The people you meet on the way to the football – No. 1: A Stag Do for Alpha Males and Absolute Legends

16 09 2016

The cancellation of a Birmingham bound train meant a packed Manchester bound train. At Chester some of the hordes alighted but there was no time to heave a collective sigh.

They appeared.

A stag do had arrived.

RAISE THE BANTER FLAG!

I can usually sense a stag do created by Absolute Legends about half an hour before I first look at them with utter disdain. The tsunami of testosterone pollutes the ether like an East German chemical plant and their turned up to eleven verbal noise generation turns heads in the Faroe Isles.

On this day the tightly packed passenger mass had muffled the karmic waves and the banter was literally sat in front of me before I knew what was what. The Alpha Male was the first to use the deft art of social subtlety.

Do you mind if we sit here?….Well we are now.” (Behold the glint in my eye! All the all girls love my glint and voluminous self-confidence.)

“I bet you thought you were going to have a quiet journey!!!” (You’re transfixed by the sparkling glint in my eye aren’t you? You can tell that I frequently charm birds from trees can’t you)”

Cue the Stag! He had agreed to walk around the fantastic city of Manchester while dressed as a waitress from a generic “Hooters” type bar. How the crowd gasped at his off the peg fancy dress costume. Yes! The stag do organiser was an off the peg ABSOLUTE LEGEND with a fabulously off the peg sense of humour.

To be fair. this ABSOLUTE LEGEND had absolutely smashed it. He’d made one of his great mates travel in a train filled by sentient strangers whilst wearing one of the most disturbing off the peg fancy dress outfits created by the fancy dress industry.

To be fair like, you can’t expect the ABSOLUTE LEGENDS that organise off the peg stag dos to make the effort to source a bespoke fancy dress outfit when they can buy “Scouser Shell Suits” or “Waitress Outfit from a “Hooters” type bar” like everybody else.

Where the world saw a man in a disturbing costume, the Alpha male knows what he knows.

“WHAT A LEGEND I AM!”

“THE ORGANISER OF THIS LEGENDARY STAG DO IS LITERALLY A LEG-END!”

The assured manspreading eloquently announced that we were inferior to this collection of ABSOLUTE LEGENDS.

This was THEIR territory.

THEIR time.

THEIR banter patrol into the undulating terrain of superficial stag do bromance land.

GRRRRRRRRRR!

The world was jealous.

In Banter Space no-one can hear you scream.

“So I sez to him get lager, and I told him anything but Carlsberg, so what does he turn up at the station with? Carlsberg!”

“Oh he’s called Beverley today and they’re his Mackers.”

“ALRIGHT MERT!!” (Delivered in piss poor cod Geordie accent)

“Don’t mind him, he’s just like that.”

“Carlsberg! Carlsberg! I say anything but Carlsberg Paul!”

“You’ll be in that outfit til 6”

“I thought it was 4, then it was 5 now it’s 6.”

“Yeah but that’s it.”

“You’re not going home in a taxi this time.”

“There won’t be any Oasis this time either lad.”

“Martin’s not coming, Gareth’s cried off and Dave probably in a caravan somewhere.”

“Dave’s a melt. End Of.”

“ALRIGHT MERT!!” (Delivered in piss poor cod Geordie accent towards a passing person, funnier with each passing repetition)

“Remember that Stag Do in Amsterdam. It was classic wasn’t it?”

“I remember the one when we went to Ibiza and I was sweating so much there was a swimming pool in my undercarriage.”

“This is horrible stuff, I said anything but Carlsberg.”

“Yeah I’d rather have Carling than this piss.”

“Yeah, what was he thinking about, was it too much trouble to go to the shop last night?”

“ALRIGHT MERT!!” (Delivered in piss poor cod Geordie accent towards a passing person, funnier with each passing repetition)

“Here he comes again, “Anything but Carlsberg.””

“What kind of tattoo is that? It looks like a horse skeleton.”

“What made you get Carlsberg Paul? I said anything but Carlsberg”

“No you didn’t.”

“I did, I said anything but Carlsberg.”

“ALRIGHT MERT!!” (Delivered in piss poor cod Geordie accent towards a passing person, funnier with each passing repetition)

“Yes I did, I said ANYHING BUT Carlsberg, could have been anything. Miller twist tops antything.”

“Who’s beer is this?

“Is that mine?”

“Mine’s the one with the tea bag in it! Fnar Fnar.”

“Oh this tastes like sandpaper, Bloody Carlsberg.”

“ALRIGHT MERT!!” (Delivered in piss poor cod Geordie accent towards a passing person, funnier with each passing repetition)

“Oh we’re going down Canal Street for a bit of fun later. Fanr Fnar.”

“I’m not homophobic, I’m interesting.”

“Bloody Carlsberg, Fnar Fnar.”

“I see that Mikitari…”

“Mkhitaryan”

“Yeah Mkhitaryan, he’s is playing. He looks like a good player.”

“Will we be able to see the match?”

“Well we should if don’t hang about……….He wanted to get Penthouse apartments.”

“Alright Anything but Carlsberg”! Oh you’re still with us.”

“ALRIGHT MERT!!” (Delivered in piss poor cod Geordie accent towards a passing person, funnier with each passing repetition)

“Paul yours is the first round in The Bier Keller. You’ve got to make up for this beer travesty.”

“Yes, it’s going to be an expensive weekend for the lad.”

“ALRIGHT MERT!!” (Delivered in piss poor cod Geordie accent towards a passing person, funnier with each passing repetition)

“Carlsberg bloody Carlsberg I’d rather drink my own vomit.”

“I’d rather drink your vomit. Fnar Fnar,”

“I’d rather drink the gravel from the train tracks.”

“Look at that, he’s hammered already.”

“Carlsberg, what was he thinking?”

“ALRIGHT MERT!!” (Delivered in piss poor cod Geordie accent towards a passing person, funnier with each passing repetition)

“Right lads, off we go!”

“Time for some proper beers!”

You’ve ruined this weekend Paul.”

