Friday, June 09, 2006

World Cup: Backlash!

With the biggest and best sporting tournament having just kicked off in Munich today, it’s time to get on my high horse for a moment or two or three or four. It seems that this time the “anti-world cup” backlash has started much sooner than usual. People have been criticising the constant coverage, the many references to footballing past, the quite real and genuine love of the game… and I don’t know why, but this does get to me just a little bit. Not a huge amount of course, nothing could get in the way of my love of the beautiful game, but there’s a tiny insignificant little corner bubbling away…just a little niggle.

So I want to explain. I want to explain why this is important to so many England fans; why we constantly look back at our past and why winning the World Cup would mean so much to us.

Everyone has their own story, but for me it started at the age of 12. In a way it started long before this. Football was the game at school, it always had been. Every playtime it would be “Austins Take” where every member of old Mrs Austin’s class would be on one team and all the members of the other teacher in our year and also the younger kids too would be on the other. It was a beautiful thing. One team of 20 odd versus another team of about 50 kids, on an uphill playground made of concrete. I was in Mrs Austin’s class… and somehow we won most of the time too. Even now I’m not quite sure how that happened. This happened every single day. Even in a town where the local football team constantly under performed whilst the local Rugby League Team were one of the best in the country, football was our passion. Plus, you couldn’t really play Rugby on concrete.

Then came 1996. Euro 1996. Twelve years old and despite my now instinctive love of the game I hadn’t followed a domestic team or even the national team. I just hadn’t been all that interested. I had vague memory of USA ’94 and an even vaguer memory of Italia ’90, but Euro ’96 caught me. It gripped me from the first ball kicked in the first England game and held on until the very end. I remember watching stunned as we struggled against Spain, I remember watching open-mouthed as we demolished Holland and I remember running running running as fast as my legs would carry me so that I could get from my friend’s house where I had been watching the first half of the Scotland game, to my own house in time to see the kick off in the second half.

Of course, I also remember the Germany game. The heartache when it went to penalties. I remember shouting, “No, Paul Ince should take one!” and I remember Gareth Southgate lumbering up to the penalty spot. Even then I knew he wasn’t going to score and when the German keeper put his hands safely on the ball, I was broken.

I got over it in no time, every kid did but from now on football was more than just something I did at playtimes. I was obsessed with the England team. I wanted to see every friendly, every World Cup qualifier. They were doing well too! They were better than they had been in 96! We could actually win the Cup this time…

Then it happened again. France 98. Second round match against Argentina. Beckham gets sent off. Sol Campbell’s goal disqualified. Penalties. Bloody penalties again. Heat broken. Again.
So we all wait again. Watch all the games and cheer the team on, but the team were slipping, a shadow of what I remembered of them… Kevin Keegan the worst possible manager we could have. Euro 2000 came and went in a flash. I barely remember anything about it aside from England finally beating Germany 1-0 from a lucky Alan Shearer header… and then losing to Portugal and Romania.

Japan / Korea 2002, boy that was a good tournament. The qualifier’s alone had sent the country into meltdown! Germany beat England 1-0 in the last ever game at Wembley. It seemed as if England would never recover their form, until the FA finally bit the bullet and hired a foreign manager. Sven the Swede. Things were good again, we thrashed Germany 5-1 in Munich and went on to qualify for The World Cup with ease. After a shaky start against Sweden England were doing well, beating Denmark 3-0 in a comfortable second round tie and progressing to the quarterfinals. The quarterfinals against Brazil.

They were just better. Much better in fact. Despite a spirited first half performance by England, Brazil showed everyone why they deserved to be world champions. For the first time, I took England crashing out of a tournament in good spirits. We had played the very best and lost fairly. Still, there was always next time eh?

Euro 2004 dawned and although England weren’t as brilliant at they could have been I genuinely believe we were the two top teams once again in that tournament. If Rooney had not been injured I think we would have reached the final. Portugal stood in our way and so did a referee who through some of the worst judgement ever witnessed in a football match robbed us of the chance (he later admitted this bias).

