The annual appraisal

2 09 2017

Saturday Evening

Mark was two minutes from home. Bloody football, you make the effort to care and what do you get? Nothing, nothing but sodding disappointment.

One corner to go. 2006 was an absolute age ago. What he’d give to be fourteen again.

He turned his key in the lock. Being fourteen on the day of the Champions League Final, that was life! Everything was possible, nothing was impossible!

He pushed the handle, opened the front door and went in. He was finally home after the usual tube scrum. He’d arrived at his sanctuary from the madding crowd, from the disappointment. Another Saturday, another pain in the arse.

– “Hello Mark, was it a good game?”

“No Mum, it was awful again.”

– “Never mind love. Your tea will be ready in a minute, I’ll give you a call!”

“Great Mum, I’m going out with the boys later.”

– “Ok Love, see you in a minute.”

Mark shot up to his room, he couldn’t wait to log in to “Gooner Heaven” and lay down eternal damnation upon his pitiful team.

“Henry The Eighth” was back in the chair!

Let us begin with the righteous fury!

Henry the Eighth – Down the Arsenal again, we were awful again, bloody awful. Wenger has lost everything, our respect, the plot, the dressing room.

It’s the players as well, don’t get me started. They don’t care, it’s scandalous, they don’t care. None of them. spineless performance from them. None of them care, we spend our hard earned money and what do we get? Nothing, bloody nothing.

That bloody Ramsey, what good is he? He’s literally the worst player I’ve ever seen in an Arsenal shirt. He should retire now, seriously. The fucking fraud. I’d have Wilshere over him any day you, he’s utter toss.

I’m utterly shocked, truly, that he can’t seem to play in midfield, he’s a bloody professional. My nan could do better than him! He never sticks to where he should be.

He’s a headless chicken, he should stick to rugby with the other Welsh. He’s a disgrace to the shirt. An utter fucking disgrace. I don’t know why we put up with his shit. I don’t know how he can look us in the eye. 

We’ll never win anything with a fraud like in the middle of the park. We need a leader, a taclker, a battler. We don’t need frauds. He’s living off past glories, he’s literally living off past glories. We should get rid straight away.

Clock End Preacher – Give it a rest will you, we’ve only had three games so far, we haven’t even finished August yet! You and your lot wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in the 1980s.

Henry the Eighth – It’s always the same. It just shows what I always say. You give your opinion and get slated for it. I pay my money and I’m entitled to an opinion.

With fans like you it’s no wonder that the club is in the mess it’s in. People like you are literally holding this club back.

Clock End Preacher – All I’m trying to say is calm down, things could be worse.

Henry the Eighth – Nice one grandad, that’s literally no help, it literally changes nothing.

Gooner Gerald – I’m with Henry on this, he speaks sense. You’ll never get to football heaven Preacher. Wenger and Ramsey are literally taking us to football hell.

Henry the Eighth – You know it GG! The preacher should stick to going to Church on Sundays.

Rocky Rocastle – It’s always the same, a couple of defeats and you lot want everyone gone. Can’t you just chill out, you won’t last the season with this kind of stress. You never know what might happen. We could win the Europa League.

Gerald Gerald – Looks like we got another one here Henry.

Henry the Eighth – These people are embarrassing, living in the past. We’ve literally got the most embarrassing fans in the world. They’re willing to put up with mediocrity and pay through the nose for it.

Mark was basking in the decisive last word when he heard footsteps on the stairs, it had to be Mum. It was.

“You’re Pizza’s ready love.”

“Thanks mum, I’m coming down.”

Mark sprang to his feet, he loved the tomato base that Tesco use in their freshly made pizzas, he bounded down the stairs.

– “Did you remember to get those pens? You said you were going to work on your appraisal tomorrow?”

“Yeah that’s sorted thanks. Thanks for cooking the pizza mum…”

Sunday

Mark was calm and the hangover barely registered, but then he had had less to drink than normal. There was no point in tempting fate with Monday on the horizon. He could have a proper night out next week.

“Mum, have you seen the ruler?”

– “How’s it going love?”

“It’s alright, I just need to get this right. It’s my homework. I want to tie up the loose ends, you know look good for tomorrow.”

– “You’re not worried about tomorrow, are you?”

“Not really, they already know I’ve met my goals and performance targets. It’s easy Mum.

Now where’s that ruler?”

Monday Morning

Mark felt a bit jittery today, it was his first annual appraisal under the new system.

Everyone said the new system seemed fairer, mainly because line managers no longer had licence to get revenge for perceived sleights and misdemeanours. Everyone remembered the flak from the infamous case of Tom, he took the company to court last year and won.

Now you were assessed by an independent person from outside the company, there were no face to face interviews any more either, it was more based around the data from the continual monitoring process.

Mark lived under the presumption that everything must be going alright if Steve hadn’t asked him to “pop in here for a quick chat“. The data doesn’t lie, it’s cold hard fact.

– “Morning Mark”

“Morning Steve, you alright?”

– Not bad thanks.

Ahem, you know we have a new method of performing our annual appraisals. So we’re using outside people to make the appraisals now. I’d like to introduce to you to your assessor, Aaron, He’ll be shadowing you today.”

“Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Aaron, It’s Mark isn’t it?”

Mark looked up and was stunned, it was Aaron Ramsey. Aaron Ramsey was standing in front of him.

“Wait a minute, you’re Aaron Ramsey, I can’t believe it’s you! And you’re assessing me. I can’t believe it! I’m an Arsenal fan.”

“I know, that’s why they picked me! ………..Only joking!

Don’t worry about any of this, you know what’s involved don’t you?”

Mark nodded.

“Just work normally, I’ll be in the background observing. You won’t even notice I’m there.”

“Right, I’ll just get on with it, I can’t believe it, honestly I can’t!”

Mark was utterly dumbfounded, of all people I could have as an assessor it’s an Arsenal player. He couldn’t wait to text everyone, or tweet it. Then he remembered the “Phone-Free Work Environment” posters they’d put up last year.

Using a phone wouldn’t look good, especially on the day of his annual appraisal. He’d just have to wait. The Green account was the pressing business.

The shock of being in the same room as an Arsenal player gradually wore off and he relaxed into his work. He tried to remember the textbook methods of dealing with phone calls and office etiquette. He thought better of his usual routine, flirting with the ladies and bantering with the lads.

A thought entered his head; “If I tone it down will I look unnatural, will it look like I’m trying too hard? Management don’t like that sort of thing do they.” Mark felt like he was flying through the account pages, Mr. Green would be well happy!

“Aaron would know that he had a reputation as a bit of geezer.” thought Mark. In today’s modern business culture they value personality and informality, Mark remembered the maxim of his old team leader Geoff’;”As long as the work gets done lad”. Well the work was getting done, Aaron could see that. Mark started to think about letting his guard down slightly.

“Aaron will have seen that I’ve worked well” thought Mark, Of course he will, he couldn’t think anything else could he? Mark looked at Aaron, Aaron smiled and then looked at his clipboard.

Mark thought things were going well, the guard was dropped. Mark saw Chris go to the photocopying room, so he decided to go as well. Mark smiled at Aaron as he left, Aaron smiled back.

“Mate, mate, mate I can’t believe that Aaron Ramsey is doing your appraisal.” 

“I know”

“I thought you hated him!”

WellllllHe’s a nice guy in person. He’ll never know what I think of him. I think the appraisal’s going well.” 

“I’m glad to hear that you’re smashing it.”

They bantered for about five minutes with a steadily increasing volume. Iwan the busybody came to check if there was a problem. Chris just looked at Mark and laughed.

Mark didn’t worry, Aaron didn’t seem to mind about the little comfort break. Mark guessed that things were going ok if the assessor hadn’t ask to see you, Aaron hadn’t asked to see him. Aaron just sat there.

So it was back to the Mr. Green and his spreadsheet.

About three quarters of an hour later Mark went to say hello to the girls. He had been working solidly, and Aaron will have seen that. He tried to catch Aaron’s eye again, Aaron was looking at his clipboard. Mark didn’t worry, there was flirting to be done. Mark knew girls loved a confident guy.

Clare was off today but Lauren was there, lovely Lauren. Mark could tell that they both liked him, he always remembered the GQ article about the body language of flirting. Touching your nose was one of the good signs.

They indulged in some harmless flirty wordplay until Mark put his foot down; “I can’t stay around here, I’m being appraised. Laters!!!”And with that he was gone!!  Lauren was inwardly relieved, she didn’t really like blokes that were obviously trying too hard to impress.

Just before Mark reached his desk he noticed that Aaron was no longer there. Mark wasn’t alarmed, Trevor had told him theat the assessor might only stay for the morning.