“ALRIGHT MERT!!” (Delivered in piss poor cod Geordie accent towards a passing person, funnier with each passing repetition)

………Ad nauseum, with the emphasis on Nausea.

The carriage offered no escape from their banter pathogens, everyone had been sucked into the Alpha Male’s Charisma Vortex. How the passengers loved the sparkling glint in the eye and voluminous air of self-confidence! The weak willed wanted to be him, the easily led wanted to be with him.

No-one could be him, he was an ABSOLUTE LEGEND and he looks down upon the non-legendary!

It was a scene the Paris Impressionists would have been happy to imortalise. The Alpha Male sitting proudly the wheel of the banter bus. The off the peg Stag sitting in contemplation of something, anything. The Alpha Male’s off the peg acolytes buttressing his schtick with cutting comments about so-called friends. Paul. the recipiant of bad beer banter, enveloped by an air of sad discomfort. A Banter Flag fashioned in the finest maritime quality material flutters in the background, its edges frayed in the Banter Hurricane.

I identified with Paul. He had tried to do his best for his mates. He had tried to be considerate. What benefit had he accured? He’d become the hostage of an innocent refreshment mistake. How was he to know that you could break the banter bus with “the wrong beers”. I like to think that he knowingly bought the wrong beers to annoy the Alpha Male.

Other passengers have may been trying to read Gruff Rhys’ American Interior or the Summer edition of When Skies Are Grey but resistance was futile, the Banter flag had been raised.

I was surrounded by them on the Piccadilly travelator. Thankfully the space outside Piccadilly allowed the Alpha male to lead from the front like a Victorian colonialist, sinews bursting, banter flying. They were real men, proper men. They were bloody blokes unconcerned with the locals’ clear disdain. I walked at half speed to let the space flow.

I can’t summon up enough contempt for Alpha Males.

A countenance that screams; “LOOK HOW I’VE MADE ONE OF MY SO-CALLED MATES DRESS UP IN A STUPID COSTUME TO PROVE THAT WE’RE TOTAL LEGENDS.”

A world that thinks “You’re a bit of a loudmouth dick!”

While most of us are 60% water they’re 97% ostentatious bravado. They wouldn’t know “understated” if Gok Wan stood at their side and slowly whispered the definition from a large print dictionary.

The idea that stag do invitees cry off because they’re irritating never occurs. The idea that someone bought the wrong beers by mistake, or to subtly irritate him, never occurs. They are MAN!

YES! THEY ARE MAN, even though there are the occasional moments when the bravado mask clearly slips and you can enjoy the briefest glimpse of an Alpha Male that’s just as pitiful as the rest of us. The metaphorical door quickly slams shut as soppy talk is for girls and Wahheyyy! It’s on with the pisstaking.

A stag do doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s the traditional farewell to single life ete etc. They don’t have to be four day debauched marathons in an ex-Warsaw Pact city or an excuse for happily married men to try and recapture their youth by acting like excitable twats. For example my stag do took place in Manchester and things were done with decorum; one evening, no banter, no cliched fancy dress, only friends having a few drinks in decent pubs and drinking establishments.

As a male on his way to another archetypal male social activity, the footy, I realise that I could be mistaken for one of these people. I’m not like them. I’ll never experience the slightest urge to act like the Alpha Male’s Banter Patrol. I’ll never emit an aura like the self-assured gobshite from the liquid Weetabix adverts. I’m happy being a delta male.





Retour a la normale dans le foot mais connerie dans le monde politique

9 09 2016

I received an e-mail from the FAW the other week. I was informed that I could buy some tickets for what turned out to be Monday night’s smashing victory over Moldova. It was very nice of them to make such an offer but there was absolutely no way that I could have gone.

I communicated via social media that I’d be willing able to go if they fulfilled either of my easily met conditions; 1) Move the match to Saturday 3rd September 2) Provide me with a helicopter. Needless to say they refused to meet either of either of my easily met conditions, I repeat EASILY MET, and I meekly returned to peaking through the gaps in the fence.

It was all very different in June. I was nowhere near France yet I somehow managed to feel part of the European Championships, or at least feel that they had something to do with me.

I felt part of it because I went with the flow; I had reassured myself that it would not have been possible to go any matches. I still felt part even after I found out that some work colleagues had been able to go to matches on day trips. There was no hint of burning jealousy behind my placid exterior. I should play poker with Victoria Coren-Mitchell.

I have previously intimated that circumstance has furnished me with a jaded view of that modern football. Seeing “WALES” written in the tournament graphics was a cynicism decontamination shower. I started to feel quite giddy before the match.

I couldn’t say what was more exciting; seeing players representing Wales walk out at a major tournament, experiencing the panning shot at anthem time or the fact I was able to watch my own national team play without paying Murdoch for the privilege.

The match started and I was reassuringly reacquainted my national team almost immediately; an opposition player dribbled through the defence with ease and only a panicked goaline clearance prevented a goal.

Sources close to me had told me that Wales had played well enough to qualify but I wasn’t really aware of how that felt. The rest of the first half showed me what they had meant. Wales settled quickly and everything looked mostly comfortable with pleasing pockets of positivity.

Then, as if by magic Gareth Bale scored with a fab free kick. Somehow Wales were denied a penalty just before half time.

A Slovak equaliser lent a familiar feel to the start of the second half. Then Wales started to feel pressure, Slovak passes were slick and a Welsh post was hit. Thankfully in this brave new world of Welsh football Wales looked good on the break.

One of those breaks led to Hal Robson Kanu’s scuffed winner. An involuntary drop of moisture escaped my tear ducts as my long departed Dad came to mind. Wales had now won a match in a tournament!

Aside from Gareth Bale’s second blockbuster free kick of the tournament the England match was almost as expected. From virtually the start of the match you knew that it wasn’t going to go Wales’ way but that didn’t stop me hoping for the point that Wales needed for second round qualification. When England scored their inevitable injury time winner all you could do was say “typical bloody Wales” and get on with worrying about the Russia match.

