complicated theory to explain what we already know. Like I said earlier I haven’t done any research, make of that what you will.


I appear to have been light years ahead of the curve, I already knew that van Nistelrooy would score more than Gary Neville and Ian Rush would score more than Alan Hansen and Ian Wright would score more than Steve Bould. If I wasn’t so humble I’d ask the Nobel committee to consider my thesis entitled “Expected Passes That Set Up Goals” for next year’s Nobel prize in the thrusting venture science that looks at football related numbers.

I don’t want to blow my own trumpet here but I would be a shoe-in for the award for I doth have a PhD in thinking up stuff what is bleeding obvious. As part of my submission I will tell the Nobel committee about the people of Llandudno; they often crowd around me in order to touch the hem of my garments and tell me that they would love to have the level of intelligence and sophistication like what I have got.

Greater knowledge can lead to greater enjoyment but bare statistics only explain so much. A misplaced pass has the same statistical worth whether it happens just outside a penalty area or near the halfway line. Stats can tell us that a side with 75.4% possession lost a match by conceding injury time goals but they can’t tell us why did that happened, which is the most interesting bit.

The concept of “Expected Goals” appears to have more explanatory power than bare statistics but it still lacks utility for fans.

There are two main reasons, firstly it’s pointless to expect something in football because uncertainty lies at the heart of the sport and secondly, people are attracted to football by emotion not logic.

You can roughly predict general outcomes but it would take a genius with preternatural abilities to continually make correct predictions. A friend that regularly bets on horse racing once told me that football’s inherent uncertainty is the reason he didn’t bet on football results, there are just too many things that can go wrong.

The flow of matches is dictated by the fluid interaction of single events that can alter the course of a match in a split second. A player could slip, someone could pass the ball to the wrong player, a player could stand in the wrong place, a goalkeeper might fumble a cross, a defender’s concentration may wander momentarily. Football’s nature means that similar mistakes don’t always lead to goals.

Uncertainty sounds messy and random but the uncertainty created by football’s inherent drama is the thing that draws people to football, can you imagine how boring it would be if all matches ended in the predicted score?

The proponents of ideas like “Expected Goals” imply that greater enjoyment will come from greater enlightenment but an attachment to football’s vibrant culture is something that people feel on an emotional level and I doubt whether it is possible to explain an emotional attachment with data.

We know what we feel when we see flowing moves, superb skill, precision shooting, great comebacks, unexpected goals. Fans can get behind their side and roar them on, or make the opposition wilt, and we don’t need a detailed scientific outlook to do that.

We all know what it feels like to long for a result, or to taste the glory, or to feel mesmerised by history, or to feel a sense of belonging, or to enjoy the camaraderie, or to hear the stories. We know that the match will probably be dull but there’s always the hope that we could see something fantastic. A recording of a memorable match can enable you to relive the feelings, looking at data won’t elicit the same response.

Let us consider Wales in Euro 2016.

Let’s start with the data perspective. Ladies and gentlemen may I present the minutes in which goals were scored in Wales’ matches between September 2014 and July 2016.

Euro 2016 Qualifiers

Wales – 13, 22, 23, 26, 45, 50, 50, 77, 81, 82, 86
Opponents – 6, 36, 71, 90

Euro 2016

Wales – 10, 11, 20, 31, 42, 56, 67, 75, 81, 86
Opponents – 13, 50, 53, 56, 61, 90

Now let us turn to idea of an average score, the “Expected Goals” if you will, from those matches;

  • In the qualifiers the average score was Wales 1.1, Opponent 0.4 (10 matches, 11 goals for, 4 goals against).
  • In Euro 2016 the average score was Wales 1.6, Opponents 1 (6 matches, 10 goals for, 6 goals against).

According to the Venture Science of Looking At Football Related Numbers we should have been able to take the knowledge indicated by the above information and prepare ourselves for the unexpected joy dans la belle France, the average scorelines have a degree of similarity do they not?

The fact that we obviously didn’t know what was going to happen shows the limitations of concepts like “Expected Goals”.

Even a cursory analysis of the data tells us that most predictions would have been wrong; during the tournament Wales were not only more potent, playing four fewer matches but only scoring one goal fewer, they also conceded more second half goals. This impression is also reflected in the average scorelines.

All data has limitations, in football it is more useful as an indication of what happened rather than as a signpost of what will happen. But then football results of the past have never determined future football results.

In terms of Wales at Euro 2016 bare statistics cannot even begin to explain what happened because they cannot begin to explain what it felt like to witness the events. Watching Wales play in Euro 2016 was the sort of fantastically bewildering experience that any football fan would enjoy.

The utter joy of qualification did not transfer into expectation. Not even the most positive Welsh fan would have even been able to conceptualise what actually happened in France, and that includes those that bought follow my team tickets.

Data was useless for mental preparation. Wales’ pre-tournament form guide told us that they lost their last four matches, and one of those was a week before the first match yet they reached the semi-final. Hopes, dreams and general football knowledge would have been as reliable an indicator as the data. The only thing we could have expressed with any degree of certainty is the idea that Wales might score and they might concede.

Not even the simple knowledge what happened when Wales play against the same sides helped. The qualifiers against Belgium yielded an aggregate score Wales 1 Belgium 0, when the sides met in the Quarter Final Wales beat Belgium 3-1 in one of the most memorable matches Wales has ever played. The first two matches are unable to explain the third. I still feel warm and fuzzy when I picture Hal’s Cruyff turn.

Data can’t explain what it felt like to see Ashley Williams’ equaliser, or Hal Robson-Kanu’s skilful finish, or Sam Vokes’ late header and it certainly can’t explain the once-in-a-lifetime experience for those in Lille or the open mouthed joy for those that watched on TV.

To underline the point further let’s consider qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup as well. From Euro 2016 to Euro 2016 to World Cup 2018 qualifiers the average score only changed slightly; from Wales 1.1, Opponent 0.4 to Wales 1.6, Opponents 1 to Wales 1.3, Opponents 0.6. 

The similar average scores suggest a similar experience yet the three stages caused distinctly different emotions. The first stage had the glory of an historical qualification, the second stage had the glory of an unprecedented semi-final, the third stage had a very irritating defeat caused by Ireland in the most important match.

In other words the knowledge from the Euro 2016 qualifiers didn’t prepare us for didn’t prepare us for Euro 2016 and the knowledge from Euro 2016 didn’t prepare us for the World Cup 2018 Qualifiers.

I may believe that facts and stats don’t really add to a fan’s enjoyment of football but in our gossamer skinned times people actually enjoy using stats on social media to prolong pointless arguments. I quote verbatim;

“Mate mate mate, you can’t challenge me for I have the right to free speech. THAT’S “ME”, YES ME.  I HAVE THE RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH. I’m entitled to my opinion mate and it happens to be better than your opinion mate. You know sod all about football. Get over it SNOWFLAKE. LET THAT LITERALLY SINK IN MATE”

Verbatim and ad nauseum, the reduction of football to a never-ending struggle to finally prove which judgement based opinion is the bestest ever mate. They’ll use anything in these social media spats; Net Spend, Shots, Possession. Look at me, Look at me, Look at me.

It’s like some people have forgotten that data does not predetermine the future. A player can play against the same club twice and play well in one match but play poorly in the other, or they can eradicate the mistakes from the first match by the time they play the second, confidence can be regained in the intervening period.

Anybody with a semblance of football knowledge can make rough predictions, fans don’t need data. Knowing that a side has error-prone keeper from watching Match Of The Day highlights is as enlightening as a set of data. Emotions and experience prepare fans for football outcomes rather than data.

If somebody wants to interact with football on the basis of a statistical relationship that’s fine and dandy, it’s between them, their conscience and their free time, it matters not a jot. I just wish they’d keep it to themselves. The thrusting venture science of looking at football numbers has become yet another example of football’s imperialistic tendencies.

Football should be a hugely enjoyable diverting pastime that’s reasonably important to those that are interested but it seems to have developed an extreme sense of self-importance.

I try to ignore the tedious flotsam and jetsam but other people won’t allow me and football continually encroaches too far into my peace of mind. Take last weekend, I was getting ready to go to Rotherham when I caught the short BBC Breakfast News report about the previous night’s Arsenal 3 Liverpool 3 match. The reporter told us about culpability, mistakes and pressure rather than a “clearly exciting and pleasant way to spend a couple of hours”. It was as if somebody needed to be held accountable and punished

As Thom Yorke once sang, I’m a reasonable man get off my case.

I read “Expected Goals” and foresee a new stick to beat a team with.

“I know mate, won 2-0 but our xG was 4.2. That’s not good enough mate! He’s gotta go!”

I foresee the whimpering of data acolytes.

“Mate, Mate, Mate, It’s not my fault the cretin scored in the 83th minute instead of the 9th minute. He’s a proper football man at heart and didn’t know that most of his own goals come from the 8.4-11.7 minute window within the hidden trapezium of max. goal scoritude.

Stats don’t lie mate. Stats don’t lie. He’s just a proper football Neanderthal mate, he’s basically a performing monkey, a lab rat.”

Mate mate mate football doesn’t really matter.

Isn’t it enough to know that football runs by the internal logic of its own nature? It’s like the man on the When Saturday Comes message board implied, you don’t need to know the serial number of pantones to be affected by the beauty of art.


It’s cliched to be cynical at Christmas

24 12 2017

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. a half season ticket for MK Dons.

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. tickets for a match where both sides wear away kits.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me….three dog-eared protest placards written in felt tip.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. four deeply serious pundits around a deeply serious table.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me….FIVE banter bus companies.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. six hundred people willing to buy the season ticket I relinquished in protest.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. seven thousand clichés.

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. eight players tag team fouling.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. nine insipid newbuilds.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. ten showboaters engineering contact.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. eleven hours of build up.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me….twelve away fans in identical baseball caps and khaki polyester coats doing the provocative outstetched arms dance they learnt from that you tube.

On the thirteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. attention fatigue.

On the fourteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. fourteen angry phone in radio shows.

On the fifteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. fifteen hours of build up.

On the sixteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. sixteen rearranged matches.

On the seventeenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. seventeen thousand tweets already tweeted.

On the eighteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. a club with eighteen players out on loan.

On the nineteenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. nineteen HD views of a foul that wasn’t a foul.

On the twentieth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. twenty hours of build up.

On the twenty first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. twenty one needlessly judgemental commentators.

On the twenty second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…. a book about films.

That’s the thing about soul mates, they know exactly what you like.

Did you know that it’s been 27 and a half years since Italia ’90?

7 12 2017

Italia ’90 is probably my favourite world cup, read on to find out why.

My interest in tournament football began with inconsequential Espana ’82 details; the kit colour diagrams in Ladybird’s World Cup ’82 book, the multi-lingualism of Panini’s sticker album and the photos in the BBC’s preview guide. The page devoted to Chile contained a photo of footballers standing in front of the snow-capped Andes and it was one of the most strikingly exotic images I’d ever seen. I must add that I was unaware of Pinochet when I was five.

I say “my interest began” but I don’t remember much before 1990. There are fragments of Espana ’82; the draw’s metal cages and Czechoslovakians with badges in the middle of their shirts. There are larger lumps of Mexico ’86; Italy v Bulgaria’s vague outline, edited highlights of Maradona, Luis Fernandez’s shootout winning penalty against Brazil and our playground captain telling me that I was Jose Luis Brown the day after the final. Euro ’88 is in relative high definition; England v Ireland, England v Holland, the USSR v Holland group match but I still didn’t watch the final. I’m sure the increasing clarity had something to do with getting older.

Italia ’90 was the first tournament to entrance me. I suppose it came at the right time, I was the right age and most of it was on telly at a reasonable hour. I had also watched Hero, the official film of Mexico ’86, so many times the line “The day the dazzling Danes finally ran out of steam!” has a Harry Lime on the Prater Ferris Wheel resonance.

I was so besotted by anticipation I felt a frisson of excitement whenever I saw Ciao the stick man mascot. It could have been a Mars bar wrapper, a can of coke or a magazine advert for Fujifilm. Somebody brought an Italia ’90 coca cola miniball to school and we played with it every lunchtime until the synthetic green, red and white leather panels fell off. I knew I had to get one. In hindsight I may have been a willing dupe of the marketing industry.

I can’t say that there weren’t little disappointments like Ladybird’s decision to replace the charming utilitarian air of their world cup guides with the word processor chic of paragraphs at funny angles but little joys like the Orbis “World Cup ’90” binder restored my karmic balance.

The binder brought together a partwork and a sticker album. The different sections – famous goals, famous matches, world cup heroes, a history of previous world cup and a run down on the tournament’s organisation – were a treasure trove for the likes of me. It was exciting enough to see the grounds and other photos and visualise the historic goals from the diagrams but the stickers added a joy of their own.

The logical way they organised the group matches caught my eye. Each group was based around two grounds, the top seeds played all their matches in the biggest ground of the pair while all of the other matches were played in the other ground. I always remembered the pairings; Milan / Bologna, Turin / Genoa, Rome / Florence, Naples / Bari, Cagliari / Palermo and Verona / Udine. This system has the nice side effect of allowing locals to adopt a second team. It’s harder to do that with today’s random ground selection.

I was well briefed about the pundits’ potential dark horses and players of the tournament because I bought a few guides, I had hoped for posters and memorabilia but they were bereft. I knew that a hero would come from the pantheon of familiar names; Lineker, Barnes, Maradona, van Basten, Hagi, Careca, Butragueno.

In the time before Sky TV, you tube and the thrusting venture science of looking at football statistics “foreign players” were little more than names and photos. Even famous players were mostly known by reputation only. The lack of concrete proof wasn’t a problem because the atmosphere was far less oppressive.

Predictions could be taken at face value, opinion could remain unexpressed and you weren’t expected to feel personally let down. You could interact with football on the basis of the hope that moments of great skill would just happen. Looking back I’d say that everybody knew that it was more palatable to imagine than to know but I’m sure that a lot of people were more jaundiced than that, I was probably too young to have discovered cynicism.

For football experts and the forensic analysts from our football content creating milieu Italia ’90 is not exactly a classic world cup, these people are hardened cynics. Before we become bogged down in their semantics there are a couple of things to bear in mind. Firstly, words are just like, someone else’s opinion man. Secondly, football may have always looked backwards to a golden era that didn’t exist. Contemporary reviews of world cups, and official world cup films, often contain disparaging comments about “that modern football these days”, matches are now less thrilling, teams are now too defensive and the general style has become less attractive etc etc.

If football is about anything it’s about two teams trying to stop the other scoring, therefore it has always been largely humdrum, and that includes the supposed pinnacle called the world cup. For every Brazil ’70, Holland ’74 or Brazil ’82 there’s a Germany ’82, Bulgaria ’86 or Greece ’94. Don’t deliberately misunderstand or misquote your humble narrator here, I love to perpetually watch beautiful football as much as the next man but romance wilts when professionalism matters, it’s better to accept that beautiful football is a blip to be savoured.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I liked Italia ’90. I’m no iconoclast or arbiter of taste but I know what I felt and I trust my memories and feelings more than I trust than accepted opinion. In fact I didn’t just like Italia ’90 I loved everything about it.  It was the first tournament that I felt part of and I can recall virtually every detail with fondness. You can’t stop me having memories baby.

Wales had failed to qualify again but my friends and I still looked forward to the tournament. Before the tournament Pete, one of my Dad’s friends, came to our house, noticed the World Cup ’90 binder and proclaimed that he always supported Brazil. I noted the pedagogical tone in his voice but said nothing. I didn’t identify with Brazil, I’d wanted France to beat them in the last world cup.

My friends and I hadn’t thought about picking a side until we noticed the copy of William Hill’s world cup guide near the goal on The Oval (The Oval is a big field in the middle of Llandudno). We’d been playing football with some older lads, as was our want, so I reasoned that one of them had left it behind. Leaving something behind was a common experience as our pre-football routine usually involved chucking unwanted clothes on the ground as quickly as you could to get on with the game.

I flicked through the guide and saw that the older lads had chosen one of the six favourites, Paul suggested that we do the same and picked Argentina, Mark picked Brazil and I picked Germany. I knew Wales had been knocked out by Germany but so what, you couldn’t live in the past daddio. Stephen upset the flow of the idea by picking Ireland on account of his Irish dad, and Irish replica shirt. So we had sides to follow.

I loved the grounds. The photos made them look fantastic so they were the kind of location you could daydream about. The designs looked both futuristic and traditional. There was symmetry, curves, angular edges, arches, intricate steel work, giant girders, glass walls and above all pristine concrete. I didn’t know about the day to day problems – inconvenient locations, bad sightlines, glass screens obscuring the view – I just marvelled at the minds that designed them. I wondered why Britain didn’t have grounds that looked like that but I was too young to understand the machinations behind stadium construction.

Most of the kits looked great, especially the Adidas ones. There were some jazzy elements but it was mostly symmetry and diagonal lines. We were well used to seeing the shirts of the popular sides because there had been plenty of mail order adverts in Shoot and Match. I can still see the adverts featuring England, Scotland, Holland, Argentina, Sweden, Germany, Belgium, USSR and USA’s blue kit. Kit purists would have noticed a few problems with the advertised kits, Argentina’s kit was slightly different from the one they actually wore, the USSR didn’t wear the paint splattered design you could buy and the USA’s home kit was actually white.

Paul and I received the respective shirts but it was harder to source the replica shirts from outside the promoted world cup few so Mark didn’t bother with Brazil’s. I remember Llandudno’s sport shops selling the shirts, one even stocked that blue USA shirt, so I suppose that was where we got them. As already noted Stephen had the Ireland shirt, I don’t know why it was sponsored by Opel.

When I started to watch the world cup I quickly realised that I preferred the adidas designs that you couldn’t buy; Argentina away, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, USSR (Without CCCP). Romania, Cameroon, Egypt, Colombia. In 1990 a side could turn up in an unseen kit because there were no slow marketing reveals or November launches.  It felt exciting to see a kit on TV for the first time and it’s a shame that you can’t be surprised like that now. I could have taken all of them but Llandudno never saw kits like that, the closest I got was stroking the extortionately priced USSR kits in a Liverpool sport shop a few months after the world cup.

The less than stylish outfield kits were very much in the minority, the only one I didn’t take to was Scotland’s apparent tri-coloured tribute to a Breton shirt. The goalkeepers’ kits were a different matter, many of them were gaudy but the most heinous was Austria’s fluorescent stripiness, even the shorts were stripy.

Adidas had evidentially put all their style eggs in their outfield basket because most of their goalkeeping kits evoked the air of Campri’s dayglo ski wear, which was popular in my school at the time. Rene Higuita’s kit was a particularly abomination, it was so bad I can’t even begin to describe it. Having said that honourable mentions should go to the Jackson Pollack tribute worn by Czechoslovakia / Yugoslavia / USSR / USA and the colour panel design favoured by Michel Preud’homme, Thomas N’Kono and Thomas Ravelli.

The sides with the smartest kits were undoubtedly Italy and Brazil. They wore simple designs with classic styling, Zenga in Grey, Vialli in Blue, Taffarel in Green, Careca in Yellow. Continuity may have been key because Italy wore virtually the same design as they had in Mexico, a v necked / polo collar without manufacturer’s logos, and the only change from Brazil’s Mexico outfit was a collar change. I also liked the fact that shorts appeared to be getting baggier.

If I had been Biff Tannen, and foreseen the market for retro football shirts, I could be charging £300 for pristine examples of German or Argentinian shirts on e-bay but I am not, c’est la vie.

For years sportswear and equipment had exerted a fascination, the stylings, the marketing posters in sport shops, the packaging, the look of the labels, the embroidered logos, and the Italia ’90 equipment was very evocative too. Everything about the ball felt perfect. The Tango-esque design meant that it was going to look great flying through the air. The name, Etrusco Unico, seemed exotic, Adidas took the name and design elements from the pre-Roman Etruscan civilisation. Even the packaging was great, the usual blue and white Adidas creation. They were out of my price range but I already had a nice Tango so it didn’t really matter.

The ball had a namesake in a stylish revelation of a boot. It was one of the first boots that looked a bit different because the three stripes continued around the sole of the boot. While a lot of the top players seemed to wear them Puma Kings were also popular and a lot of the German side wore more traditional looking adidas boots.

I thought the adidas tracksuits looked great with their zig zagging lines. I looked at them from afar, like the shirts and balls I knew I’d never own something like that. Umbro advertised entire leisure wear ranges and both England and Scotland had bespoke collections that included shellsuits, Bermuda shorts, traning shirts, t-shirts. I remember the 5-IN-A-ROW Scotland T-shirt. I didn’t really want to own the stuff I could buy. I liked adidas’ Coppa Del Mundo jumper because it epitomised ’90s chic but I lacked the confidence to think about wearing it.

I found the football engrossing. I didn’t notice the lack of style or lack of quality but I wasn’t looking for faults and I was too busy rushing home to watch matches. The first three days set the tone. The Friday teatime opener, Argentina v Cameroon, took place in the San Siro. Apart from a general sense of excitement about the world cup finally starting Pumpido’s mistake and Caniggia getting cleaned out twice as he tried to hurdle Cameroonian fouls are the two things that stand out. I remember laughing at Paul because his team had lost.

On the second day Romania surprised the USSR in Bari and I dug football on a Saturday. Romania wore red, the USSR didn’t wear CCCP, Lacatus scored twice and the pundits felt sorry for Dasayev. I remember the Romanian fans waved flags that contained massive holes where Ceaucescu’s Neo-Stalinist symbol used to be. There was a metaphorical avalanche of matches in the first three days, Brazil v Sweden, Czechoslovakia v USA, Ireland v England, Scotland v Costa Rica, and the flow continued like that across the group stage. It was fantastic.

There were great stories like Cameroon’s fantastic run to the quarter final, everyone in my year enjoyed Milla’s celebrations and even Higuita seemed to want them to go through, sadly their run was ended by England on the Sunny Sunday evening I flitted between my house and Paul’s. Costa Rica was another of the surprises. USSR and Holland the biggest disappointments. I blame the guides, they told me van Basten was going to be a star, they forgot to tell me that he was injured, although they probably did and I just didn’t notice.

I remember feeling disappointed for Scotland, and especially for Jim Leighton, when they were narrowly defeated, and knocked out, by Brazil. I liked Skuhravy’s hatrick against Costa Rica and the balletic quality to David Platt’s swivelling volley. I remember hoping Ireland would win on penalties and feeling disappointed that Italy knocked them out in the quarter final.

My Germany were great. A great victory over Yugoslavia, a big victory over the UAE in the rain and a draw that allowed Colombia to qualify. A second round victory over Holland with some good goals, a comfortable 1-0 quarter final victory over the Czechs then the famous semi-final shootout with England. I may have been the only person cheering for Germany that night.

Paul’s Argentina were doing ok, a slip up against Cameroon then a win over the USSR and a draw with Romania. I missed Argentina’s victory over Brazil but I managed to watch their quarter final victory over Yugoslavia that featured what my Dad’s mate called the worst penalty shootout he ever saw, then another penalties victory over Italy.

So it was Argentina v Germany in the final. Me v Paul. Paul v Me.  I remember the morning of the final because I was watching a friend playing football when I overheard smug fat man opine; “Oh Argentina will just soak up the pressure”.

This may have been the split second that I decided to take against any and all football opinion smugness. I wanted to put him straight but I didn’t have the confidence. I don’t know why I took umbrage because Germany was only a passing crush. How can you say anything with confidence in football? Needless to say I had the last laugh after a soft penalty and Argentinian red cards. I had managed to pick a winner, and the rest as they say is history.

The matches return easily to my mind but I can’t recall much about the players. I can remember the glory boys like the scorers – Schilachi, Milla, Skuhravy, Careca, Brolin – and the thrilling runners – Matthaus, Caniggia or Baggio – and others that stuck – Cameroon’s Makanaky, Argentina’s Goycochea, USA’s Windischmann – but I don’t remember stellar performers standing out.

I can see glimpses of greatness – Prosinecki trying to belittle an Argentinian defender, Stojkovic’s deftness against Spain and one typical Maradona dribble against Brazil – but that’s it.  I don’t think I had the eye for that kind of detail but our galaxy of stars existed in a less heavenly environment. Football wasn’t massively important in 1990, there was no football PR industry turning footballers into gargantuan merchandise sellers and pundits didn’t forensically pore over minutiae from ten high definition angles. Then again I may not have been looking closely enough.

The world cup story didn’t end there. I bought official videos (highlights and every goal) as soon as they came out and shared them around my friendship group. Brain Moore added the commentary and one phrase; “The X-Factor was a cheeky backheel by Jara” became our phrase of choice for a bit.

In August we took our first family holiday abroad; Amsterdam by ferry from Harwich. We had to change in Liverpool Street and while we were waiting I bought World Soccer’s review of Italia ’90. It was filled by the stuff I liked, stats, photos and the chance to buy a porcelain statuette of Maradona flying over Harald Schumacher. I liked Amsterdam a lot, even if I had to settle for a Ruud Gullit postcard instead of an AC Milan shirt. I wore the German shirt on the way home and an angry ferry passenger shouted “ACHTUNG MESSERSCHMITT, PISS OFF!!!!!!!!” at me. My mum wasn’t amused but I was.

I have two abiding memories of Italia ‘90. The first was the feeling that every matchday was exciting, we didn’t know what would happen, we didn’t know if we’d see great goals. There were always things to say the day after; “Did you see that last night?”, “I’m Matthaus today”, “I’m Roger Milla today”.

The second is the feel of watching matches with a stylish backdrop. By the end of the world cup I could name each unique ground within seconds by the landmarks or the way the seats looked. There was Bologna’s tower, Udine’s arch, Genoa’s combination of terraces and red cubism, the Olympic Stadium’s running track, the subterranean corridor behinds the San Siro goals and the grassy areas behind the goals in Florence. My favourite was Genoa, I desperately wanted to go there. A couple of years ago the opportunity to visit arose and everything was just as I hoped it would be.