It was nearly lunchtime anyway so Mark didn’t worry. He was going to have a Southern Fried Chicken Baguette today.

He couldn’t wait to tell people about the identity of his assessor, Arsenal midfielder and fraud Aaron Ramsey. “I must remember to say that he’s alright” thought Mark. “People are going to love it when I tell them!”

Tuesday

Mark arrived at work in a relaxed mood, all he had to do was kill time before his debrief at 9:30 and he still had the Green account to finish.

He casually flicked through the pages, he felt safe in the knowledge that there was only a few pages left to do, crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s, that was all. He thought better of finishing it now as he wanted to leave something for later.

Steve asked Mark to come to his office. Mark noticed that the time was 9:31am on his computer taskbar’s clock.

“Sit Down please Mark, it’s probably easier for me to read through this report.”

Mark wasn’t worried.

“As you know the report is split into different sections, let’s go through them one at a time.”

Mark wasn’t worried.

“As you know, first up it’s “Productivity slash Output slash Dependability” Your continual assessment forms say that you’re usually on time with paperwork, although half of your return could do with more depth. In short you could spend a little more time on your paperwork more of the time. However don;t worry about this, these are standard comments for everybody.

To refer to the harder data. Your customer satisfaction ratings for the year were as follows: Q1 – 73%, Q2 – 85%, Q3 – 74%, Q4 – 87%, overall – 82.5%. 72% of my customers received order confirmation emails with 12 hours, all within 24 hours. Those figures aren’t too bad. Dependability?  Ah yes, you seem to get the work done and you’ve only had 2 days off this year. I’d say that’s ok by anyone’s standards.”

Mark wasn’t worried.

“Aaron’s verdict is slightly more damning, and when I mean slightly more damning I mean the most damning report you could possibly here.”

Mark was suddenly surrounded by bleakness.

“I’ll begin; “Dependability? For what? Mark seems more intent to strut around the office like a banter obsessed peacock instead of a colleague. He floats all over the place chatting and flirting. His continual assessment forms show that he’s a a very subtle operator, he gives off the impression of getting work done but during the appraisal he spent barely ten minutes doing work-related tasks in every hour.

He seems to believe that sending 3 short e-mails an hour constitutes work. If we were to generalise this behaviour over an entire work year he will work for 7.6 weeks out of his contracted 46 weeks. It would be hard to generalise from three hours but this is simply not good enough, He appears to be taking the piss.”

Mark was too bamboozled to think properly.

“Excuse me Steve, he didn’t actually say that I was “taking the piss” did he?” 

“I’m afraid he did, shall we move on?

The second area is “Mistakes slash Waste” Your continual assessment forms indicate that you’re a conscientious and tidy worker, you don’t waste paper by printing off an unnecessary amount of sheets. Your computer log record tells us that you make few mistakes as you type and we’ve never had cause to ask for redrafts of your reports. From this point of view there’s no problem. The figures tell us that your order error rate was only 5.3%.

Again Aaron’s verdict isn’t quite as glowing……..”

Mark felt another uncomfortable lurch.

“……As already stated Mark chooses to spend most of his time in work doing things other than what he’s paid to do, so it would be obvious to say that his mistake slash waste to productivity ratio could be improved. In short his main mistake is to waste everyone’s time. Again it would seem that he’s created a shiny positive image to mask the reality. He needs to improve his productivity rate. Judging by the quality of the error-strewn work I saw, or rather lack of quality, we can only assume that mistakes are commonplace within his work, we assume this stems from his obvious lack of an attention to detail.”

Mark was perplexed.

“So I wear a mask do I”  he asked incredulously.

“Let’s press on shall we.

Now it’s “Teamwork” your continual assessment profile states that you are an effective team player who adds complementary skills and contributes valuable ideas, opinions and feedback, and that you communicate in an open and candid manner. You can be counted upon to fulfill any commitments made to others on the team.”

Steve paused again, it was unmistakably ominous. There was another lurch.

“Aaron said that after he gained feedback from Mark’s colleagues he was able to see that Mark is often fine within a team but there are occasions when he appears to coast within the anonymity of a team. They say that he often needs to be pushed to make the required effort, and that sadly these occasions are becoming more frequent.”

Mark felt the need to finally respond to this character assassination;

“I’d disagree with that Steve. You know that’s not the real me is it? I’ve served on three key teams this year: corporate social responsibility, customer service process improvement and the one that deals with special orders.”

Steve continued.

“Yes I’m aware of that, don’t worry we all know about your extra responsibilities.

The next issue we need to deal with is “Fulfillment of Individual Goals”. Well we know from your continual assessment forms that you have completed all of the goals that were set in last year’s annual appraisal. You have attended a first aid course, you have attended an I.T. course and you have mentored Chris. That’s all good. You show some initiative, I’ve seen it, you’re a bit of a go-getter or the quiet aren’t you?” 

The familiar lurch.

“Aaron’s appraisal continues to be less positive. While the first aid and I.T. courses are useful the mentoring process provides numerous concerns. It would appear that mentoring process has merely provided the conditions for the growth of a work relationship based on a mixture of puerile humour, loud football banter and exaggerated male bonding. In the very short time I was in the office I was able to see that Mark’s fellow workers viewed this relationship as a burden to be tolerated.”

Mark was stunned.

“What’s wrong with banter” he almost stammered.

“Let’s carry on to the final part of the appraisal; “Your future development”. This is obviously linked to the last part of your appraisal. I see you’ve gone for the logical step, you’ve decided to focus on the same areas; Further development of I.T. skills, fostering more a team attitude within the department and continuing the development of mentoring role. That sounds alright.

Aaron’s comments were again rather negative.,,,”

Mark couldn’t deal with much more, yet it continued,

“I suggest that until Mark decides to concentrate more on the fundamentals of doing his work correctly there is little point in thinking about developing the finer points of his role. After speaking with his colleagues I would suggest that Mark decides to devote less time to being the irritating centre of attention and more time to doing his work efficiently and quietly.”

It was almost washing over Mark by now.

“I’m sorry, what was that “Irritating centre of attention”?

“Look Mark, don’t take Aaron’s view too seriously, at the end of the day it’s only one person’s view.

All it does is give us something to think about, for you to think about. We still value you, your figures speak for themselves. We’ve all got something to think about now. Don’t worry about anything. We still value you.”

Mark was quiet for the rest of the day.

All he could do was ask how this could happen to him. He did his best, he worked his hours, he hardly took any time off.

“AND YET IT WASN’T GOOD ENOUGH!

WHY AM I BEING JUDGED ON THE BASIS OF A FEW HOURS?

WHAT ABOUT ALL THE THINGS I DO RIGHT?

Mark’s co-workers were worried about him, he looked slightly broken. Steve asked him if he wanted to have the next day off. Mark thought that this sounded like a good idea.

Wednesday

At 11am Mark heard the inner letterbox flap move.  Something landed softly on the hall’s mat. He surmised it was a latter.

He was both fascinated and worried, could it be for him? He arose from the sofa and made for the front door tout suite. The envelope was for him. “Mark”  was written on the front in black ink.

He wondered who could have sent it. His friends didn’t send notes, his Mum wouldn’t leave a note, and she certainly wouldn’t post one through the letterbox.

He opened the envelope in an intrigued and fearful state. There was a single piece of paper inside.

He carefully unfolded what he took to be a blank piece of paper for a few milliseconds. He finally noticed that there were some lines written on one side. He read the words.

 

I’ve seen you in the Clock End. You probably think that we can’t pick out individuals in the middle of the crowd, or hear their comments, well we can.

How does it feel to be judged in your workplace?

It’s not a very nice feeling is it?

Aaron “The Fraud” Ramsey

 

A few hours later the penny finally dropped, football wasn’t really that important.

The weight of caring was finally off Mark’s shoulders, he could breathe, for the first time he could truly breathe!!!!

He logged into “Gooner Heaven” to leave a final message.

 

Henry the Eighth – I was wrong

 

With that he deleted his profile and logged off for the last time.

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I hadn’t even realised you weren’t there!

27 08 2017

I’ll start with the first of three realisations. I don’t know whether I should continue to chain myself to the tradition of going to a match every week.

This mental journey began with a couple of connected recollections about David Elleray, the once famous referee, and Nick Hornby. I once read that Elleray turned down the chance to officiate at the 1994 World Cup because he had a job interview at his school. Hornby missed the replay of the 1993 FA Cup Final because he attended an award ceremony in which Fever Pitch was nominated.