The Russia match was, until the QF, my favourite ever Welsh match. I worried about the result until Ramsey deftly teased the ball over the moving keeper after a few minutes. A few minutes later my favourite moment as a Welsh football fan happened; Neil Taylor scored Wales’ second goal. My favourite moment as a Welsh football fan until that night in Lille of course.

This felt very strange. Wales were leading 2-0 and making fluid attack after fluid attack. I couldn’t supress the little doubts until Gareth Bale scored a third. Amazingly Wales not only won 3-0, they also finished top of the group thanks to England’s much vaunted travails.

I looked at the post match graphics in bewilderment but it was all true. Wales had not only won a few matches, they’d qualified for the next round AND finished top of the group. When you’ve seen Wales lose 5-1 to Slovakia in a half empty Millennium Stadium it’s difficult to get your head around something like that, even when you’ve seen everything happen on television.

The convoluted draw process meant waiting a couple of days to find out that our next opponents would be Northern Ireland. I wasn’t sure what to expect. We could have played stronger sides in the second round, and we’d beaten stronger sides in the previous fortnight, and Wales had played very well but this was Wales, and “should” is the worst word that people attach to football. Phrases like “Wales should win”, “Bale should score” and “Blah blah blah blah blah blah.” all come with an undercurrent of “I’m angry. LOOK AT ME!” 

Within a day or so of finding out Norn Iron would be our opponents the pre-EU referendum hysteria caused my attention to drift. I pictured the discomforting black void after a leave victory. Calm objections to hysterical rhetoric became scaremongering and patiently delivered evidence against easily refutable untruths became the wittering of experts from ivory towers.

The thirty six hours before the Northern Ireland match were not a happy experience, disturbing thoughts about the future burrowed into my brain like the malignant parasites from Star Trek 2.

I may not agree with the EU’s laissez-faire capitalist outlook but I believe in the idea of Europe. I couldn’t stop thinking black thoughts, I needed purging.……As the pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa…..

The smug triumphalism of Farage’s victory speech played on loop.

Why had people voted Leave?

Within hours of victory the winning side had disowned their rhetoric and winning voters had disowned their vote.  

Groovy! People didn’t understand the concept of casting a vote!

It wasn’t so much that we had lost but who we’d lost out to; snide snake oil salesmen. 

Years of their drip drip drip sales patter had constructed a demand for putrid messages of social division. 

Why did so many people fall for their snake oil?

The EU, EEC and ECSC has taken a continent divided by war, destruction and a burgeoning Cold War and created seventy years of peace and understanding.

People can sample other cultures easily and former enemies have been able to deal with problems collectively.

The “out of touch” EU has regularly played social expenditure surrogate for our austerity led government.

All it needs is reforming in a more social direction.

If the EU had been in control of our democracy would they have allowed such a reckless referendum to take place?

Now look at us.

We’ve become a petty little inward looking place.

Welcome to the United Kingdon of NIMBYism

The place of “Yeah but what about “THEM”?”

The place where people complain about the state of their neighbour’s gardens in perpetuity.

To the Norn Iron match!

The first half was basically forty five minutes of tiptoeing around the possibility of victory. My second half developed an air of nervous tension until a sanguine air descended. I realised that whatever the result Wales had progressed out of the group stage and that was fine. Then McAuley scored the own goal and Wales were in the quarter final versus Belgium.

About five minutes after the final whistle the glow of European victory subsided as the fog of European defeat returned…….As the pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa…..

How could people vote for such a depressing view of Britain?

How could people fall for the bullshit red bus, Boris and Farage?

There was absolutely no demand for this sort of referendum three years ago.

We appeared to have irrevocably altered the future on an incoherent whim and now it’s all “Get Over It” as if the UK has become The Jeremy Kyle Show.

If people voted to “set Britain free of foreign meddlers” how did they think that would happen?

History is a chain reaction of unforeseen repercussions. The British governments of 1913 and 1938 didn’t know that destructive wars were round the corner and The Wall St. crash was a nasty surprise.

If people voted against “out of touch bureaucrats and politicians?” explain our fetid government. 

If people were “voted against a capitalist EU” did they think that a socialist revolution is round the corner? 

As for the people that voted “to take Britain back” I wouldn’t want to live next door to them.

Brexit is “a marvellous opportunity for Britain” but what does that actually mean?

I’m sure that 18th Century India and the Scramble for Africa were viewed as marvellous opportunities by some at the time. 

Oh we can now trade with other countries in other places!

Oh aye, we’ll have to spend years trying to recreate the kind of stable situation we already had.

…and spend years trying to persuade large scale employers not to leave.

“You’re talking down Britain” they say but we know that Britain no longer rules the waves.

We know that we’re merely a collection of smallish islands in north western Europe.

We know a close relationship with our closest neighbours is probably the most sensible approach to life.

We know that the cheerleaders of greater trading opportunities are probably the same sort of politicians that stood idly by as our coal and steel industries died due to acute market forces?

“But we’re the World’s 4th/ 5th/ 6th biggest economy”….I’m sorry but what does that have to do with me?

Where’s our share?

Oh, it seems they’ve traded our shares at the opportune moment in a Bear Market.  (An extra 1/4p per share no less.)

“Hope” is it? Wilful disregard more like.

They say “working class revolt”, if it was anything it was lazy wilful ignorance rather than a protest, lest we forget the Leave voters in areas reliant upon EU funding.

I grew up in a working class household that was perfectly aware of the value of political ideas. It is not unrealistic to expect people to take an interest in politics of their own free will.

Our bloody government deserves contempt because it exists beneath contempt but this “protest” was utterly pointless; a Tory government of the worst kind was still in power the day after the referendum.

All the leave voters have done is make a dismal situation even worse.

We’ve got an awful government that now contains ministers emboldened by the atmosphere generated by right wing noise generators.

The noise generators don’t care about working class communities.

Will a leave vote actually solve any real substantive political problems?

NO

Will it make Britain a fairer place?

NO

Would the EU have prevented a prospective socialist government taking power?

