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

Farrar Road, 2005OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

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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A few more of the best photos what I’ve taken

23 12 2016

This is part three of a five part festive trilogy.

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Some more of the best photos what I’ve taken

22 12 2016

This is part two of a five part festive trilogy

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