I remember having a similar reaction to both events; “Imagine that happening! How awful would it be to miss your side winning a cup? How could you call yourself a true fan? I’ll never be like that! I’ll never let work come between me and an important match!” 

Needless to say I’ve missed matches for work-related reasons since those thoughts came to me. I’ve missed every Wales match for six and half years for work-related reasons.

In the mid ’90s I’d envisaged some nebulous “bad things” happening but all I’ve “suffered” is a growing sense of acceptance. I suspect that I’ll never watch Wales again. I don’t even check the dates of matches anymore, too many people are after tickets and I’m so far down the pecking order I’m in 2008.

While international football has become something that happens to other people normal football and work-related reasons had never coexisted in my life until that Saturday in May, when I missed Bangor’s European Play-Off Final.

My younger self would have been incredulous but my present self took life as it came, albeit with pangs of wishful regret. I had had enough time to get to the match because my work related business had finished earlier than I had envisaged.

If only I had had a car ready to go, but I didn’t have a car ready to go, so I sat on my sofa waiting for 5:15pm in the company of thoughts  “I could’ve gone, I could’ve gone. With better organisation I could’ve gone!” Sod it, I wasn’t going. I was going to miss the joyous moment that European football returned to Bangor, if it came, but who cares. “Calm bordering on sanguine” was my middle name.

Then the game kicked off. It was an odd sensation when I saw the players, I’d only ever seen them up close and personal but now they were on telly with bigger faces. It felt even stranger when I saw my fellow fans in the crowd. The thought that I should have been there never left, but I was obviously not there. The glory that I could’ve ended up enjoying felt like it was merely a whiff of a dilution of the glory I’d feel in the ground. On the other hand I knew two great things, I didn’t have a journey home and I had less time to wait for Eurovision.

When the European matches arrived I missed both of them, including the first European home match I’d missed since 1985, thanks to work-related reasons.

As you may guessed from the fact you’re reading these words nothing untoward happened in the universe because I missed the matches. Everyone carried on as normal. All three matches still took place.

There were no half time tannoy appeals about poor little me, there were no appeals on social media either, nobody commented. Nobody decided to give the next match a miss because I hadn’t gone. At most a few people noticed I wasn’t there.

The wider world spoke with cold indifference, it didn’t care that I had missed some football matches. It’s a stark moment when you realise that the world doesn’t care about you but what does one do? The world is a cold, harsh, disinterested place.

Before May’s European play-off match typical premonitions of jovial conversation within the glow of victory had caused regretful impulses yet I felt few post-match regrets. On a cosmic level the absence of my negligible presence barely registered, Bangor still qualified for Europe. On a personal level, what had I actually missed? Apart from the irreplaceable joyful conversations and glorious memories of drinks enjoyed I’d missed a match that had been televised, that was all.

I was clearly more able to cope with missing important football matches than I thought. Over the last few years there have been some recent weekends when I didn’t even bother with a match so I daresay I’d undergone an understated process of desensitisation.

When I coupled the fact that I wasn’t really missed with my lack of real regret enlightenment wasn’t far behind…….. I am insignificant.

It’s very illuminating to be reminded that you’re insignificant in the big scheme. It’s fantastic to be reminded that your petty choices and whims only really matter within the confines of your own head, that your petty desires are no more important than anyone else’s, that you are not more important than other people. Be like me, embrace liberation!

I remember reading that one of the Super Furry Animals claimed “Don’t be a C**t” as his motto. It’s an outlook that captures the beautiful simplicity of a decent world. It’s better to set aside ego-driven impulses for the simple fact that we will always need the help of other people. A co-operative society is always preferable to the alternatives.

Let us return to the first couple of lines. My enlightenment led to three realisations. Firstly, and already noted, I’m not sure I should continue to chain myself to the tradition of attending matches every week. Secondly, it doesn’t matter whether I turn up or not because my presence determines nothing, results happen anyway. Thirdly I should probably use a little more discernment when choosing which football matches I attend.

There are two enormous elephants in the room. The first is the fact that logic and football aren’t happy bedfellows. Football has manifest observable problems yet the idea of “football” still appeals and I still like going to matches.

Football charms with the promise of excitement and the potential of seeing something fantastic. There’s the aesthetic attraction of flowing moves and skill. Most importantly there’s the human interaction between like minded people. I still like to be in a crowd. The hubbub, the laughter and, wittingly or unwittingly, hearing a good story or two.

I don’t think I could live without the enjoyment of visiting a new town, or spending time with good friends. The so-called laws of probability tell me that I probably won’t see something fantastically memorable very often but the possibility is always present. Sometimes I just like to be lost in thoughts about the ghosts of football’s past and I see those ghosts everywhere. My love of my version of football is a feeling I can’t adequately explain.

Take my compulsion to watch Hibernian’s Scottish Cup triumph on you tube. I don’t support Hibs yet I still still feel compelled to watch the clips. Whenever I watch the last minute winner, the people lost in celebration and the fantastic Sunshine On Leith there’s a warmness in my brain, I know what it means for those involved and I can’t help getting wrapped in the emotion of the circumstances. Some things just cause a positive reaction and football has that effect in my head. That’s enough for me. I feel like I still need football.

The second elephant is the application of a discerning eye to football, you can do that but it isn’t always enough. I’ve tried to limit my football interactions to what I can stand – watching matches in a ground, refusing to buy anything connected to Murdoch, leaving the shiny corporate hagiographies that pass for magazine articles unread, ignoring the banter bus, putting a padlock on my twitter profile – but I’ve found that it’s impossible to insulate yourself from those you want to ignore.

I avoid pubs when they broadcast matches, I take an ambivalent attitude to Match of The Day and I block banter accounts. Yet this is still not enough, Murdoch era attitudes and opinions cannot be avoided. Especially if you choose to leave your house or use public transport.

You can’t legislate for the actions of other people, much as I’d like to become Prime Minister and pass laws. Opinion seeps around any social media dam. You can only avoid so many TV adverts based on the cliched excitement of sports broadcasting types.

“GET READY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

GET SET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY IS BACK!!!!!!!

NOW STOP THINKING AND GIVE US ALL YOUR MONEY!!!!!!!”

Even the BBC broadcasts bloody football adverts of this type. Sentient fans know that football is often crap and boring rather than continually fantastic, dramatic and delightful.

Then you weaken, and give “THE FOOTY” on the telly another go for sentimental reasons. It’s alright until you’re realise that the craze of perpetual analysis still holds, football still has a self-imposed sense of importance it doesn’t warrant.

“I DON’T WANT TO SEE A RED THERE GARY!”

I don’t want hear in depth analysis that perpetuates this controversy driven football culture.

“HE’S ENTITLED TO GO DOWN THERE MARK!!!!!”

Not entirely, the word “entitlement” doesn’t appear within the foul play section of the laws of association football, I’ve checked.

“WE ALL LOVE THE TALKING POINTS™ DON’T WE!!!!!!! IT’S WHAT MAKES THE GAME WHAT IT IS, ISN’T IT CHRIS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!”

Talking Points™ are the currency of the damned, the angry phone-in callers and the bluffers.

If we’re going to analyse something why don’t we concentrate on the way “our” sport is governed and organised.

The miasma of inconsequential opinion seems to surround me wherever I go. Bluffers and loudmouths are on every train I catch with their Talking Points™. Preserve me from the words ejaculated by hectoring mouths and the opinion shaped nails upon my psyche’s blackboard. I just want some peace.

I can’t get away from the bluffers’ world. The craze of perpetual analysis has convinced bluffers that they know what they’re talking about. Bloody opinions are everywhere, as if a law prohibits a carefree attitude.

The other day short video clips of Jack Wilshire getting sent off in an Under 23s match were doing the rounds on twitter. It’s the sort of thing that rocks a bluffer’s world, the evidence they need to make another plagiarised knowing comment, another metaphorical nod and wink, another easy dismissal of a professional player. “You can’t trust him when the pressure’s on.”, “He’s a nutter”,”He’s a fraud”.

Why does a short clip of Jack Wilshire getting sent off in an Under 23s match need to exist? The continual externalisation of football opinion is an extremely pointless act. Mate, mate, mate I know what I know, my opinion is only my opinion. Bluffers appear to believe that their opinion is the loud gospel that needs to be expressed everywhere mate.

Football minutiae – facts like winning runs, goal scoring feats and odd scorelines – used to be briefly diverting little quirks. When the minutiae started to appear on the twitter the bluffers were awarded with a ready made knowledge mine that enabled them to appear like experts without effort. “Mate, mate, mate I can’t believe your twitter feed mate. You’re a real football nut you are mate!!!” 