NO

Would a leave victory convince our government to overturn the post 1979 monetarist consensus?

NO

NO NO NO NO NO NO NO.

The real problem is the unfettered market economy.

People are not really scared of immigrants, they are worried about their jobs and the uncertain future created by laissez-faire capitalism.

The only crumb of comfort was Wales’ prospective quarter final. I tried to forget I supported the same side as Leave voters.

I wanted to believe that Wales would win and I talked myself into the optimistic fug that football fans are wont to surround themselves with. Why do we rely on 11 strangers to fulfil our hopes while 11 skillful strangers tried to dash them and dame fortune daintily places obstacles in the way?

Wales started in a settled fashion but the air had an ominous tang. Belgium were slick. They applied pressure. Wales cleared off the line. Then Belgium scored a fantastic long range goal. The inevitability of defeat took the sting out of the incident. Wales were going to lose. It was good while it lasted, but that’s life and all that.

Then Neil Taylor forced a miraculous save from Courtois, then Ashley scored with a header. It wasn’t supposed to happen. I wished to happen, I willed to happen. It happened.

Wales shouldn’t be in with a chance in a European Championship quarter final but there you go, Ashley was steaming towards the Welsh technical area. The replay showed that de Bruyne’s air shot near the post was crucial. By what threads our happiness hangs.

This would already have been the sort of football event that dreams are made of but then second half happened. The first part of the half wasn’t the most comfortable viewing experience as Belgium pushed Wales backwards.

Then a long pass found Ramsey and Ramsey passed the ball to Robson Kanu. Robson Kanu then caused three Belgian players to carry on running in the wrong direction with best Cruyff turn in 42 years. He slightly bent his shot past Courtois.

“Gazed Open Mouthed” is a cliché but if you stood in my living room 2 seconds after Hal scored you would have seen me gazing open mouthed at the moving pictures on my screen. It was sort of moment that Welsh football fans had never experienced. Then Vokes scored a marvellous third with a flicked header. We could experience a realisation in totality………..Wales were on their way to the semi finals.

I couldn’t forget I supported the same side as Leave voters. Ah that bloody referendum……As the pounding of the cylinders increased: ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa…..

The wrong side won because this was the wrong argument at the wrong time.

We’ve let a single vote about an issue that nobody cared about a couple of years ago alter Britain and Europe, possibly irrevocably.

A single vote that took place in a toxic atmosphere of misinformation and hate.

We’ve let cynical misleaders determine our future by influencing the wilfully misled.  

If you were to label my reaction as sour grapes you’d be right.

My pursed lips hide the sourest grapes I’ve ever had the displeasure to eat.

My fellow country dwellers have decided to recast their home as an unwelcoming place that shouts about “taking OUR POWER back” from mythical goblins when the real goblins are found in this country.

Letting a cloud of hate and misinformation decide important political decisions is not good enough for a supposedly civilised society.

It’s not pleasant to realise that your home feels less like home.

But there we are.

I’ll always have my Wim Wenders boxsets.

Bollocks to the lot of ya.

A few days later Wales lost to Portugal. This was no surprise, Wales had been shorn of two key performers and didn’t posses the skills required in the knockout stages of international tournaments; simulation and industrial scale time wasting. We may have been disappointed but Wales had reached the semi-final, an outcome that that not even the most drunken optimist would have predicted.

When I look back at the tournament it was a lovely viewing experience. It was great to finally watch a tournament as a fan of a team taking part. It was also liberating to be a proper football fan again, to just sit there engrossed in the flow of fate and accept the outcome without bad grace.

More than anything it was fantastic to actually look forward to watching football again, especially without feeling the need to add a cynical aside on social media. Naturally I avoided any bandwagon activity like the plague. Rhere were no hastily assembled Fan Parks for me!

The tournament reminded about the conundrum at the heart of being a football fan. While the emotions connected football have the power take your mind off reality reality doesn’t relent. The height of the joy experienced at football may easily eclipse the depth of negativity but Brexit Britain remains.

Having said that I’ll always have the memory of the goals against Russia and Belgium and I wasn’t even in the ground! I can only imagine how it felt to be there. Yes Football can be ace sometimes;

Two months later and everything is back to normal after a glorious interlude; no tickets, no chance of watching on TV and the bandwagon has left without me.

I still can’t get my head around the EU referendum verdict. if I were to describe my feelings I’m not “getting on with it” or “making the best of it”. It feels as though I’m surrounded by boorish and obnoxious loudmouths at a tedious party. I’m in the corner quietly pitying their smugness while I luxuriate in a pleasing reverie. At some point I’d raise a glass and cry out;“Enjoy your victory you clowns.” and leave with my head held high. Needless to say, I will have had the last laugh.





The one that When Saturday Comes didn’t like – 2016 Edition.

13 06 2016

Last month I entered the WSC competition for football articles written by amateur writters, needless to say I didn’t win again.

Here’s the rubbish what I wrote this time, now with added photos!

La Dolce Vita

How a hopeful email led to an unexpected reconnection with happiness via the fulfilment of a long forgotten ambition in an Italian port.

The banter bus and the rapacious exploitation of football had reduced me to the annoyed cynical husk of a football fan by the start of February 2016. A few days into the month I was briefly freed from world weary prejudgement by the fulfilment of my long forgotten ambition of visiting Serie A.

The undeniable exotica of Italian football has long exerted a pull on me. A potent mixture of World Soccer team groups, Simon Inglis’ Football Grounds of Europe, Italia ’90 and S4C’s Sgorio stirred my imagination and the apparent jet set world of Channel 4’s James Richardson inspired me to go out there. I longed to see the cubic terracotta lines of Genoa’s Stadio Luigi Ferraris at first hand.

I finally made it to Italy when Wales played in Milan in 2003. When I saw the mythical San Siro through our coach windows I could barely contain myself. When we set foot outside the ground I was presented with an area pockmarked by crumbling tramlines and a pervading atmosphere of menace. There was fascist graffiti in the toilets, the home fans threw stuff at us and Wales lost 4-0. It was a deflating and dispiriting experience.