So once more, the England fans are dejected and feeling hard done by. I wasn’t even interested when the draw for the next World Cup qualifiers was made, I was so despondent. It seemed England were destined to crash and burn in every single tournament.

Until yet again our hopes have been raised by a team who, whist not setting the world on fire as yet, have the most potential of any England team fielded since 1990, maybe even 1966. I genuinely believe this.

Is it so much to ask that once every four years (ok ok…every two years even), we Englanders can all go a little bit mad? A little bit obsessive? A little bit self-centred even?

Is it so much to ask that we be permitted to reflect on England’s greatest ever sporting achievement? 1966… To have a fond nostalgia for something that doesn’t involve war or bloodshed or the horrific British Empire?

All I want is to see England win the World Cup.


In my lifetime.

Is it so much to ask?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Tribute To Buster

My grandma’s dog Buster was put to sleep yesterday. He was an old dog, had a good innings actually, but I think the whole family will miss the daft old thing. He did not spend his whole life with my grandma, before that he lived with her next door neighbour Sylvia.

I still remember the day that Sylvia picked him up from the RSPCA. We all walked with her the four or five miles into town and back so that she wouldn’t have to bother trying to get him on a bus. I remember the way he pulled on his lead, almost dragging the 80 year old lady over. That was a sight that would become familiar over the next few years. You would see Sylvia in the local park, out in all weather; five or six times a day walking Buster. Aside from that Sylvia spent all her time indoors in a barren little house with barely a stick of furniture. She smoked a lot, so much so that soon Buster’s fur became wiry and unpleasant. Parts of his fur that had once been grey became yellow.

Every Saturday morning Sylvia would head into town to do her weekly shop and not trusting Buster to be alone in the house she would leave him with my grandma for a few hours. This is when I first got to know him. At the time I was about 8 or 9 years old and I had a real wariness around dogs, but it was impossible to be nervous of Buster. He was the softest, friendliest dog you could imagine. It was his disposition and warmth that made me realise that I needn't be scared of dogs.

After a few years of living with Sylvia she died and the obvious person to take Buster in was my grandma. In no time he put on weight having had an awful diet previously, his fur grew back nicely and he was a much cleaner happier dog. Sylvia had always needed to keep him on a lead, but with my grandma he was seldom seen with one as he would happily tag along behind her, only occasionally disappearing to explore a hedge or cluster of bushes; the great explorer!

Living with my grandma he had the company of Charlie, the cat of very advanced years who was extremely unsettled at the sudden presence of a dog but tolerated him as a welcome nuisance…and Jess the dog who my grandma took in a few years later. Buster and Jess were very close. Buster would always growl at any male dogs sniffing around and on two occasions took on much bigger mutts in order to defend her from attack.

Over the years we’ve gotten so used to having him around. Anytime anyone would visit my grandma, Buster would rush into the hallway, fetch one of my grandma’s shoes and deposit it at their feet as a present. I hate to think what he would have done had she had a burglar!

He always had a bit of an inferiority complex did Buster, fuelled in part by our assumption that we was a Heinz Mongrel (57 varieties). It's only been recently that we found out he was in fact a Patterdale Terrier!

I saw him for the last time last Sunday. He fetched me a shoe and we played catch. I didn’t even realise he wasn’t well.

I was shocked at my own sadness when I heard.

Of course, it is some comfort to know that now he’s running around heaven, nicking off with God’s sandals…

(Picture to follow shortly)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Scary Hairy

Having been famous for some time for my masses of curly locks, I recently had them cut off... much to the disappointment of many of my friends. It's a look I've not quite gotten used to as yet, but I'll let you be the judge.

It certainly doesn't stop me from looking completely stoned and just a little bit psychopathic in this picture.

My what big hands I have.

Monday, May 15, 2006

33 Beers Later...

One rather odd thing I've done (for a reason I'm not quite sure of) is that over the last few years I've been collecting any beer or ale bottles I've had that had a particularly interesting or funny name. Actually, some I kept just because they had a rather nice label.