I don’t know why some people are happy to limit their experience of football to the perpetual hype juggernaut of Murdoch’s football culture. I don’t understand how people stomach the hyper-commercialisation. Why is there a dearth of imagination? How can people not yearn for a bit more integrity? Why is the shiny seen as more appealing than the authentic?

In moments of weakness I sometimes wonder whether I’m judging these bluffers too harshly. They’re not doing anyone any real harm, they’re only watching the footy aren’t they?

“Yeah couldn’t you go to another train carriage or something and stop moaning you effete pseud?” 

Well I suppose I could, less of the effete please, it’s called “having standards“.

I know the bluffers are only fellow human beings combating the alienation of the capitalist mode of production by developing an interest in something………..

BUT

…… they’re using their free will to submit to the Murdoch version of football.

The bluffers couldn’t care less that people like me have emotional ties to football, they’re content to offer the forces that are slowly turning football into a joyless economic equation their connivance. They could decide not to be part of the cynically created market that exploits both themselves and football but they don’t.

They love it when their own interchangeable hero from the super club carousel kisses the heat applied trademarked badge upon their polyester clad chest. Some have even been known to look up from their pool table, shout “GET IN!!!” and slap their own polyester clad chest.

The situation is very frustrating. If people knew that I liked football the bluffers and I would appear to be the same. I find that if you have a conversation with someone that gets football their interest usually comes out gradually in the middle of an interesting conversation about something else, they don’t bludgeon you with“look at me I’m a proper fan just like you!!” overcompensation buffoonery to prove they’re in tune with the zeitgeist.

Some recent highlights from my fascinating life show my problem. The days followed the usual pattern; I interacted with football in my own way (Undertaking mental journeys to beautiful possibilities) until something polluted my headspace.

Two Saturdays ago I read When Saturday Comes on the way to FC United v Kidderminster and started to think about going to Southport v FC United on the way home. We’d only made a couple of stops after leaving Manchester when the confident young men sauntered through the automatic doors of my carriage. They were ostentatiously carrying “The Banter”.

It was my misfortune that the opposite table was empty. It started as soon as they sat down. Banter. Facebook, Banter, “LEGEND!!!” this, “CLASSIC!!!” that. The football analysis had the conviction and polish of true expertise;

“Let me tell you who’s in City’s line up”…………“He’s awful.”……………“He’s not as bad as Monreal” …………“Can you believe Kyle Walker is worth £50 million? That’s like saying he’s twice as good as blah blah blah.”…………“What you need from a wing back is technical skill, that’s why blah blah blah is much better than blah blah blah”.

They were only on the train for about 10 minutes.

A full 612 seconds of equilibrium shattering.

They got on the train with a clear conscience, did “The Banter” with a clear conscience and a gleam in the eye, and alighted with a clear conscience.

Their six ton granite lump of premium footy banter had transformed my erstwhile serene mental lake of human joy into a choppy grey mass of water.

How are you supposed to enjoy football when people are allowed to use the banter and analysis in such a wantonly cavalier fashion? Loud football opinions are like human posteriors, every person has one but it’soften  impolite to let others hear them.

Listening leads to the continual fight against delivering a coup de grace;

“Maaaaaate, mate, mate I don’t care why you think what you think about Ozil.

No offence mate, it’s just my opinion but I just don’t care about your opinion to be honest mate.

Maaaaaate mate mate how would you like thousands of critics to analysing your work days on twitter? “Look at him, taking too long to go to the photocopier again!! What a fraud!!”

Call yourself a football fan, you’re nothing like me.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe mate, eaten chips on a boulder outside Hampden Park mate, I’ve watched non-authorised merchandise glitter in the dark near the Shankly Gates mate.

All those moments will be lost, in time, like tears in rain mate.

Recant the banter life, Recant!

Follow me, for I will save your soul!”

Needless to say, I’ll have had the last laugh. If only I had the confidence!

The same sort of thing happened last Saturday. Once again I had engaged with football on my level. Nine hours of reasonably enjoyable time with Nottingham Forest v Middlesborugh at the centre and train reading material provided by Irvine Welsh, Daniel Gray’s Stramash and the When Skies Are Grey Summer Special.

We’d reached Chester on the way home. Two Liverpool fans were amiably chatting away about the day’s events when apropos of nothing some bloke decided to insert himself into the conversation with a bronze droplet of football wisdom;“Try supporting Villa!”. It was yet another “Look at me, I’m part of the zeitgeist!!!” moment.

It was delivered like an appeal for sympathy.  Why on earth does someone need sympathy for a making a decision with a clear head, a decision that doesn’t really matter in the cosmic sens? He told the carriage that he hadn’t been to Villa’s match…………….

“That’s the thing about football mate, they’re your club and they’ll always be your club.

You can change your politics, your wife, your pets and your underpants but you can’t change your club.

Am I right? ‘course I am Chief!

………… If the social pressure to conform with the zeitgeist is the only thing making people maintain an interest why do they still bother? It’s surely simpler not to bother at all. Nobody would judge you if you just gave up, nobody would care. Do the world a favour, give us peace.

I’m torn. I find it difficult to retain an interest in football because there appears to be little for the likes of me in Murdoch’s football culture yet I manage to retain an interest. Irritating processes continually encroach upon my limited interactions with football yet I still find a serene football world I can deal with.

I fear that one day I won’t care enough to look for serene moments but I may feel differently when that day comes. I should probably start moving to other train carriages with the other effete pseuds and snowflakes until then.





Baby I’m Bored

20 02 2017

A slightly different version of this post appeared in an Australian fanzine edited by a nice man called Geoff Briggs.

I’ll come out and say it at the beginning, I’ve gone off the Welsh Premier League.

I feel a little naughty for admitting this in public. When you’re even slightly involved in this league there’s unsubtle pressure to support the league through its thick and thin. You’ve got help put the league on the map and so on. I can’t live this lie any longer, I have reached the end of my tether with the competition. I’m not trying to be a clickbait contrarian, it’s just how I feel.

At the start of September a freelance journalist came to our north Walean hinterland to see if we’d felt any “bounce” from Euro 2016. Aside from the anecdotes poured over agog audiences there was absolutely no connection between Bangor City and Euro 2016.

The only possible connections between the Welsh Premier League (WPL) and Euro 2016 were the rules of football and the word “Wales“. The European Championships were a passing manifestation of divine brilliance and the WPL is a moribund entity that’s evaporated my enthusiasm for leaving the house on a Saturday afternoon, or Friday evening, or Sunday afternoon.

This feeling didn’t emerge overnight, I’ve experienced five seasons of ebbing joie de vivre, I lost the last few traces of it in the gap between the magnificent Euros and cold stark reality. A combination of three things – The WPL’s nature, brainwaves and the unforeseen effects of the club licensing process – have caused the joy drain.

Firstly, “the WPL” should be re-initialised as “the BIP” (Boredom In Perpetuity). We meet the same clubs and visit the same grounds so the same club can win the title. The WPL contained eighteen clubs until the advent of 2010’s “Super Twelve”, a competition that divides into hermetically sealed sections after twenty two matches. Now there’s a top half that ends with European play offs and a bottom half that may end in relegation. Every August I dread another existential slog.

Playing clubs at least four times during a season is bad enough but during a recent season cup matches and European play-offs meant that we played Rhyl, our fierce local rivals, seven times. Even the fiercest rivalries becomes anaemic through unrelenting contact.

A run of decent league results normally allows an unlikely side to challenge for a league title but the WPL provides erstwhile pacesetters with two extra matches to catch uppity interlopers. The clubs coasting along are merely saddled with bothersome pacesetters they can’t catch. Repetition has bred so much contempt that some clubs have welcomed relegation and others have denied themselves promotion.

I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum, success and near relegation, so I have experienced the full spectrum of boredom. The spectre of relegation is humiliating in any system but in the super twelve you stand to be punished by players that you’ve faced countless times on the WPL roundabout.

When you’re title challengers there’s no light relief. The relief of a win evaporates when you realise there’s another match next week and every defeat has two simultaneous effects; you miss out on points and any advantage you enjoyed is slightly eroded by the baying mob at your heels.

When you’re “enjoying success” there’s a horrible melange of stress, a flowchart of stress if you will; Expectation stress > spectating stress > defeat aftermath stress > realising that other sides have won stress > missing UEFA prize money stress > losing players that would bring you glory next season stress. Our championship winning season of 2010-’11 contained ten absolutely awful dread-stained weeks.

Club licensing has generally had a positive effect on the WPL in terms of facility development, rule application and ensuring that clubs are sustainable but it’s also inadvertently diluted the anticipation I used to feel.