For me Italia ’90 feels like it was part of a golden period of football. Cynics could say that I only feel like that because I’m wallowing in the nostalgia of being a responsibility free teenager. They could quite reasonably point out that Havelange and his ideas had been in control of FIFA for 16 years so there was a long list of multinational sponsors connected to FIFA and the world cup.

While that’s all true Italia ’90 still has a watershed quality. It was the last old style world cup, the last tournament without names on the back of shirts and numbers on the front, the last world cup without whooshing logos in expensively designed bespoke fonts. We made do with 1 to 22 and the graphics that RAI used for Serie A matches.

Italia ’90 was also the last tournament to feature nation states from the Europe created by the October Revolution and post-World War One peace treaties. By the next world cup the multi-national nation states of Eastern Europe had broken up. Welsh fans have seen this effect at close hand, over the last three decades Wales have been losing to gradually shrinking countries; from Yugoslavia to Serbia & Montenegro to Montenegro (plus Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia for good measure).

The entire year had a watershed quality; we had entered the last decade of the twentieth century and the Cold War had ended. The triumphalism connected to victory over the “evil empire” produced the “End of History” thesis, which provided the intellectual legitimacy for the onward march of market capitalism.  Craven governments propagated the gospel of market economics under the benign guise of democratisation and liberalisation and lo, multinational companies did brazenly pursue their selfish economic interests. It’s difficult to deny the effect of this process on football.

I can’t help but miss 1990, football just wasn’t the bloated epidemic that we are now forced to tolerate. The Likely lads’ theme was right, the only thing to look forward to is the past.

Hats off to Nev!!!!!

20 11 2017

North Wales is one of Britain’s backwaters. It’s the sort of place that only appears on the news when something really bad happens or there’s a quirky little human interest story about animals.

It’s the sort of place that people move away from when stardom or employment beckons, the sort of place to which you return once a year or once stardom wanes. You can’t help where you’re born can you?

What’s that?

You had a lovely month one night in north Wales. Very good, I’m sorry you’ll have to speak up……..What’s that?

North Wales is the kind of place that grows on you? ……..Like mould?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, very funny. I bow to your comedic ability……..What’s that?……..

Oh aye, oh aye, I know you’re only joking, I know it’s lovely, blah blah blah blah.

Mate, mate maaaaaaate I don’t care what you think because I like living in north Wales. I don’t care if there’s a bright centre to the galaxy and north Wales is the furthest point from it, I’ve got books and I like the rain.

Anyway Neville Southall was different, he stayed in north Wales. Even after he won all of those medals as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe he continued to live in the town where he grew up.

Nev, son of Llandudno, has garnered much recent attention with his twitter output of skeleton related whimsy and scathing assessments of the government policy.

It’s been an unexpurgated joy to read the social media output that if it were a stick of rock sold from a kiosk on Llandudno Pier would have “I Think Like This Because I’m From Llandudno” running through the middle of it. It was clear that the ex-goalkeeper had his finger firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist so naturally blog articles followed.

It was nice to see articles but some of us knew they were lacking that certain je ne sais quoi. Well I say that but we knew exactly what they lacked, a sense of Llandudno. It was quite obvious that none of the authors had actually lived upon the mean streets of the Queen of Welsh resorts, or walked upon Ysgol John Bright’s waxed parquet flooring, or stood upon Llandudno’s West Shore and watched the sun set behind Anglesey, or personally encountered Nev.

I encountered him on two occasions, the first was when he presented the Llandudno under 12s with our runner up medal in the league cup. I may have been a non-playing reserve but it remains my one piece of football silverware, my one piece of football glory. I treasure the silver plastic and marble effect base. I like to think that the North Wales Coast FA were ahead of their time by awarding an entire squad with medals. As an added memento Nev autographed the back of my commemorative team photo.

The second encounter happened on the afternoon I nearly pushed my bike into him as he came out of our local post office. His sportswear told me that he was in a post-training mood. I was slightly star struck so I only managed to say was “Sorry!!”. On the way home I realised that I may have been the only person that had interacted with a world class sportsman at that precise time on planet Earth.

There are plenty of reasons to respect Nev. Firstly his famous job, he was a bone fide famous name in my Shoot and Match influenced milleu. He wasn’t just part of teams that were relatively successful, Everton during one of their most successful periods and a Wales side that was doing alright without actually qualifying, he was the last goalkeeper to be awarded the title Footballer Of The Year.

Whenever I think of Nev I see someone holding the Cup Winners’ Cup in red le coq sportif, or someone poised in Everton’s 1989 dark green umbro, or someone standing resolute in the shiny polyester of Wales, either light blue hummel or green umbro. Sometimes he’s holding a ball and sometimes he isn’t.

His feats for Wales were as clear as the azure blue of deepest summer. Without his skill we may not have beaten Germany in 1991 but one of his finest performance was during the 7-1 away defeat in Holland, if he hadn’t have played so well Wales could have conceded another 5 goals, I type that without a hint of hyperbole. Aside from Hagi’s long range effort I struggle to remember any mistakes but the perfectionist called Nev would remember every footstep or glove out of place.

Goalkeeping is a difficult skill to master and unless you’ve played in goal you can’t really appreciate just how difficult it is to play in goal. It took me a sixteen year apprenticeship as a mistake rectifying defender recreational / six-a-side league football to graduate to the position of goalkeeper.

As a fellow goalkeeper I can appreciate just how fantastically skilled Nev and most other professional goalkeepers are. Quite a few people, even me, can score screamers if they and a football connect properly but not everybody can make a reaction save or get their hands to a ball that’s heading to the top corner.

It is incredibly difficult to pull off flying saves. You have to co-ordinate your range of movement, strength and agility to spring through the air to meet a fast moving target with split second timing. Top goalkeepers make this look easy but when was the last time you tried to jump for anything let alone do so acrobatically?

The next time you’re in a room with windows try to imagine diving from one side of the window to the other and still be in control of your moment, remain aware of your surroundings and land safely. Do you think that you would be able to react quickly if you had to attempt a similar feat within seconds? There too many occasions to mention when Nev performed highly skilled goalkeeping heroics of this nature.

I also like his style of rugged individualism. Sometimes he wore two shirts, he was one of the first keepers I saw in padded shorts (unless my memory is playing tricks and it was Mark Crossley). I remember the time he left the half time dressing room early to crouching against the post until the rest of his Everton teammates returned to the pitch. He was the only player that’s provided a pre-Cup Final interview whilst sitting on the Orme. I remember the swell of pride as I realised where he was.

I liked the way Nev came straight back to Llandudno after the 1995 FA Cup Final, he was a man after my own heart. No flannel, no unnecessary pandering. Who doesn’t secretly yearn to be their own person? To be dependable yet aloof, to be the someone that everyone knows will get the job done when required. Not everybody wants to be the life and soul of the party, anybody can tell a joke and YAP YAP YAP but can they be relied upon?

I sense I would like Nev’s sense of humour. I can see Llandudno in Nev’s withering putdowns he once directed at Michael Owen when Owen sought to ridicule a young goalkeeper in front of television cameras. The Llandudno that I grew up in taught people to remain humble rather than show off, there’s a lot to be said for bluff sarcasm as a tool for mental development. I’m sure other places were similar at the time, there was no such thing as a you tuber when I had the world at my feet.

The best piece of evidence that suggests we should respect Nev is a career path less travelled by professional sportsmen. As we all know Nev once worked for the council but he now works in a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU).

If you’ve never heard of PRUs they are the sector of the education system that deals with the learners that have trouble adjusting to mainstream education. Wikipedia describes such learners like this; They have “Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, (feel) exasperated by unsettled domestic situations, (with) a propensity towards criminal behaviour, bullying, or (conversely) having been the victim of bullying.”

As you can imagine the working conditions in a PRU can be quite challenging in comparison to mainstream schools, but they can also be very rewarding as you attempt to help young people negotiate their way through life. No child deserves to be written off. It’s fantastic that Nev has chosen to work in a place like that.

Therefore when Nev tweets about the pernicious effects of Tory party policy he is not applying the reedy voice of a lefty snowflake but the cold analytical eye of personal experience. Three cheers for Neville Southall.


That would be an ecumenical matter

15 11 2017

Once upon a time I took a binary view of certain sides. Negative experiences were the key, as soon as I witnessed the fans of a particular side doing something offensive or cringeworthy they were beyond the pale.

My time at university led to a real dislike of the England side. My preconceptions about academia unravelled as soon as I discovered that students preferred buying cheap posters to discussing higher matters over a few beers but the most dispiriting discovery was the atmosphere around football matches and the air that surrounded tournaments.

I like to think that my Celtic periphery chippiness had nothing to with it because I witnessed plenty of annoying incidents; groups of lads singing songs about the IRA or German bombers, university football team drunks using karaoke equipment to abuse Irish people, university football team drunks abusing French students for celebrating a goal, the very heated discussion between my Brazilian friend Carlos and someone that said “Yeah, but he’s saying WE cheated.” as if I’d naturally agree, two loud specimens using the composition of World War Two’s alliances to decide which side they should get behind in a particular match. I could go on, and on, and on.

I knew I could minimise opportunities for annoyance by avoiding certain places at certain times, hence I stayed in to watch the England v Germany match in Euro 2000, but I couldn’t hide from the cloying tournament atmosphere that transformed my fellow students into football supporter clichés.

The clichés were loud in 2002’s Leicester University. I may have felt differently if interest had been limited to the people I’d befriended that year; a group of us decent souls had congregated in The Ratcliffe Bar, or “Rat Bar”, to watch football.

We were from all over place; Greece, Jordan, London, Coventry, Manchester, Ireland, Belfast, Switzerland, Brazil, Scotland, Merseyside, even Wales. I liked this time a lot, it was communal and convivial and nobody was ever angry about a result, I remember striking up a friendship with an Arsenal fan from Islington. The crucial England v Greece qualifier may not have been popular but the joy locusts arrived for the world cup and occupied every square centimetre.

I despised the easily led for encroaching on our preserve. I despised their shrieking and shouting, their ersatz excitement and fake disappointment. I despised their fashionable emotional tension and spirit crushing breeziness “Well you had to go and support them didn’t you”. I despised their arch postmodern jingoism and irritating look at me behaviour. I despised the likes of Chris Evans for popularising that sort of thing.

On one hand I caused my own discomfort because I kept going to the Rat Bar. On the other I wanted to watch as much of the world cup as possible. My options were limited by simple facts; I didn’t have a television in my room, we were miles from the rest of the university and the Rat Bar was part of our halls of residence. The only choice was limited to the unwelcoming TV Lounge or the palatial Rat Bar. I didn’t see why I should miss out because of the irritating people, if I managed to see Japan v Russia on a wet Sunday I was going to watch England v Denmark, I mean who were these interlopers to deny my human rights?

I already disliked Chelsea because of the political affiliations I’d seen their fans display on documentaries but I had to wait until December 2003 to see Chelsea fans at close quarters. During the afterglow of Aston Villa’s League Cup Quarter Final victory over Chelsea one of the Chelsea fans adressed “You ain’t ever been to the San Siro mate……….What’s that?………… That weren’t even in English mate” to nobody in particular. A couple of others reminded us that Chelsea had recently been purchased by a rich person by singing “Shall we buy a team for you?”.

Chelsea may not have won the league for forty nine years and Villa may have been Champions of Europe but what did such “details” matter to missionaries from the centre of civilisation? And lo! They did they spread the gospel of plutocracy to the heathen areas what only did make the industrial revolution. And lo! They only gone and seen their team get beat guvnor! All hail the centre of civilisation and its ability to attract plutocrats!

I already disliked Rangers for the same reason I already disliked Chelsea. When I visited Ibrox I found tangibly hostile environs; scowls, scarves that demanded a disbelieving second look and less than subtle use of language on flags. For they are “THE PEE-PUL”, and some other people just aren’t “THE PEE-PUL”.

I disliked Halifax Town after their fans visited north Wales. On both occasions inflatable sheep were thought to be just the witticism for an area with a relatively low population density. They was much pride, pride in inflatable animals, pride in a joke that upwards of three hundred strangers will see, pride in a pub discussion, “EEEEEEEE that’s dead funny that is son. That’s A REAL Bobby Dazzler of an idea son. Let’s get t’ sheep from t’shop on’t way to north Wales………..Martin ‘ave yer heard about Colin’s idea? It’s a real Bobby Dazzler!!!!!!” Something told me that they “only say it like it is”.

In the ‘80s my Dad used to take me to Llandudno Rugby Club on Sunday afternoons.  I still fondly remember the details; the smell, the brickwork, the tables with dimpled copper effect tops, the Proustian sounds of the pool table; the coin mechanism’s metallic push, the release of the ball rack, the collision of balls as they rolled and the cue ball’s high pitched thud as it returned to the back of the table. They had an ever-changing selection of crisps and their glasses of coke tasted better than the usual.

It would have been utterly blissful apart from one small issue; an opinionated Leeds fan was often there. Years later another opinionated Leeds fan reminded of these rugby club Sundays when he held court in the pub I liked; “I’ll tell you why Emile Heskey is the worst ever striker to play for England mate”. Mate. Mate, maaaaaate, I do not want to know.

I disliked Rhyl and Caernarfon because of their fans’ Bangor hatred. When I arrived in Wolverhampton I took an almost instant dislike to Wolves because there was an irritating fan on my course. When I was in Leicester I wanted Spurs to lose every match because of some annoyingly loud people that watched football in the Rat Bar. I disliked Real Madrid as soon as I became aware of their history but it wasn’t until I watched 2000’s champions league final with a haughty fan in my friend Mikes’ house in Wolverhampton that the dislike became notable. I disliked Lazio for the same reasons I disliked Chelsea and Rangers.

That was all then baby. Hate is out. Dislike is yesterday’s news baby. Don’t hit me with them negative vibes!

I have returned to a more pleasant era, a less judgemental paradigm. I can say with some certainty that I never truly disliked anyone because of their football allegiance in the halcyon ‘80s.

By secondary school I looked and sounded like a football obsessed kid. I followed Liverpool’s fortunes on account of the sew-on patch I bought from a toy shop when I was about four. I talked about football, I had the kits, I went to matches, but I never really hated Everton or Manchester United. I remember hoping Liverpool would win rather than wish defeats on others. Other kids may have given the impression that they felt strongly but I’m not sure they actually did.

I wish I could have expressed myself better, or given a different impression, but adolescence is supposed to be an uncomfortable time as you find your feet. Some of us only felt confident speaking about football and even then we lacked the expressive skill to go much beyond (Insert Name Here) must be crap because he doesn’t play for us”. I may have taken some defeats personally and offered the odd barbed comment but the words were hollow and I didn’t mean anything by my tone of voice. I knew that the supporters of other clubs were my friends. Any badinage was probably as much about the social mores of adolescents as anything else.

I don’t remember vitriol or visceral loathing but then there was no pressure to get involved. We weren’t surrounded by football, there were no “Superficial Saturdays” or pull-out football sections in newspapers and you had to visit a bookies to place bets. You were lucky to find interesting football magazines.

I received a few comments when I wore a replica shirt so a sense of rivalry existed. In the summer of 1985 an Everton supporting family friend called the eight year old me “murderer”, in jest of course, because I was wearing a Liverpool shirt.

A more pleasant example occurred in 1989 when I went to work with my Dad on the Monday morning after Liverpool had lost 4-1 away at The Dell, I forget the reason why. I was wearing a Liverpool shirt so one of his workmates spent part of their lunch hour gleefully repeating the scoreline. I didn’t react and he noticed that I didn’t react. Thank god for shyness, as without that little mental distance afforded by low self-confidence my life may have taken a different path; if I had seen the attraction of responding to comments I could be driving the banter bus by now.

I’m sure there were irritating football fans, the rugby club Leeds fan for example, but they were less noticeable (at least to me). I can see how proximity to away fans enabled match going fans to develop an ill-feeling towards certain fans but there was no way that non-match going fans could develop intense hatreds. Social media didn’t exist and if you saw fans of other clubs in your home area they’d probably be just like you.

Everything seemed quieter. You couldn’t create an impression of fanaticism and the bluffers’ social media shorthand didn’t exist. There were no giant car window stickers or other look at me merchandise and you couldn’t share knowing jokes or memes within seconds of match incidents. Imagine not being able to visualise the banter bus.

The tabloids may have discovered the joys of lampooning England managers by the late ‘80s but the media’s general tone was more relaxed, for example television covered less football in a calmer manner. If you look back at old clips of Match of The Day or The Big Match you’re immediately struck by the sedate pace and calm delivery.

My Dad’s instinctive dislike of ITV must have clouded my view of Brian Moore’s turn of phrase because when I watch repeats of The Big Match he seems to be the antithesis of our continual cacophony of hyperbolic adjectives. “So United had a day to forget…Now it’s over to White Hart Lane for today’s second match, your commentator is Martin Tyler….”  Sometimes the highlights programmes didn’t even feature pundits. Football without opinions! I could live with that.

The coverage may only exude sepia-tinged goodness because there was less football on TV. If we were re-immersed in that time we may find the coverage more annoying, the more switched on fanzine writers certainly noticed things were rather staid. However we can’t deny that this old style of coverage transmits a quaint charm when compared to our time. The closest the late ‘80s-early ‘90s got to the hyperbolic path was Elton “Live and Exclusive” Welsby but that looks disarmingly warm on you tube. An untelevised football competitions is now an anomaly.

Aside from my unfortunate forays into binary territory football has always been more of an ecumenical matter for me and it feels good to have finally returned to that way of thought. Reality isn’t the same as the evidence that causes snap judgements so naturally my once steadfast views have changed.

I have developed a soft spot for Wolves and long realised that I don’t really care about Halifax or Spurs and  I don’t mind Rhyl FC these day. When I went to watch Chelsea their fans seemed to be just like every other club’s fans. I’ve been to watch England twice since university and noticed that the majority of England fans were the same sort of people that went to watch Wales. I was a Welsh fan in the home end for one of the matches and the Geordie that sat next to me twigged that I wasn’t supporting England, consequently we spent the match chatting. He could have been my dad.

I go to enough matches to get a feel for things and I’ve realised that I see the same sort of people everywhere. I hear the same patter, I see the same styles of clothing and footwear. The same things happen everywhere; people laughing, people sheltering, people rushing to the ground, people leaving early to catch trains, people queuing. The only changes are the colours of scarves and designs of replica shirts.

I see people chatting everywhere. They could be childhood friends or university friends, work colleagues or season ticket holders thrown together by fate, they could even be people that first met on a bus to an away match. Whatever the reason one thing is clear; there’s a tangible sense of humanity. There are obviously years of friendship in the conversations. When I went to watch QPR’s League Cup match in August I was surrounded by people that had actually missed each other since the end of the previous season.

Most football fans are the same, in the same way that most people are the same. Therefore it’s individuals, rather than clubs or the associations people have with clubs, that present a problem. No club is immune from attracting individuals you’d prefer to avoid. I do my best to avoid the following archetypes.

The obvious morons. Even with a padlocked twitter account their outpourings always find me. You name it I see it; inane drivel, sexist crap, racist rubbish, godawful political views, stupid tweets, casual crassness. Why do they advertise? Ignore, block, block, mute, block, ignore.

The loud people. They’re everywhere; Trains, pubs, buses, on the street, in the barbers, in the pub, in work. Loudness on the way to football is to be expected and you can walk on by or change carriages. You can’t ignore match based loudness as you’re stuck with the “Look at me!!!! I’m so passionate!!” person for two hours. We all care baby, that’s why we’re here. Thankfully you only see them every other Saturday.

The bluffers. Why do some people stand around in a Super Sunday pub pretending to laugh at an alpha male’s comedy stylings? Why do some people pretend that they understand football? Why do some people claim to have a better insight that mere mortals? There’s no shame in admitting that you’d rather be doing something else.

The attention-seekers. Somebody recently labelled Manchester City as “Shark Team”. Whether this was a little embroidery or a linguistic device from a non-British journalist the phrase should not have led to fans parading around in shark-shaped inflatable headwear. We can do better than a lot of fans thinking “I’m a joker me, I’ll play along with the media’s idea of what it is to be a football fan!!”. We can do better than creating demand for the next great marketing scam. We can do better than holding a homemade sign for the cameras. Twitter has a lot to answer for.

Those that get involved with “working class street movements”. Their assertion of moral leadership is completely false because they clearly don’t realise that everybody, even scruffy leftard snowflakes, abhors the end result of terrorism. If they were really bothered about “standing up for the working class” they’d be marching against austerity or helping to organise a general strike. Mate, mate, mate you’re not saying it like is at all.

The poppy people. “Look mate all I’m saying is, if he don’t mind earning his money in a country that’s overcome by a mania to be seen to commemorate something rather than actually think about the historical event itself and the historical conditions that caused it, then why don’t he go back to where he came from mate? Am I right? I’m only saying it like it is mate”. It’s hard to think of an autumnal football period without thinking of people booing James McClean for his democratic wish not to have a heat pressed symbol of cynically engineered social pressure that doesn’t inhibit athletic performance applied to his shirt. Luckily I’m old to remember the time when players could get away without wearing them, well I am older than eight years of age.

The judgemental premier league fans of north Wales. I remember one of them at a birthday party I went to. He had just got in from a Liverpool away game. I had his number, I could read his face, I could see that he was judging us; “You haven’t been to the match today therefore I am considerably better than you”. Mate, mate, mate anybody can buy football tickets.

I still dislike certain clubs, Rangers, Real Madrid, Lazio, anything with a connection to Swiss energy drinks or blue sky corporate thinking, anything that’s become a self-worshipping monolith. I still want them to lose instantly but I try not to generalise about their supporters.

Irritating people are not club specific, they are everywhere. It is pointless to hate a club because they have irritating fans because it’s highly probable that your club also has irritating fans. Imagine that irritating people are drawn to the same football club as you, embrace enlightenment.

Opine, opine, opine

14 10 2017

Words, words, words, we’ve all got ‘em.

We’ve all got ‘em in our heads mate.

We must get our words out there mate!!!!!!!

We must get our football related words out there mate!!!!!!!!!!!!

Express them now mate!!!!!!!!!!!!




MATE MATE MATE QUICK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If you’re speaking about things on a football highlights programme, just relax mate.

All you have to do is get those footy words out there mate.

“He managed to shoot into Row Z…..”

It doesn’t matter that the ball actually bounced off the pole that holds the net up and actually ended up in front of Row A. You have to editorialise these days mate. You have to sound like you could do better than that mate. You have to make people feel that they could all do better than that mate. You have to become part of the knowing chorus mate.

See that footballer what done something wrong, we can all do better than that can’t we mate?

Yes mate, all of us are capable of doing better than that mate. ALL. OF. US.

Now tell all of your colleagues to keep riding that cliché horse mate.

(Insert team name here) can’t buy a goal at the moment!”

“Buy Goals” is it? If clubs could actually buy goals pointed questions would soon be asked. I’ll tell you what mate just keep editorialising with your clichéd opinions about the footy, that’s all consumerist slugs like us deserve mate. Just keep getting them footy words out there, we’re all part of the banter nexus mate.

Keep on with those banter based knowing attitudes as you introduce highlights of footballers doing stuff mate.  Nothing adds quality to football highlights like a banter based comment mate, apart from a banter based intro piece to camera, or a banter based chat with an ex-pro. The best thing is when someone makes light of an ex-pro analyst’s gambling problems with banter based commentage.

Banter, banter, banter, banter. We all love it.

WE LIVE FOR THE BANTER MATE, LIVE. FOR. IT. Absolutely live for it mate, love it mate. LOVE. IT.

Love the banter life. You. Can’t. Beat. It. Mate. Mate you can’t beat it.

Words, words, words.

Opinions, opinions, opinions.

Opinions, opinions, opinions, we’ve all got ‘em.

We’ve all got them in our heads. We must get them out there mate.

Don’t keep them opinions in mate, you’ll explode mate.

QUICK, QUICK, QUICK MATE, call a deejay type mate.

Get your opinion type words aired mate.

DO IT NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

…….so I gets to thinking “Oooooh I’m a little bit angry. I’ll call up a phone-in deejay and let the nation know just what a character I am, my phone call will really change matters, just you wait and see.” then I phones him up…..“It’s a circus at the moment mate and he’s the biggest clown of the lot mate you build a team from the back mate I’ve been waiting 25 years for us to win the league mate he’s got a worse record than Brendan Rodgers mate if we’d have won the league I would have been the most proudest Liverpool fan in the world mate”.

The nation listens, the nation wonders, wonders why someone is that bothered about a football club that’s at the other end of the country from their hometown.

“You don’t have to be that interested mate!”

You’ve got to get your opinion on the telly. You’ve got to show them how your munificence is a wonderful antidote to all of the others. You still have to demand that some definitive action is taken because SOMETHING’S GOT TO BE DONE.

SOMETHING’S got to be done mate.

Just get your opinion words out there mate, they’ve created an unnecessary gap between the highlights that needs filling with unnecessary opinion based words. Go on mate speak thy brains!!!!!!!!!!

“Mate I’ve been really really supportive of our manager this season, but mate it’s time for a change. We drew today mate and we’ve had 8 games already mate. Time for a change I think mate.”

You have to get your opinion out there mate, you can’t just do nothing mate. We need something to take us to the next level mate. I know we need someone to take us to the next level mate. You know we need someone to take us to the next level mate. Everybody knows we need someone to take us to the next level mate. If we don’t get to the next level how are we gonna have a dream come true?

You’ve got to televise your opinion mate, it will help things to happen mate, honestly it will, honest mate, get your words out there mate.

Mate mate mate there’s a camera over there!

Get your words out mate!

Proper fans shout at cameras mate.


They’re still shouting words at a camera? Why? Mate mate mate, I’d hate to think that you’re only doing it because everybody else does it. What’s wrong with a cheery wave or better yet, ignoring the camera?………… This country! tsk, tsk, tsk.