I've been quite strict about which ones I kept and which ones I threw away and even though the collection could do with pruning further I'm strangely proud of it. The bottles line a shelf in the kitchen gathering dust but I often look at them and feel a warm glow!

So far the collection consists of the following;

Tangle Foot, Whitechapel Porter, Dead Guy, Tetleys Imperial, Christmas Ale, Sam Smith, Fifth Sense, Cats Whiskers, White Wych, Hen's Tooth, Champion, Owd Roger, Banana Bread Beer, Bishop's Finger, Goliath, Dark Lord, Old Leg Over, Jolly Ploughman, Circle Master, Monty Python's Holy Ale, Wyre Piddle, Hobgoblin, Black Sheep (Emmerdale), Live Organic, Waggledance, Pedigree, Gentleman Jack, Sainsbury's Organic, Innis & Gunn, Abbot Ale, Ripon Jewel, Black Sheep (Riggwelter) and Cheeky Beer.

I'm not sure exactly why I'm writing about this or what my point is other than to say...


That's an awful lot of beer. Amazing really...

Saturday, May 13, 2006


At the risk of emphasising the whole "I'm a geek" aspect of my life I'm afraid that it has become necessary to mention "Doctor Who" for the second time in as many posts.

Y'see, the thing is tonight's episode was absolutely fantastic. A little exposition heavy in places but as the first in a two-parter, that can be forgiven... especially since it's the return of the Cybermen (see picture!).

So, elated by the 45 minutes of television that I've had the pleasure of enjoying, I decide to log-on to the main "Doctor Who" website, Outpost Gallifrey, to read people's initial thoughts and speculation on the episode. All fine and dandy, but what do I find? Grown adults whinging about nothing! People with no lives (ok, ok, I'm one to talk) going on about how 'Trigger off Fools an Horses were a bit hammy...' and 'As a spotty faced student of media studies I can tell you the pacing was all off'.

I've nothing against people sharing their opinions, but when we're given such a grand weekly treat why do these feckless idiots feel their only possible response is pick non-existant holes in it? The BBC are providing us with 13 weeks of quality TV a year with this series and pointless and unconstructive criticism is absolutely unnecessary. Can't we just sit back and enjoy the best thing on TV?

I can anyway .

Ok, I promise that's the last time I'll mention "Doctor Who".

Well, until next week.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Saturday Dilemma

So, I don't have a driving lesson this weekend and my keyboardist's foot is still in plaster so there is unlikely to be a band practice. This means I have a saturday where I am pretty much at a loss. Now, I like saturdays. Saturdays are good. When I was a smelly teenager I spent every saturday delivering newspapers or washing up in my auntie's cafe or having drum lessons. Once I started working the best thing about it was that I finally had a day in the week where the content was entirely up to me!

So my saturdays have become a bit precious.

The only problem is, now that I don't have any fixed plans... what exactly am I going to do?

There are several possibilities. I could call up a few friends, we could go down the pub, have a few beers, maybe end up in a club and then later... much later... go for a curry. Or maybe we could go see a band?

Or I could get in touch with some folks off the internet. It'd mean a bit of travelling but I could invite myself along and have a bit of a blow out.

Failing that I could give my cousin a ring. See if he wanted to catch a film?

What about my Grandma? I should really visit her more often. Maybe I should pop round for a bit.

I could take up salsa, go running, do some drum practice, plan a holiday, decorate my room, have piloting/horse riding/scuba diving/cross stich lessons.

Although on second thoughts...

I think I'll probably just stay home and watch Doctor Who.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

So This Is Me

Well, this is intended as a place for me to be me and talk about whatever the heck I want to talk about without having to annoy people by talking over them! This will make quite a change.

I'm not entirely sure how this will go. Will I keep it updated? Will I get bored after a couple of days and never even check it. Well, I suppose there's only one way of finding out.

If you're reading this nonsense, then I pity you... but welcome all the same!