Last summer Port Talbot Town, our friends in the south, were relegated and Caernarfon Town, our local rivals, were denied promotion. In both instances there were valid reasons for the decisions but the crumbs of comfort I doggedly put my faith in – the potential visits in a new season – had been hoovered up.

Lastly, the brainwaves. Aside from the Super Twelve, we’ve had the 3G pitch football community hubs and Sunday matches. The desire to create local community football hubs based around 3G pitches may sound laudable – an all-weather pitch that can be used by the local community – but what if an area already has a local council operated all weather pitch? Isn’t the competition risking local authority employment during our times of cynically manufactured austerity? Where’s the sense of community in that?

3G pitches aren’t without their problems either; recent research has shown that 3G pitches may have worrying health effects. There’s nothing wrong with a grass pitch if it’s looked after. The FAW could fund the annual salaries of highly qualified groundsmen for each club for less than the cost of one 3G pitch.

When they came up with Sunday matches last summer it was almost my final straw. Who in the UK prefers going to a football match on a Sunday? How are you meant to relax when Monday morning’s work is clearly visible on the horizon? What about the semi-pro players that work on Mondays? We all need a day off from football.

At the start of the season I scanned the fixture list in anticipation of away days to come and discovered that all of the away games that can involve a good day out – Rhyl, Newtown, Aberystwyth – were scheduled on days other than Saturdays. Then I noticed we were scheduled to visit Cardiff Met, the only ground I hadn’t visited, on a Sunday. Thankfully they’ve relented over Sunday matches but my enthusiasm remains comatose.

There are only two sensible options; return to an eighteen club league or change the course of the future with time travel. Based on the latest news –  the clubs seems unwilling to change the nature of the league – the latter option seems the one most likely to happen.

We could back to the 1880s and set Wales on the same process of development as Scotland; a league based around one area – the Glasgow – Edinburgh Central belt – that eventually spreads over the whole country.

We could go to 1992 instead. We could convince Cardiff, Wrexham and Swansea and the rest to do the decent thing and join the League of Wales. This isn’t fanciful, Dynamo Kiev joined the Ukrainian league, Dynamo Minsk joined the Belarussian league and Hajduk Split joined the Croatian League. If it’s good enough for Eastern Europe it’s good enough for Wales!

Even with the obvious caveats – the geography of Wales prevented the development of a proper national league and the prospect of Football League promotion was always too persuasive – the only realistic prospect of pleasant change is using Doc Brown’s DeLorean.

I once owned a Manic Streets Preachers’ t-shirt that was emblazoned with the legend; “Baby, I’m Bored”, it’s a shame that I lost it ages ago because it feels rather apt. I’m not asking for much, some enjoyment is all I want, they seem to have enjoyment in the Cymru Alliance.

I’m sure that every point in this post can be refuted but my boredom feels tangible. I know change won’t happen, I’ll just have to concentrate and enjoy those conversations about films and comedy instead. Going to local football because of an almost perverse sense of duty may be the way forward.

What’s enjoyment anyway? A fleeting glimpse of a good thing that warps reality by causing unrealistic expectations.





“The angry people” by a big snowflake

11 02 2017

A very odd paradox appears to have developed in football.

Years ago many clubs were able to win trophies and people were philosophical about their club’s failure to win trophies.

Today a cynically created elite has a virtual stranglehold on success and people seem unable to deal with their club’s failure to win trophies.

In other words, people have become more intolerant of failure when there’s less chance of experiencing success. It’s all very weird.

It would seem that football and Iceland now share the same physical geography; plentiful hot eruptions. Some people are not only far from embarrassed about appearing to be dead angry they truly believe that we all need to know that they’re dead angry. Some people evidently dwell under the delusion that they deserve happiness more than others.

Anger, anger, anger, it’s everywhere!

Booing abounds and banners soon follow. Social media often hums with you tube videos of FAN TV ranters. Managers blast everything, commentators become incredulous, pundits simmer and tabloids bark. It’s lucky that we’re not living in the New York of Ghostbusters 2 otherwise the flowing molten anger would coalesce into something supernatural and foreboding.

Obviously the situation is not this simple. It only feels like everyone is permanently angry because shouting irritants are more noticeable. I imagine that the majority of football fans are similar; hopeful of witnessing something fantastic but willing to accept the mediocre and the mundane out of habit.

Football does that to you, as soon as you discover it’s creases childlike innocence is washed away. Players aren’t perfect, other fans are boring, managers are annoying and analysts are irritating. For the majority of fans good moments are like occasional day trips to fantastic destinations; gleaming memories to be cherished.

Those interested in football obviously connect with it on an emotional level. Despite the implication of their bellowing shouting irritants don’t care more than quiet people, every football fan cares about football otherwise they wouldn’t be interested in it. You wouldn’t apply the same logic to other areas of life. I may passionately care about recycling but I’m not going to start shouting and balling on You Tube about my council’s policy on refuse collection.

Emotions are intrinsic and private until expressed. Most people can choose whether or not to externalise their emotions. Some situations require externalisation – a danger lurking nearby, someone causing grave offence – but most of the time it isn’t required. Why do some people feel the need to draw others into their self-referential soap opera by sharing momentary football frustrations?

Thinking about how you express yourself in public is as much about common courtesy as protecting dignity. While not all football fans rant and rave, there is an angry fog in football’s climate. We can’t blame football for the fog’s existence, expressing emotional “LOOK AT ME, ME, ME!” anger seems to be a societal issue.

Some people have carved out political commentator profiles based on this type of angry you tube commentary, people film other people when they’re angry so they can tweet clips and Laura Keunssberg makes people really angry. Everyone is angry.

Anger by itself isn’t the problem. For example righteous anger as a force for good, as in John Lydon’s famous lyrics “Anger is an energy”, motivates you to try and improve something. The problem is solipsistic nihilistic anger and its corrosive effect upon society.

Take the EU Referendum. The result was partly attributable to solipsistic nihilistic anger; the anger of “a forgotten underclass“, the anger about the “EU’s undemocracy” and the anger about “immigration“.

Enter the Voice of Reason;

“I’m not sure about that, you’re just a bad loser!”

Fair enough, let’s look at an example from north Wales. Dissatisfied voters in the constituency that contains north Wales’ biggest employer, the Airbus plant, were so angry about the EU they voted Leave. You don’t need to be a bitter remoaner to consider the potential problems created by this display of anger.

By helping Leave to win they may have started a chain of events that leads to the end of the Airbus production in north Wales. The clues are there; Airbus, a European consortium formed to compete with American companies, wouldn’t exist without the EU and major hints have already been dropped about possible future plans. I imagine that Airbus’ potential closure would cause great upset.

The victory enjoyed by the Leave campaign happened partly because ranting populist politicians were given free rein to cynically ferment anger before the referendum. These self-declared anti-politicians took the situation – our cynical government’s unnecessary austerity – and played on justifiable fears by bending their old rhetoric to suit their goals, you know like any old politician does.

Naturally some people were stirred into anger by the general atmosphere and seductive rhetoric of a certain point of view. Consequently a change in the UK’s relationship with the EU became the panacea for all our problems.

During the horrible referendum campaign we saw the normalisation of intolerance and the belittling of justified concerns in debates. A common tactic – something known as “whataboutery” – was used to cloud debate. various non-sequiturs were added and many spurious “Well what about them?” comparisons were made.

If you doubt the logic of all this consider the following question, would Leave have won if the angry ranters had not been granted a normalising volume of exposure? Three years ago a possible EU referendum just wasn’t on the political radar.

It’s difficult to say what will happen know, at best we’ll suffer the retrograde fantasy of a “Global Britain”, at worst we’ll endure years of traversing through a quagmire of labyrinthine negotiations to end up in an even more inward-looking unfriendly society.

The Voice of reason chimes in;

“Come on, you’ve got to “GET OVER IT!!!” The referendum happened and democracy won!”

Yeah but it’s like this voice of reason mate. We didn’t see the righteous anger of 1945, the anger that created a better society with a practical version of a better country. Last June voters were motivated by the nebulous fantasy of a better country and solipsistic nihilistic anger. I’m amazed that some people honestly thought that by voting leave a fairer Britain would automatically rise from our austere environment?

I have two main issues with the referendum result. Firstly, the “democratic will”. How are we meant to respect a result caused by the 37% of the eligible electorate (or 27% of the total population). Call me a stickler for details but I’ve always thought a majority had to be at least 50.1%. Secondly, a generational political decision of seismic significance took place in a fetid atmosphere of rancour and bluster without the requisite thought..

Is our present course of action the safest course to take? Can we trust this result?