Are you “all about” those photos of away fans at a matches? You’ve got to get your opinion out there mate!

“Fantastic turn out for the Football Lads Alliance march in London this afternoon.”

The subject of your tweet doesn’t matter mate, the implication of your tweet doesn’t matter mate and the context in which your tweet exists doesn’t matter just comment and comment now mate.

Don’t question the Football Lads Alliance just get a tweet out there mate. I know you’ve “GOT THIS” mate.

Don’t wonder about them, don’t question them, just get you opinion out there. You’ve seen “Football” and you’ve seen “Lads” and that’s all you need to know.

Yeah they’re holding floral wreaths mate! They can’t be too bad can they?

Whatever you do don’t send the Football Lads Alliance a tweet that says “I see you’re interested in working class politics. When’s the march against Austerity? Are you helping to organise a general strike or what?” Don’t bother with that mate, they’re into “Football” and they’re “Lads”, WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED MATE?

Are you a SOLID GOLD FOOTY BANTER LEGEND? You’ve got to get the banter out there mate.

Is your team playing another team in a few Earth days?

You’ve got to drop another of them SOLID GOLD FOOTY BANTER LEGEND type moves mate.

“Literally bale and 10 sheep.”




Another banter target despatched by the DEEPLY AMAZING BANTERMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The funny thing is that on Monday evening Wales literally decided to literally pick 10 farm animals instead of human beings against Ireland. They literally did, they literally picked farm animals instead of human footballers. They literally did. Literally true story that mate.

Has your team just lost mate? You need someone to blame mate.

Let’s all play the blame game!

BLAME GAME!!!!!!!!!

BLAME GAME!!!!!!!!!

LET’S ALL BLAME THE BLAME GAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Get on Twitter and tell that scapegoat what you think of them mate.


“Ashley Williams is an absolute disgrace, 20k disappointed Welshmen in that stadium and he goes straight down the tunnel. Disgusting.”

And here is another!

“Agreed. Understand that he would feel down but as a captain you step up. Seen him him for years and he’s sadly slipping away now imo.”

I’ll bet they made exactly the same comments about Ashley Williams 30 milliseconds after the Euro 2016 Quarter Final finished. But then you’re hurting after a football defeat, people have to know just how much YOU hurt.

It’s all about YOU and YOUR hurt feelings mate.

Aaaaaaaaaaaah Hurt Feelings.

Words, words, words everywhere

Nothing changes.

Results still happen, trophies are still presented, clubs are still relegated and clubs still narrowly miss out on glory.

Words, words, words.

Words ad nauseum.

Words infinitum.

Quo vadis? Quo vadis?

Caveat emptor mate, caveat emptor.

That’s good mate, I’m afraid I’m not really in the market for anything at the moment mate.

Angry football noise, the pointless end of silence.

Angry football words, the pointless filling of space.

Results are merely the end point of an event chain created by random coincidence mate.

Those sodding opinion merchants are never silent.

Football would be alright if it wasn’t for the bloody words.

A few defeats and it’s universal chuntering through the medium of cliché.

“Don’t get me wrong, he’s done a good job but he’s slowly losing the dressing room and we need fresh blood to take us to the next level”

As soon you fail to lead 2-0 within ten minutes it’s………..

Why’s he still playing? Oh My God mate I can’t believe it. See I told you the manager’s clueless mate……….. Yeah Oh My God Mate, he’s playing him out of position again!

These words are hackneyed even within football’s comatose thesaurus of superlatives mate.

Words, bloody words. Words that sound the same, words that are the same. Identical bloody words. You hear them a thousand times a Saturday, identical bloody words spoken, every channel covered.

The world’s full of bloody experts with “sack the manager” as a default reaction.

Welcome to the land of hubris, home to the delusions of experts without expertise.

A manager spends their entire working day pondering how to tackle problems but our passionate experts always wonder “Yeah but what do they actually know?”

Our experts without expertise can always do better.

“Yeah he don’t know he’s doing that one. He needs to play a different system he does. It’s obvious the defence is pushing up too high, you can’t do that these days, he’s obviously behind the times.”

While it’s possible to gain an understanding of tactics, individual roles and patterns of play through study a layman can’t join the dots like someone steeped in football’s work culture. Some coaches are abrasive and some use outdated methods but they will still have an understanding of the football’s work environment that fans won’t have.

Football management is a tough occupation.There’s an omnipresent pressure to deliver results from your board, the fans and the media. You have to devise tactics and training plans. You have to motivate fellow humans. Then the capricious fates thrust unforeseen mistakes, injuries and own goals into your plans. Could a fan cope adequately with this situation?

In fact would a fan be able to perform any of a manager’s complex roles satisfactorily? To function efficiently within a work environment you have to understand it. Managers implicitly understand football’s rhythms because they have gained highly specialised craft knowledge from working within a specialised employment sector for decades,. Rather obviously fans won’t have similar career paths.

Why would a time served pro listen to the tactical advice of a fan? A fan can’t adequately conceptualise the experience of being a professional footballer but managers generally can because they were often pro footballers. How could a fan motivate time served pros? You can’t just repeat platitudes about doing it for the shirt, putting your shoulders through the grindstone and getting your late tackles in early.

Most players wouldn’t dream of entering a fan’s workplace to offer a forceful critique, why is the reverse tolerated?  Possessing a loud voice and turning up at the ground every other week doesn’t bestow coaching expertise.

Sometimes adequate knowledge can only be gained through experience, sometimes bluffers are easily found out.

That’s life that is.

Experts without expertise opining without responsibility, that’s football that is.

Football, that’s your life’s passion that is, that’s the thing that used to make you happy that was.

Let’s keep looking at life’s rich tapestry.

Your team has lost.

You’re angry.

You’re upset.

Your hopes have been dashed and you won’t be getting involved in the excited rush to make travel arrangements.

So you’re angry, so you’re upset. Join the queue baby!

To comment or not to comment? That is the question.

How does one express themselves?

Well, you’re not exactly commenting from a calm perspective, the hurt and anger is still coursing through your mind.

How about a you tube rant? That’s the new fashion for look at me legend types.

A you tube rant may feel good as you destroy your enemies with a point by point dissection and you may entertain hipster for thirty nine seconds but then what? Your team still lost and you found internet infamy.

Is providing internet entertainment whilst looking slightly unhinged a decent aspiration for GENERATION B(anter)

“I’VE PAID THROUGH THE NOSE FOR THIS THOUGH.” isn’t an adequate reason. You chose to pay, you didn’t have to choose to watch players that don’t have “half your passion”.

You’re angry. you’re upset, boo hoo.

You’re a self-described SOLID GOLD FOOTY BANTER LEGEND.

Great, so you’re a funny guy, a funny funny funny funny funny guy. You’re THE MOST FUNNIEST GUY IN THE HISTORY OF COMEDY.


Funny, funny, funny? No. Bor-ring, bor-ring, bor-ring. Nobody cares.

The day before your heart-breaking defeat another team lost. You felt great with your jokes and twitter memes. There was no way you were going to lose was there mate?

Then you lost, how do you react?

You could carry on with the jokes about your rivals’ misfortune because they lost as well. At least they were knocked out before you were, and you had more points than them and the ref was awful and everything.

The jokes won’t feel the same now. Making memes about another team won’t change the result.

You could get angry but the referee’s still missed that incident and your captain still miskicked it. Getting angry won’t change the result.

You could insult everybody. Those words will soothe for a few seconds but then what? You have demeaned yourself and your target because your feelings have been slightly bruised. You know that you only feel hurt because you know that you’d feel exactly the same as your target if your team had won. Insulting people won’t change the result.

You could hold your breath until you’re sick and that will make historical events change. Holding your breath is as likely to change things as the above, it won’t change the result.

You could just accept matters, embrace your feelings and achieve full emotional development you absolute SOLID GOLD BANTER LOOK AT ME LEGEND OF THE HIGHEST ORDER.

In other words, just be quiet, then do that more often.

Your words change nothing. The event has happened. Embrace disappointment.


8 10 2017

US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

I’ve never been able to work out why people refer to their football club as “us” or “we”. I’ve always felt a bit silly whenever I’ve referred to Bangor City like that but I’m the sort of person that’s jarred by internal questions; “Why did I use such a word?…… Do other people forensically question the precision of their language?”

I tried my damnedest not to refer to Bangor as “us” or “we” when I’ve been Radio Bangor’s co-commentator (The fan-controlled broadcasting service) but the white hot excitement of the Welsh premier league causes some acute mental shuddering.

I feel part of a “we” when I watch Bangor with my friends because I feel emotionally involved. I was born in the city and I’ve been going to watch City for nearly a quarter of a century. I look at the transitory players and it feels absurd to use “we“. Most of them have different feelings, they celebrate but they don’t feel like we do, they value trophies but they don’t look at glory like we do. I prefer it that way, feeling separated saves missing them when they’re gone.

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

I’m amazed that people feel they can refer to clubs as if they’re personally part of them “We Won!…….We Lost!…….Who are you playing today?….. I see you lost again on Saturday”. I probably shouldn’t be surprised, people aren’t afraid to self-confidently elbow their way into conversations.

“Oh aye, I used to go all the time………Blah blah’s great isn’t he!……. So do you think blah blah will make a difference as manager?……… Blah blah was great though wasn’t he, they don’t make them like him anymore do they! ……….. How much would he be worth today?”

If only this kind of thing was confined to the post-Chester Races trains that drunk people use to get home.

The matey shroud that surrounds the opening jousts of these conversations evaporates when the conversation’s nature becomes clear, one protagonist emits earnest football chatter while the other humours a child. Thoughts are visible; “We’ve got another one here, someone else that thinks they’re integral, someone else filling the air for the sake of it. Actually fella, I’d rather be left alone”.

I was on my way to the recent West Brom v West Ham match when I alighted in Wolverhampton. I yearned to ride the tram to The Hawthorns so I went to the terminus. When I got there it was clear that the tram wasn’t running because of long-term engineering works, I quickly realised why Wolverhampton hadn’t been listed as the last stop when I had checked the timetable the previous day.

I stood as an unmistakable visitor so naturally a bloke walked up to me. I listened to the typically hospitable local explain precisely which bus services I needed to reach the temporary terminus in Priestfield. His words transported me back to my academic salad days, the time when anything within reason felt possible. I thanked the bloke, realised everything sounded too complicated and trudged disconsolately back to the station.

The next train to Birmingham was full of loud men discussing Tottenham Hotspur’s prospects. I presumed they were going to the early evening match as “we” was used extensively. Judging by the accents, and the fact that it was an Arriva Train Wales train, the men were from Shropshire. I wondered how they felt a connection with Tottenham.

The other week a dead passionate Liverpool fan from daaaahn saaarrrf was on 6-0-6 and his call was so memorable they made a feature out of it on the BBC website. It was pure stream of angry consciousness;

“It’s a circus at the moment mate and he’s the biggest clown of the lot mate you build a team from the back mate I’ve been waiting 25 years for us to win the league mate he’s got a worse record than Brendan Rodgers mate if we’d have won the league I would have been the most proudest Liverpool fan in the world mate”.

There are better things to be angry about than a football club that plays two hundred miles away from the place you’ve always called home.

I’ve don’t understood why those that only watch televised matches become angry when their team loses, they’ve only bought a polyester shirt. I don’t understand how a passing interest can be maintained in a premier league club. It takes astronomical sums of money and military-style planning to gain access then you’re obliged and encouraged to feel personally hard done by. Surely it’s cheaper and easier to be interested in a club that’s physically closer, especially when they will probably need your help in some way.

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

It’s an obvious thing to say but there’s an essential link between a football club and the place in which it exists. Those that live nearby, those exiled by work relocation and those that adopt a club after moving to an area are able to view clubs as a “we” because they are being represented. I don’t understand how someone can feel truly part of an “we” by buying a piece of clothing that lots of other people have bought, anyone can buy a piece of clothing.

Take me and FC United. From the outside I may look part of it, I’m a co-owner, I go to as many matches as I can and I try to spend or donate as much as I can in the ground, but while I’m a part of it I’m apart from it. I’m separated from the “us” by a simple fact; I’m not from Greater Manchester.

I feel an affinity with the area because my Grandma used to live there and see Lowry painting on the streets of Salford but I’m not a local. I think I get FC United, I appreciate the club’s culture and I like the idea that it’s an expression of streetwise fortitude that’s part of Manchester’s rich historical tapestry of defiance but I’m not a local.

FCUM is an inclusive club but I feel like an interloper because I only became a member after I watched Looking For Eric. I can understand everything but I can’t truly feel it like a local does. I may be part of it but it’s an infinitesimally small part. I can’t kid myself along, I’m merely a fellow traveller.

I’ve developed an affinity with several clubs over the years for a variety of reasons, Port Talbot Town, Saint Etienne, Livorno, Hibs, Celtic. While I take an interest in each of them, and hope they do well, I’m a mere tourist. The only team I feel that I can manage a weak expression of “we” is the Welsh national team but even then I haven’t been to see them for years so I don’t really feel part of the “we” as much as I once did.

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

Imagine three imaginary places in the same BBC region; the large town of Milltown and the reasonably large cities of Hillingdon and Athenwell. They are all about an hour apart so they form a triangle on a map.

Milltown has Milltown United. Hillingdon has Hillingdon Rovers and Hillingdon Athletic and Athenwell has Athenwell FC and West End. There’s a noted football rivalry between Hillingdon and Athenwell. There’s no such ill feeling between the Milltown and the other places because their football paths have seldom crossed in the previous four decades.

Now imagine that two people from Milltown are having a football conversation on the phone. Anyone listening could assume three things; they are Milltown area denizens, they both support clubs from Hillingdon (one Rovers, the other Athletic) and they both detest Athenwell FC.

If you were to ask them they have nothing against the city of Athenwell itself, they like nights out there, the shopping and that. It’s Athenwell FC and their fans that they can’t stand. They’ve always been full of themselves that lot, even their Athenwell supporting friends from Milltown are like that, they’re all living in the past mate.

Naturally they hope that one hundred and twenty two year old Milltown United do well but their eyes are on starrier sights, that glamourous elite aren’t going to watch themselves. The antipathy towards Athenwell FC shows that they’re full of modern football’s annoying unspoken assumption; “I support Team X therefore I should automatically hate Team Y”, in short they have adopted the behaviours of the local followers of “their” clubs,

A keen rivalry is extremely palatable as it adds a frisson to matchday but the idea of hating somebody else purely on the basis that they follow a different football club is absurd. Other fans live in the same sort of houses, work in the same sort of places and use the same sort of shops. Disliking a group of people simply because you’ve chosen to become involved in big glamourous football club is beyond pointless, expressing this rubbish publicly is beyond tedious.

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

People make these choices in real life. The other week I was travelling home from Curzon Ashton v FC United by train. I had to go via to Crewe because of engineering work.

It was the same day that Manchester City beat Liverpool 5-0 so I was sat by a table full of understandably delighted City fans. It turns out they were from Crewe (we all alighted there). At some point between Stockport and Nantwich one of them related the phone conversation he’d just had with his Manchester United supporting friend;

“….So he says to me; ‘I’ll let you off that today ‘cause you beat the Scousers for us”.

They’re from Crewe but

“….So he says to me…..

….’I’ll let you off that today ’cause….

….YOU beat the SCOUSERS for US.”

Let that sink in, as the twitter cool cats say.

They like football and Crewe has its own football club.

Crewe Alex probably requires a little care and attention from the citizens of Crewe.

They choose to follow a rich club that doesn’t need their help/

They choose to self-identify as part of the “we”. 

When you view football like this there’s always a “them” to be judgemental about, Other people fall down the social order, players are always awful and everything’s crap or fantastic.

“Mate mate mate If you can’t be judgemental about things based on a purely arbitrary choice made when you’re younger mate, what’s the point in being a footy fan mate?”

It’s nonsensical to put so much store in an arbitrary choice made about incidental leisure time. I don’t know why it  happens? Is it the psychological need to belong? Is it the dislocation of a free market economy? Is it the alienation created by capitalism? Is it the premier league’s cultural imperialism?

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

I’ve noticed a different tone to the conversation when it involves someone that’s from the “we”. Let’s return to the day of West Brom v West Ham.

My phone had told me that I needed to catch the 16.52 train from The Hawthorns. I ended up missing it because they closed The Hawthorns’ station footbridge “It happens all the time when the football’s on mate, you’ll have to go around to the front of the station mate”. This meant a train towards Birmingham with the away fans rather than a train towards Crewe with the home fans.

As I left the stationside footpath I bumped into some West Ham fans that were going the wrong way. I told them that the footbridge was closed etcetera etcetera. They thanked me and naturally I became part of the conversation “They think they treat us like C**** just ‘coz we’re football fans don’t they”. I smiled in agreement. I continued to smile as they chatted about old away trips. They didn’t seem particularly bothered by the stultified match that we’d all just seen. There was an unspoken recognisance that witnessing a dull match was just one of those things that happens to a person that goes to football.

I ended up next to some different West Ham fans on the train. One of them was hectoring his bored looking friend, it was clear that he didn’t like the idea of paying good money to watch a scoreless draw; “I don’t rate him, or him, or him, to get to the next level you need defenders that can play and those three clearly can’t. How do we get to the next level?” I didn’t want to listen, I didn’t want to be aware of his opinion, but I had to listen.

Given the choice it’s more palatable to listen to someone with a story than someone trying to prove how much they care by airing a loud opinion that somebody else has already expressed.

Maybe it was only fate that had placed me near a moaner at the exact time he was getting a lament out of his system, maybe he stopped speaking about football the minute he left Snow Hill station. Maybe the moaner was an experienced away day veteran and maybe the first group were Johnny Come Latelys relating second hand stories. It doesn’t really matter they are illustrative examples about the way different groups relate to football. There are groups to avoid.

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US……..

I know that I’m not vital to the world of football, I could stop taking an interest tomorrow and nobody would care. I know my place in the universe; I’m a speck of dust.

I wonder whether the people that worship premier league clubs from afar feel the same, or do they feel a sense of entitlement, do they feel vital to everything? Let’s consider a few stats about three “football hotbeds”;

Greater Manchester Inhabitants – 2.25 million,  combined capacity of the six biggest grounds – 223,000

Liverpool–Birkenhead Metropolitan Area  Inhabitants  – 2.25 million, combined capacity of the three biggest grounds – 112,000

Glasgow Metropolitan Area  Inhabitants – 1.4 million, combined capacity of the four biggest grounds – 170,000

The implication is clear, nobody outside of those metropolitan areas is required to take an interest in that area’s  football clubs. In fact only 5-10% of each area’s residents need to attend to ensure full houses. The idea that at least 10% of each area’s population would be interested in watching football is plausible.

On the other hand, what do my thoughts matter? Nobody’s committing a crime, people are only interacting with football in their own way. Some people may have no compunction about taking advantage of the prevailing conditions in football – Traditional fans may have been priced out, or lost heart, or may no longer feel welcome – but so what?

People are only interacting with happy shiny world of football while they watch look at me home made protest banners on a Splendiferous Saturday Lunchtime™. I don’t suppose it matters really, people are only doing something with their free time. I’m probably just jealous or something.

Sod all that.

Mate, mate, mate, take an interest by all means mate, buy the shirt if you have to mate, just don’t pretend you’re a massive fan and more importantly, don’t go on about it mate. Everyone’s got interests. I could bore you with Ken Loach Minutiae or Czech New Wave banter. Do you fancy that mate?”

There’s nothing wrong with being drawn to a particular club, people are drawn to a variety of clubs for a variety of reasons. We all have soft spots for this club or that club, one day I will go to watch Livorno, but a passing attraction is nothing more than a passing attraction.

Mate mate mate if you’re going to treat football like a delicacy from the great leisure time smorgasbord at least use some imagination. My friend Gerry knows somebody that has season tickets for Inter Milan and Blackburn. This kind of situation is an ideal 21st Century situation. Why not access top quality European football on a monthly basis via a relatively cheap season ticket and cheap flights?

Then again why not simply go and watch your local club, they could probably do with your help.

I like to think that we don’t need to submerge ourselves in the bravado of a group, or submit to football’s PR industry. Call me a dreamer.

………US and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and USUS and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US, US and THEM, THEM and US

Ignore, ignore, ignore

23 09 2017

Whenever I was annoyed my mum would always said “Ignore them and they’ll go away”. Whenever annoying twitter users tweet other people tweet “Ignore them, they’re only looking for attention”. The theory is sound but the practice is not easy.

The waves of retweets you can’t help but see continually cause small breaches in the dike I’ve erected around the polder of my calmness. I may have a padlocked twitter account and an air of quiet satisfaction that I’m not “like that” but it’s often not enough. I don’t want to know that there’s a “North Wales Loyal” Rangers Supporters’ Club or that they meet up in a pub down the round from where I’ve typed this but I’m aware of both of these facts.

There are also self-inflicted breaches. I often read things just to see if they are as bad as they seem, like the time I decided to read a deejay’s book. Suffice to say the book is joint top of “The worst books I’ve ever held” list with Lovejoy On Football (another case of academic research) and The Da Vinci Code. On this occasion I could offer the mitigation of giving three quid to a charity shop and then re-donating it so someone else could do likewise but I should have followed my Mum’s direction. I may have read the deejay’s words and felt superior but what does that matter now?

The trouble is that circumstance allows temptation to goad my strong will. For example I was walking through a branch of Smiths last Saturday and the New Statesman’s cover piqued my interest. There was a German theme and I have a deep love of Deutschland so I flicked through the pages. The German article certainly looked interesting, then I noticed that there was an exquisite article about “the fractured left”. I knew that it that would just the sort of annoying research that propels my joy “to the next level”.

Then I noticed the price was £4.50.


I don’t know how many of the working classes will stump up £4.50 a week for cultural re-education but it’s actually great that The New Statesman costs that much, and The Times and Telegraph hide behind pay walls, otherwise I’d be on a constant quest to be wound up by other peoples’ words.

Being priced out has become a most familiar feeling. The cost of attending football matches is extortionate, televised football is virtually controlled by Murdoch, the TV programmes that everyone raves about are found on subscription services and cinema tickets cost nearly as much a DVDs.

This could be a problem but my exclusion from the version of popular culture where everything seems to be fantastic or “must-see” is liberating, fate’s way of telling me to relax more. I’ve managed without the likes of Game Of Thrones and Murdoch’s premier league on my TV for years I doubt gaining access to stuff like this will enhance my life greatly now. I’m sure that looking at things in this way has helped me to deal with life’s little annoyances.

Take an example from a couple of weeks ago, the book writing deejay was annoyed about Wales’ ambition to win football matches by choosing the most skillful players at its disposal. I could have commented but I let it go. I didn’t send him a tweet.

I may have passively aggressively quoted his retweet with a snarky rejoinder, but I let it go like it was nothing. I let it go and moved on, yes I moved on straightaway. Twitter told me to look down on the deejay says but I wasn’t going to do that. Why would I do that? I had let it go. He’s had an opinion but don’t we all. I HAD LET IT GO, ALRIGHT!

Look down on the likes of these phone-in deejay types? Don’t be silly! I’d love to share a train journey with a phone in deejay type.

I see a journey from Warrington to Glasgow. I sit down opposite the phone in deejay type. I recognise him immediately thanks to twitter. I remove the reading material and bottle of water from my bag. I pick up the book, remove the old train ticket cum bookmark and begin to read.

The phone in deejay type scans me discreetly. He clocks my Denmark 1986 retro shirt, sees that I’m reading McIlvanney on Football and notices that I’ve placed this month’s copy of When Saturday Comes next to the bottle of water (I’ve only got thirty pages of the book left).

He listens when my friend phones me, he listens as I remind my friend that we have to pick up the tickets from Celtic Park, he listens as I tell my friend that we’re bound to have a good day and we’ll meet Jimmy and his mates again in that decent pub near Celtic. He hears my laughter, he can see the excitement in my eyes.

He looks at me and can clearly see what I’m all about. He’s waiting for me to finish my phone conversation, he’ll knows what to say, I’m part of his flock, his people. He can feel the milliseconds pass.

When the opportunity finally arises he looks into my eyes and says;

“Which match are you going to?

Then I’ll reply with;

“I don’t really like football I’m afraid”.

Radiating waves of bewilderment, the best response he can manage will be;

“Eh?……I thought you liked football. Weren’t you on the phone about tickets?”

I’ll add;


This conversation won’t go any further.

We sit in silent proximity for the rest of the journey, a mute acknowledgement of a metaphorical chasm.

I don’t react, I don’t justify.

I silently consumed the remaining twenty five pages of my book.

I was silently consuming my magazine.

There’s not a glance in his direction.

Words seem infinitely more interesting than a banter-fuelled loudmouth.

Needless to say I’ll have had the last laugh!

I’m sure that I’d become a subject on his show.

“I was on train yesterday and I was sat across from this fella, and he was wearing a old football kit, and he was reading a book about football, and had a football magazine in front of him, and he spoke to one of his mates about making sure he had tickets to a match.

So I said to him “Which match are you going to mate?” and I was expecting a bit of banter. But he says to me “I don’t really like football I’m afraid” and that was that, I mean what’s that all about?

I couldn’t get my head around it.

I mean how can someone not like footy in the first place but this guy said he didn’t like football and he was wearing one of those retro shirts, Denmark I think, he was reading a football book and had a football magazine, he had tickets to a match. How could he not be a football fan? It doesn’t make sense.

So he’s got a ticket for a match but doesn’t like football, it’ll be people like him that stop ordinary decent fans getting tickets. He’ll be the sort of person that eats Prawn Sandwiches and quaffs chardonnay while the likes of you eat luke warm pies and lumpy tea. These people are everything that wrong with football if you ask me.”

I reckon that I would probably call the next show he presents.

“Hi, first time caller, sometime listener when I’m stuck in the wrong taxi at the wrong time. I’m the guy from the train.

First of all I like to thank you for your grandiloquent character assassination, it made my day, week, month, year, and indeed, decade.

