Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Cardiff Afterlife

"He really is a c##t isn't he?" Blair on Chirac in 2005
Introducing The Band
In what might become the first sighting of something that eventually becomes globally famous (there's already a comprehensively kept spreadsheet, so its a short leap from there to a dedicated website, a small hop from there to a cult book, and a miniature jump to a film - it'd be better than that latest Simon Pegg effort, by dint if nothing else of him not being in it - documenting our hi-jinks) brand, this week's blog will be interspersed with early highlights from the shambling year-long troop around the city centre sampling ales of varying qualities and talking far more consistent nonsense. Yep, in no way influenced by the fact I've never seen this week's opponents play a full 90 minutes in my life, its a glimpse into Liverpool 2014: A Pub Odyssey.

#1 ~ Ye Hole In Ye Wall

Oddly overlooked for any visit at all, the 'oldest pub in Liverpool' seemed a good place to begin this journey into the part-known. A solid pub, steady pint, and a detailed discussion on whether you'd ever want to wipe your bottom with a cagoule, all add up to a suitable start.

Black Or Blue

Well, we lost. After all the build-up, it felt a bit of a flat exit and even when we were drawing, well in the game and within Barkley pulling his shot a couple of inches lower, away from having a great chance at going through to a (eminently winnable as it transpired) Wembley semi-final, I never quite felt we were on our game at The Emirates. 

In my view, Martinez made a big mistake in picking Robles. I accept that Howard is far from perfect, none of the goals were his replacement's fault, its correct in a broader sense to be giving the youngsters more games, and that the Spaniard won and kept clean sheets in the semi & final last year. But, in a game where we had to play close to perfect to get through, it seems to be the opposite of aggregating the marginal gains. The key-moment was the penalty - who would Arteta rather have had to take a high-pressure (then tenser still with the re-take) against? Or who would have had more chance of saving it, having trained with him for 5 years?

Aside from such specifics, to hark back to last week - would we have 'rested' Southall for the Newcastle quarter-final to give Kearton a game (we had more to play for in the league to justify such a move then)? Would doing that have made the fans and opposition more or less likely to think "these fancy this here"?

#2 The Saddle

An unmemorable bordering on rubbish visit, included in the 'highlights' package only due to a couple of photos surviving on my phone. The half-of-Fosters being brandished was (as you'd hope) a mis-heard order, but the ever-charming Joe Gill was too much of a gentleman to point out the error to the young barmaid. 

New Generation?

If the decision to change the goalkeeper was indicative of a long-term direction, so too for me was the terribly poor showing by Steven Pienaar. One of Moyes' best signings overall, the South African must be one of the hardest working players to have played for the club, but that fact could be working against him at the moment as he looks one of the most worn-out of a collectively tired squad.

In a wider, and more critical, context too, his role is one that is tells a bigger story about a lot of the current first XI - its grim to admit, but they're just not used to winning things. Pienaar himself has still had some marvellous games this season (mainly in games at home where he has more of the ball, more chances to deliver, and one of two sloppy balls aren't the end of the world), I wouldn't want him unceremoniously dumped and he's still got a role to play - but as a first choice in big, proper games where you have to make the right choice when a chance comes along only a couple of times per half? You'd have to say no. Has he ever had a good Derby? Can you remember any touch of the ball he had in the Semi or Final in '09?

There was a moment on Saturday when we worked a short-corner, Pienaar had time, space and men in the box to pick out and he nudged a flat cross straight onto the head of the first man and it was cleared,which seemed unfortunately demonstrative of the nearly-but-not-quite era he has been a key part of. This seems the time to give the younger guys (Deulofeu, Barkley, Lundstram, Stones, Kennedy, McAleny etc) a realtivley low-pressure chance.

#5 The Rose & Crown

A crow-bar and flame-thrower in the toilets and a gang of 'good time girls' doing Pure Shores on karaoke - passable IPAs.

Daddy's Speeding

The Ian Wright documentary on ITV on Wednesday was a bizarre programme. It managed to be redolent of both a wrestling 'shoot' interview and Bernard Butler-era Suede with its honesty and tales of badly-parented, oil-smeared London poverty-ridden upbringing.

What was perhaps most unusual or thought-provoking in the long run was the question: if ITV can so easily and cheaply (the only other person seen on screen was an old teacher, who can hardly have demanded much of a fee, especially given that he was thought to be dead) make a talking-point, worthwhile, revealing programme, what the hell are they doing the rest of the time?!