The Voice of reason renters the fray;

“You’re just an anti-democratic clown looking down your nose at your inferiors.”

It’s not that simple. Consider the people that may have changed their minds once they realised what their choice entailed. Consider the people with morning after regrets on the 24th June. Consider Leave voting farmers that still want EU funding, Consider Leave voting areas that rely on EU funding. Consider the interviewees that said “What’s the EU ever done for this area?” as they were interviewed in front of a community assets that only exist because of EU funding. Consider the Question Time audience members that had changed their voting intention because they’d seen the EU’s apocryphal straight bananas in a supermarket. Consider the interviewees that said they voted out “for the adventure” as though they was picking that month’s city break.

How do these people feel now? We are about to undertake the biggest constitutional upheaval in a generation on the basis of this? How are we to respect this result so meekly and so blithely?

Prudence demands that the potential consequences for British society AS A WHOLE are considered thoroughly before any action is taken, whether people are belligerent remoaners or an easily pleased patriots everybody will reap the outcome. Have we considered the potential consequences thoroughly? I’d suggest that we still haven’t and the vote happened eight months ago.

The tone of the debate is shown by a single example. When the spectre of defeat loomed large the arch anti-politician Farage claimed there should be a rerun in the event of a 48%-52% remain victory, now that he has enjoyed his own 52%- 48% victory Farage is strangely reticent about offering us a chance to eliminate the doubt enshrined in a narrow victory.

It’s odd that that some people decided to subject us all to irreversible major social upheaval without going through a long thought process. The referendum was a once in a generation choice, rather than a general election that can be reversed the next time around. If people had thought about the issue a bit more instead of becoming automatically angry at the sound of two vowels we may have gained another result.

The electorate are ostensibly rational human beings not helpless simpletons. Yet some were wilfully unconcerned about the potential problems that would result from a certain choice. To put it another way, some chose to saddle everybody with the outcomes of a decision they couldn’t be bothered to research properly. These people chose the view of the angry populists spewing easy solutions for complex problems and we’re all about to pay the price.

The Voice of reason renters the fray;

“See I told you, you’re just an anti-democratic clown looking down your nose at your inferiors.”

Go on then, we’ve all get to “GET OVER IT!” so everything’s alright.

On the other hand……….The campaign may have been short of practical information but that’s no excuse. It’s our duty to become informed citizens. There has always been information available about the EU and there were calmly explained you tube videos explaining the pitfalls of choosing Leave before the referendum. The videos were shared extensively on social media.

The EU is certainly not perfect and it never has been but if you look at the EU with the dispassionate mind of someone weighing up the best course of action you might see something different from the harsh words of populism.

You might see an institution that was conceived by people who had experienced the effects of two viciously destructive world wars, people who naturally thought that it might be better to work together on issues than restart old enmities. You don’t have to be an expert historian to know that the competition between nation states caused two world wars.

When viewed in this way the EU could be seen as an attempt to find a better way of doing things rather than living through the endless repetition of old mistakes.  That sounds pretty sensible to me and it is still the EU’s main motivating emotion, peaceful relations are still better than war.

The Voice of reason renters the fray;

“Yeah but what about the out of touch Euro-bureau-crats! Brussels Dictatorship imposing laws upon Britain!”

Yeah whatever. Any political body can formulate bad laws but what’s worse? A British government pursuing pernicious welfare reforms or the EU trying to harmonise high production standards in European factories? The EU’s government is no better or worse than any other government.

In terms of decision making all EU members have say in terms of the council of ministers because it is composed of nominations from the member states. Seeing as some issues are bigger than the borders of countries perhaps it’s often sensible to deal with certain matters on an international level. For example pollution doesn’t respect national borders.

Thankfully the UK is no longer the centre of a constantly sunlit empire, we’re a collection of relatively small land masses off the northern coast of Europe. Consequently it’s more sensible to have narrower aspirations than our stridently bellicose past. The UK is part of Europe so it makes sense to become involved with the countries that are close by. Surely it’s more sensible to work with those close at hand?

The Voice of Reason again

“Yeah but we didn’t have a vote then, so we need a vote now. WE DIDN’T WANT BRITAIN TO CHANGE”

Change is not to be feared, society does not remain in aspic because various process make change inevitable. Jarring changes cease to jar eventually; my grandparents’ generation struggled with decimalisation yet my generation knows nothing else. It’s the same with Britain membership of the EU. Positive change should be embraced, a good idea from there, a better way of doing things from over there etc. Change does not have to result in the automatic loss of culture, culture adapts.

The EU has not destroyed national culture, Italy, Germany, France and Holland have been members of the various pan-European organisations since the beginning and no sane person would claim that they have become homogenised into a single area. Italy is still unmistakably Italian, Germany is still unmistakably German etc.

Is immigration the tangible problem that it’s made to be? People mentioned the pressure placed on education, housing stock and the NHS but our central government could solve those issues if they were so inclined. People say they’ve come to steal our jobs and steal our benefits but they can’t do both.

A collection of disparate migrants hasn’t got enough collective economic power to influence wage levels. The “market economy”, or rich people, do that. People mentioned the loss or dilution of our culture but in the past politicians like Enoch Powell made similar inflammatory claims and so-called British culture quite clearly didn’t die. In short Enoch hasn’t been proven correct, immigrants have greatly enriched British society.

The Voice of Reason

“BUT BRITAIN WILL BE BETTER OFF OUTSIDE THE EU, THAT’S OBVIOUS!!!”

Well, no political decision exists in a vacuum and most of them have unintended effects. Can a sovereign Britain demand to be respected by other countries simply on the basis of a few politicians saying “Of course Mercedes will continue sell us their cars or French and Italian vineyards will continue to sell us their wine. They won’t walk away from this market!”?  How can anyone say with clarity what is going to happen? Do all divorces end well? The EU will impose post-Brexit tariffs so European producers could just easily as abandon Britain as keep trading with us.

The post referendum revelry reminds me of something I experienced in Year 10. Our PE teachers divided our two classes into Team A and Team B. Team A were considered to be the cream of the crop, more luminously skilled, more windswept and interesting etc. Naturally I scraped into Team A by the skin of my teeth.

For some reason we decided to carry the Team A and Team B scenario into our lunchtime game instead of picking mixed sides. Team B won the lunchtime match 1-0 thanks to the jammiest goal you’d ever see. To them went the spoils, to us went the bruised egos. They wouldn’t countenance a rematch despite our frenzied attempts at negotiation. ”We won, that’s all that matters”. Luckily this was the time before conversation stoppers like “End of.” I don’t mean to belittle the victory of the Leave side but when I think of their gloating the pettiness of smug teenage logic comes to mind. Sadly the situation is a bit more serious than the petty trifles of my salad days.

This is the problem with acting on solipsistic nihilistic anger, whether it’s football, politics or whatever else it tends to cloud things. With the referendum we’ve let a single vote, in a period of almost extreme public agitation, determine our future because too many people believed the easy words of the populists.

It’s not so much that we lost, I can take losing; I’ve only “won” three general elections in my life. The problem is that we lost because enough people didn’t think it was necessary to consider the issue properly. Tweeting “GET OVER IT REMOANER!!” simply isn’t enough for our democratic health. We deserve better than that.

We deserve to have properly informed political debates. We deserve better than elected politicians using fantasy aspirations to guide us. We deserve better than a British Prime Minister venturing cap in hand to unsavoury leaders.

The Voice of Reason ejaculates again;

WE WANT A “GLOBAL BRITAIN”?

But we already had twenty seven partners in the EU and we’re part of the commonwealth.

The Voice of Reason….

“IF YOU LIKE THE EU SO MUCH WHY DON’T YOU GO AND LIVE THERE!”

If I had the chance and the means I’d be off before you could say “Begone snowflake bad loser, disrespecter of the 37%”.

I know the words you’ve just read are the bitter words of impotence and that “there’s no use crying now”. We have to accept and GET OVER IT because we can’t change the democratic will of 37% of the British electorate.

I realise that I’m a treasonous traitorous snowflake for having an opinion, so be it, hollow name-calling is the least of my worries. The country I have lived in for the entirety of my life no longer feels like home.

I have spoken to friends from Europe since June and none of them understand why, or how, Leave won the referendum. It was like a mania swept the country and it doesn’t exactly make you hopeful about what may happen around the metaphorical corner.

So, I may be a treasonous traitorous snowflake and I may no longer have a country but it matters not, I have books to read. quality music to listen to and a Sopranos boxset to devour. It may not look like it but I have also partly disengaged from a situation that was expertly depicted by The Simpsons years before it happened in Britain.