Your masterly emissions have echoed in my fuddled brain so violently I have been unable to sleep coherently since your eloquence. Kind sir, it is difficult to wonder where one starts your latest teatime oeuvre. One doesn’t know how to respond, one hopes the pedestrian cliché of “Bravo kind sir, bravo!” will suffice.

Picasso had paint, Mozart had notes, you embroider the ether with forthright opinions, your words are quite literally art.

We can try to pay tribute to the quality of your verbal art but its multi-faceted qualities present the most profound of problems. You are the very much the spoken word’s onion of genius football opinion, the confines of space and time do not allow us to lionise your multifarious layers of strength.

If we celebrate your perfumed words we may omit the profundity of your masterly soliloquy, if we laud the perspicacity of your intellectual ardour we may overlook your majestic turn of phrase. Suffice to say it was the most profound honour to be so ritually abused by sheer poetry.

Essentially what I am desperately groping to express is the idea that it’s nice to be recognised as an easy target for an attention seeking loudmouths lacking in grace and calmness.

I enjoy my use as fodder for another tirade that keeps the wheels of the banter fuelled horrorshow that’s now known as “football”.

Needless to say I have had the last laugh again, and I rest my case. Cheery bye the now.”

Football talk used to be fine in the right place at the right time with the right people but it’s irritating ubiquity has turned it into the mere rearrangement of words.

Pre-match analysis, pre-match interviews, half-time analysis, post-match interviews, post-match analysis. Endless words about nothing.

Opinions, opinions, opinions. Only the nouns change.

“My team lost…….He’s not trying……..It’s not fair”.

Football’s not fair, it’s not a moral investigation into the existential state of humanity. It’s two groups of eleven people trying to score more goals than the other.

Some teams win, some teams lose and there are some draws.

Shut up, you’re boring us all.


Some Summer Photos

5 09 2017

I’ve been to some matches this summer.

The annual appraisal

2 09 2017

Saturday Evening

Mark was two minutes from home, a single corner to go, the corner that always reminded him of beating Villareal in the Champions League.

2006 felt like it was an absolute age ago. What he’d give to be fourteen again.

Bloody football, you make the effort to care and what do you get? Nothing, nothing but sodding disappointment.

He reached his front door and plunged the key in to the lock.

Being fourteen on the day of the Champions League Final, that was life! Nothing was impossible!

He pushed the handle, opened the front door and went in. He was finally home after the usual tube scrum. He’d arrived at his sanctuary from the madding crowd, from disappointment, from Wenger. Another Saturday, another pain in the arse.

– “Hello Mark, was it a good game?”

“No Mum, it was awful again.”

– “Never mind love. Your tea will be ready in a minute, I’ll give you a call!”

“Great Mum, I’m going out with the boys later.”

– “Ok Love, see you in a minute.”

Mark shot up to his room, he couldn’t wait to log in to “Gooner Heaven” and lay down eternal damnation upon his pitiful team.

“Henry The Eighth” was back in the chair! Let the righteous fury commence!

Henry the Eighth – Down the Arsenal again, we were awful again, bloody awful. Wenger has lost everything, our respect, the plot, the dressing room.

It’s the players as well, don’t get me started. They don’t care, it’s scandalous, they don’t care. None of them. spineless performance from them. None of them care, we spend our hard earned money and what do we get? Nothing, bloody nothing.

That bloody Ramsey, what good is he? He’s literally the worst player I’ve ever seen in an Arsenal shirt. He should retire now, seriously. The fucking fraud. I’d have Wilshere over him any day you, he’s utter toss.

I’m utterly shocked, truly, that he can’t seem to play in midfield, he’s a bloody professional. My nan could do better than him! He never sticks to where he should be.

He’s a headless chicken, he should stick to rugby with the other Welsh. He’s a disgrace to the shirt. An utter fucking disgrace. I don’t know why we put up with his shit. I don’t know how he can look us in the eye. 

We’ll never win anything with a fraud like in the middle of the park. We need a leader, a taclker, a battler. We don’t need frauds. He’s living off past glories, he’s literally living off past glories. We should get rid straight away.

Clock End Preacher – Give it a rest will you, we’ve only had three games so far, we haven’t even finished August yet! You and your lot wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in the 1980s.

Henry the Eighth – It’s always the same. It just shows what I always say. You give your opinion and get slated for it. I pay my money and I’m entitled to an opinion.

With fans like you it’s no wonder that the club is in the mess it’s in. People like you are literally holding this club back.

Clock End Preacher – All I’m trying to say is calm down, things could be worse.

Henry the Eighth – Nice one grandad, that’s literally no help, it literally changes nothing.

Gooner Gerald – I’m with Henry on this, he speaks sense. You’ll never get to football heaven Preacher. Wenger and Ramsey are literally taking us to football hell.

Henry the Eighth – You know it GG! The preacher should stick to going to Church on Sundays.

Rocky Rocastle – It’s always the same, a couple of defeats and you lot want everyone gone. Can’t you just chill out, you won’t last the season with this kind of stress. You never know what might happen. We could win the Europa League.

Gerald Gerald – Looks like we got another one here Henry.

Henry the Eighth – These people are embarrassing, living in the past. We’ve literally got the most embarrassing fans in the world. They’re willing to put up with mediocrity and pay through the nose for it.

Mark was basking in the decisive last word when he heard footsteps on the stairs, it had to be Mum. It was.

“Your Pizza’s ready love.”

“Thanks mum, I’m coming down.”

Mark sprang to his feet, he loved the tomato base that Tesco used in their freshly made pizzas, he bounded down the stairs.

– “Did you remember to get those pens? You said you were going to work on your appraisal tomorrow?”

“Yeah that’s sorted I think. Thanks for cooking the pizza mum…”


Mark was calm and the hangover barely registered, but then he had had less to drink than normal. There was no point in tempting fate with Monday on the horizon. He could have a proper night out next week.

“Mum, have you seen the ruler?”

– “How’s it going love?”

“It’s alright, I just need to get this right. It’s my homework. I want to tie up the loose ends, you know look good for tomorrow.”

– “You’re not worried about tomorrow, are you?”

“Not really, they already know I’ve met my goals and performance targets. It’s easy Mum.

Now where’s that ruler?”

Monday Morning

Mark felt a bit jittery today, it was his first annual appraisal under the new system.

Everyone said the new system seemed fairer, mainly because line managers no longer had licence to get revenge for perceived sleights and misdemeanours. Everyone remembered the flak because the company had lost Tom’s court case last year.

Mark can still remember the words from the full staff meeting; assessments………independent people…….. people from outside of the company…… face to face interviews…………. a new process facilitated by the data from the continual monitoring process.

Mark lived under the presumption that everything was going alright, well it must be going alright if Steve hadn’t asked him to “pop in here for a quick chat“.

He also knew two things, one, despite what they said the data in the new data-based approach wasn’t as closely monitored as it should be and two, even if the data was checked the numbers were in his favour and numbers weren’t like line managers, they didn’t lie, numbers were cold hard facts.

Mind you, he was still jittery, despite his inner confidence.

– “Morning Mark”

“Morning Steve, you alright?”

– Not bad thanks.

Ahem, seeing as this is your first time with the new approach I just thought I’d remind you that we’ll be using the new method of annual appraisals. for your appraisal today.

        “Thanks Steve!”

“Let me introduce to you to your assessor, Aaron, He’ll be shadowing you today.”

“Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Aaron, It’s Mark isn’t it?”

Mark looked up and was stunned, it was Aaron Ramsey. Aaron Ramsey was standing in front of him.

“Wait a minute, you’re Aaron Ramsey, I can’t believe it’s you! And you’re assessing me. I can’t believe it! I’m an Arsenal fan.”

“I know, that’s why they picked me! ………..Only joking!

Don’t worry about today, you know what’s involved don’t you?”

Mark nodded.

“Just work normally, I’ll be in the background observing. You won’t even notice I’m there.”

“Right, I’ll just get on with it, I can’t believe it, honestly I can’t!”

Mark was utterly dumbfounded, of all people I could have as an assessor it’s an Arsenal player. He couldn’t wait to text everyone, or tweet it. Then he remembered the “Phone-Free Work Environment” posters they’d put up last year.

Using a phone wouldn’t look good, especially on the day of his annual appraisal. He’d just have to wait. The Green account was the pressing business.

The shock of being in the same room as an Arsenal player gradually wore off and he relaxed into his work. He tried to remember the textbook methods of dealing with phone calls and office etiquette. He thought better of his usual routine, flirting with the ladies and bantering with the lads.

A thought entered his head; “If I tone it down will I look unnatural, will it look like I’m trying too hard? Management don’t like that sort of thing do they.” Mark felt like he was flying through the account pages, Mr. Green would be well happy!

“Aaron would know that he had a reputation as a bit of geezer.” thought Mark. In today’s modern business culture they value personality and informality, Mark remembered the maxim of his old team leader Geoff’; “As long as the work gets done lad”. Well the work was getting done, Aaron could see that. Mark started to think about letting his guard down slightly.

“Aaron will have seen that I’ve worked well” thought Mark, Of course he will, he couldn’t think anything else could he? Mark looked at Aaron, Aaron smiled and then looked at his clipboard.

Mark thought things were going well, the guard was dropped. Mark saw Chris go to the photocopying room, so he decided to go as well. Mark smiled at Aaron as he left, Aaron smiled back.

“Mate, mate, mate I can’t believe that Aaron Ramsey is doing your appraisal.” 

“I know”

“I thought you hated him!”

WellllllHe’s a nice guy in person. He’ll never know what I think of him, players don’t read message boards do they? Anyway I think the appraisal’s going well.” 

“I’m glad to hear that you’re smashing it.”

They bantered for about five minutes with a steadily increasing volume. Iwan the busybody came to check if there was a problem. Chris just looked at Mark and laughed.

Mark didn’t worry, Aaron didn’t seem to mind about the little comfort break. Mark guessed that things were going ok if the assessor hadn’t ask to see you,

Aaron hadn’t asked to see him. Aaron just sat there.

So it was back to the Mr. Green and his spreadsheet.

About three quarters of an hour later Mark went to say hello to the girls. He had been working solidly, and Aaron will have seen that. He tried to catch Aaron’s eye again, Aaron was looking at his clipboard. Mark didn’t worry, there was flirting to be done. Mark knew girls loved a confident guy.

Clare was off today but Lauren was there, lovely Lauren. Mark could tell that they both liked him, he always remembered the GQ article about the body language of flirting. Touching your nose was one of the good signs.

They indulged in some harmless flirty wordplay until Mark put his foot down; “I can’t stay around here, I’m being appraised. Laters!!!” And with that he was gone!!  Lauren was inwardly relieved, she didn’t really like blokes that were obviously trying too hard to impress.

Just before Mark reached his desk he noticed that Aaron was no longer there. Mark wasn’t alarmed, Trevor had told him that the assessor might only stay for the morning.

It was nearly lunchtime anyway so Mark didn’t worry. He was going to have a Southern Fried Chicken Baguette today.

He couldn’t wait to tell people about the identity of his assessor, Arsenal midfielder and fraud Aaron Ramsey. “I must remember to say that he’s alright” thought Mark. “People are going to love it when I tell them!”


Mark arrived at work in a relaxed mood, all he had to do was kill time before his debrief at 9:30 and he still had the work on the Green account to finish off.

He casually flicked through the pages, he felt safe in the knowledge that there was only a few pages left to do, crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s, that was all. He thought better of finishing it now as he wanted to leave something for later.

Steve asked Mark to come to his office. Mark noticed that the time was 9:31am on his computer taskbar’s clock.

“Sit Down please Mark.

Its probably easier for me to read through this report.”

Mark wasn’t worried.

“As you know the report is split into different sections, let’s go through them one at a time.”

Mark wasn’t worried.

“As you know, first up it’s “Productivity slash Output slash Dependability” Your continual assessment forms say that you’re usually on time with paperwork, although half of your return could do with more depth. In short you could spend a little more time on your paperwork more of the time. However don;t worry about this, these are standard comments for everybody.

To refer to the harder data. Your customer satisfaction ratings for the year were as follows: Q1 – 73%, Q2 – 85%, Q3 – 74%, Q4 – 87%, overall – 82.5%. 72% of my customers received order confirmation emails with 12 hours, all within 24 hours. Those figures aren’t too bad. Dependability?  Ah yes, you seem to get the work done and you’ve only had 2 days off this year. I’d say that’s ok by anyone’s standards.”

Mark wasn’t worried.

“Aaron’s verdict is slightly more damning.”

Mark was suddenly surrounded by bleakness.

“I’ll begin; “Dependability? For what? Mark seems more intent to strut around the office like a banter obsessed peacock instead of a colleague. He floats all over the place chatting and flirting.

His continual assessment forms show that he’s a a very subtle operator, he gives off the impression of getting work done but during the appraisal he spent barely ten minutes doing work-related tasks in every hour.

He seems to believe that sending three short e-mails an hour constitutes work. If we were to generalise this behaviour over an entire work year he will work for 7.6 weeks out of his contracted 46 weeks. It would be hard to generalise from three hours but this is simply not good enough, He appears to be taking the piss.”

Mark was too bamboozled to think properly.

“Excuse me Steve, he didn’t actually say that I was “taking the piss” did he?” 

“I’m afraid he did, shall we move on?

The second area is “Mistakes slash Waste” Your continual assessment forms indicate that you’re a conscientious and tidy worker, you don’t waste paper by printing off an unnecessary amount of sheets. Your computer log record tells us that you make few mistakes as you type and we’ve never had cause to ask for redrafts of your reports. From this point of view there’s no problem. The figures tell us that your order error rate was only 5.3%.

Again Aaron’s verdict isn’t quite as glowing……..”

Mark felt another uncomfortable lurch.

“……As already stated Mark chooses to spend most of his time in work doing things other than what he’s paid to do, so it would be obvious to say that his mistake slash waste to productivity ratio could be improved. In short his main mistake is to waste everyone’s time.

Again it would seem that he’s created a shiny positive image to mask the reality. He needs to improve his productivity rate.

Judging by the quality, or rather lack of quality, of his error-strewn work we can make two assumptions firstly, mistakes are commonplace and secondly, he fails to apply the attention to detail that is required by his job description. I heard that Chris spellchecks his work to avoid his section getting negative feedback.”

Mark was perplexed.

“So I wear a mask do I”  he asked incredulously.

“Let’s press on shall we.

Now it’s “Teamwork” your continual assessment profile states that you are an effective team player who adds complementary skills and contributes valuable ideas, opinions and feedback, and that you communicate in an open and candid manner. You can be counted upon to fulfill any commitments made to others on the team.”

Steve paused again, it was unmistakably ominous. There was another lurch.

“Aaron said that after he gained feedback from Mark’s colleagues he was able to see that Mark is often fine within a team but there are occasions when he appears to coast within the anonymity of a team. They say that he often needs to be pushed to make the required effort, and that sadly these occasions are becoming more frequent.”

Mark felt the need to finally respond to this character assassination;

“I’d disagree with that Steve. You know that’s not the real me is it? I’ve served on three key teams this year: corporate social responsibility, customer service process improvement and the one that deals with special orders.”

Steve continued.

“Yes I’m aware of that, don’t worry we all know about your extra responsibilities.

The next issue we need to deal with is “Fulfillment of Individual Goals”. Well we know from your continual assessment forms that you have completed all of the goals that were set in last year’s annual appraisal. You have attended a first aid course, you have attended an I.T. course and you have mentored Chris. That’s all good. You show some initiative, I’ve seen it, you’re a bit of a go-getter or the quiet aren’t you?” 

The familiar lurch.

“Aaron’s appraisal continues to be less than positive. While the first aid and I.T. courses are useful the mentoring process provides numerous concerns. It would appear that mentoring process has merely provided the conditions for the growth of a work relationship based on a mixture of puerile humour, loud football banter and exaggerated male bonding. In the very short time I was in the office I was able to see that Mark’s fellow workers viewed this relationship as a burden to be tolerated.”

Mark was stunned.

“What’s wrong with banter” he almost stammered.

“Let’s carry on to the final part of the appraisal; “Your future development”. This is obviously linked to the last part of your appraisal. I see you’ve gone for the logical step, you’ve decided to focus on the same areas; Further development of I.T. skills, fostering more a team attitude within the department and continuing the development of mentoring role. That sounds alright.

Aaron’s comments were again rather negative.,,,”

Mark couldn’t deal with much more, yet it continued,

“I suggest that until Mark decides to concentrate more on the fundamentals of doing his work correctly there is little point in thinking about developing the finer points of his role. After speaking with his colleagues I would suggest that Mark decides to devote less time to being the irritating centre of attention and more time to doing his work efficiently and quietly.”

It was almost washing over Mark by now.

“I’m sorry, what was that “Irritating centre of attention”?

“Look Mark, don’t take Aaron’s view too seriously, at the end of the day it’s only one person’s view.

All it does is give us something to think about, for you to think about.

We still value you, your figures speak for themselves. We’ve all got something to think about now. Don’t worry about anything. We still value you.”

Mark was quiet for the rest of the day.

All he could do was wonder how this could happen to him. He did his best, he worked his hours, he hardly took any time off.




Mark’s co-workers were worried about him, he looked slightly broken. Steve asked him if he wanted to have the next day off. Mark thought that this sounded like a good idea.


At 11am Mark heard the fron door’s inner letterbox flap move and something land softly on the hall’s mat. He surmised it was a latter.

He was both fascinated and worried, could it be for him? He arose from the sofa and made for the front door tout suite. The envelope was for him. There was no address or stamp but it clearly said “Mark” in black ink letters.

Mark felt unsettled and wondered who could have sent it. His friends didn’t send notes, his Mum wouldn’t leave a note, and she certainly wouldn’t post one through the letterbox.

He opened the envelope in an intrigued and fearful state. There was a single piece of paper inside.

He carefully unfolded what he took to be a blank piece of paper for a few milliseconds. He finally noticed that there were some lines written on one side. He read the words.

I’ve seen you in the Clock End. You probably think that we can’t pick out individuals in the middle of the crowd, or hear their comments, well we can.

How does it feel to be judged in your workplace?

It’s not a very nice feeling is it?

Aaron “The Fraud” Ramsey

A few hours later the penny finally dropped, football wasn’t really that important.

The weight of caring was finally off Mark’s shoulders, he could breathe, for the first time he could truly breathe!!!! He was liberated!!

He turned his computer on and logged into “Gooner Heaven” to leave a final message.

I am Henry the Eighth and I was wrong

He deleted his profile and turned off his computer for the rest of the day..

Tories are humans, don’t you know

31 08 2017

Last week a Labour MP made the grave mistake of saying that the Tories were enemies.

“You can’t say that!” they said. “That’s not the way to do it!” they said. “Tories are humans too!” they said. “We need to work with them.” they said. “By using “Enemies” and “Evil” you’re using the language of dictatorships” they said.

Thatcher may have once labelled the Miners as “The Enemy Within”  but “That’s by the by” they say. “That’s totally different from the point I’m trying to make, that’s not the point OK!” they say.

“You’re deliberately misunderstanding the point that I’m trying to make” they say. “Communism is worse than the other thing” they say. “When you’re left-wing you’re naturally against freedom.” they say. “Come now you must realise that the freedom to employ someone for no pay is very important in our society.” they hint.

Yesterday there was this article from The Times with a really lovely twitter headline; “Leftwingers boasting that they’d never kiss a Tory are blind to the intolerance of their own ideology.” said the headline. The pithy putdown within the tweet’s screenshot really sold it to me; “The Misunderstanding, that Tories are like Mr. Burns out of the Simpsons, is quite frustrating” I looked forward to many more philosophical highlights. This is just the job to that save my soul thought I.

Alas, alas, alas, the paywall prevented self-re-education. There was me ready to let the article to educate myself out being critical of the Tory point of view when the paywall prevented me. Capitalism ruining education, oh dear, how sad. Mr. Burns would never act like that! I’m sure there’s an ironic quality to my situation but I can’t be arsed to search for it.

I suspect the subtext is “I KNOW WE LOOK INTOLERANT, BUT YOU’RE JUST AS INTOLERANT SO THERE.” It would seem that Leftwingers are too busy protesting about governments making deals with the governments that allow dictators and concentration camps to notice that they actually really like dictators and concentration camps after all, and that’s just the ones I know!

The strangest thing is that both Labour people and Conservative people seem to value a decent health service, secure employment opportunities and good quality roads, and that’s just the one I know!

Anyway to return to the main thrust of this post, when it comes down to it, in the final analysis, at the end of the day, not to put too fine a point on it, how can you not look down on the Tories? They have chosen to plump for a heartless outlook on life, the one that puts their own interests ahead of everyone else’s.

I’ve found that there are only two possible responses when you’re confronted with a Tory; pity them and wonder how life has made someone so bitter or pity them and wonder how life has made someone so heartless.

No offence, I’m just saying it like it is. That’s what gets you a media profile these days. It’s just banter, or something. I’m just a bitter banter bandit.

Here are some reasons why we should look down on Tories.

1. Their Outlook

Let’s call it”Selfish Misanthropic Pettiness”. They’re always moaning about something as if they’re personally inconvenienced.

“You can’t build that here!”

“Who’s paying for these so-called refugees to use MY municipal sports facilities?”

“When are we getting rid of the NHS? I’m sick of paying for Communism.”

“How can you trust a pacifist with his hands on the Nuclear trigger?”

“You’re objecting to Zero Hours contracts? What about students, single mums and fraudulent benefit claimants?”

“You can’t tell me there aren’t Fraudulent Benefit Claimants. I know hundreds. You see them all with their yellow three wheeled vans, solid gold cuff links and investment portfolios on the Future Market.”

Mention “solidarity” to them and you’ll hear contempt, rephrase the idea as “people sticking up for themselves and their fellow workers” and you’ll hear disdain. Mention “Labour” and you’ll here the word tax. Mention “tax” and you’ll hear about asylum seekers. Mention “unions” and you’d hear the fevered imaginings of Reggie Perrin’s brother in law verbatim. Mention “the environment” and you’ll hear about hoaxes. There’s a pat answer for everything.

If you press Tories they never seem able to fully explain why it’s fine that we should live in a society that seems not to care about its citizens. “That’s the way things are, what can I do?” they’ll say. You can almost hear the moral justification “It’s not me, I’m nice. I don’t hate other people. I only vote Tory for blah blah blah.” The moral triumph of selfishness has absolutely nothing to do with them and their decision to vote for a party with selfishness at its core. Who can argue with that?

2. Their Smugness

This tends to afflict the politicians rather than the supporters.

We’ve all seen the Tories on TV with their Tory faces. If you’re not sure who I mean they’ll be the ones refusing to answer questions with a Tory face. They’ll be the ones diverting attention to opponents with a Tory Face. They’ll be the ones with smiling lips on a Tory face, a smile with all the self-assurance that a human can humanly display.

Even when they’re delivering a policy that’s patently bad or inhumane they’ll be smiling that Tory smile from a Tory face. Forget the words, forget the clear implication of the policy you have just heard just look at that self-assured Tory smile from a self-assured Tory face, dig those soothing  waves of self-belief! They simply couldn’t be wrong.

The Brexit shambles is the ultimate example of self-assuredness. A vote meant to heal a rift in the Tory party, one side saying “It’ll be fine, we’ll just save money for the NHS”. the other not really caring because they had other jobs on the horizon. Now “everything is fine” they say.”We’ll get what we want” they say. “There’s absolutely nothing complicated in the process whatever” they say.

You don’t need to be Jeff Stelling to see that this process will be the biggest self-inflicted political mess in modern British history. “It’ll be worth when we have those blue passports” they say with self-assurance, even if you and I won’t be able to afford to use one in the future.

Tories continually find new ways justifications for their noxious outpourings, Labour have a Momentum so the Tories have decided to get themselves an Activate. Imagine those cool cats at Tory HQ; “Let’s make selfishness hip for squares daddio!!! Let’s start with cultural re-education camps for council tenants.”

If you manage to press these people they never seem able to fully explain why it’s fine that we should live in a society that seems not to care about its citizens. “That’s the way things are, what can I do?” they’ll say. You can almost hear the moral justification “It’s not me, I’m nice. I don’t hate other people. I’m only a Tory politician because blah blah blah.” The moral triumph of selfishness has absolutely nothing to do with them and their decision to stand for a party with selfishness at its core. Who can argue with that?

3. They imposed the market economy upon us.

Forty years ago Tories decided that Hayek had all the answers because the Unions had ALL the power in Britain. Pinochet had shown the way. “Such a lovely chap, doing a first rate job with his economy dear boy.” they said.

Twenty five years ago Francis Fukuyama pronounced The End of History. There’s no debate. “The Market Economy Is King!” they said.

Today we have Austerity.

The thread linking all three periods is Gordon Gekko’s bastardised ideology; “Greed Is Good, Who cares if people have to re-apply for their jobs.” 

“We simply cannot challenge this state of affairs.” they say.

“There’s the trickle down goodness.” they say.

I felt my first splashes on a summer job about 17 years ago, when our boss came splashing around one clear morning. The factory had been taken over since my previous summer of service, the family owned business was now part of a corporate family.

The upbeat chap was a head honcho type that had deigned to pop down and speak to us;

“We’re all in this together” he said.

Needless to say we were still waiting for the pay rise to management levels by the time I left in the September. I’m quite sure the noble thought was definitely there however.

It might be obvious that unfettered capitalism is not useful for societal happiness because it’s only useful for helping one sector of society screw the rest over, but what does that matter? Some Tories may concede that universal happiness under capitalism is impossible because it’s not designed for everybody to “strike it rich” but what does that matter?

“Market Capitalism is the bestest system for us.” they say.”Don’t worry Market Capitalism is still the bestest system for developing an equal society” they say. “Market Capitalism is simply amazing” they say. “Marx has nothing to say” they say.