Wright talked frankly about his estranged dad who then died early, his 'abusive & alcoholic' mum, how distraught he was when David Rocastle died and the ragged and 'demenaing' time he had at school and in manual jobs. For some reason though, the bits later on seemed even more frank to me; how close he was to swerving the offer to train with Palace because he couldn't afford to miss a few week's wages, how surprised he was when people recognised him after scoring in the Cup Final - and especially his nervous excitement before starting at Arsenal. Him sitting up talking to Rocastle til 5am before his first day's training talking about every aspect of the club and how much bigger things were going to be was vivid stuff.
To be totally accurate, maybe this wasn't 100% unscripted & 'Uncut' , but it was much, much closer than pretty much any other interview I can remember seeing, particularly with a footballer. If the enjoyable but shallow Keane/Vieira show from a few months ago was 'The Fab 4'~esque (both talked semi-off-the-record but very much in character throughout) this was much closer to being an authentic account.

And it was only half-an-hour, so I assume we'll get the second part next week where he will recount the tale of shitting in Caprice's hand-bag when she was seeing Tony Adams, shed new light on Eddie McGoldrick's bizarre scissor-related injury during a pres-season tour of Finland, spitefully and implausibly rate Thierry Henry as a 4/10 performer and state he "wrote down every single thing Pires ever did on the pitch - and got to six, including the hair-flick"

The Asphalt World

I've been doing a short evening course, which sadly finished this week, on Social Investigation In Liverpool In The 1800s. The source material has been fascinating, mixing official surveys, fiction, journalistic reporting and things that dip a toe in all three fetid puddles at once. Some of the detail that this has highlighted has been eye-opening indeed: the average life expectancy for a 'labouring class' male in Liverpool in 1837 was 15!!
How I picture anything involving streets/towns in history
One of the fringe motivations for signing up for something like this is I suppose to mix with different people, hear conflicting opinions and go temporarily out your comfort zone. So, in the last but one week when I got paired with a teenage Chinese girl studying towards Maths degree in Liverpool to jointly analyse a statistical inventory of all purchases made by a dock-worker's wife living in 'a dirty muddle' and 'showing evidence of the drink' whilst her husband had voluntarily gone to 'gaol' rather than pay his debts, I did think briefly that I was terribly open-minded, friendly, involving, helpful, charming and worldly-wise clever-dick.

It was muddling along fairly harmoniously until she asked "what are kippers?!".

Seriously! Never heard of kippers!! 

A salient reminder that however much we feel the world has moved on, there remain some deeply ignorant cultures out there. 

#29 The Vauxhall Vaults

VV Ooo ya
One of the articles we reviewed relayed to Parliament the conditions of the 'Vauxhall Ward' in 1842 - "a horrible place, passing description in squalor and infamy...a foul hovel...where decency & sobriety are physical impossibilities...a den...where men, women and children are smothered in filth & vice....where evil forces & fever are scarcely absent...and disease stricken, sickened victims roam the most fatally plagued district of Liverpool"
"Men of a good position, who fill honourable offices in this town...leering & chatting whilst partially intoxicated"
And they thought they had it bad! No pumps* - and the only bottle was Mann' those are truly inhumane conditions. (*"no gas lads" as the barmaid put it, contriving a uniquely unappealing way of making something grim sound ten times grimmer). Straight in as the worst pub I've ever been too - there were literally two customers in the pub. One, 'Digsy' the titular 'hero' of the Oasis song barely functioning in a far corner and another guy who followed me into the toilets to talk to me about how we couldn't be thought of as professionals until we'd worked in the Isle Of Man, and a barren husk of place, sparse, tobacco stained, impossibly out-dated - and yet somehow totally lacking in character or a sense of history. 
We Are The Pigs

Amazingly, there were more customers outside the pub than in it - we had to run the gauntlet of a gaggle of youths loitering as menacingly as 12 year old oddballs can muster. To some extent, you can accept and even empathise with hoodlums hanging round even such an abject excuse for a pub as this. But odder was to come after we left (we only stayed for one). The same troupe followed us along the road and affected a 'welcoming commitee' manoeuvre to Freshways corner shop too. To our increasing incredulity, they asked us, with heightening aggression to go in the shop and "gerrus a box eh lad?". A box?? "go ed, don't be sly gerrus some eggs" Eggs?!