It would take fate over a decade to present me with another calcio opportunity in the shape of February’s work-related trip to La Spezia. Just after Andy and I arrived in the charming northern Italian port we realised two things; our free evening coincided with Sampdoria’s home match with Torino and Genoa was only around the metaphorical corner. After years of unconscious suppression my long forgotten desire bubbled to the surface. I sent an email to Sampdoria’s ticket office without the expectation of receiving a reply.

I received a personal reply, written in English, within twelve hours and my well-worn cynicism started to crack. It turned out that buying tickets in Italy was easy. We could just turn up at the ground and buy one or buy one from the betting shop / bar near our hotel. We only needed our passports rather than ticket accounts, passwords or buying histories.

The simple act of going to buy tickets also put a spring in my step. Andy, Serdal and I strolled across La Spezia’s sun-dappled piazzas and along its orange tree lined streets towards the crowded betting shop / bar. I was persuaded out of buying the cheaper terrace tickets so we bought seated tickets for the equivalent of £22 instead. I was now going to a Serie A match and I was beyond elated.

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The train journey to Genoa was also soul-affirming. My coastal train journeys always involve a cheerful reverie but this was even better, everything outside our windows was a sun-enhanced vista of breathtaking beauty. It was clear why Cinque Terre and Liguria had influenced Shelley and Byron.

When we arrived I was adrift in a sea of giddiness. I already felt the excitement of an impending match in a new ground but now we were also surrounded by evocative architecture and fantastic public art like the Christopher Columbus monument near Principe Station.

As we walked I enjoyed our immersion in a viscerally intoxicating culture of hidden ornate chapels, political graffiti battles and an evident eventful history. Not even the joy deadening opinions of Alan Green or Robbie Savage could have blunted the joie de vivre that was coursing through me.

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The tourist information office confirmed that we were meandering in the right direction and that we’d be able to catch the post-match train from Brignole, Genoa’s other main station. They furnished us with a map and directions. We had to turn left at a big fountain and walk towards Brignole via a long street with ornate archways. I’m the kind of guy that loves to take everything in when they’re on an unhurried stroll past neon signs that remind you of famous films.

We were enveloped by the familiar football throng near Brignole. In the under station subway the political graffiti battle had cross-fertilised with football thanks to Genoa’s anti-fascist fans. It took about ten minutes of excited shuffling before we saw the ground’s floodlight haze and cubic outline from across the dry river.

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A short break seemed very apt so we stopped for a coffee and a chat. The bar was very civilised, a family owned place filled by families of Sampdoria fans. I basked in the warmth of it all. People seemed to sense we were visitors in search of a memorable evening and we left for the ground with “Grazie” in surround sound.

The trip was turning out exactly as I hoped. Groups of friends crowded tiny bars, young fans carried giant banners around and scooters were everywhere. The fans had a certain way of carrying themselves with a certain attitude and a certain way of wearing scarves. After I bought one of those scarves we headed towards our seats via two ticket and passport checks.

I excitedly approached the entrance to the terrace and the inimitable moment that a football lover waits for; the first view of the pitch in a ground they’ve never visited. What a glorious sight! That fact I was standing in the location where Scotland beat Sweden and Ireland beat Romania a quarter of a century earlier probably wouldn’t mean anything to most people but it meant something to me.

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They say that the anticipation is often better than the event but it wasn’t true today. Our seats appeared to be in the family section but this wasn’t a bad thing. We had a great view from the fourth row and we were surrounded by the most charming Genovese you could ever hope to meet. They not only helped us negotiate our way to our seats they wiped them before we sat down.

Our new friends were particularly taken with Serdal’s new Bangor City scarf (a present from me). “Ah Galles…….Bale!” they said approvingly. I didn’t know what I was hearing during the match, it could have been the same generic drivel I normally hear, but I didn’t care. It sounded charming and I was in a ground I’d always wanted to visit.

The ground wore a fantastic lived in look. The pitchside glass fences were one of the things I’d noticed in Italia ’90 and I worried that they’d be view obstructing but they weren’t. Legroom was at a premium but an empty row in front allowed us drape room, amazingly a steward didn’t threaten to chuck us out.

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There was a social feel to everything, unaccompanied children ran around and friends warmly greeted each other as they wandered. At no point did a steward intervene with curt directions. I could get used to a matchgoing experience like this!

When you consider stellar names like Mancini, Vialli, Pagluica, Gullit and Veron have played for Sampdoria I could’ve been disappointed that I only recognised three names in either squad – Sampdoria’s Quagliarella and Cassano, Torino’s Immobile – but I wasn’t. The past is a different country and other televisual markets are now more lucrative. This background knowledge didn’t alter my small taste of Serie A, I was enjoying myself too much.

The match was as expected anyway; the players displayed good touches and the defences were comfortable on the ball. Most of the play was down our touchline so I was able to see the pattern of play quite easily. We saw two goals before we left but neither were classics.

P1480659

The fans were good value. This may have been a run of the mill bottom half of the table contest on a warmish February evening but the teeth rattling fireworks of Sampdoria’s Ultras meant that it the first match where I literally felt the atmosphere. Perhaps it had been a good idea to avoid the terrace.

We left ten minutes before the final whistle to be sure about catching our train. After a few vague directions from the bloke on the gate we made it to the deserted yet scooter infested pavements. We heard a large roar that suggested a late Sampdoria winner and a second muffled roar that suggested something else; a disallowed goal? A bad foul? A Torino goal?

We made it to Brignole with about ten minutes to spare but our train was delayed anyway. I lamented our now misguided desire to leave the match early. Judging by the demeanour of the Sampdoria fans that arrived after us the muffled roar had been caused by a Torino equaliser. A bearded gentleman ranted at me but I smiled the international language of agreement and he left me alone.

As the train progressed towards La Spezia I felt an almost spiritual sense of well-being. Not only had I fulfilled an ambition, my cynicism had lessened and I knew that another way was possible. I had paid roughly £22 to watch a match whilst surrounded by decent people in an architecturally beautiful ground in one of Europe’s famous leagues. Why couldn’t football feel like this more often?