Marx should be silenced even though his 170 year old criticisms of capitalism still hold water. Market capitalism still hasn’t solved the issues linked to the disparity of wealth. But then what does that matter?

In the 1980s we were told to take up cycling to help the economy. There were problems but they were all our fault, and riding a bike would help profoundly. “It’s your fault that businesses are laying people off” they said. “It’s all due to YOUR lack of competitiveness” they said. “It’s all due to YOUR lack of productivity” they said. “It’s all due to YOUR Union Barons” they said. “Go and ride a bike, it’s the best, most helpful thing you can do, to help yourself out of the hole your fecklessness has made” they said.

It wasn’t the bosses, the rich, the Bourgeoisie at all. There wasn’t anyone trying to take advantage of the situation to earn a profit. It was our fault, all our fault. We just had to get to take up cycling and sort it out.

I remember that they didn’t like people fighting for their jobs, “That’s evil militancy” they said. “There’s nothing worse than fighting for your right to work in a job that you want to work in” they said. “It’s much better to ride a bike to another unspecified job.” they said. It was easier to make people redundant and moan about feckless shirkers being unemployed than try and do something different, they hinted.

They privatised the inefficient nationalised industries, which were then streamlined because they were overmanned. This was the code that made people like my Dad redundant.

I fear that I may have given the wrong impression about the decade. It wasn’t bad for everyone. The bike riding advice didn’t apply to government ministers. Years after he demanded that people take up cycling Norman “Cycling Proficiency For Unemployed Scumbags” Tebbitt was offered a directorship of the privatised industry that made my Dad redundant.

There was nothing fishy in the fact he became a director of the privatised industry that had been created by his government, nothing fishy at all. “It’s just the time we live in.” they said, “Yes but this is all ancient history now, it’s not relevant now!” they say.

They have a point, the attitudes of the 1980s are no longer relevant, the attitudes have massively changed, they’re hugely different, so bigly different you can’t believe. Recently Norman “Cycling Proficiency For Unemployed Scumbags” Tebbitt said  Make young unemployed pull up ragwort for benefits”.

The unemployed are already forced into using every spare nanosecond looking for work, visiting potential employers and distributing CVs, Yes without the threat of benefit sanctions the feckless wasters would never try and end the dispiriting situation they detest under their own steam, they hint. Never mind, let’s make them do unpaid labour on top. That’s the only way to encourage a sense of dignity, that is.

Today the Tories label their awful ideology with the softness of the word austerity. Needless to stay, it’s the same old rubbish. It would be bad enough if it was more of the same but they appear to be going further. There are so many examples that we could use to condemn Austerity but let us limit criticism to two facts; it’s forced hundreds of thousands into penury and it’s been used as an excuse to hollow out the remaining vestiges of our Post-WW2 settlement.

“I, Daniel Blake is just Marxist propaganda that Pravda would be ashamed to use!” they said. “I, Daniel Blake doesn’t ring true.” they said. Anyone would think that people didn’t like having a spotlight thrown on the logical outcome of our government’s dehumanising policies.

I suppose if you were being charitable you could say that the government is only motivating people, and who doesn’t need that little bit of extra motivation to accept precious zero hours jobs. “What’s wrong with Zero Hours Jobs? You’re just anti-working class you are.” they’ll say. “See you, yes you, the working classes, zero hours jobs are all you lot deserve, and what’s wrong with that, it’s called progress.” they’ll say.

The creators of austerity never seem able to fully explain why it’s fine that we should live in a society that seems not to care about its citizens. “That’s the way things are, what can I do?” they’ll say. You can almost hear the moral justification “It’s not me, I’m nice. I don’t hate other people. I only formulate Tory policy for blah blah blah.” The moral triumph of selfishness has absolutely nothing to do with them and their decision to formulate policy for a party with selfishness at its core. Who can argue with that?

The “Centrists” eh! “You can’t look down on a Tory you’ve got to help them to help us.” they say. “You can’t nationalise the railways!” they say. It’s fine to be a centrist when there’s a left-oriented consensus, as in 1945-’79, but we’ve had a right-oriented consensus for the last 40 years. How do they suggest that we meet Austerity halfway? Capitulation to the market economy isn’t a noble position.

“Centrists” don’t mind stuff, except when people say “nasty wasty fings” about the effect of Conservative policy, or the Conservatives that enacted such disgusting policies. Mind you they never seem able to fully explain why it’s fine that we should live in a society that seems not to care about its citizens. “That’s the way things are, what can I do?” they’ll say. You can almost hear the moral justification “It’s not me, I’m nice. I don’t hate other people. I only tolerate the Tories for blah blah blah.” The continuing moral triumph of selfishness has absolutely nothing to do with them and their decision to tolerate a party with selfishness at its core. Who can argue with that?

We cannot meet market capitalism halfway and hope for a better outcome, it will always win. The market is not an abstraction, it is a living breathing collection of individuals making calculated decisions based on self-interest. Those decisions could be focused towards people but they’re not, their focused towards the pursuit of profit.

The best way to improve matters would be to change the economic system for something more humane. We can control the economy, the economy doesn’t have to control us. The last move from a less humane economic system (laissez-faire) to a more humane economic system (Keynesianism) required the trigger factor of the Second World War’s death and destruction. What will it take to achieve change this time?

Change is not impossible, we only need humans to think of the greater good and make some decisions. That’s not as fanciful, or wishy washy, as it seems. People continually make decisions throughout a day. If people decided to change our society’s priorities after World War Two we can make a similar choice today.

Please don’t ask me to sweep what Tories think, and their abhorrent policy outcomes, under my emotional carpet. It’s amoral to reduce humans to the level of consumerist slugs. Surely our society can do better than their putrid outlook.

PS, I’ve spent a life weighing things up politically. I choose to be left wing. I know that being left wing has its drawbacks, and there are inconsistencies, and there are irritating fellow-travellers but I’d still rather perceive the world as I do. No amount of point scoring whataboutery will change my view. If I didn’t want to think it, I wouldn’t think it.

Groundspotting from the windows of trains

29 08 2017

It’s about time I refreshed the pastime I like to call “Groundspotting from the windows of trains”.

If you fancy joining in, there’s noting to it. The rules are very simple; If you see any part of a football ground, no matter how small that part may be, from the windows of a moving train you can add that ground to your list.

I understand that the esteemed writer Daniel Gray, has written something similar in “Saturday, 3pm”. All I’ll say is that this mediocre mind had the same thought as a great one. It’s amazing what you think about when you look around.

Anyway, so far I’ve seen the following football grounds from the windows of moving trains

Aberystwyth Town,
Aston Villa,
Bangor City,
Birmingham City,
Cardiff City (Ninian Park and Cardiff City Stadium),
Carlisle City,
Cefn Druids,
Clermont Foot,
Conwy Borough,
Charlton Athletic,
Chester FC,
Connah’s Quay,
Crewe Alexandra,
Derby County,
Flint Town United,
Greenock Morton,
Helsinki Olympic Stadium,
Heysel Stadium,
Huddersfield Town,
Inter Cardiff,
Lancaster City,
Lansdowne Road,
Leeds United,
Liverpool FC,
Llandudno Junction,
Llandudno Town,
Llanfairfechan Town,
Llanrwst United,
Macclesfield Town,
Manchester City,
Manchester United,
Millenium Stadium,
Neath Athletic,
Notts County,
Nottingham Forest,
Penmaenmawr Phoenix,
Pollok FC,
Prestatyn Town,
Preston North End,
Sampdoria / Genoa
Shrewsbury Town (Gay Meadow and New Meadow)
St. Mirren.
Stade de France,
Stalybridge Celtic,
Stockport County,
Swansea City,
Warrington Wolves,
West Bromwich Albion,
Wigan Athletic,
York City

I hadn’t even realised you weren’t there!

27 08 2017

I’ll start with the first of three realisations. I don’t know whether I should continue to chain myself to the tradition of going to a match every week.

This mental journey began with a couple of connected recollections about David Elleray, the once famous referee, and Nick Hornby. I once read that Elleray turned down the chance to officiate at the 1994 World Cup because he had a job interview at his school. Hornby missed the replay of the 1993 FA Cup Final because he attended an award ceremony in which Fever Pitch was nominated.

I remember having a similar reaction to both events; “Imagine that happening! How awful would it be to miss your side winning a cup? How could you call yourself a true fan? I’ll never be like that! I’ll never let work come between me and an important match!” 

Needless to say I’ve missed matches for work-related reasons since those thoughts came to me. I’ve missed every Wales match for six and half years for work-related reasons.

In the mid ’90s I’d envisaged some nebulous “bad things” happening but all I’ve “suffered” is a growing sense of acceptance. I suspect that I’ll never watch Wales again. I don’t even check the dates of matches anymore, too many people are after tickets and I’m so far down the pecking order I’m in 2008.

While international football has become something that happens to other people normal football and work-related reasons had never coexisted in my life until that Saturday in May, when I missed Bangor’s European Play-Off Final.

My younger self would have been incredulous but my present self took life as it came, albeit with pangs of wishful regret. I had had enough time to get to the match because my work related business had finished earlier than I had envisaged.

If only I had had a car ready to go, but I didn’t have a car ready to go, so I sat on my sofa waiting for 5:15pm in the company of thoughts  “I could’ve gone, I could’ve gone. With better organisation I could’ve gone!” Sod it, I wasn’t going. I was going to miss the joyous moment that European football returned to Bangor, if it came, but who cares. “Calm bordering on sanguine” was my middle name.

Then the game kicked off. It was an odd sensation when I saw the players, I’d only ever seen them up close and personal but now they were on telly with bigger faces. It felt even stranger when I saw my fellow fans in the crowd. The thought that I should have been there never left, but I was obviously not there. The glory that I could’ve ended up enjoying felt like it was merely a whiff of a dilution of the glory I’d feel in the ground. On the other hand I knew two great things, I didn’t have a journey home and I had less time to wait for Eurovision.

When the European matches arrived I missed both of them, including the first European home match I’d missed since 1985, thanks to work-related reasons.

As you may guessed from the fact you’re reading these words nothing untoward happened in the universe because I missed the matches. Everyone carried on as normal. All three matches still took place.

There were no half time tannoy appeals about poor little me, there were no appeals on social media either, nobody commented. Nobody decided to give the next match a miss because I hadn’t gone. At most a few people noticed I wasn’t there.

The wider world spoke with cold indifference, it didn’t care that I had missed some football matches. It’s a stark moment when you realise that the world doesn’t care about you but what does one do? The world is a cold, harsh, disinterested place.

Before May’s European play-off match typical premonitions of jovial conversation within the glow of victory had caused regretful impulses yet I felt few post-match regrets. On a cosmic level the absence of my negligible presence barely registered, Bangor still qualified for Europe. On a personal level, what had I actually missed? Apart from the irreplaceable joyful conversations and glorious memories of drinks enjoyed I’d missed a match that had been televised, that was all.

I was clearly more able to cope with missing important football matches than I thought. Over the last few years there have been some recent weekends when I didn’t even bother with a match so I daresay I’d undergone an understated process of desensitisation.

When I coupled the fact that I wasn’t really missed with my lack of real regret enlightenment wasn’t far behind…….. I am insignificant.

It’s very illuminating to be reminded that you’re insignificant in the big scheme. It’s fantastic to be reminded that your petty choices and whims only really matter within the confines of your own head, that your petty desires are no more important than anyone else’s, that you are not more important than other people. Be like me, embrace liberation!

I remember reading that one of the Super Furry Animals claimed “Don’t be a C**t” as his motto. It’s an outlook that captures the beautiful simplicity of a decent world. It’s better to set aside ego-driven impulses for the simple fact that we will always need the help of other people. A co-operative society is always preferable to the alternatives.

Let us return to the first couple of lines. My enlightenment led to three realisations. Firstly, and already noted, I’m not sure I should continue to chain myself to the tradition of attending matches every week. Secondly, it doesn’t matter whether I turn up or not because my presence determines nothing, results happen anyway. Thirdly I should probably use a little more discernment when choosing which football matches I attend.

There are two enormous elephants in the room. The first is the fact that logic and football aren’t happy bedfellows. Football has manifest observable problems yet the idea of “football” still appeals and I still like going to matches.

Football charms with the promise of excitement and the potential of seeing something fantastic. There’s the aesthetic attraction of flowing moves and skill. Most importantly there’s the human interaction between like minded people. I still like to be in a crowd. The hubbub, the laughter and, wittingly or unwittingly, hearing a good story or two.

I don’t think I could live without the enjoyment of visiting a new town, or spending time with good friends. The so-called laws of probability tell me that I probably won’t see something fantastically memorable very often but the possibility is always present. Sometimes I just like to be lost in thoughts about the ghosts of football’s past and I see those ghosts everywhere. My love of my version of football is a feeling I can’t adequately explain.

Take my compulsion to watch Hibernian’s Scottish Cup triumph on you tube. I don’t support Hibs yet I still still feel compelled to watch the clips. Whenever I watch the last minute winner, the people lost in celebration and the fantastic Sunshine On Leith there’s a warmness in my brain, I know what it means for those involved and I can’t help getting wrapped in the emotion of the circumstances. Some things just cause a positive reaction and football has that effect in my head. That’s enough for me. I feel like I still need football.

The second elephant is the application of a discerning eye to football, you can do that but it isn’t always enough. I’ve tried to limit my football interactions to what I can stand – watching matches in a ground, refusing to buy anything connected to Murdoch, leaving the shiny corporate hagiographies that pass for magazine articles unread, ignoring the banter bus, putting a padlock on my twitter profile – but I’ve found that it’s impossible to insulate yourself from those you want to ignore.

I avoid pubs when they broadcast matches, I take an ambivalent attitude to Match of The Day and I block banter accounts. Yet this is still not enough, Murdoch era attitudes and opinions cannot be avoided. Especially if you choose to leave your house or use public transport.

You can’t legislate for the actions of other people, much as I’d like to become Prime Minister and pass laws. Opinion seeps around any social media dam. You can only avoid so many TV adverts based on the cliched excitement of sports broadcasting types.

“GET READY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

GET SET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Even the BBC broadcasts bloody football adverts of this type. Sentient fans know that football is often crap and boring rather than continually fantastic, dramatic and delightful.

Then you weaken, and give “THE FOOTY” on the telly another go for sentimental reasons. It’s alright until you’re realise that the craze of perpetual analysis still holds, football still has a self-imposed sense of importance it doesn’t warrant.


I don’t want hear in depth analysis that perpetuates this controversy driven football culture.


Not entirely, the word “entitlement” doesn’t appear within the foul play section of the laws of association football, I’ve checked.


Talking Points™ are the currency of the damned, the angry phone-in callers and the bluffers.

If we’re going to analyse something why don’t we concentrate on the way “our” sport is governed and organised.

The miasma of inconsequential opinion seems to surround me wherever I go. Bluffers and loudmouths are on every train I catch with their Talking Points™. Preserve me from the words ejaculated by hectoring mouths and the opinion shaped nails upon my psyche’s blackboard. I just want some peace.

I can’t get away from the bluffers’ world. The craze of perpetual analysis has convinced bluffers that they know what they’re talking about. Bloody opinions are everywhere, as if a law prohibits a carefree attitude.

The other day short video clips of Jack Wilshire getting sent off in an Under 23s match were doing the rounds on twitter. It’s the sort of thing that rocks a bluffer’s world, the evidence they need to make another plagiarised knowing comment, another metaphorical nod and wink, another easy dismissal of a professional player. “You can’t trust him when the pressure’s on.”, “He’s a nutter”,”He’s a fraud”.

Why does a short clip of Jack Wilshire getting sent off in an Under 23s match need to exist? The continual externalisation of football opinion is an extremely pointless act. Mate, mate, mate I know what I know, my opinion is only my opinion. Bluffers appear to believe that their opinion is the loud gospel that needs to be expressed everywhere mate.

Football minutiae – facts like winning runs, goal scoring feats and odd scorelines – used to be briefly diverting little quirks. When the minutiae started to appear on the twitter the bluffers were awarded with a ready made knowledge mine that enabled them to appear like experts without effort. “Mate, mate, mate I can’t believe your twitter feed mate. You’re a real football nut you are mate!!!” 

I don’t know why some people are happy to limit their experience of football to the perpetual hype juggernaut of Murdoch’s football culture. I don’t understand how people stomach the hyper-commercialisation. Why is there a dearth of imagination? How can people not yearn for a bit more integrity? Why is the shiny seen as more appealing than the authentic?

In moments of weakness I sometimes wonder whether I’m judging these bluffers too harshly. They’re not doing anyone any real harm, they’re only watching the footy aren’t they?

“Yeah couldn’t you go to another train carriage or something and stop moaning you effete pseud?” 

Well I suppose I could, less of the effete please, it’s called “having standards“.

I know the bluffers are only fellow human beings combating the alienation of the capitalist mode of production by developing an interest in something………..


…… they’re using their free will to submit to the Murdoch version of football.

The bluffers couldn’t care less that people like me have emotional ties to football, they’re content to offer the forces that are slowly turning football into a joyless economic equation their connivance. They could decide not to be part of the cynically created market that exploits both themselves and football but they don’t.

They love it when their own interchangeable hero from the super club carousel kisses the heat applied trademarked badge upon their polyester clad chest. Some have even been known to look up from their pool table, shout “GET IN!!!” and slap their own polyester clad chest.

The situation is very frustrating. If people knew that I liked football the bluffers and I would appear to be the same. I find that if you have a conversation with someone that gets football their interest usually comes out gradually in the middle of an interesting conversation about something else, they don’t bludgeon you with“look at me I’m a proper fan just like you!!” overcompensation buffoonery to prove they’re in tune with the zeitgeist.

Some recent highlights from my fascinating life show my problem. The days followed the usual pattern; I interacted with football in my own way (Undertaking mental journeys to beautiful possibilities) until something polluted my headspace.

Two Saturdays ago I read When Saturday Comes on the way to FC United v Kidderminster and started to think about going to Southport v FC United on the way home. We’d only made a couple of stops after leaving Manchester when the confident young men sauntered through the automatic doors of my carriage. They were ostentatiously carrying “The Banter”.

It was my misfortune that the opposite table was empty. It started as soon as they sat down. Banter. Facebook, Banter, “LEGEND!!!” this, “CLASSIC!!!” that. The football analysis had the conviction and polish of true expertise;

“Let me tell you who’s in City’s line up”…………“He’s awful.”……………“He’s not as bad as Monreal” …………“Can you believe Kyle Walker is worth £50 million? That’s like saying he’s twice as good as blah blah blah.”…………“What you need from a wing back is technical skill, that’s why blah blah blah is much better than blah blah blah”.

They were only on the train for about 10 minutes.

A full 612 seconds of equilibrium shattering.

They got on the train with a clear conscience, did “The Banter” with a clear conscience and a gleam in the eye, and alighted with a clear conscience.

Their six ton granite lump of premium footy banter had transformed my erstwhile serene mental lake of human joy into a choppy grey mass of water.

How are you supposed to enjoy football when people are allowed to use the banter and analysis in such a wantonly cavalier fashion? Loud football opinions are like human posteriors, every person has one but it’soften  impolite to let others hear them.

Listening leads to the continual fight against delivering a coup de grace;

“Maaaaaate, mate, mate I don’t care why you think what you think about Ozil.

No offence mate, it’s just my opinion but I just don’t care about your opinion to be honest mate.

Maaaaaate mate mate how would you like thousands of critics to analysing your work days on twitter? “Look at him, taking too long to go to the photocopier again!! What a fraud!!”

Call yourself a football fan, you’re nothing like me.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe mate, eaten chips on a boulder outside Hampden Park mate, I’ve watched non-authorised merchandise glitter in the dark near the Shankly Gates mate.

All those moments will be lost, in time, like tears in rain mate.

Recant the banter life, Recant!

Follow me, for I will save your soul!”

Needless to say, I’ll have had the last laugh. If only I had the confidence!

The same sort of thing happened last Saturday. Once again I had engaged with football on my level. Nine hours of reasonably enjoyable time with Nottingham Forest v Middlesborugh at the centre and train reading material provided by Irvine Welsh, Daniel Gray’s Stramash and the When Skies Are Grey Summer Special.

We’d reached Chester on the way home. Two Liverpool fans were amiably chatting away about the day’s events when apropos of nothing some bloke decided to insert himself into the conversation with a bronze droplet of football wisdom;“Try supporting Villa!”. It was yet another “Look at me, I’m part of the zeitgeist!!!” moment.

It was delivered like an appeal for sympathy.  Why on earth does someone need sympathy for a making a decision with a clear head, a decision that doesn’t really matter in the cosmic sens? He told the carriage that he hadn’t been to Villa’s match…………….

“That’s the thing about football mate, they’re your club and they’ll always be your club.

You can change your politics, your wife, your pets and your underpants but you can’t change your club.

Am I right? ‘course I am Chief!

………… If the social pressure to conform with the zeitgeist is the only thing making people maintain an interest why do they still bother? It’s surely simpler not to bother at all. Nobody would judge you if you just gave up, nobody would care. Do the world a favour, give us peace.

I’m torn. I find it difficult to retain an interest in football because there appears to be little for the likes of me in Murdoch’s football culture yet I manage to retain an interest. Irritating processes continually encroach upon my limited interactions with football yet I still find a serene football world I can deal with.

I fear that one day I won’t care enough to look for serene moments but I may feel differently when that day comes. I should probably start moving to other train carriages with the other effete pseuds and snowflakes until then.

Engels was a Bangor fan

21 08 2017

The co-author of The Communist Manifesto joins the pantheon of famous Bangor City fans.

Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief

20 08 2017

I may not attend rugby matches in a sparkly cowboy hat but I am still of “The Welsh”, this much I know. I base it on the fact that I was born in Wales. Being of “The Welsh“, as the wise man on facebook once said, feels like this;

To be born in Wales, is to be born in Wales, in the rain, in a hospital that’s now a Matalan, accepting an inheritance of a sparkly cowboy hat from Tesco, Neil Hamilton’s shameless disdain, a bootleg copy of Only Men Aloud’s first album and a Wales v Czech Republic ticket stub from June 2007.

I say I’m of “The Welsh” but am I? My birthplace may have been in Wales and I may have always lived in Wales, apart from my salad days in august academia, but can I claim to be of “The Welsh“?

What defines “Welshness”? What brings “The Welsh” together? Is is watching rugby in a pub, voting Tory and loving Brexit? Is it going to watch the football side’s away matches and voting for humane parties? Is it the well known third option?

Is “Welshness” defined by “The Welsh”? Well of course it is. If people didn’t define themselves as “The Welsh” there would be no such thing. Is that enough?


Is “Welshness” defined by the landscape? Well, Wales has lovely scenery and I once loved cycling to work with the sight of Snowdonia as a backdrop. However I feel I can state with some certainty that Wales isn’t the only place in the world with beautiful scenery. Similarly Wales has poor people like the rest of the world. Wales has idiots like the rest of the world. It rains in Wales like the rest of the world, only more often.

Is  “Welshness” defined by a political element? Is it the non-conformity? “The Welsh” likes nothing better a twitter discussion with their politicians they do. They loves the intellectual cut, thrust and parry with others of “The Welsh”, the sort that can wholeheartedly support the black hearted cynicism of Westminster’s austerity whilst they criticise Y Senedd (Cymraeg for The Welsh Assembly) for failing to deal with the problems created by Westminster’s austere black heart.

They say “The Welsh” don’t vote Tory but some of the good people of my home town Llandudno have yet to receive the memo. Some people vote Tory and love Brexit at the same time as they feel dead proud to be of “The Welsh”, yeah I know.

There’s probably a sporting element to “Welshness”. I knew I was part of “The Welsh” when I used to watch Wales but I haven’t been to a Welsh football international for six years. But I didn’t even go to France but Wales v Belgium is one of the most joyous football experiences I’ve had. I felt real open mouthed joy. I felt of “The Welsh” then.

Hundreds of thousands felt proud to be of “The Welsh” when Hal Robson, Hal Robson Kanu hoodwinked the entire Belgian defence. We all felt so proud that we made a film about it even though Wales suffered a pathetic failure like England did at Italia ’90, and then made a film made about it. Yes I know but that’s “The Welsh” for you, always with the chip on the shoulder.

A year after these heights the followers of the big red clubs have returned to the world’s worst metaphorical tennis match on social media.

The Facebook serve comes;

“Mickey Mouse Cup”

The forehand return!

“Yeah whatever, it’s a cup isn’t it!”

The backhand RETURN!!!

“It ain’t Champions League is it, calm down!!”


“We’re back!!!”

A DEEP LOB!!!!!!!

“Thursday nights! Thursday nights! Thursday nights!”


“Come back when you’ve won a European trophy!”


“Yeah come back when you’ve won the league in colour!!!”


“Yeah come back when you’ve won 8 Europa Leagues!!!”


“Yeah, come back when you’ve queued in the rain for 4 days to get the new shirt from Sports Direct”…….


“Okay then, here’s the supreme cultural authority of a google image that includes  words from the past that somebody else had already expressed.


My painstaking research has shown we must look beyond landscape, politics and sport for the hook upon which we can hang our coat. At this juncture and apropos of nothing I must enquire “Whose coat is this jacket?” 

There is something that we can use to define “Welshness”; Cymraeg, the language of “The Welsh”.

Even though I cannot speak Cymraeg fluently I still feel it’s effect. My wife, and her entire family, are fluent. I’ve tried to order food yn Gymraeg, I can understand half of a Sgorio commentary and discern the tone of conversations at Bangor matches.

Cymraeg has several qualities that I love. It exists as a means of communication, the sound of its syllables and there’s my second favorite quality; the unfavourable reaction it elicits.

It’s the UNDOUBTEDLY TRUE stories true that I love to hear.

“You can walk around Cardiff and no one not never speeka da Welsh. It’s the Monty Python’s Parrot of Languages. Honest guv!”

“I went to a cafe and ordered stuff in English but they just looked at me with cold hard Welsh eye of the deepest hatred, and spoke that gibberish of the Welsh to each other.”