This was the referendum campaign

This is my attitude now, on the days that I’m not in shock or annoyed by the outcome.

We may have unleashed a society of perpetual moaning about garden fence heights, encroaching conifers and the sort of people from Number 26, “See I told you they were weird when they moved in dear!” As far as I’m concerned the Leave voters can have the cesspit of mean-spirited pettiness they have created.

Consequently it’s back to football.

There are too many angry people claiming an interest in football. It’s odd that these people are never angry enough to consider giving up the cause of the anger. It’s baffling that so many people seem unable to deal with the basic facts of football. There are only three possible outcomes of a match and you’ll never win all matches. When you think about it, in the present context football doesn’t really matter a great deal at the end of the day Clive.

When you analyse the process that leads to the so called undying love for a football club it begins with a simple choice; the choice to become interested in a particular club and that is all. Why are individual capable of free-thinking and unburdened by predestination unable to stop their behaviour in an area they’ve chosen to become interested in? Why become angry about a choice you made? You can change your mind, unlike the EU Referendum.





Happy New Year, same as the last

22 01 2017

I love festive football. There’s a chill in the air, a cheer in voices and you’re unsure which day it is. It’s lucky that the Radio Times adds the day to the edge of the page.

Films, tangerines, nuts and football, what a time of the year! You don’t even notice Mrs. Brown’s Boy’s insultingly odious sentimentality or Eastenders’ needlessly depressive fug. I always think back to the joyous time when you could round off a Christmas Day’s TV with The Untouchables or Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I love Christmas because I loved Christmas. I love festive football.

It’s a time of wonderful sensations; the feel of new socks on cold feet, the disappointment caused by the misleading garment specifications on the website that provided your new coat and the sound of a joke with someone you haven’t seen since the last New Year’s Day match.

A Boxing Day match is served to me and it feels relatively good. The rough edges have been smoothed by Christmas cheer. By the final whistle I’ve realised that it’s no better or worse than usual. New Coats, New Socks, same feeling.

The result is immaterial. I’ve still got days off and a trip to Derby the next day. It’s cold but my cold nose reminded me I was alive. What a victory I’d seen well, well I’d seen a victory.

A Piers Morgan tweet about Aaron Ramsey floated out to my timeline. I thought I’d muted the arrogant popinjay. Here comes the block!

It’s Derby on an extra bank holiday. I broke my journey to buy some wax for my new coat in Birmingham. Derby’s an ok place to visit, I suspect that I could call it home. The away fans’ pub offers a welcome toilet break and a quizzical stare or two. It would seem that Birmingham fans have shamelessly ripped off FC United’s songbook.

The ground is better than TV had led you to believe. A middle aged away fan sat in front of me, he wore his jaunty scarf like a World War One fighter ace. There was a flag for every home fan. The match was cold, there was little to stir the soul but it didn’t matter, I still had days off and I’d finally seen a match in Derbyshire. I reached the station in time to get the train home. I may have found a technique to hurry along with cold feet.

The year draws to a close, it is a chance to end a chapter and draw a line in red pen. It’s a natural end to a unit of temporal resolution.

It may be the natural end to a unit of temporal resolution that may have included the death of your mother, political devastation through wilful ignorance and an ominous takeover of your football club.

You may be glad to see the back of the year but you’re nothing special. You’re merely an insect riding a spinning sphere of rock in the infinite void we call space. Nobody cares what you think or feel.

Anyway it’s out with the old in with the new ya miserable get!!! Cheer up and get the drinks in!

New Year’s Day always has the same feel, quiet contemplation. I try to open myself up to waves of hope, what will the new year bring? Positivity rears its head from the undergrowth. A new year, a new unit of temporal resolution, a new chapter in life’s story, new tales for your memoirs.

Stillness lends the first day of the year the air of a prelude to something good, a pregnant pause before the ascent to a better existence, a better life. This year you’ll do it right. The diet, the outlook, the holiday.

As you stand with your mates at the away match in your hometown you know that  this year we’ll do it right, we’ll win the title, we’ll get to Europe,, we’ll win the play-offs, we’ll avoid relegation, we’ll sign some decent players in the transfer window, we’ll keep the same form, we’ll beat teams again.. We’ve had good days since August, we’ll have good days again.

Then you watch Llandudno score a goal that looked preventable. There’s the familiar lurch in your stomach, whereupon the pangs of disappointment neatly segue way to the familiarity of acceptance. Everyone wears a Spirit of ’58 hat.

It turns out the new year is just the same as the previous years in which you’ve existed.

2016 – Watch Football in Cold weather, feel bored, can’t feel fingers.

2017 – Watch Football in Cold weather, feel bored, can’t feel fingers.

I’ll miss more Wales matches, Bangor won’t win the league and Farage’s face will be on the news every day.

You’re still a mere insect on a spinning sphere in the infinite void we call space and still nobody will care what you think or feel.

At least there’ll be new trainers to buy, and more festive football to look forward to.





It’s a wonderful beautiful game!

10 04 2016

Imagine that one Saturday afternoon Claudio the angel gazes down from the celestial plane and sees your humble narrator getting his flymo out of his shed instead of getting ready going to a match.

Knowing your humble narrator as he does this behaviour would strike Claudio as rather odd, being the football season and all. Claudio is a positive sort so he would feel the determined urge to guide your humble narrator back to happiness by travelling down to Earth to ask your humble narrator; “So why do you feel so disillusioned with the beautiful game?

And so our story begins……

Your humble narrator doubted the veracity of the reality he seemed to be experiencing until the assurances of transmogrification and teleportation. He grudgingly accepted the chance to reassess his jaundiced view of “the beautifulest of beautiful games”.

Almost immediately your humble narrator and his celestial companion found themselves in the house of someone that was about to book tickets for a premier league football match. They stood in the background, invisible to those without the power to connect with the spiritual plane, while the man used his phone, he was four weeks away from his desired match.

His resigned air came off in waves, his shoulders spoke of a long wait. He was number 4 in the queue, he checked his computer’s screen for cheap train tickets on the required date. He was number three in the queue, he drummed on the table. He was number two in the queue, he checked the club’s interactive ticket finder on the other tab. He was number one in the queue, he said “Come on!! Come on!!!” under his breath. Then the agent finally asked the golden question.

“Hello sir, how many tickets would you like?”

He was so giddy he can hardly let the words escape from his mouth.

I’d like Two £59 tickets and a £25 ticket for my son please.”

“What’s your customer number sir?”

“It’s 12568”

“Oh I’m sorry sir I’m afraid you haven’t accessed enough privilege points for this match.”

The phone goes click and a taut wrinkled forehead is smoothed. Claudio says “Well, that’s just bad luck.”

Within a second Claudio and  your humble narrator are on the steps of a premier league superground. Everyone is very excited, well who wouldn’t be after spending so much for a ticket!!! A corner kick is about to be taken. They look to the left because two teenagers are singing “We pay your benefits, We pay your benefits!!” towards their northern visitors that won’t possibly be able to hear their social commentary.

A person to their right obscures the view of three others by thrusting a grammatically incorrect bedsheet banner upwards. Several people film the corner kick with electronic devices. “Why is that happening?” asks Claudio. “If I had to guess I’d say the narcissistic impulse to turn their lives into a social media opera” says your humble narrator. Claudio picks up a programme, flicks through it and comments; “What is an Official Lubricants Partner”?

“Oh it means they get a lot of money for acting as a corporate mouthpiece”.

Luckily nobody saw the floating programme. Claudio thought about your humble narrator’s point, looked around and said “Look at how pleased the crowd looks.” Two grown men arose from their seats to taunt the nearby away fans with outstretched arms.

They are suddenly outside another ground, a crowd surrounds a man with a microphone. Everyone seems very angry.

“What’s this we see here?” Claudio asks,

“It’s called FAN TV and we need a computer to view it.”

Your humble narrator and Claudio suddenly appear beside a table with a computer on it. The television is on and it’s showing a match. Caludio knows that your humble narrator doesn’t really watch football on TV anymore but still enquired; “Don’t you want to watch the match?

“No thanks, I can’t seem to get into a televised match these days.”

“Why not?”

“Everything’s annoying. The commentators are annoying, the co-commentators are annoying, the presenters and pundits are annoying, The ex-pros justify cheating with their cynical moral relativism and every match is a corporate sales device with logos everywhere.

Everything’s loud and brash and everyone’s got to be excited about everything all the time. I can’t really stick the highlights programmes either, they’ve all gone downhill. Match of The Day shows more of the pundits’ pointless analysis than match action. Who really cares if soandso was 2 yards too far to the left at one point, it was a bloody goal.”