 





Dreaming the impossible dream

11 06 2016

I awoke with an excited start this morning. As I said to my wife “This isn’t the time for soundbites dear, but I can feel the hand of history upon my shoulder”. To which she replied “That’s actually my hand, I knew you shouldn’t have watched that Tony Blair documentary last night”. Near misses and outright folly have deprived me of the chance to watch Wales play tournament football but this state of affairs will be rectified in a couple of hours.

Naturally I’m rather excited at the glorious prospect of “Wales in tournament football shock”. Last week I realised that there were only ten days until Wales’ first match in Euro 2016 and the fervour started. Instead of half-heartedly hoping that Slovenia, Germany, France, Argentina or Italy win or vehemently hoping others lose I’ll be supporting my own team.

I’ve only ever experienced tournaments on TV and it’s wonderful to think that I’ll finally be able to see my team on my TV, IN A TOURNAMENT!  I would finally be able to see “WALES” written in a tournament font at the bottom of my TV screen. In my own way I’m more excited than all those that have gone to France and have tickets for all Wales’ matches until the final.

Yeah of course I’m just as excited, I didn’t even want tickets anyway.

Before the fervour arrived I felt slightly differently about watching my national team. I’d become one of those bystanding matchgoer types – people that are obviously doing something else rather than going to a match – I see on the way to matches. Now I was a bystander too. I always wonder why bystanders aren’t going to a match and then what their day will hold. Will they spot a bargain? Will they buy any world cinema DVDs? Why aren’t they going to a match? How can they not even want to go to a match?

I used to feel part of it all. I used to love going to Wales matches and the train journeys to Cardiff that were full of drinking or reading, depending on the company. Where once I joined the non-existent clamour for Wales tickets I now sit at home resigned to inaction.

A few weeks ago I enjoyed reading Bryn Law’s book about Wales’ qualifying campaign. Even though I was familiar with everything, and I’ve actually met several of the people mentioned, I felt removed from it all, like I was reading Fever Pitch or something similar.

I tried to join the bandwagon during qualifying but it didn’t make any difference. The internet streams were sketchy at best and I only saw one match on TV, Israel away, because only one match took place directly after a Bangor away match in a ground with a Murdoch enabled clubhouse. I had to make do with twitter and the livescore app the rest of the time.

I tried to enter the first class section of the post-qualification bandwagon by buying stuff; Spirit of ’58 merchandise, Panini Stickers and the commemorative Welsh editions of Four Four Two and the Radio Times, but that didn’t make a difference. I even tried looking at old match programmes and tickets but that didn’t make a difference either. Something was still missing.

Circumstance has allowed ennui to replace ardour. Matches have been on the wrong days for years now, I refuse to pay Murdoch for televised emissions and there isn’t a pub within six miles of my house. I’ve lost the habit of watching Wales and without that habit I still don’t know what some of the players look like.

I’ve been going to watch Wales since 1985 and I’ve been to more than a few matches in a virtually Millenium Stadium so I feel like I should be in France with the people I know but I’m not. I suppose I could feel bitter about this and missing out on so many memories but bitterness is a distant memory.

I didn’t even bother to consider making a ticket application. I hadn’t been to any qualifiers, I wasn’t a club 1876 member and I’d be working during most of the tournament. When my social media was filled by photos of tickets part of me longed to be going through the same stresses of looking for accommodation and cheap flights but most of me wasn’t even remotely unhappy, or jealous, about missing out.

I was really happy for everybody else that was going and especially for the away match hardcore. You’d be a complete curmudgeon if you were anything other than sincerely happy for the people that have travelled to almost every one of UEFA’s members in the hope of that momentary glimpse of hope. It’s already fantastic that their years of patience have finally led somewhere, it was even better that qualification was secured at an away match that only the away match hardcore would have been able to get to.

I refuse to feel sorry for myself about the way I feel for a simple reason; my time as a matchgoing Wales fan has passed. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past, or how many matches I’ve seen, the powers that be will never revert to the Saturday / Wednesday scheduling.

Please don’t cry for me Mark and Tina either. It’s partly my choice and I’m so used to my physical disconnection from Wales’s matches – five years without watching a qualifier and I’ve never consciously bought anything owned by Murdoch – it has become almost painless. There’s no point moaning or tilting at windmills anyway. My concerns aren’t important and I’m not important. The world certainly doesn’t care whether I’m at matches or not, they will still take place whether I’m there or not.

Anyway I’ll be able to watch it on TV and when you think about that was preferable anyway. I’ve never been to a tournament and I always wanted to see “WALES” in the tournament font on televisual graphics. LOOK AS I’VE ALREADY EXPLAINED….. In my own way I’m  more excited than someone that’s going to all the matches, yeah of course I’m just as excited, I didn’t even want tickets anyway. ALRIGHT?

Anyway why do I care I’ll be having a proper tournament experience, I’ll be watching Wales in a tournament from the same position I’ve watched every other tournament. Anyway don’t worry about the likes of me, I didn’t want to go anyway, who wants to watch their national team play in their first group based tournament for 58 years anyway?

People should be more like me, I radiate an air of relaxed acceptance in my miniscule place in the cosmos. Naturally I wanted to go and watch Wales in the tournament but I always knew I wouldn’t be able to go. While everyone was fretting about tickets and flights I stood aloof, it was actually liberating to be freed from the stress of caring about it all.

However now that I’ve seen all of the photos and videos of France on social media I can’t say I wouldn’t love to be out in France with the people I know. But here I am typing this in my blissful state of relaxed acceptance. YEAH I’M REALLY RELAXED ABOUT MISSING THE THING I’VE HOPING TO GO TO FOR YEARS. Yeah, even though I’m sure I could have found a way to go today.