“I heard Welsh when I went to Wales once and I’m petrified about returning in case it happens again.”

“I once went to a Pitbull gig, I was a bit late. As soon as I arrived Mr. Worldwide stopped singing in English so he could sing in Welsh.”

In some senses I have sympathy with these UNDOUBTEDLY TRUE stories, I once ordered some food in a cafe.

I had even more sympathy after another visit to a different cafe. I placed my order clearly using the Queen’s English, yes you read that correctly, the QUEEN’S English, but the cafe owner and customers deliberately started speaking Welsh to each other. I remember my thoughts at the time; “This feels a little strange, we’re in Hamburg”.

It’s a shame that people never recount the correct story;

“I once went to this Welsh cafe and the owner briefly ceased his conversation in Welsh to take my order in English because he’s a nice guy.”

Within Llandudno’s infamously fickle Cultural Quarter I am still well known as an attentive wee person in social situations so you can treat the next point with all the deference it deserves;

I’ve noticed that Welsh speakers are not only BILINGUAL they are WILLING TO SPEAK ENGLISH with people that are obviously unable to communicate fluently in Welsh out of a sense of POLITENESS.

You may take from that what you will. I’ll bet that you’re champing at the bit to hear about my favourite quality of Cymraeg.

For me the best thing about Cymraeg is the sole reason that it continues to survive in the 20th century, namely Cymraeg’s ability to deprive Brexit voters of tax. Methods of communication are all fine and well these days but we have to factor in economic value.


It was a truly beautiful moment when I realised that the people I know had the ability to be a drain upon the economic health of yer hard working Brexit voting payers of tax merely by speaking this Gibberish of a dead language.

After my epiphany I refused to allow logic to sully the beautiful feeling that coursed through me  – I mean how would a reasonably sized government suffer bankruptcy because they employed bilingual staff, bought a bit more paper and added a few more letters to road signs? – I wanted to bask in the beautiful situation. I didn’t even need to research whether Welsh road signs were bigger anyway, I just had to luxuriate.

This beautiful situation allows one to fulminate in the knowledge that one is now more able to deal with our market-driven times. Now I can monetise my family’s ability to speak this Gibberish of a dead language!

Yes, yes, yes!!!!!

In fact my wife and I have been rendered ecstatic by the clear indication that we can now monetise her ability to speak Cymraeg thanks to a grant from Y Senedd’s“Waste of Public Money Fund“.

It’s difficult to take in but my wife isn’t just speaking Gibberish of a dead language any longer she, indeed we, now have a license to print money via a license from the The Nanny State. Result! Cry Huzzah and Hurrah for the Nanny State and Political Correctness!

After a bit of research we have now realised that things are even better. It appears that Y Senedd also offers a massive amount of taxpayer funded largesse from its “The Taxpayer Funded Largesse for Prolonging Dead Languages Fund“. All we need to do is open a rural language school in order to help others monetise their Welsh by passing on the ancient Welsh wisdom of depriving the Nanny State of Public subsidy and Tory voters of their tax.

I’m happy to say that the good news doesn’t stop there. It turns out that we’re also entitled to backdated payments from 1999.

Result!, or  as we say near Rhyl; “Mae Rijkaard wedi Sgorio gol wych hebio Zenga!!”

We must be careful. Firstly we must avoid the logical path – That some people cost British society £150 million a year because they find Welsh to be their easiest method of communication – to let the golden words of televisual attention seekers guide us. Secondly the process of taxpayer funded dead language preservation is a rather tricky business.

It’s such a tricky business that without the right kind of guidance one can lose heart. For example, at some point last week the golden words of a televisual attention seeker on an edition of Newsnight convinced my wife to recant her ability to speak Welsh.

“Dwi ddim yn Heretic!” she said proudly!

I told her not to give up so easily. “Come on baby, don’t give so easily. Be proud that you’re a drain on public finances! Hwyl!”

My Wife realised I was right so she said; Syt gallai I siarad iaith heb Z? Mae’r dyn enlightened ar y teledu yn gywir!

You’ve just heard 15 Welsh words, that’ll be £15.50 please!!!” 

“That’s the spirit”” I said. “Never forget that you and your mates personally cost Brexit voters £150 Million a year! Cofiwch Lille!”

The monetising mission is so seductive that I, a non-Cymraeg speaker, can be at it. Here goes. I have typed “Dwi ddim yn Siarad Cymraeg!” and you have read it so that’s £4.50 that you and all the other hard working Daily Mail payers of tax personally owe me.

Now I have typed “T’yn Hoffi Pel Droed?” and you have also read that. So that’s another £4.70 that you and the rest of the hard working taxpaying Daily Mail payers of tax personally owe me.

Now I have typed “Dwi’n hoffi coffi!!!” and you have read that as well so that’s another £3.60 that you and the rest of you hard working Daily Mail payers of tax personally owe me.

That’ll be £12.90 altogether chief. No cheques or contactless I’m afraid.

To re cap, that’s £14 (Adjusted to include “The Taffy Is A Thief Stealth Tax“) that you and the rest of the hard working Daily Mail payers of tax personally owe me.

“The Welsh” may have to scrape by without a word for entrepreneur but my business acumen and genetic Welsh appetite for public subsidy, means that the hard working Daily Mail reading  payers of tax have to pay me £15 (Adjusted to include Welsh V.A.T) for five minutes work.

From a personal point of view knowing that some people become annoyed when others have the temerity to communicate in an language other than English is a great comfort to me. It reminds me that my sense of Welshness, when allied to my left wing viewpoint, allows me to stand comfortably downwind of Farage et al.

Don’t worry about “The Welsh”, we wear the evident utter disdain of yer Daily Mail’s hard working payers of taxes as a fabulous cape of honour.

The one that When Saturday Comes actually published.

7 07 2017

So I entered the When Saturday Comes Writers’ competition again, but this time I’ve somehow ended up within the pages of the august publication as a runner up. To say this was unexpected is one of the largest understatements I have ever expressed.

Here is the article in its original form.

Sticking Together

At first glance the phrase “Sticker spotting” could transmit the vibes of an anti-social niche activity but it’s amazing just how much fun you can have when you’re spotting football stickers as you walk the streets.

If I were to say “I’m fascinated by football stickers” I’m sure that most people would assume that I was talking about Panini stickers. The enticing possibility of finally seeing Welsh internationals in Panini packets may have proved too difficult to resist last summer but that was only a passing infatuation. My fascination lies with the kind of football stickers that fans apply to street furniture.

If you can’t quite picture “football stickers on street furniture” you’ve walked past them without noticing. If you had looked more closely you would have seen the unmistakable signs; a splodge of colour on a lamppost, a forlorn piece of faded paper on a drainpipe, the remnants of adhesive on the back of a road sign. The stickers are definitely there because I’ve lost count of the clubs I’ve seen represented.

I saw my first on a bus timetable at the Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet in 2006. It involved a Polish “Band of Brothers”, I forget which sides were involved. Within a decade stickers appeared to be everywhere. A hobby with artistic pretensions came to mind so I started to photograph them.

I started a Tumblr site and briefly considered an aspirational biography; “Stickers on Street Furniture. Mixed Media. This continuous work takes the juxtaposition created when the radical self exists within commodified public space and projects it onto the mind of the viewer. The viewer is then forced to question 21st Century assumptions”. I opted for “The exciting world of stickers on street furniture!” instead.

I scan as I walk so I can spot the right sort of small coloured shape at thirty paces. It doesn’t matter whether I see an exquisitely designed creation or a weather-faded expression of club loyalty they all count. New discoveries can cause sudden halts so audible tutting is often my companion.

It’s funny what you see when you have the inclination to look around. I’ve seen a Preston sticker on a Munich airport sign, a Doncaster Rovers sticker on a Ljubljana drainpipe, an IFK Gothenburg sticker on a Bangor postbox and a Honved sticker outside the Colosseum. From an anthropological angle the stickers are obviously territorial markings, from a social geography angle it’s interesting to see which fans have visited a place.

The environs of football grounds obviously feature stickers and cities are generally well laden, with London, Manchester and Glasgow offering good selections. Perhaps unsurprisingly London offers the best opportunities of the three. There are so many monuments and iconic destinations, and indeed streets, that each trip offers a cornucopia of new stickers. The weeks after European matches are a boon as city centres have usually been decorated by a host of new stickers. I once assumed that transport hubs would offer rich pickings but stickers seem to be removed swiftly, although you may see some.

The most common stickers seem to be British, German and Polish. There must be websites that provide supplies because certain generic designs are popular at given times, at the moment it’s the coupling of the adidas stripes with “(Insert club name) On Tour”. The most fertile location has been Werder Bremen’s solar panel encrusted stadium and the location with the most cosmopolitan collection was Boudicca’s corner near Big Ben.

After a few months of sticker hunting I thought I’d noticed a profound contrast between European artistry and mundane British bombast but then I realised that my predilection for exotic mystery had guided me. In reality mythical glamour often obscures mundane reality. For example I assumed that there was absolutely no connection between European football aristocracy and fitted kitchens until I noticed that our kitchen sink had been manufactured by Teka, an erstwhile sponsor of Real Madrid. I suspect that all stickers express common sentiments like “Come On Boys!!!!” or “We’re The Best!!”.

My interest is sustained by the thoughtful representations of fan culture. Notable examples I’ve encountered include a Clapton’s Warhol pastiche in York, the stylised head of a Sampdoria ultra outside Dagenham & Redbridge’s ground, Millwall’s Only Fool and Horses inspired logo in Manchester and Preston’s reworking of the Public Image Limited logo near Euston.

My heart swells when I see irony like Manchester United’s “Ralph Milne Ultras” or progressive politics from the likes of St. Pauli, Rayo Vallecano or Livorno. I’ve seen rivalries graphically represented by the application of one sticker over another and felt intrigued by surprising connections like Tranmere and Eindhoven FC.

The most bewildering example was a CSKA Moscow sticker that I saw in Manchester. It featured goose-stepping legions and other fascist iconography. When you consider two points, CSKA were once part of a Red Army that fought a bitter war against the Nazis and ultras generally have a fierce attachment to their club’s history, the sticker was an extremely odd juxtaposition. I wasn’t quite so bewildered after I had googled “Russian fan culture”.

There are several upsides to this hobby. Another layer has been added to my interest in football. By discovering the nuances of fan culture I have discovered more about a sport I thought I already knew. Take the CSKA example or the occasion I saw a “Westphalia On Tour” sticker. I assumed that German fans had left it but the internet informed me that it belonged to Olympiacos fans.

Stickers are often removed so I often feel that I’m capturing the brief moment of social history that occurred when fans visited somewhere, like the time Borussia Monchengladbach fans covered a Manchester bus stop with stickers or the time AIK Stockholm fans visited the pubs of Rhyl. Admittedly it’s not documenting the Russian Revolution but there are times when I prefer a wistful reverie to cold hard reality.

On a simpler level my fug of cynicism has slightly dissipated. I have taken almost as much pleasure from seeing stickers in a city centre as I ever did from the anticipation of opening fresh Panini packets. I now have another reason to enjoy travelling, whether to matches or in general, as every destination is now an opportunity. I can look forward to wandering around Glasgow, Bremen or Macclesfield with a zesty gait and a greater appreciation of our urban environment.

The hobby has also shown that you can always take something from life, no matter how inconsequential the activity. I feel that I can revel in the simple moment of standing in a different place. It doesn’t matter whether I’m surrounded by the majesty of the Cinque Terre or the lampposts of London I’m equally content.

If you’re ever walking down the street and you encounter a seemingly strange person that appears transfixed by a road sign please don’t judge them too harshly, they may be indulging in the slightly arty hobby of photographing football stickers.

The article is in the latest edition of the magazine (Number 366).

The  Tumblr site is called “Stickers & Street Furniture”

Baby I’m Bored

20 02 2017

A slightly different version of this post appeared in an Australian fanzine edited by a nice man called Geoff Briggs.

I’ll come out and say it at the beginning, I’ve gone off the Welsh Premier League.

I feel a little naughty for admitting this in public. When you’re even slightly involved in this league there’s unsubtle pressure to support the league through its thick and thin. You’ve got help put the league on the map and so on. I can’t live this lie any longer, I have reached the end of my tether with the competition. I’m not trying to be a clickbait contrarian, it’s just how I feel.

At the start of September a freelance journalist came to our north Walean hinterland to see if we’d felt any “bounce” from Euro 2016. Aside from the anecdotes poured over agog audiences there was absolutely no connection between Bangor City and Euro 2016.

The only possible connections between the Welsh Premier League (WPL) and Euro 2016 were the rules of football and the word “Wales“. The European Championships were a passing manifestation of divine brilliance and the WPL is a moribund entity that’s evaporated my enthusiasm for leaving the house on a Saturday afternoon, or Friday evening, or Sunday afternoon.

This feeling didn’t emerge overnight, I’ve experienced five seasons of ebbing joie de vivre, I lost the last few traces of it in the gap between the magnificent Euros and cold stark reality. A combination of three things – The WPL’s nature, brainwaves and the unforeseen effects of the club licensing process – have caused the joy drain.

Firstly, “the WPL” should be re-initialised as “the BIP” (Boredom In Perpetuity). We meet the same clubs and visit the same grounds so the same club can win the title. The WPL contained eighteen clubs until the advent of 2010’s “Super Twelve”, a competition that divides into hermetically sealed sections after twenty two matches. Now there’s a top half that ends with European play offs and a bottom half that may end in relegation. Every August I dread another existential slog.

Playing clubs at least four times during a season is bad enough but during a recent season cup matches and European play-offs meant that we played Rhyl, our fierce local rivals, seven times. Even the fiercest rivalries becomes anaemic through unrelenting contact.

A run of decent league results normally allows an unlikely side to challenge for a league title but the WPL provides erstwhile pacesetters with two extra matches to catch uppity interlopers. The clubs coasting along are merely saddled with bothersome pacesetters they can’t catch. Repetition has bred so much contempt that some clubs have welcomed relegation and others have denied themselves promotion.

I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum, success and near relegation, so I have experienced the full spectrum of boredom. The spectre of relegation is humiliating in any system but in the super twelve you stand to be punished by players that you’ve faced countless times on the WPL roundabout.

When you’re title challengers there’s no light relief. The relief of a win evaporates when you realise there’s another match next week and every defeat has two simultaneous effects; you miss out on points and any advantage you enjoyed is slightly eroded by the baying mob at your heels.

When you’re “enjoying success” there’s a horrible melange of stress, a flowchart of stress if you will; Expectation stress > spectating stress > defeat aftermath stress > realising that other sides have won stress > missing UEFA prize money stress > losing players that would bring you glory next season stress. Our championship winning season of 2010-’11 contained ten absolutely awful dread-stained weeks.

Club licensing has generally had a positive effect on the WPL in terms of facility development, rule application and ensuring that clubs are sustainable but it’s also inadvertently diluted the anticipation I used to feel.

Last summer Port Talbot Town, our friends in the south, were relegated and Caernarfon Town, our local rivals, were denied promotion. In both instances there were valid reasons for the decisions but the crumbs of comfort I doggedly put my faith in – the potential visits in a new season – had been hoovered up.

Lastly, the brainwaves. Aside from the Super Twelve, we’ve had the 3G pitch football community hubs and Sunday matches. The desire to create local community football hubs based around 3G pitches may sound laudable – an all-weather pitch that can be used by the local community – but what if an area already has a local council operated all weather pitch? Isn’t the competition risking local authority employment during our times of cynically manufactured austerity? Where’s the sense of community in that?

3G pitches aren’t without their problems either; recent research has shown that 3G pitches may have worrying health effects. There’s nothing wrong with a grass pitch if it’s looked after. The FAW could fund the annual salaries of highly qualified groundsmen for each club for less than the cost of one 3G pitch.

When they came up with Sunday matches last summer it was almost my final straw. Who in the UK prefers going to a football match on a Sunday? How are you meant to relax when Monday morning’s work is clearly visible on the horizon? What about the semi-pro players that work on Mondays? We all need a day off from football.

At the start of the season I scanned the fixture list in anticipation of away days to come and discovered that all of the away games that can involve a good day out – Rhyl, Newtown, Aberystwyth – were scheduled on days other than Saturdays. Then I noticed we were scheduled to visit Cardiff Met, the only ground I hadn’t visited, on a Sunday. Thankfully they’ve relented over Sunday matches but my enthusiasm remains comatose.

There are only two sensible options; return to an eighteen club league or change the course of the future with time travel. Based on the latest news –  the clubs seems unwilling to change the nature of the league – the latter option seems the one most likely to happen.

We could back to the 1880s and set Wales on the same process of development as Scotland; a league based around one area – the Glasgow – Edinburgh Central belt – that eventually spreads over the whole country.

We could go to 1992 instead. We could convince Cardiff, Wrexham and Swansea and the rest to do the decent thing and join the League of Wales. This isn’t fanciful, Dynamo Kiev joined the Ukrainian league, Dynamo Minsk joined the Belarussian league and Hajduk Split joined the Croatian League. If it’s good enough for Eastern Europe it’s good enough for Wales!

Even with the obvious caveats – the geography of Wales prevented the development of a proper national league and the prospect of Football League promotion was always too persuasive – the only realistic prospect of pleasant change is using Doc Brown’s DeLorean.

I once owned a Manic Streets Preachers’ t-shirt that was emblazoned with the legend; “Baby, I’m Bored”, it’s a shame that I lost it ages ago because it feels rather apt. I’m not asking for much, some enjoyment is all I want, they seem to have enjoyment in the Cymru Alliance.

I’m sure that every point in this post can be refuted but my boredom feels tangible. I know change won’t happen, I’ll just have to concentrate and enjoy those conversations about films and comedy instead. Going to local football because of an almost perverse sense of duty may be the way forward.

What’s enjoyment anyway? A fleeting glimpse of a good thing that warps reality by causing unrealistic expectations.

“The angry people” by a big snowflake

11 02 2017

A very odd paradox appears to have developed in football.

Years ago many clubs were able to win trophies and people were philosophical about their club’s failure to win trophies.

Today a cynically created elite has a virtual stranglehold on success and people seem unable to deal with their club’s failure to win trophies.

In other words, people have become more intolerant of failure when there’s less chance of experiencing success. It’s all very weird.

It would seem that football and Iceland now share the same physical geography; plentiful hot eruptions. Some people are not only far from embarrassed about appearing to be dead angry they truly believe that we all need to know that they’re dead angry. Some people evidently dwell under the delusion that they deserve happiness more than others.

Anger, anger, anger, it’s everywhere!

Booing abounds and banners soon follow. Social media often hums with you tube videos of FAN TV ranters. Managers blast everything, commentators become incredulous, pundits simmer and tabloids bark. It’s lucky that we’re not living in the New York of Ghostbusters 2 otherwise the flowing molten anger would coalesce into something supernatural and foreboding.

Obviously the situation is not this simple. It only feels like everyone is permanently angry because shouting irritants are more noticeable. I imagine that the majority of football fans are similar; hopeful of witnessing something fantastic but willing to accept the mediocre and the mundane out of habit.

Football does that to you, as soon as you discover it’s creases childlike innocence is washed away. Players aren’t perfect, other fans are boring, managers are annoying and analysts are irritating. For the majority of fans good moments are like occasional day trips to fantastic destinations; gleaming memories to be cherished.

Those interested in football obviously connect with it on an emotional level. Despite the implication of their bellowing shouting irritants don’t care more than quiet people, every football fan cares about football otherwise they wouldn’t be interested in it. You wouldn’t apply the same logic to other areas of life. I may passionately care about recycling but I’m not going to start shouting and balling on You Tube about my council’s policy on refuse collection.

Emotions are intrinsic and private until expressed. Most people can choose whether or not to externalise their emotions. Some situations require externalisation – a danger lurking nearby, someone causing grave offence – but most of the time it isn’t required. Why do some people feel the need to draw others into their self-referential soap opera by sharing momentary football frustrations?

Thinking about how you express yourself in public is as much about common courtesy as protecting dignity. While not all football fans rant and rave, there is an angry fog in football’s climate. We can’t blame football for the fog’s existence, expressing emotional “LOOK AT ME, ME, ME!” anger seems to be a societal issue.

Some people have carved out political commentator profiles based on this type of angry you tube commentary, people film other people when they’re angry so they can tweet clips and Laura Keunssberg makes people really angry. Everyone is angry.

Anger by itself isn’t the problem. For example righteous anger as a force for good, as in John Lydon’s famous lyrics “Anger is an energy”, motivates you to try and improve something. The problem is solipsistic nihilistic anger and its corrosive effect upon society.

Take the EU Referendum. The result was partly attributable to solipsistic nihilistic anger; the anger of “a forgotten underclass“, the anger about the “EU’s undemocracy” and the anger about “immigration“.

Enter the Voice of Reason;

“I’m not sure about that, you’re just a bad loser!”

Fair enough, let’s look at an example from north Wales. Dissatisfied voters in the constituency that contains north Wales’ biggest employer, the Airbus plant, were so angry about the EU they voted Leave. You don’t need to be a bitter remoaner to consider the potential problems created by this display of anger.

By helping Leave to win they may have started a chain of events that leads to the end of the Airbus production in north Wales. The clues are there; Airbus, a European consortium formed to compete with American companies, wouldn’t exist without the EU and major hints have already been dropped about possible future plans. I imagine that Airbus’ potential closure would cause great upset.

The victory enjoyed by the Leave campaign happened partly because ranting populist politicians were given free rein to cynically ferment anger before the referendum. These self-declared anti-politicians took the situation – our cynical government’s unnecessary austerity – and played on justifiable fears by bending their old rhetoric to suit their goals, you know like any old politician does.

Naturally some people were stirred into anger by the general atmosphere and seductive rhetoric of a certain point of view. Consequently a change in the UK’s relationship with the EU became the panacea for all our problems.

During the horrible referendum campaign we saw the normalisation of intolerance and the belittling of justified concerns in debates. A common tactic – something known as “whataboutery” – was used to cloud debate. various non-sequiturs were added and many spurious “Well what about them?” comparisons were made.

If you doubt the logic of all this consider the following question, would Leave have won if the angry ranters had not been granted a normalising volume of exposure? Three years ago a possible EU referendum just wasn’t on the political radar.

It’s difficult to say what will happen know, at best we’ll suffer the retrograde fantasy of a “Global Britain”, at worst we’ll endure years of traversing through a quagmire of labyrinthine negotiations to end up in an even more inward-looking unfriendly society.

The Voice of reason chimes in;

“Come on, you’ve got to “GET OVER IT!!!” The referendum happened and democracy won!”

Yeah but it’s like this voice of reason mate. We didn’t see the righteous anger of 1945, the anger that created a better society with a practical version of a better country. Last June voters were motivated by the nebulous fantasy of a better country and solipsistic nihilistic anger. I’m amazed that some people honestly thought that by voting leave a fairer Britain would automatically rise from our austere environment?

I have two main issues with the referendum result. Firstly, the “democratic will”. How are we meant to respect a result caused by the 37% of the eligible electorate (or 27% of the total population). Call me a stickler for details but I’ve always thought a majority had to be at least 50.1%. Secondly, a generational political decision of seismic significance took place in a fetid atmosphere of rancour and bluster without the requisite thought..

Is our present course of action the safest course to take? Can we trust this result?

The Voice of reason renters the fray;

“You’re just an anti-democratic clown looking down your nose at your inferiors.”

It’s not that simple. Consider the people that may have changed their minds once they realised what their choice entailed. Consider the people with morning after regrets on the 24th June. Consider Leave voting farmers that still want EU funding, Consider Leave voting areas that rely on EU funding. Consider the interviewees that said “What’s the EU ever done for this area?” as they were interviewed in front of a community assets that only exist because of EU funding. Consider the Question Time audience members that had changed their voting intention because they’d seen the EU’s apocryphal straight bananas in a supermarket. Consider the interviewees that said they voted out “for the adventure” as though they was picking that month’s city break.

How do these people feel now? We are about to undertake the biggest constitutional upheaval in a generation on the basis of this? How are we to respect this result so meekly and so blithely?

Prudence demands that the potential consequences for British society AS A WHOLE are considered thoroughly before any action is taken, whether people are belligerent remoaners or an easily pleased patriots everybody will reap the outcome. Have we considered the potential consequences thoroughly? I’d suggest that we still haven’t and the vote happened eight months ago.

The tone of the debate is shown by a single example. When the spectre of defeat loomed large the arch anti-politician Farage claimed there should be a rerun in the event of a 48%-52% remain victory, now that he has enjoyed his own 52%- 48% victory Farage is strangely reticent about offering us a chance to eliminate the doubt enshrined in a narrow victory.

It’s odd that that some people decided to subject us all to irreversible major social upheaval without going through a long thought process. The referendum was a once in a generation choice, rather than a general election that can be reversed the next time around. If people had thought about the issue a bit more instead of becoming automatically angry at the sound of two vowels we may have gained another result.

The electorate are ostensibly rational human beings not helpless simpletons. Yet some were wilfully unconcerned about the potential problems that would result from a certain choice. To put it another way, some chose to saddle everybody with the outcomes of a decision they couldn’t be bothered to research properly. These people chose the view of the angry populists spewing easy solutions for complex problems and we’re all about to pay the price.

The Voice of reason renters the fray;

“See I told you, you’re just an anti-democratic clown looking down your nose at your inferiors.”

Go on then, we’ve all get to “GET OVER IT!” so everything’s alright.

On the other hand……….The campaign may have been short of practical information but that’s no excuse. It’s our duty to become informed citizens. There has always been information available about the EU and there were calmly explained you tube videos explaining the pitfalls of choosing Leave before the referendum. The videos were shared extensively on social media.

The EU is certainly not perfect and it never has been but if you look at the EU with the dispassionate mind of someone weighing up the best course of action you might see something different from the harsh words of populism.