Haha, we chuckled at the absurdity of their position, to their increasing chagrin we probed:

What did they want eggs for? Were they going to go home and make a massive omelettes? Did they know there were absolutely no age restrictions or requirements for ID to be shown when purchasing what they wanted? That what kids were doing these days, at 10 o'clock on a Friday night, going out and wangling deals for bakery products? Why,again, did they want EGGS?!

"To throw at dickheads like you"

Gah! Had off! We'd been lampooned with the line of the night, just going to show, you can never write anyone off - maybe the VV will turn it round become a much loved local after all.

Oh, yeah, er, that Vincent Tann - he's a mad 'un isn't he......?

Thursday, 6 March 2014

On Saturday Morning We Will Rule The World

The Wrong Beginning 

"Really? Is that really what you're starting off with after a five week gap, a lazy sort-of, 'am I right guys??' meme? 

And isn't it a bit hypocritical given you haven't even been arsed to write anything for yonks whilst all this oh-so-exciting domestic action has been going on?"

All I said it was coming back - I never said it would be good. 

This is at best a quick clip show. But composed of bits no-one's ever even seen before, so lacking even that 'oh yeah, I remember that' moment where a flash of recognition can be fleetingly mistaken for 'oh yeah, I enjoyed that'.

So, that England - Denmark game, eh??

As if. Those depths will never be plumbed - the below, that Alan Cumming pun and giving Chew Lips Album Of The Year - yes, but if you ever catch me anywhere near going on about a) the Englund or b)
what a money-grubbing gobshite Sir Steve Redgrave is then you can shoot me at Wembley ("what, Wembley?") before the next exhibition game. 

That's No Way To Win A Tie

For Everton this is without doubt our biggest game of the season - and its one that, in some ways, there area absolutely no statistical positive omens for. We haven't won at Arsenal for over 18 years. Since we beat Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 in in 1990 at Hillsborough, we've won ONE game away from home in the FA Cup against a top-flight team (an excellent 2-0 win at Sunderland in replay 2 years ago, although the game loses a lot of its sheen given how the replay came about and what the win led to...).

So, the draw, you would have to say, wasn't kind to us.

Still A Long Way To Go

But! It could have been worse. Only the most bitter, one-eyed loon could say they'd rather be going to Anfield with the form they're in and the memory of the humptying we got there in January still fresh in the mind (even then though, the last round showed twice how quickly defeats can be avenged: Arsenal reversing a 1-5 shellacking by Liverpool, and City totally outplaying Chelsea, hot on the heels of the opposite being the case).

They are beatable (Stoke beat them last week, so if anyone thought on reading that 'they're not' , well, they just fucking are), but we have to show an attitude and an approach that can help will the win to happen that we haven't seen for such a long time.

So much so, that the only real comparison I can think of is, uncannily, the last time we did win anything, and the result at this stage (albeit at Goodison) in beating an undeniably good, yet fragile Newcastle side 1-0. For some reason, I remember this being the only round I really thought we might go out in then, and similar could be true this year too - if we somehow make it into the semis you'd hope they feel they can take on the world.

As indicated by those stats above, it will be a virtually unprecedented result if we do it. But, tantalisingly, not an entirely unprecedented performance: we acquitted ourselves well at The Emirates in both April & December, and deserved the 0-0 and 1-1s we got. Its still a big jump up from there to winning, but if you're going to win the cup, you have to beat top teams - if you're going to be good, you have to impose yourself on opponents and say "we're winning this" which is exactly what we did in 95.

Run Run Romelu Run

It'd be unfair to say that any one particular player has to single-handedly inspire that attitude and approach (very experienced guys like Howard, Baines, Barry & Pienaar have to too), but if one player can embody it and be 'thee factor' then its clearly our on-loan top-scorer. Although he wasn't totally fit (and Martinez also wanted to make a show of "being fair" to Naismith) it should have been a wake-up as to just how much his form had tapered of before getting a knock at Anfield that such a choice was even possible. Imagine asking in the summer "How'd you go with upfront? Neezy Naismith or that Lukakee lad?". The mind would have imploded at the nonsensicalness of there being any shadow of a doubt.

When he came on, to be fair, he went a long way towards restoring his reputation with a clinical finish and an appreciable lift to the pace and intensity of the forward play all round. More of this please. 

Which Way To Biff 'em?