Sadly not everyone is the relaxed accepting sort. For some people everything’s “LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME”. For example if you were a self-described “top top Wales fan” and you missed out on tickets what would you do? Well as an adult you could accept that you’ve never demonstrated much desire to go to away matches, and therefore didn’t earn enough loyalty points, or you could write a look at me letter to complain about the “horrid horrid unfairness” of the situation. Stoical acceptance is a stranger to some.

Someone may be shouting  “FANZONE! GET YOUR TICKETS FOR THE FANZONE!” in the coming days. We Welsh people were going to suffer the embarrassment of doing without one until someone set up that panacea for society’s ills, the online petition, to demand that we had simply had to have one of these fanzones in little old Wales. Why has everything got to come with a sodding petition these days?

I can see the point of fanzones in the countries that are hosting tournaments. They enable like minded people from various countries to mingle and the ticketless to experience a bit of the atmosphere. A fanzone in your own country is a poor poor substitute. It will never make up for not being able to go a tournament.

It’s bad enough spending time in a confined space that’s been annexed by a rapacious multinationals, to be herded there with people you’d normally avoid like the plague is a numbing prospect. I suppose you could enjoy a fanzone if you turned up with your mates but you can enjoy anywhere with the right sort of people. The problem is the others that will turn up. Imagine spending time next to any old Tomos, Dyfrig and Harri as they radiate “LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!! I’M A TOTAL LEGEND ON A MISSION” gamma waves. See how they goon “COME ON CYMRU!!” at a passing TV camera. I’m cringing as I type this.

Some people can’t help themselves. Last year I witnessed several people try to to prove that Wales is dead ace by attempting to unfurl a Welsh flag at the Super Furry Animals gig in Manchester. Even though the Super Furry Animals are known to abhor such behaviour, it still happened. These people turned up to prove just how Welsh they were, Alwyn and I were surprised they weren’t wearing sparkly cowboy hats boyo. You’re either Welsh or you’re not, support your team and do it quietly, and don’t get angry when your newly acquired  hopes and dreams don’t come to pass..

Fanzones are even worse when the inevitable defeat happens, the point where peoples’ new minted desires and reality part ways. During the 2011 Rugby World Cup Wales played France in the semi-final on the same day that Bangor player an away match in Llanelli. I thought it might be fun to go and watch the match inside the Millennium Stadium.

Wales lost narrowly and the amount of anguish and tension caused a nasty atmosphere, I was wearing a replica of Argentina’s Mexico ’86 away shirt and I couldn’t help but feel the accusative glances in my direction. I had more grief on the train. This is supposed to be a fun event but them people’s expectations had been built up and then dashed.

The fanzone seems to have joined the annual cycle of marketable communal festivities – New Year > Valentine’s Day > Pancake Day > Mother’s Day > Easter > Bank Holiday Season > Football Tournament > Summer Barbecue Season > Halloween > Christmas – that allows businesses to encourage us spend money on their essential products.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t enjoy themselves or celebrate Wales’ massive achievement but how does this forced communal jollity add  to  the enjoyment of a sporting occasion? There’s something deeply irritating in the forced jollity of organised celebration, and it’s not just their urgent hashtags like #BEPARTOFSOMETHING or #GETINVOLVED.

If you want to “get involved” or “be part of something” fine but you don’t have to involve the rest of us in your capers. Why do we all have to congregate to have an authentic experience? People experience proper matches in relatively small groups of friends or acquaintances rather than as a monolithic group of thousands. It’s not embarrassing to be deprived of a fanzone, it just means that we have to watch it in a pub or god forbid, at home. What’s wrong with doing things the old fashioned way?

Having said all that Wales will be playing on in a major tournament today and it’s all very exciting. I won’t be leaving my house and I’m really excited. Hurrah for football! Hurrah for resigned acceptance!





A new flag is made….

8 06 2016

After five days of artistic toil and paper cuts a new flag has been produced for the European Championships. Here it is.

P1490019

If you see it in France pop over for a chat with the owners! The flag takes its place in the Llandudno Jet Set’s flag collection.

Neath away 2011

The Jet Set in Europe 2011

FC Midtjylland playing near Oswestry 2011

Welsh Cup Final 2011

Welsh Cup Final 2010

General Election 2010 / World Cup 2010

Neath Away 2010

Europa League 2009

Europa League 2009

Welsh Cup Final Protest 2009

Welsh Cup Final 2009

Rhyl 2009

A WPL match in 2008

Welsh Cup Final 2008

Swansea 2005

Cardiff 2004

Milan 2003





Double plus ungood, like I said Clive

8 05 2016

I dealt with my teetering pile of When Saturday Comes back issues the other week. One of them was the 30th anniversary edition that contained a reproduction of the first ever issue in the centre.

The first ever issue contained a short piece where the writer highlighted a few clichéd phrases that he thought people should stop using. I can come up with my own list for 2016.

“This programme is brought to you by (Insert Corporate Name Here)”

These days everything has been cynically considered from a commercial point of view so we’re not allowed to do anything that’s unaccompanied by the altruism of corporate interests.

Every facet of our sport comes with a sponsor’s logo. Even the community based schemes that exist to encourage social inclusion, the very antithesis of rapacious corporate interests, are sponsored. Naturally the celebration of victory has been given a corporate sheen with corporate hoardings and sponsored flags.

The trouble with the carefully planned corporate ownership of human enjoyment is that enjoyment can be unavoidably deferred for years. Witness the forlorn carefully planned celebration buses that became superfluous when results didn’t turn out as planned.

“BEEP………..BEEP………. BEEP………. BEEP” indeed.

“Let’s go over to The King Power / The Etihad / The Emirates / The I PRO / The Aviva / The Pukka Pies”

We can neatly move from the above to this grating example of corporate football. Media types always say something like “Let’s go over to The King Power / The Etihad / The Emirates / The I PRO / The Aviva / The Pukka Pies” on those TV programmes that keep you updated about scorelines and it’s always delivered with an excited pregnant pause.

While you obviously need to mention a ground’s name from time to time to establish a location there is absolutely no reason to give free advertising to the corporate giant and there’s certainly reason to utter the words with such obvious relish. What’s wrong with “Let’s go over to Leicester / Manchester City / Arsenal / Derby / Dublin / Walmington-on-Sea”?