You might see an institution that was conceived by people who had experienced the effects of two viciously destructive world wars, people who naturally thought that it might be better to work together on issues than restart old enmities. You don’t have to be an expert historian to know that the competition between nation states caused two world wars.

When viewed in this way the EU could be seen as an attempt to find a better way of doing things rather than living through the endless repetition of old mistakes.  That sounds pretty sensible to me and it is still the EU’s main motivating emotion, peaceful relations are still better than war.

The Voice of reason renters the fray;

“Yeah but what about the out of touch Euro-bureau-crats! Brussels Dictatorship imposing laws upon Britain!”

Yeah whatever. Any political body can formulate bad laws but what’s worse? A British government pursuing pernicious welfare reforms or the EU trying to harmonise high production standards in European factories? The EU’s government is no better or worse than any other government.

In terms of decision making all EU members have say in terms of the council of ministers because it is composed of nominations from the member states. Seeing as some issues are bigger than the borders of countries perhaps it’s often sensible to deal with certain matters on an international level. For example pollution doesn’t respect national borders.

Thankfully the UK is no longer the centre of a constantly sunlit empire, we’re a collection of relatively small land masses off the northern coast of Europe. Consequently it’s more sensible to have narrower aspirations than our stridently bellicose past. The UK is part of Europe so it makes sense to become involved with the countries that are close by. Surely it’s more sensible to work with those close at hand?

The Voice of Reason again

“Yeah but we didn’t have a vote then, so we need a vote now. WE DIDN’T WANT BRITAIN TO CHANGE”

Change is not to be feared, society does not remain in aspic because various process make change inevitable. Jarring changes cease to jar eventually; my grandparents’ generation struggled with decimalisation yet my generation knows nothing else. It’s the same with Britain membership of the EU. Positive change should be embraced, a good idea from there, a better way of doing things from over there etc. Change does not have to result in the automatic loss of culture, culture adapts.

The EU has not destroyed national culture, Italy, Germany, France and Holland have been members of the various pan-European organisations since the beginning and no sane person would claim that they have become homogenised into a single area. Italy is still unmistakably Italian, Germany is still unmistakably German etc.

Is immigration the tangible problem that it’s made to be? People mentioned the pressure placed on education, housing stock and the NHS but our central government could solve those issues if they were so inclined. People say they’ve come to steal our jobs and steal our benefits but they can’t do both.

A collection of disparate migrants hasn’t got enough collective economic power to influence wage levels. The “market economy”, or rich people, do that. People mentioned the loss or dilution of our culture but in the past politicians like Enoch Powell made similar inflammatory claims and so-called British culture quite clearly didn’t die. In short Enoch hasn’t been proven correct, immigrants have greatly enriched British society.

The Voice of Reason


Well, no political decision exists in a vacuum and most of them have unintended effects. Can a sovereign Britain demand to be respected by other countries simply on the basis of a few politicians saying “Of course Mercedes will continue sell us their cars or French and Italian vineyards will continue to sell us their wine. They won’t walk away from this market!”?  How can anyone say with clarity what is going to happen? Do all divorces end well? The EU will impose post-Brexit tariffs so European producers could just easily as abandon Britain as keep trading with us.

The post referendum revelry reminds me of something I experienced in Year 10. Our PE teachers divided our two classes into Team A and Team B. Team A were considered to be the cream of the crop, more luminously skilled, more windswept and interesting etc. Naturally I scraped into Team A by the skin of my teeth.

For some reason we decided to carry the Team A and Team B scenario into our lunchtime game instead of picking mixed sides. Team B won the lunchtime match 1-0 thanks to the jammiest goal you’d ever see. To them went the spoils, to us went the bruised egos. They wouldn’t countenance a rematch despite our frenzied attempts at negotiation. ”We won, that’s all that matters”. Luckily this was the time before conversation stoppers like “End of.” I don’t mean to belittle the victory of the Leave side but when I think of their gloating the pettiness of smug teenage logic comes to mind. Sadly the situation is a bit more serious than the petty trifles of my salad days.

This is the problem with acting on solipsistic nihilistic anger, whether it’s football, politics or whatever else it tends to cloud things. With the referendum we’ve let a single vote, in a period of almost extreme public agitation, determine our future because too many people believed the easy words of the populists.

It’s not so much that we lost, I can take losing; I’ve only “won” three general elections in my life. The problem is that we lost because enough people didn’t think it was necessary to consider the issue properly. Tweeting “GET OVER IT REMOANER!!” simply isn’t enough for our democratic health. We deserve better than that.

We deserve to have properly informed political debates. We deserve better than elected politicians using fantasy aspirations to guide us. We deserve better than a British Prime Minister venturing cap in hand to unsavoury leaders.

The Voice of Reason ejaculates again;


But we already had twenty seven partners in the EU and we’re part of the commonwealth.

The Voice of Reason….


If I had the chance and the means I’d be off before you could say “Begone snowflake bad loser, disrespecter of the 37%”.

I know the words you’ve just read are the bitter words of impotence and that “there’s no use crying now”. We have to accept and GET OVER IT because we can’t change the democratic will of 37% of the British electorate.

I realise that I’m a treasonous traitorous snowflake for having an opinion, so be it, hollow name-calling is the least of my worries. The country I have lived in for the entirety of my life no longer feels like home.

I have spoken to friends from Europe since June and none of them understand why, or how, Leave won the referendum. It was like a mania swept the country and it doesn’t exactly make you hopeful about what may happen around the metaphorical corner.

So, I may be a treasonous traitorous snowflake and I may no longer have a country but it matters not, I have books to read. quality music to listen to and a Sopranos boxset to devour. It may not look like it but I have also partly disengaged from a situation that was expertly depicted by The Simpsons years before it happened in Britain.

This was the referendum campaign

This is my attitude now, on the days that I’m not in shock or annoyed by the outcome.

We may have unleashed a society of perpetual moaning about garden fence heights, encroaching conifers and the sort of people from Number 26, “See I told you they were weird when they moved in dear!” As far as I’m concerned the Leave voters can have the cesspit of mean-spirited pettiness they have created.

Consequently it’s back to football.

There are too many angry people claiming an interest in football. It’s odd that these people are never angry enough to consider giving up the cause of the anger. It’s baffling that so many people seem unable to deal with the basic facts of football. There are only three possible outcomes of a match and you’ll never win all matches. When you think about it, in the present context football doesn’t really matter a great deal at the end of the day Clive.

When you analyse the process that leads to the so called undying love for a football club it begins with a simple choice; the choice to become interested in a particular club and that is all. Why are individual capable of free-thinking and unburdened by predestination unable to stop their behaviour in an area they’ve chosen to become interested in? Why become angry about a choice you made? You can change your mind, unlike the EU Referendum.

Happy New Year, same as the last

22 01 2017

I love festive football. There’s a chill in the air, a cheer in voices and you’re unsure which day it is. It’s lucky that the Radio Times adds the day to the edge of the page.

Films, tangerines, nuts and football, what a time of the year! You don’t even notice Mrs. Brown’s Boy’s insultingly odious sentimentality or Eastenders’ needlessly depressive fug. I always think back to the joyous time when you could round off a Christmas Day’s TV with The Untouchables or Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I love Christmas because I loved Christmas. I love festive football.

It’s a time of wonderful sensations; the feel of new socks on cold feet, the disappointment caused by the misleading garment specifications on the website that provided your new coat and the sound of a joke with someone you haven’t seen since the last New Year’s Day match.

A Boxing Day match is served to me and it feels relatively good. The rough edges have been smoothed by Christmas cheer. By the final whistle I’ve realised that it’s no better or worse than usual. New Coats, New Socks, same feeling.

The result is immaterial. I’ve still got days off and a trip to Derby the next day. It’s cold but my cold nose reminded me I was alive. What a victory I’d seen well, well I’d seen a victory.

A Piers Morgan tweet about Aaron Ramsey floated out to my timeline. I thought I’d muted the arrogant popinjay. Here comes the block!

It’s Derby on an extra bank holiday. I broke my journey to buy some wax for my new coat in Birmingham. Derby’s an ok place to visit, I suspect that I could call it home. The away fans’ pub offers a welcome toilet break and a quizzical stare or two. It would seem that Birmingham fans have shamelessly ripped off FC United’s songbook.

The ground is better than TV had led you to believe. A middle aged away fan sat in front of me, he wore his jaunty scarf like a World War One fighter ace. There was a flag for every home fan. The match was cold, there was little to stir the soul but it didn’t matter, I still had days off and I’d finally seen a match in Derbyshire. I reached the station in time to get the train home. I may have found a technique to hurry along with cold feet.

The year draws to a close, it is a chance to end a chapter and draw a line in red pen. It’s a natural end to a unit of temporal resolution.

It may be the natural end to a unit of temporal resolution that may have included the death of your mother, political devastation through wilful ignorance and an ominous takeover of your football club.

You may be glad to see the back of the year but you’re nothing special. You’re merely an insect riding a spinning sphere of rock in the infinite void we call space. Nobody cares what you think or feel.

Anyway it’s out with the old in with the new ya miserable get!!! Cheer up and get the drinks in!

New Year’s Day always has the same feel, quiet contemplation. I try to open myself up to waves of hope, what will the new year bring? Positivity rears its head from the undergrowth. A new year, a new unit of temporal resolution, a new chapter in life’s story, new tales for your memoirs.

Stillness lends the first day of the year the air of a prelude to something good, a pregnant pause before the ascent to a better existence, a better life. This year you’ll do it right. The diet, the outlook, the holiday.

As you stand with your mates at the away match in your hometown you know that  this year we’ll do it right, we’ll win the title, we’ll get to Europe,, we’ll win the play-offs, we’ll avoid relegation, we’ll sign some decent players in the transfer window, we’ll keep the same form, we’ll beat teams again.. We’ve had good days since August, we’ll have good days again.

Then you watch Llandudno score a goal that looked preventable. There’s the familiar lurch in your stomach, whereupon the pangs of disappointment neatly segue way to the familiarity of acceptance. Everyone wears a Spirit of ’58 hat.

It turns out the new year is just the same as the previous years in which you’ve existed.

2016 – Watch Football in Cold weather, feel bored, can’t feel fingers.

2017 – Watch Football in Cold weather, feel bored, can’t feel fingers.

I’ll miss more Wales matches, Bangor won’t win the league and Farage’s face will be on the news every day.

You’re still a mere insect on a spinning sphere in the infinite void we call space and still nobody will care what you think or feel.

At least there’ll be new trainers to buy, and more festive football to look forward to.

My absolute favourites

31 12 2016

After the recent searching and posting I decided to choose a top three photos what I’ve taken.

The top three became a top five, a top ten, then a top seven, so here’s my eight most favourite photos.

West Kirby v Bangor City, 2007

Glan Conwy v Llanberis, 2006

Bangor City v Prestatyn Town, 2009CNV00064

Llanrug v Bangor City, 2006ricky


Wales v England, 2011mar26 095

My top three

Bangor City Welsh Champions, 2011april30b 110

Bangor City had just won the league on the last day of a hopeful season that had veered into a less sunlit place. I took the photo from inside a celebratory pitch invasion that was caused by an understandable emotional explosion.

It was the greatest of great days. The ground shook under my feet when the solitary goal was scored and I floated around on a feeling of happiness. Given the right circumstances I can still bask in the sun of that late April evening and see all the smiles. I missed all post-match public transport so I had to get a taxi home. I didn’t care. True happiness was in my soul, mine eyes had seen the glory.

The person in the middle is my close personal friend Mash. You don’t need to gild this particular lily, the outstretched arms are eloquence personified.

Bangor City v Prestatyn Town, 2011Dec 27 167

This was the last ever match at Farrar Road, my last ever photo of a match at Farrar Road.

There are only seven months between this photo and the one above but the emotions contained with the images are polar opposites, the yin to the yang. I wanted a dark photo to reflect the general mood so I took the photo at about 7:30pm on a December evening. I was able to use the light conditions for literal and metaphorical reasons. Life does imitate art sometimes.

For years we’d waded knee deep in a sense of social history you could smell and on this particular day we all said a long lingering goodbye to our lovely uneven tarmac, it was the most poignant day I ever spent with Bangor City. There was another joyous pitch invasion. I encased the footwear I wore in formaldehyde to preserve the muddy remains of real football.

The people in the gateway are Dick and Anora, more close personal friends of mine.

Now for my favourite picture.

Porthmadog v Bangor City, 20082008_1012new80048

This photo emotes the kind of emotion that screams football.

Patient people waiting. Years of experience etched on patient faces. People with stories, hopes, dreams waiting patiently.

A group of people huddled together in the British weather, calmly waiting, hoping, believing that something exciting could happen at any moment.

Hope and stoical acceptance, that’s football.

The person closest to the lens is Les, another close friend of mine.

“Fun, fun, fun” as the Housemartins used to sing

29 12 2016

I went to watch Derby County v Birmingham on Tuesday, it was bank holiday and I’d never been to Derby if it’s any of your business. I sat in the home end, close to a middle aged Birmingham fan that subtly wore his Birmingham scarf like a jaunty Oxbridge undergraduate.

As I became used to the feel of my new coat in the cold I wondered if the players relished missing out on Christmas Day. I wondered if they thought that enacting a game plan that bored cold people to tears was worth the satisfaction of missing a ordinary Christmas.

I remembered something that I wrote a few years ago. Here’s a reworking for the Banter generation….

…If you asked someone to name their dream job it would not be a surprise if you heard them say “footballer”. It was my dream job until I was about 15.

Slipping through the net a couple of decades ago helped me to deal with the fact that my dream existence had become a ridiculous daydream. Unlike Tim Lovejoy the celebrity bellend I have no regrets, reading books

Three of these books in particular – “The Keeper of Dreams”  by Ronald Reng (KoD), “My Father and other Working Class Pros”  by Gary Imlach (MF), “Soccer at War: 1939-’45”  by Jack Rollin (SaW) – caused all hints of residual desire to evaporate.

This post is a bit of a hodge podge, a bit of  a book review, partly a defence of footballers against the complacent criticism of incoherently angry phone-in callers but mostly another representation of my disillusionment with football.

This post developed for two reasons. The first was the image of footballers. The media bombards us with an image of glamour, glamour, glamour; non-stop parties and premieres, starry marriages and crystal encrusted wheelbarrows for their wages.

As with most things written in tabloids that are not written by Paul Foot or John Pilger this cynically created image is mostly bollocks. This kind of footballers’ life is the clichéd exaggeration of tabloid culture. When you apply this exaggeration to the total number of professional footballers it can‘t be anything but bollocks. While it’s undeniable that they earn more than the average wage, with some at a disgusting level of difference, the life of each footballer probably isn’t that glamorous.

Each book covers a different era but there are common themes; dealing with January mud and psychotic opponents and having to bow and scrape before notable members of a local community. These common themes do three things; they tell us football hasn’t changed in certain fundamental respects, they totally refute the clichéd tabloid image of footballers and they make you wonder if glamour has ever truly existed in football.

The second reason was that I realised the common themes in those three books were present in some of the other football books; “Woody & Nord” by Gareth Southgate and Andy Woodman (W & N), “Only a Game?” by Eamon Dunphy  (O a G?), “Kickups, Hiccups, Lockups“  by Mickey Thomas (K, H, L), ”Kicking & Screaming”  by Rogan Taylor and Andrew Ward (K & S) as well as some of the columns written by the anonymous Footballer in Four Four Two magazine.

Altogether the reading material covers nearly every era of professional football in Britain so I was able to see that the relationship between footballers and their sport, as well as the character of football, hasn’t changed much over the years. I began to pity the position in which footballers have always found themselves.

My disillusionment began with my personal experience of playing. In the past I vaguely remember claiming that playing football should be fun. At the time I thought I was right because most people seemed to feel the same way; they always say that football is the most popular sport in the world. Hindsight is a wonderful thing for reflection. I may have been a little hasty with my pronouncement; I started to find playing football less than enjoyable in 2010.

It’s not too difficult to work out why people play football; it’s the basic joy that playing sport provides. It’s a joy that comes in many forms; physical achievement, communal joy, keeping fit, having a laugh with your mates whilst keeping fit, being part of a flowing move, catching the ball perfectly, seeing the ball make the net ripple after you’ve had a shot, the joy of just being in the open air. Let’s call this “the spirit of football”.  When I say that I didn’t find football enjoyable any more what I really meant was “I had been unable to feel “the spirit of football” for a long time”.

Two thought processes led to my disillusionment with playing football. The first began amongst the boring details of the nagging aches that plague my sleep. A Tuesday just wasn’t a Tuesday without a dull throbbing ache.

The process accelerated thanks to my position; goalkeeper. This vantage point allowed me time and space to see the full gamut of needless human behaviour. Mondays (excluding bank holidays of course) became an exhausting procession of twats and their inexcusable behaviour; it’s was a cavalcade of simpletons, show boaters and loudmouth gobshites.

Everything was so different in the golden ’90s. Back then you could actually chat with opponents as you left the pitch together, in the unforgiving 2010s the past was an entirely different continent.

The worst thing I noticed in Llandudno’s minor, minor league was the rise in aggression. Obviously there were some hotheads in my day but people generally seemed calmer. People used to take defeat, or even being tackled, as part of the game, by 2010 it had become easier to lash out than accept the simple facts of football.

Someone I knew explained this problem succinctly; there’s often a gap between the perception of technique and the actual technique. A lot of people filled the gap with aggression.

These fuckers, these twats, these malodorous recidivists, ruined my favourite physical activity. An anthropologist would have a field day studying their display, the loudness, the cockiness, the loud cockiness, the posing in the style of the anointed rulers of civilisation. They strutted around as if they’ve earned the right to sneer at those living by more civilised values.

If I spared a moment’s thought about Mondays towards the end of my involvement the sap rose like lava. I had reached my very elastic limit and I could stand the sneers of the Philistines no longer. Football had allowed their base values to flourish so I now hated playing football

The second process happened through reading numerous books. I started to wonder whether I really liked football in general. Should I encourage something that puts so much pressure on my fellow human beings, especially as the only reason for me to act like that was the fact these highly skilled performers were wearing “the right colour” of polyester. I wondered whether professional footballers are also disillusioned, did they miss the “the spirit of football”?

Footballers are thought to have dream job but there seems to be precious little joy, aside from a thin veneer, in the autobiographies I’ve read. Even with all their money (Footballers have always been relatively well-off in comparison to the rest of the working population) and fame I’m not sure I would like to be a player; their work environment doesn’t seem very appealing.

Let’s consider the idea that football is somehow glamorous. The kind of glamour associated with football is not real glamour in the traditional sense. There isn’t much glamour in the Christmas morning training sessions.

Footballers are people. In fact they are just like the people who fawn over them, the only difference is that they have better balance. They have foibles, bad days and problems with their neighbours. Why would someone automatically become more glamorous because they sweat on TV for a living?

The glamour that’s attached to football a hollow and shallow version of glamour. It’s the kind of glamour that requires a sponsor to exist, rather than the glamour of Hollywood or the Pyramid Stage.

The idea of glamour in general has taken a bit of a nose dive in recent years. Film stars used to be glamorous but that was due to their image on the screen. People like Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich exuded glamour, they may have had their peccadilloes but we manage to remember their work more than their “little problems”. As for today’s film stars, Mel Gibson doesn’t seem to work much now. The main reason for the faded glamour is the media. They may have had muckrakers but they didn’t have Perez Hilton.

Football is the same. The last time there was true glamour was the 1950s and 1960s, with hushed reverence for Puskas, Di Stefano, Eusebio et al. Glamour was allowed to develop then, a lack of exposure allowed a charming mystique to develop.

The thing about the creation of today’s cynical glamour is that it can be dispensed with if there are tabloid front pages to fill. Ironically the same tabloids are complicit in the cynical creation of glamorous footballers, footballers that are kindly brought to you by Gilette, Nike and McDonalds. This cynically created glamour is utterly shallow and bares no relation to the reality of football.

Reality is not the image that footballers are judged by. Even though footballers generally earn above average wages this is rather unfair, why should they be judged on something that’s not of their making? We should be judging market capitalism for creating this situation.

After reading everything I wondered if there was ever a time in which you could say football has been truly glamorous. As a general rule footballers seem more concerned about worries than parties. Their pressure-filled work environment isn’t very healthy and certainly isn’t glamorous.

You don’t need to read books to realise the tabloid glamour version of football isn’t really that truthful. The vast majority of pro footballers do not exist in the constant glare of glamour and publicity. Have you ever seen the tabloid exclusives featuring Brad Friedel and Darren Fletcher?

“Only A Game?” shows us a side of football that is a million miles from glamour. The book paints a picture of football as a constant stream of worries; getting in the team, staying in the team, a suspicion of team-mates who seem to be fakers, malingerers or show-offs, the need to fit in even if they your team mates are objectionable bastards.

As Brian Glanville put it in the intro “The pro footballer’s endemic paranoia….“  A footballers’ world is a world where there’s no loyalty to a team per se because the team only worries about you when you’re useful to them. They don’t care when you’re not in the team. It’s world where your only real loyalty is towards your bank account. There’s no glamour.

Dunphy dedicates his book to “The Good Pro”. This player is “a trier….. Accepts responsibility ………. Often rescue you ……… makes himself available for the ball all the time …… He will make that run, get that vital touch in the box, go for a return pass instead of holding back …….. Never on the missing list”  You sense that there aren’t enough “Good Pros” in the game for Dunphy.

Dunphy frets about moral issues continually; “Ethics matter everywhere, but in sport they matter more than anywhere else …….. (Sport is) a place where virtue is rewarded and cheating exposed” Again you get the sense that not all footballers, or people, have these values for Dunphy.

In this world worries are never far from the surface, here’s a taste of that life;

25 July; “People are always happy to come back…… You don’t really think about the season today”

26 July: “The first day is always hard but it is not the hardest ……….. And you are really knackered”

27 July; “But this lad was completely unabashed; “I’ve only come here for first team football” he said ………. Oh well we’d better watch out, then. Because he meant it.

3 August; “One is conscious of little things – the apprentices begin to seem absurdly young, you call them ‘son’ now, it doesn’t seem so long since older players addressed you in the same way……………… You begin to wonder what is coming from the friend’s Provident fund, about a testimonial……… about retirement ……….. How much longer will you spend your summers in this idyllic way, dreaming of glory? ………. It’s a shock to realise how rapid the descent is from pinnacle to valley”

13 August; “We always feel quite hard done by at Millwall over close-season tours. Orient went to the Bahamas; even Hendon went to Spain; and we come to Bournemouth!”

14 August; “You could see him measuring himself against us, seeing if he was still as fit as he had been. Seeing if he still had it”

24 August; “Tomorrow is the first game. I am confident. Not certain, for that is impossible ……….. For nine months our lives are committed to the business of winning games.”

31 August: “When they sign a new player who plays in your position it is not funny. Everyone is delighted they’ve signed a new player, but you know it is you who is going to be left out…….”

18 September: “We’re on our way. Only four points behind the top side now, two wins in a row setting us up…..”

1 October: “……… and I looked around ……… ‘I’m Dropped’ ……… No! But I am ……… I could not believe it. I could not think for a minute ………….”

2 October: “Being dropped is something everyone in the game has to face. Manchester United dropped Bobby Charlton once. How do you face it? Yesterday I came home and I just cried. But it’s eating into you the whole time. You can’t think about anything else for one minute. You go home and you are restless, edgy………”

27 October: “Today we got found out. The chickens came home to roost……”

29 October: “A failed football club in October. A depressing place. Already with seven months to go, the morning becomes a dread”

3 November: “Going as twelfth or thirteenth man is a drag. The thirteenth man is the one who normally gets the worst of it. You are in effect skip-boy”

7 November : “Back in the bloody Midweek League again. It’s an unbelievable sensation going to play at Orient on a Wednesday Afternoon in November. There is no one there, absolutely nothing at stake, except your own pride. You don’t feel like it at all”

15 November: “……But he has got absolutely no chance of making it. He really is the butt of everything”

20 November; “Playing in the Midweek League football is futile enough at the best of times. But playing Midweek League football at the Valley really tells you how futile the whole thing is. The biggest ground in London and there was no-one there. No one at all….”

27 November: “I got very worried because it suddenly dawned on me that I am living in a Millwall house, and that this house, which I regard as my own, isn’t mine at all”

This football classic treats us to the whole of unvarnished football life; Ups and downs, winning runs and failures. Even though it was written nearly 40 years ago it still resonates because it could be any season. A hope-filled pre-season followed by hope’s autumnal graveyard.

The worries Dunphy articulated are still universal  – you can be dropped, your teammates may be tossers and you can worry about unfulfilled hopes – so if football was unglamorous then it remains unglamorous today. The training depicted in the book seems tough and even though football has become more scientific, with plush new training facilities and Sports Science, one basic point still motivates training; you need an awful lot of strenuous physical activity.

Even though “Only a Game?” highlights a lack of glamour this doesn’t turn football into horrible career by itself – most of a film star’s jet set life is spent in draughty studios but this doesn’t make Hollywood appear unglamorous – it merely disproves the tabloid glamour. Having said that the book makes you question whether the footballers life is all it’s cracked up to be. A footballers’ job is certainly not a dream job.


The Second World War should have seriously affected organised football but there was a vibrant football scene. (SaW) Theoretically the total mobilisation of Britain should have ruined organised football as a spectacle – clubs had to fulfill fixtures with scratch teams and players were forced to develop a “have boots will travel” attitude – but it didn’t.

The threat of death permeated life so the privations connected to wartime football were mere trifles. The players obviously didn’t mind their situation for that reason. Younger players didn’t mind as they were given chances they wouldn’t have been offered normally. The fans didn’t mind either as clubs were able to see superstars in their clubs’ shirt; they may have been stationed nearby.

Instead of ruining organised football the Second World War may have been the only time when organised football was as enjoyable as it was in the good old amateur days. It may have been the only time that playing professional football felt like the football matches you played as a child; playing for fun, playing without pressure. Football soon reverted to type after the Second World War and the problems for footballers soon returned.