He will clearly play, as will Mirallas - although the other forward slots are a tough one to settle on. Barkley has been MOTM in those two draws, and Deulofeu was the one who made sure the teamwork got at least some reward in the latter of the two. But neither have been playing well lately. Pienaar, Naismith and Osman are arguably in better form, but have rarely, despite their qualities, done it for us in huge games. If I had to pick, I'd go Howard; Coleman, Stones, Distin, Baines; McCarthy, Barry; Mirallas, Barkley, Deulofeu, Lukaku. The way games have gone lately, we've done better when changing it to bring experience on (Osman v Swansea, Pienaar v Villa, Naismith in both) than the opposite and trying to freshen it up with Deulofeu & Barkley in the last 20 (ineffective at Spurs & downright counter-productive at Chelsea).

Bad Boys & Painful Puns

Another exciting aspect of being in a high-profile later-round-of-the-cup show-piece is that you know it'll be on Tv, but which channel will be it on*? If its BT Sport who get the gig** will scourge of the women's bridge club rooms across the country Andy Gray be summoned to punditrise from on high? Cards on the table (another bridge reference, which goes nowhere) - I enjoy Andy Gray. He gets into a game, knows what he's talking about - and he does his best to make it seem a proper big event. He's basically Gerry Lawlor.

And did anyone ever say 'oh, I'm not sure The King is really a suitable person to be doing colour on this, what with him being a bit of a lech?'.Or as Sky seemed to suggest by re-leaking that old clip: "Oh, we're not sure it sets the right tone - for people who are often in a pub, often drinking, often having a bit of a laugh whilst watching the game, whilst being bombarded with adverts for more drinking and ever-more convoluted ways of gambling, by a company owned by a man who's other business is the home of Page 3, who's sister-channel employs an endless troop of hot young busty thangs to bore people to death by repeating Bournemouth's injury crisis latest every ten minutes - to have knowledgeable guy involved because he went 'phwoar' once".

Absolute nonsense.

Sky Sport's position is even then completely inconsistent. Shane Warne is described in the excellent Twirlymen by Amol Rajan as the man who "had sex with a student, had sex with a mother of three, sex with a TV assistant, sex with a women on his BMW, sex in Kevin Pietersen's flat...whilst married" but he is one of the best commentators on the sport at the moment, so have him and pay him (lavishly) to do so - are they worried they're going to lose viewers? People reckoning 'I agree with that tactical insight, but he's a crass bugger after a few drinks I've heard, so I don't accept it'.
Of course, both Gray & Warne are actually good.
David Pleat has worked extensivley for The Guardian, BBC, ITV, AL Jazera, The Daily Mail and ESPN. The Daily Mail who described Gray-Keys-gate as "a mysoginistic sexist storm of shame", happy there to give paid work to David Pleat, who was arrested three times for curb-crawling and soliciting prostitutes. So catually breaking the law and harming people - whilst offering insights such as
"There's Thierry Henry, exploding like the French train that he is" 

"The Dutch will be wary of the big lad pulling off at the back post"

An English Gentleman

The laddddddz innit!?! The laaaaaddddz tho! The! Fucking! Laaaaaaaaddddz!!!

Well, isn't it? Its very easy to be superior and dismissive of that level of humour, but sometimes, isn't there a kernel, a seed, a hint of truth and insight some of the time?

I think there is, and here's an example of why. On the infamously - and admittedly far more miss (wahey! It implies an unmarried woman. With zing-rated wazzers!) than hit LADBible, I saw this:

Just on its own....I think its relateable situation described in an economic and light fashion. The same day I was finishing Three Men In New Suits, J.B. Priestley's bitter take on the emptiness of life for returning soldiers in 1945 and was struck by this passage:
"Oh damn and blast!" (she slumped her head on his shoulder and slung her arm round his neck"
'Are you crying?' asked Herbert, astonished
"Yes, you fathead. Hold me a minute - and shut up"
So there they were, by the dim canal, the night settling around them, while she sniffled and her heart thumped away. All of it was a complete surprise to him. He had forgotten how odd and unexpected girls could be. He could not have said whether he was enjoying it or not. This particular experience had to be judged outside of mere enjoyment or otherwise.
More detail, more atmosphere, more use of the word "fathead"...... but describing essentially the same, peculiar, difficult to explain situation.

Was JB Priestley the LADBible of the 40s? Is the LADBible the JB Priestley of today??

That, this time, is the end. 

*this is disingenuous bollocks. Its definitely on ITV. But if I allude to the chance it might somehow not yet be decided, I can drag this bit out from the clipboard which was topical at the time but not used as I went out instead of finishing off the 'Spurs Away' preview.

**Its not.