“Someone like you shouldn’t be moaning, you should be happy. These days there’s more football on TV than ever before and it looks even better than ever……”

“Wall to wall coverage just makes my alienation stronger, you’re made to feel as if you’re obliged to care about this stuff. I’m not being forced to care by an excitable twat.”

Anyway, let’s get back to the point, what is FAN TV?” enquired Claudio.

“I like to call it “football’s latest phenomenon of mass irritation”.

Right on cue they find the clip featuring the Arsenal fan with a bee in his bonnet;“It’s all about the net spend, mate“. They watch angry fan after angry fan, all of them lost in a murderous rage. Claudio was about to ask something but your humble narrator jumped in.

“See that load of crap, that’s people with opinions. Well bugger me with a fishfork, a person…..with an opinion! Big deal, I’ve got one of those, I can hear my own opinion in my own head as I say this. Why the bloody hell would I want to share that? More importantly how would hearing my opinion improve anyone’s life? These angry after defeat ranters have been football’s background noise for a couple of years, the immature attention seekers need to be ignored not given a public platform.

Caludio meekly said “They’re only people expressing opinion though aren’t they?”

“Yes and FAN TV is merely the tip of the Iceberg, let’s look at social media.”

Your humble narrator took Claudio on a tour of twitter. Claudio was immediately rendered speechless by the bestial hated and bellendry confronted him. He recovered to pose a question;

Is it like this often?”

“All the time. It’s a never ending river of human detritus and pointless stupidity. The worst aspect of it is that everyone dismisses their own gruesome behaviour as harmless banter.”

“Yeah but those what do you call those things?…..memes, they’re harmless.”

“They’re not harmless, they’re proof of a society that’s easily pleased with itself. Too many gobshites think that getting the “pithy last word” is a major achievement. Too many gobshites are labouring under the misapprehension that they’re a character in a crappy American sitcom. And another thing, the jokes are shit as well.”

“Yeah but some of the other stuff is useful surely, what about those football stats people”

“How can you explain the beauty of a succession of balletic movements with a string of statistics?” 

“Yeah but these people are harmless.”

“I suppose they are really but Claudio the point is that I’ve grown weary of it all, the tweets, the FAN TV, the proper TV, the newspapers, the perpetual excitement, everyone shouting at each other, the continual “what about them….” arguments, and it’s all deep fired in the banter. I don’t need to read or experience any of it the knowledge that it exists is enough to blunt my interest.

There’s no escape from it. They won’t let you switch off. If you only limit yourself to taking a small interest, like checking social media for 5 minutes, they will somehow still mange to besmirch that with the banter.”

“Really?”

“Yeah they won’t let you switch off from it.  A few weeks ago I had time to kill before I caught a train so I went to the nearest pub for a quick drink. There were four lads around a table. They were loudly chatting about football and their ACCAS whilst looking at the betting apps on their phones. It was wall to wall banter. I was gritting my teeth after two minutes. Football is drowning in the fucking banter, I’m sorry to swear, but I’ve been worn down so much I’ve started  talk myself out of going to matches.”

“Ah yes, this is where I came in, let’s go to one of those matches that you go to.”

Your humble narrator and Claudio appear at a Welsh Premier League match, it was the fifteenth match between the same opponents in three Earth years.

Your humble narrator told Claudio that he should keep an eye on the ostensibly semi-professional number four in blue. Needless to say the clumsy attempt at a sneaky foul on the number seven in red wasn’t too far away, naturally his encore was an attempt to get the number seven booked by diving three minutes later.

Within another five minutes they saw phenomenon of “the communal hey” eight times. Your humble narrator assured Claudio that’s this incantation was merely a tactic employed by ostensibly semi-professional teams to try and pressurize the referee into seeing things their way rather than an ancient fertility rite.

Claudio saw one of the managers signal to one of his ostensibly semi-pro players to venture to the furtherest side of the pitch from the bench. 30 seconds later he had a new role; the player that was being substituted. They both saw how he proved the elasticity of time with his pedestrian tribute to the sloth!

So Caludio says “Ahhhh, I see why you’re disillusioned now. This ostensibly semi-professional football supposedly represents the antidote to paucity of moral cleanliness in “proper football” but it’s merely a pale imitation of “proper football”.”

“Yes, that’s it perfectly. To me, the events that we’ve just seen, that is football, the infuriating and soul destroying pandemic called football. That’s the reason I’ve started to wonder if I could do without football. The vague air of dissatisfaction probably started with the time I wanted to go to a match somewhere and I was obliged to go through the hassle of buying cheap train tickets and the rigmarole of registering to buy match tickets for a particular match. When the awaited day arrived I was confronted by a late running train with standing room only and a half empty ground. I persevered with Bangor matches and what have I ended up with? Fifteen matches against the same club in 3 years in a league that no-one cares about.”

“Yeah but aren’t there times when you get some enjoyment of football?”

“Well I suppose there are times when I can still have a laugh with my mates and the odd occasions I remember some brilliant piece of skill are the very rare times I go to a match and everything feels fantastic. For example I went to watch Sampdoria recently. I’d waited twenty five years to go there, every since I got The Football Grounds of Europe book for Christmas, and the evening was everything I’d expected; the architectural masterpiece, the packed streets and bars, the noise, the atmosphere, the fireworks, the social identity, the vibrant foreign culture. I haven’t felt so content in a long time. It lasted days. Then I read some angry tweets.

I don’t know what football will become either. Thirty years football looked like it was about to become a prohibited social activity but the fans kept the sport going by going to matches. These days a lot of those 1980s fans and their families are being ostracised by those that want to make money. The supreme irony is that the people who are prostituting football don’t value the people that made their behaviour possible in the first place by keeping the sport going.

And what like of people have replaced the expendable? Tourists and the sort of people that will willingly choose to pay £45 so they can let the world know they’re angry about paying £45 via a message on a bedsheet, the kind of people that will cry to catch the attention of TV cameraman.

The rubbish sullies all of the finer feelings that I attribute to football. It doesn’t matter how serene I feel I’ll inevitably become aware of the braindead tweets, the unending banter and the cynicism of those in control of football. No matter how hard you try you can’t escape the gross pantomime that football has become.

“There’s nothing I can say that will change your mind?”

“Nothing really. I prefer watching films these days, films never let you down.”

With that Claudio returned to his spiritual plane and your humble narrator returned to mowing his front lawn and perpetual domestic bliss.

 

If you’d like to read more about the scourge of fan TV read this, this and this. The last post contains the line “Equating commercial involvement with a lack of authenticity is disingenuous….”





Problems with that modern football number 45 – “The silky smokescreen”

26 08 2015

When I first went to London the Underground’s massive adverts were one of my landmarks. Their gaudiness assaulted me at first but they soon developed a warmly familiar feel. There was no Imperial War Museum in the cultural hinterland of north Wales so the ads quickly faded.

As an older and theoretically wiser person I can see adverts for what they are; brightly coloured attempts at bullshitting rather than brightly coloured public art. Their only purposes are antiseptic image projection for toxic companies and the creation of demand for stuff that human evolution doesn’t require.

Nowadays multinationals place brilliant adverts in today’s underground, and everywhere else, to tell us just how tame their pet sport is.

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Being the home of the premier league is a multi-media thing.

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We should all play their game and unveil blog posts that unveil our favourite #PLmoments™. I could certainly have a lovely time placing all those #PLmoments™  into a top ten as there are so many fabulous #PLmoments™  to choose from! There’s the first £1000 season ticket, there’s the first throw in that teenaged millionaires argued over, there’s Jermaine Defoe’s demand for a personal assistant. THERE’S…..PEAK……BANTER!!!!!

After much ado about literally nothing I’d probably plump for two top top top #PLmoments™. The first would be the fact that multinationals love The Banter nearly as much as their own hype.

The second would be football’s changing place in the cynicism of the mutinationals. The media conglomerate that now owns British football used to view football differently when didn’t have a product to sell.

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The Times once described football thus;

“We football fans are living in strange times. Those of us who stood on the terraces during the Dark Age — an era when football was famously summed up by this newspaper as a “slum sport played in slum stadiums increasingly watched by slum people” — feel as if we have been transported back to the bad old 1980s, to the “game that time forgot”.

The multinationals slick contempt for us should be reciprocated but their approach is tolerated.

I recently went to watch Chelsea. Before the match people were more anxious to have their photo taken with images of millionaire players advertising the products of multinational official partners than realise there was a statue of Peter Osgood behind them. In the multinational world the gloriously moribund present has as much worth as the hard earned past.

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To paraphrase John Lydon, ever feel you’ve been cheated? I believe in better than this subscription funded circus.








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