The literature has allowed me to notice eleven problems the job of “footballer”.

1) The constant threat of injury

Injuries are an inevitable problem when a physical activity involves competing groups. A mistimed tackle can cause a broken leg, a shot can cause broken fingers and misplaced enthusiasm can cause a mass punch up. The problem of injuries is eternal. For example Norah Bell tells us what happened to her husband Jack in the 1930s;

“When he finished at Luton, he injured his foot and couldn’t play properly anymore and they didn’t give a damn. If you finished football, you finished, and that was that…” (K & S)

Anne Savage said this of her husband;

“He couldn’t run anymore and he was told he’d have arthritis in that leg for the rest of his life as long as he lived, and that leg used to go black up to the knee and he had very bad sleepless nights with it…” (K & S)

They shoot horses don’t they? Violence-related injuries were still common between 1960s and ‘80s because the omnipresent “hard man” stalked the land. Bobby Keetch illustrates this era;

“I’ve got about eight stitches in my leg here, from a particularly savage encounter with Johnny Giles.“ (K & S)

Today our tolerance of violence is so low that players are sent off for sarcastically clapping and most of today’s “mass brawls” would fail the Trade Descriptions Act (They should be re-christened “Immature pushing and shoving”.) This environment means that players are no longer victims of full-frontal assaults.

However, football may be softer and cuddlier now but this doesn’t mean that mindless aggression has ended. Irritating mouthy buggers are still with us so the potential for a short sharp return is always there.

Hard men, clumsy opponents and advertising hoardings are not always required to cause injuries. Metatarsals (A bone discovered in 2002) are broken by sharp turns in fluorescent boots. There was certain brutal nobility to being chopped by a hardman but player getting injured because they’re wearing ridiculous footwear isn’t football as far as I’m concern.

The threat of injury exists even before footballers set foot in a stadium because footballers have a lot of spare time. This means they will spend a lot of time at home and a home becomes hazardous to your health with inanimate objects like ironing boards, aftershave bottles and condiment jars lying around. Driving a selection of high powered cars may result in strained ligaments.

You don’t usually sustain injuries whilst having a chat by the water cooler or filing papers.

2) The historic lack of glamour

Has there ever been any glamour in football? Was there even glamour in the 1950s, the so-called “age of glamour”? A players’ existence wasn’t much different from the rest of the working population back then. As the true cliché states, they may have even caught the same buses and trams to matches. Players may have drawn an extra look from an adoring fan so they weren’t glamour-less but the extra look was all they drew.

Most players also had to take other jobs to help make ends. A particularly well-known example is the international superstar plumber Tom Finney.

Players were also taught to know their place. Stanley Matthews recalled an experience when he was an international and claiming expenses;

“They gave you a little card and it says ‘from Stoke to London’. Well we had to put this down and Tommy Lawton put an extra sixpence on his travel fare , you see, and Mr Huband (the treasurer) also had the prices and he said, “Lawton, you’ve overcharged” so he crossed out the sixpence out”  (K & S)

Tom Finney has a similar recollection;

“I got a very Curt note back; ‘Dear Finney, we’re returning your expenses sheet. Herewith enclosed a new one to make out and for your information the third-class fare from Preston to Liverpool is x shillings and you didn’t have any meal because you only travelled from Liverpool to us” (K & S)

There was no freedom of movement either thanks to the retain and transfer system as George Hardwick relates;

“At the end of every season it was the wail all round the dressing room; ‘I wonder what I’ll get next season?’’ I wonder what they‘ll offer me for next season?’ ‘Am I going to be retained or are they going to kick me out?’….. You were truly slaves” (K & S)

Stuart Imlach’s biography tells us that this attitude continued until the 1960s. Players were paid slaves to be seen and not heard. The relationship between players and clubs may have changed considerably in the present epoch of plutocratic ownership the players are still kept at arm’s length by plutocrats.

3) The effect upon your family

Stuart Imlach’s career straddled the border of change; he began in the serfdom of the 1950s and finished in the relative freedom of the 1960s. This relative freedom wasn’t all it was cracked up to be as it inadvertently led to other problems. For example a player may change clubs more easily but how would his family feel about moving around the country?

Various reason could motivate a move; wages, the possibility of first team football, a change of scene, improving your situation or seeeing injuries hold you back like Stuart Imlach. A player may have felt the need to move several times. The clubs involved in a move could be at the opposite ends of the country, would this sort of move be fair on your family? Could you concentrate with a disgruntled family? The same worries and problems exist today.

Today we can wonder how a family is affected by having a family member constantly in the public eye. How do they feel about seeing a family member suffer vehement public criticism? Do the children of footballers draw extra grief in school? Their families can certainly draw grief on social media.

4) The bright lights of football fame don’t always shine brightly

Lars Leese highlights a few examples;

“And in the dressing room he was welcomed with a grunt by the kitman ‘What have we here, another new boy? More kit for me to wash?” Actually Lars wasn’t imagining that one …….. Welcome to the world of professional football” (K o D)

“………..At Leverkusen he threw himself at the strikers’ feet, just as he had been doing for years in amateur football, and saw with surprise that they didn’t just shoot, they waited until he was on the ground then casually lobbed it over him or dribbled around him. They called it ‘goalie-watching’” (K o D)

“The box of 3,000 Lars Leeses was on the passenger seat. “I’ve got autograph cards. How fantastic is that?” ……. And then he started writing. He wrote Lars Leese in a black art pen, very carefully, very formally. After 30 minutes he was writing only L. Leese, after an hour Leese, and later just Le___ with a long tail that could, with a little effort, be interpreted as se. He spent two evenings at the sitting room table. Now and then he would curse”  (K o D)

5) A footballer is surrounded by Alpha males

Most male football squads are like any other groups of males, they will indulge in exaggerated hyper-masculine behaviour to prove how great they are. Most groups of males are led by an Alpha male and he sets the tone and runs the show. He’ll be a narcissistic egomaniac with an attitude problem, or to be put it more succintly, he’s a complete prick, Most of the world’s bullshit flows from the actions of Alpha males.

Would you actually want to spend your working life in the company of people constantly displaying exaggerated masculine behaviour?

If you weren’t an Alpha male but you found the attraction of professional football too tantalising to resist you’d have to develop two mental attitudes to survive. Firstly, you need the moral cowardice to hide within a group, as Andy Woodman tells us;

“At sixteen you don’t know a lot. I thought it best to accept responsibility for the goals that went past me……… (Then) Everything becomes your fault ………….. Of course the lads liked it when I owned up. How can you defend properly with a crap goalkeeper? “ (W & N)

Dunphy highlights this attitude too;

28 August: The tendency after a defeat is to look for scapegoats ……….. In that sense Brownie, in our eyes, pays the penalty for being young……”       (O a G?)

I remember this sort of bullshit from my own time. Everybody looks to blame someone else. I’ve been called “a prick”, “a wanker” “fucking useless” at various times because I had the temerity to make an honest mistake, well apart from the occasions I wanted to annoy the alpha fuckers.

Secondly, you’d have to become immune to the relentless, and often vicious, mickey taking, as Gareth Southgate tells us;

“Fashion had never crossed my mind …….. All the guys at Palace had their Adidas tracksuits and Lacoste jumpers …… they were cool south Londoners, I was a bumpkin from the country ………. One day I walked into the apprentices dressing room and Chris Powell was dancing across the floor a là Fred Astaire. Everyone was keeled over laughing and then I twigged why, Chris was wearing my grey Hush Puppies ……… Larking about with Dave Stephens I said something half smart to him. “Hark at Leo Gemelli” he said, referring to the brand name of my jumper . ………. “Hark at Leo Gemelli” was all Dave had to say and the boys were falling about laughing and banging the floor” (W & N)

Then there’s the joke played on Andy Woodman because he was released in 1994;

“The Club had supplied us with t-shirts with the word “Champions” printed on the front. (Palace had won the First Division title). On the back of mine one of the lads had used a felt pen to scribble: “For Sale. One Careful Owner. Offers considered”  (W & N)

As I know from experience this can cross into downright obnoxiousness, something highlighted by Four Four Two’s anonymous “Player”;

“Footballers can abuse their fame; …………. I saw girl one night …….. I told her my girlfriend was going away for a year and that we needed a carer to look after the kids ………… I offered her £22,000 a year. I pulled her that night ………. Four days after she turned up at my front door. She told me she had quit her job ……… I lied and told her there’d been a problem with visas …….. I’m not a bad lad”

One mate shouted (at people in a queue at a club); “Fuck off paying Public” (As he got in for nothing frantically grasping the coattails of the sainted player)

One team-mate had cancer and he didn’t even escape. When he refused to come on a night out, another player said; “Why not. You’ve only got a month to live” ……..

“Do you love your new bird? He asked. “Yes” replied the player sheepishly. “Could she be the one for you?” “yeah” “So how do you feel that he’s shagged her, so has he, so has he!” He was crushed and cried in front of all of us”

I’ve never fully understood why this level of cruel humour is necessary to mould pro athletes into a team but then I’m not an alpha male. Could you stand working with immature morons?

6) The cold-heartedly blunt attitude of the professional

This is how the some players dealt with Andy Woodman’s misfortunate release in 1994;

“We then had training and I could tell from their reactions that the lads already knew. Alan had told Gareth and Gareth had told the lads to go easy on me. I was unbelievably angry, I played a blinder in training and Eric Young, the centre back, who was a cold, blunt bastard but not a bad bloke, said to me: ‘Woody, too little, too late son. Too little too late’ As cool and callous as that. But he was right. The misery was only beginning…..” (W & N)

7) Unemployment is a perpetual risk

Imagine if you were an unemployed footballer; you’d obviously want to become an employed footballer as soon as possible. You’d probably exhaust every avenue trying to get back into football. You’d probably try your old contracts, you might try your old teammates. You may even try a new agent.

If you tried to find a new agent you might find that there a load of crap agents; the sort of people that offer to help but don’t really care. Even if you found an enthusiastic agent you still may have to go through the indignity of hawking yourself around clubs like a resentful teenager trawling for a summer job. This all happened to Lars Leese;

“Thus in February and March 2000 Waldorf Mannheim, 1860 Munich, Alemania Aachen, Rot-Weiss Essen, Kickers Stuttgart, Fortuna Cologne and FC St. Pauli all received faxes from Holgar Wacker (Leese’s agent)………….” (K o D)

Leese waited months for non-existent replies.

Apart from the genuine superstars nobody truly feels that their job is secure. A player only needs to have a couple of shaky games and the pressure starts to mounts. Doubts will be formed in peoples’ minds and the questions begin to form; “Can he really do it?”….. “Can he hack it?”……… “Is he up to it?” The precariousness of  football as a career is illustrated when  Leese posed one question before signing for Barnsley;

“So this contract is valid for both Premier League and First Division?” (K o D)

Even if you don’t suffer a career ending knee injury your career can still end very suddenly, as Leese found out;

“Professional footballer? It seemed like another life (his life only a year before). Now at half-past five in the morning he was standing in one of the business parks in Gelnhausen, selling sandwiches.” (K o D)

For the vast majority of footballer there is the real risk of this happening. The list of released players can be very large; 123 players were released by Premier League clubs in one summer.

For another good view of the stark issues faced by players read Ben Smith’s “Journeyman”.

8) The pressure placed on players

Mickey Thomas tells us what it’s like to play for Manchester United;

“My pressure was appearing in front of those fans. My pressure was getting and keeping my place in the team. My pressure was putting in the kind of performance those thousands expected every week. That was the pressure for me. They only saw Mickey Thomas the footballer. They didn’t see me as a fragile human being who couldn’t handle my footballing life.

They didn’t understand the problems I was going through mentally. Howe could they when the mask never slipped outwardly? Back inside Old Trafford I became adept at hiding my feelings. We would all sit around as a group, as a team . Different characters. Different Mind Sets. Some Strong. Some lacking confidence. Some, like me, unable to cope with the pressure.

We all had our problems. Some were bigger than others. Many couldn’t handle theirs. I was one individual who just couldn’t hack it in that particular phase of my often troubled life. Mentally I was distressed but no one knew. I kept myself to myself. I didn’t confides in anyone.

Everyone assumed I was Mickey, the happy-go-lucky, cheeky chappie. A cocky little guy without a care in the world who loved his job. Far from it. I had so many demons in my head and I couldn’t kick them out. It was literally doing my head in.”

Even George Best felt pressurised sometimes;

“When you’re flavour of the month they come to you…… I couldn’t hide, and I tried. That’s why I disappeared so many times. I kept packing in just to get away from it all, trying to find havens to disappear to, and I couldn’t” (K & S)

It doesn’t look like you can have a normal existence even with all your money. For example you can’t go out and just have a good time;

“Once they went dancing in the Barnsley nightclub, Hedonism. It was the last time. ……….. (Lars) Finally fled with her to the dance floor (away from questioning fans). Everyone else immediately stopped dancing. They stood around the couple in a circle ‘and stared at us though Frank Sinatra had shown up in the club’ Daniela recalled.” (K o D)

This example sounds like a scene from the nightclub scene in “This Sporting Life”. You may remember the trouble Steven Gerrard had on a normal night out a few years ago..

9) Footballers are judged by exacting standards

Footballers seem to exist under the highest possible level of scrutiny. The scrutiny is one of the main things that put me off the life of a footballer.

I don’t have a problem with the role of “role model” as it’s an easy role for anyone to accomplish – it basically involves not breaking the law and being polite. In other words “Don’t act like a prize tosser.”

What I’m talking about the perceived public accountability of footballers. Footballers seem to have been allotted a major social role in contemporary British society and most of this role seems to involve becoming a  lightning rod for criticism

If you were a “Footballer” you would occupy a role and perform a job that few people can adequately fulfil. To be a “Footballer” requires several things. At first you need a high degree of specialised skills that marks you out as more suitable for the job than others. Then you need to make it through continual sifting progress that ensures only the best players make it. Then you need to make it through training by constantly prove that you’ve still got what it takes to judgemental coaches. Lastly, you need to work like a Trojan all the time.

Even though a “Footballer” has to pass through all those hoops in order to remain as a “footballer” some people still criticise them for being crap and lazy. Even though they are the best people suited to the job they’re paid to do they are still criticised.

The critics would have a point if the clubs let just anybody become a footballer but clubs don’t, they pick competent people through several sifting processess. If footballers weren’t able to make it through the stages of development they wouldn’t be footballers.

The fact criticism of players exists tells you that some people feel the job is easy. If the job was as easy as these people seem to claim there would be ten of thousands of professional clubs in Britain rather than about 130. Criticising footballers with impunity is rather unfair, as Dunphy puts rather well;

“The cheats or simple inadequates of other walks of life could come to the Den and apply to our work a set of judgemental criteria they wouldn’t dreamed applying on Monday morning” (O a G?)

It would be interesting to ask these critics how they would feel if their work was judged in the same way that they judge footballers, how would they feel if their work was pulled apart on live TV in front of millions? Would they like faceless nobodies to phone up radio stations in order to complain about them and the standard of their work? I sense these critics wouldn’t like it.

The situation is now worse than the one Dunphy describes as the criticism is now a lot stronger. The ridiculous pressure applied by some fans – A lot of fans seem to think that the game owes them success and glory –  must be horrible and I’d hate to work in this environment of criticism.

People can criticise but they should be aware that the criticism is only a collection of words connected by an angry person.

10) Players can become tools of the PR Industry

The spotlight on players is made worse by the commercial pressures exerted by sponsors. Footballers have been hoisted up society’s flag pole of attention as examples to us all, this allows sponsors to think they can take advantage of a footballers’ position by offering them endorsements.

It seems that both sides win out of this arrangement; the company gets some sporting stardust and the sportsman gets a lot of money. Yes, everybody looks like a winner in this situation.

However the sportsman only remains a winner until they transgress the spurious moral code dreamt up by the company. When the sportsman transgresses the scrap heap awaits. The sportsman no longer fits in with the company’s wholesome image. The footballers’ private life is informally controlled by the sponsors and the media.

The Public Relations industry’s bullshit has infected football by clouding the minds of football’s administrators. The people under the spell of PR bullshit have created a type of football where TV dictates to football, where companies dictate to clubs and where Bullshit PR teams have decided that player interviews are best brought to you by the good people over at Company X, Company Y and Company Z.

The people spouting PR bullshit think they are bestowing glamour. They think that a company logo on a polo shirt collar automatically bestows glamour. The pressure to become spokespeople for horrible companies by proxy is degrading.

11) The people making astronomical sums of money out of football are not the players

Billions in profit are made from football. The sport allows chairmen, shareholders, administrators, sportswear companies and the sponsors to make obscene profits. The simple act of 22 players playing a sport on a pitch allows this to happen. Everything else grew from this simple act; the grounds, the chairman, the administrators, the sponsors they have all come after the game.

Without the 22 players there would be nothing, no profit, no flash suits, no HD TV coverage, no third-party ownership of contracts. Yet the players only see a fraction of the money that’s the result of their labour. They’re kept down, prevented from mixing with the owners, made to feel their place by the gilded plutocrats.

If you add these eleven points together playing professional football simply isn’t a dream job, it seems more like a waking nightmare.

The past is a seductive little country

26 12 2016

My friend Bruce tweeted a video of Hibs winning the 1991 Skol Cup a few months ago (I originally planned to write something then).

I nostalgically recalled Shoot’s pictures of John Burridge holding the cup in the Sunday evening murk. I liked that Hibs kit, I’m sure I asked for it that Christmas.

The clip joined some mental dots. Shoot, 90 Minutes magazine, adidas kits with proper stripes, proper footballs with Tango shaped branding, £4 tickets, Elton Welsby, Brian Moore, Jean-Pierre Papin, the Cup Winners’ Cup on ITV, Alexei Sayle on telly, Neil Kinnock shouting “ALRIGHTT!!!!!!” on a stage. What a great time it was, we were young and we had mates that didn’t like football.

Imagine that! Twenty five years ago there were people that didn’t like football! ….and you had to make do with one live match a week… and you could just turn up and pay cash at a turnstile. It’s not difficult to imagine, I remember it all.

I miss 1992, I knew where I was then. I wasn’t cool but then football wasn’t cool in my milleu. I not only had mates that weren’t interested football, I knew people that hated football. Nirvana was cool, Ian Rush and Mark Hughes weren’t. Soundgarden were cool, an encyclopaedic knowledge of football grounds and club nicknames wasn’t. A member of my form class tried to claim that football fans were closet homosexuals because we liked to watch men running around whilst wearing shorts.

I was forced to reside in the leaden cultural hinterland represented by football, the raised eyebrows of our cultural gatekeepers blocked visas to the Land Of Cool. I was made to feel that music wasn’t for the likes of me, I wish I had possessed enough self-confidence to disregard their powerful eyebrows but I was clueless.

There was no way I could have acted differently. How could I have possibly known where to get the clothes? I didn’t feel able to have a hairstyle so popping to the barbers with a photo of Ian Brown never occurred to me. How could I have asked for help? I didn’t know how to communicate with a sneer.

If only I’d known what I know now. That my cultural gatekeepers had only made a simple decision to like music. That music isn’t an arcane labyrinthine world with secret passwords, that it’s a noise you like the sound of, a joyful emotional state. Luckily I’m not that bitter about my lost years of music appreciation thanks to my sneer imposed cultural cringe.

If I had my time again I’d offer my betters some withering thoughts and buy the music I didn’t feel confident enough to buy until a few years later. I felt so uncool I was probably cool but I’m not bitter about that. I had Ian Rush and Jean Pierre Papin, bitter moi? The very idea! I had polyester clothing to keep me company. BITTER? NOT ME, NO SIREE!

The weirdest volte-face has happened since my shellsuit years. The ones that decried our interest in football are now season ticket holders on the banter bus network whereas I’m the one that regards nearly every aspect of football as irritating.

Why does everyone have a football opinion these days? Why does everyone have to voice their football opinion these days? There are better things to get angry about, there are better things to care about. I pity these Johnny come latelys with their inclination to use disposable incomes, football was miles better in 1992.

Zola, Bergkamp and Murdoch had yet to civilise the league but you could pay £6 to use a terrace and ignore the sport entirely. Everything felt fresher and less polished. No banter industry, no Super Sundays, no Red Mondays, no Exceedingly Good Every Other Thursdays, no official pharmaceutical partners in Korea and Vietnam.

The corporate football we’re subjected to at the moment felt implausible, pitchside adverts were still bespoke and regionalised. Sky may have been circling, with Alan Sugar baiting the traps, but the full implication of all that wasn’t clear to a north Walian teenager that had only just started to read When Saturday Comes. We had free to air league football rather than this situation;

“A nine-month subscription costs £396 and a season ticket at my football club costs £300. That is a very, very easy decision in my eyes.” Anonymous

“Sky Sports and BT Sport costs £90 or more per month – £1,000 a year – they are kidding themselves if they don’t think this market is price sensitive…..”? Dr Feelgood

When I was a lad you could take or leave football but now we’re lost in the mire of irate opinion and surrounded by the choking fog of impatient analysis. We live in a place where nobody is allowed to forget about football. There’s too much of everything; too much money, too much coverage, too much analysis, too many opinions. We’ve polish the excrement so often Mr. Sheen may need to step up his production targets.

Everyone’s too busy being a “footy die-hard” these days, even though most of them manage to avoid making a connection with the social history that created the aura they buy into.

They’re too busy bluffing their way around something they know they don’t really get. They choose a club as though it’s matter of genetic predestination, replace an erstwhile season ticket holder once a month, read newspapers, scour message boards, read tweets, reply to a few, get on the banter bus, bluff their way around twitter, tweet an outraged opinion that someone else has already expressed, do an “acca” then cash out, share pisspoor jokes with their fellow bluffers. You’re not a proper lad in 2016 unless you bluff with a cringe-free air of self-confidence.

I was stood behind a load of bluffers at the recent Super Furry Animals gig in Llandudno. They turned up five minutes before the light show started and destroyed the carefully constructed anticipation with pure buffoonery. It’s one thing to stand in the way by acting like a Smartphone Kubrick, it’s another to get in the way singing a horrendously out of time “Don’t Take Me Home”. Beware the disciples of “It’s Gotta Be Done Fella”.

I’m not bitter because I didn’t go to Euro 2016.

I don’t want to notice these people but they propel themselves into my consciousness. You can’t turn a blind eye when they’re scratching a nail down your mental blackboard.

Once upon a time you were able to visit shops without seeing football merchandise. There were magazines and football stickers in newsagents, and possibly books in bookshops, but that was it. Unless you lived near a club shop you had to go to proper sports shops with glass counters to buy football merchandise.

If you’ve got a spare 21st century hour you can pop to a supermarket and buy an officially licensed generic celebration cake then stand next to a cardboard display featuring official champions league beer and official champions league crisps as you wait to pay. Then you can go to the bank and gaze at the official premier league branding as you wait then visit the greeting card shop to buy an officially licensed birthday card. Then you can travel home listening to radio adverts about the footy. When you arrive home you can watch adverts about the footy. When are we allowed to switch off?

I used to pore over the kit adverts in magazines. I was transfixed by the new adverts in the summer and loved the adverts that offered really expensive foreign shirts.


Those extortionately prized curiosities were placed tantalisingly out of reach, I was never blessed by a thoughtful relative returning from abroad.

Not everybody wanted a replica shirt in 1992 but those bloody things are everywhere in 2016. Why are people so keen to to wear glorified adverts for globalised corporate interests? It’s worse because absolutely no effort is required to get one, any clown can walk into a polyester coated warehouse in order to make a pledge of solemn allegiance to “their” favourites. The shirt of their European favourites are available for more insipid gestures freed of context.

In 1992 European football still retained a mysterious allure, all we had was the odd live match, Sgorio and some highlights on Sportsnight or Saint & Greavsie. You had to record it all because you’d never see it again, but then if you forgot to record it, or recorded over something you wanted  to keep, it didn’t matter a great deal.

I eagerly anticipated tournaments and various European Cup Finals, it was all so exotic with glamorously skillful purveyors of beautiful football wearing noticeably different kits. If you wanted to develop your interest you had to make an effort and search. World Soccer was there but it’s was a “niche publication”. There were no citizen experts. I loved the evocative team posters on the back of World Soccer, those kits, those kits.

European glamour now suffers from pre-packaged ubiquity. Corporate interests provide the sparkle and glamour, historic football clubs are sacrificed in the name of market share and key demographics lap up the glorious social Darwinism. “Thursday Night!!!!!!!!” they chant derisively. A no effort required decadence has set in, we can watch any match from anywhere and marvel at all the showboating.

I’m no luddite decrying the technological progress that we’ve lived through, I welcome the idea of being able to watch football all day in principle. My problem is that I hardly ever feel like doing that because I can’t enjoy it.

In 1992 you could walk away from irritants but now they haunt your existence with their stupid tweets and childish facebook memes. They’re at the grounds, in the pubs, in the shops, on your street. They’re on your TV, in the papers and they’re the stars of adverts. They’ve developed their own fan TV you tube channels, when the Fan TV Gifs enter my twitter consciousness Brexit feels slightly less incomprehensible.

You can attempt to erect barriers by limiting contact to your direct social media circle but the high tide of aural diarrhoea continually laps at your attention. Is peace and quiet too much to ask for?

My unflattering comparison between 2016 and 1992 may be taken as mournful pining for a lost youth but it doesn’t really matter what it is, I will always prefer 1992’s version of football to 2016’s, back then we just got on with it, or we didn’t, and nobody cared.

Football’s mystique has vanished. Like the Wizard of Oz football’s impressive public image is undermined when you look more closely, you see the clay feet. Football is over promoted, over exposed, over analysed. I long for the serenity of 1992, when you could take football, or more importantly, leave it.

Yet more of the photos what I’ve taken

25 12 2016

This is the final part of a five part festive trilogy.








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Even more of some of the photos what I’ve taken

24 12 2016

This is part four of a five part festive trilogy




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