When people respect the sanctity of the commercial arrangement all they’re doing is helping rich people ruin things. When people tweet things like “I’m going to the (Corporate stadium name) tonight.” they should be denied access to football matches.

If people are going to do this kind of thing it should be more truthful. “Let’s go over to the “PR cleansing operation for a toxic brand stadium”.

“That’s a Good Hit.”

When did “shots” become “hits”? Years ago you only heard the word “hit” when a poor free kick failed to make it past the wall or when a player whacked his penalty over the goal or there was a close up of a contre-temps. For most of my life “shots” were called “shots“.

It was easy to distinguish a “shot” from a “pass”, a “pass” was the propelling of a football towards a teammate and a “shot” was the propelling of the ball towards the goal. All of a sudden they started mentioning “hits” when “shots” happened and now all commentators excitedly mention “hits” as if it’s alright.

“He was entitled to go down there.” / “He had every right to go down there.”

Postmodernists tell us that metanarratives have lost their power to explain the world because we all have a unique experience of the world around us. 78.3% of the penalties given in professional football are proof that there is some validity in the postmodern point of view.

When the pundits analyse the incidents that led to penalties they conclude that 78.3% of them were definite nailed on stonewall penalties. Even though slow motion technology allows us all to see that these definite nailed on stonewall penalties involve the training ground honed practice of “engineered contact” or “leaving you foot sticking out so it brushes against something” rather then an actual foul

When there’s a doubt the pundits fudge by invoking the “Well he had every right to go down there” gambit. When I consulted the laws of football I couldn’t find the word “entitled”.

Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct

A direct free kick is awarded when a player commits any of the following in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force:

  • Kicks or attempts to kick an opponent
  • Trips or attempts to trip an opponent
  • Jumps at an opponent
  • Charges an opponent
  • Strikes or attempts to strike an opponent
  • Pushes an opponent
  • Tackles an opponent

Or commits any the following offences:

  • Holds an opponent
  • Spits at an opponent
  • Handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area).

In determining whether or not a player deliberately handled the ball, the referee has several considerations:

  • Movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
  • Distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
  • Position of the hand (‘natural’ position versus ‘unnatural’ position) does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement
  • Touching the ball with an object held in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.) counts as an infringement (considered an extension of the hand)
  • Hitting the ball with a thrown object (boot, shinguard, etc.) counts as an infringement (also considered an extension of the hand)

If a player commits a direct free kick offence within his own penalty area, a penalty kick is awarded irrespective of the position of the ball, provided the ball is in play.

How is a player “entitled to go down”? The phrase presupposes that some players are more equal than others, why are some players entitled to special treatment?

Why should a defender be careful about leaving their foot too close to a striker with an eye for a chance? Why should defenders be unjustly punished just because they’re not as glamourous as the attacking players that feel unencumbered by the pressure of a moral outlook? Cheating a fellow professional isn’t something to be admired.

“Spitting is the worst thing a fellow player can do to another.”

Apparently spitting is worse than than cheating your way to a penalty, or getting a fellow professional sent off by acting, or have your leg broken by an opponent, or having your knee ligaments snapped by an opponent, or being racially abused by an opponent, or being disrespected by an opponent in their autobiography, or having a teammate sleep with your wife. It must be because they say it is.

“(Insert Name Here) is an absolute legend.”

In the ancient past you had to be like Hercules to be a legend, in other words you had to perform a Herculean feat of strength, bravery or endurance.

These days all you have to win a few matches, or score a high profile goal, or be the flavour of the month for doing something that’s run of the mill whilst carrying out your job.

Legends are players that have done something exceptional, or had something exceptional. Legends are not the players that are lauded for doing something useful and then pressured to leave 9 months later because they’re “useless”.

“(INSERT NAME HERE) OUT.”

In the past people were willing to accept that it wasn’t possible for their club to win everything all the time, most fans would have been happy if their club won anything.

These days most people appear to think the satisfaction of their own personal expectations is the most important thing in football. If the truly heinous prospect of expectation denial occurs someone has to be sacrificed to the god of opportunism with the gift of the sack.

Who decided that football was a “Perpetual success parade or you’re history dickhead” type situation? You and the rest of Murdoch’s willing slaves that’s who.

“I cashed out.”

Four young men sit around a pub table, doing the banter like Jeff and the boys on the screen above. They check their phones and do the banter loudly. They sit there, they know that matches are taking place because Jeff and the boys are talking about them. They know that matches are taking place their betting apps have told them.

They know matches are taking place yet there they sat, they know matches have taken place for years yet there they sit, they know that matches will go on for years but there they sit. They choose to sit there and make knowing jokes about subjects they think they’re entitled to make jokes about.

Matches happen and they need matches because matches are the petrol of their banter bus. They don’t need match tickets because they never need tickets, they don’t care their local club is struggling to make ends meet, they’ve got their mates and their banter.

They’ll never be warmed by the first glimpse of verdant grass, they’ll never share the communal joy of an unjustified winner, they’ll never fall over a row of seats in celebration, they’ll never be carried along by the glorious hubbub of a celebratory throng on a car-free road.

All they need is a pub table, their phones, Jeff & the boys and the banter bus.

“Vive Le Bantz”

Anything that Paddy Power produces should be banned. The fans of Mrs. Brown’s Boys are the only people that think Paddy Power is a funny person full of genius.

 





Anyone can design a match poster

2 05 2016

Someone designed a few match posters for Bangor City this season.

4. Airbus Away - 4 Sept

6. Caernarfon Home - 8 Sept

7. Carmarthen Home - 12 Sept

10. Aber Town - 25 Sept

12. TNS Home  - 16 Oct

14. Rhyl Home 2 - 30 Oct

18. Airbus Home - 15 Nov

25. Newtown Home - 8 Jan

31. Carmarthen Away 5 Mar 2

M28160-186 001

M28160-186 001

 

 








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